Written some time this year…
I stand out on a pier which stretches out from the garden of a house I will probably never return to and look out onto a lake.
The rains have begun – it poured in fits and starts the entire trip here, like a sputtering shower. Above me, the clouds keep their tears at bay for now but they are flushed and angry and I know there will be a downpour soon. Not the best weather for the beach, but for some reason, I prefer it this way.
The lake laps up between the concrete slats of the pier, licking my sandy toes and inviting me in. It is hot, humid and I long to slip into the inky water and wash off the sweat of the day, but I don’t. The lake has always made me nervous. I feel as if it is hiding secrets from me that it will never tell. Still, it flirts and I flirt back, bending down to graze its surface with my fingers. The water heaves underneath my touch, responding.
I have been coming to this place literally before I was born – there are old photographs of my mother on the beach here, 24 years ago. In one of the pictures she is carrying a baby and her brow is furrowed with concern as she wipes the sand away from the little one’s crumpled face. Her dress is windswept but it is still easy to tell she is pregnant. Twins – of which I am one.
A breeze catches me by surprise and I shiver, disconcerted, as the day makes its transition from hot afternoon to chilly twilight. Suddenly, I wish for a sheet to wrap around my naked shoulders, a chair to curl up on, someone to curl up to.
A split second later, though, I’m happy to be alone. My thoughts feel refreshingly empty for the first time in a long time and being perpetually restless by nature, I savour this brief respite.
It’s a Poya, and I can’t wait to see the moon tonight; although it will mean negotiating with memories that I would rather keep at bay. Still, I watch the darkening sky, waiting for that moonglow.
The temple across the river is in full Poya-mode, but the monotonous chanting settles me, rising and falling in perfect synchronization with the river. The swollen water bears the sound to me and the soft chanting laps coyly at my ears as the water laps at my feet. What a tease this river is, I think to myself. I give in, half-way, and dangle my legs in the cool water.
What peace, away from our mad city. Its angry lights and dirt-caked streets; its crumbling shanties and nouveau-riche mansions; its jaded pedestrians and sweaty traffic. Chanting in city temples is always invasive, too loud and too brassy. There is no such thing as a quiet, lulling peace in our city – not even in bed alone; not even in the arms of a lover. There is quiet, yes, sometimes. But never peace.
Out on the pier, I drink it in.
It is so quiet that it takes me a while to notice the whirring of the boat. I look up and see the caretaker has returned after picking up his two little ones from daham pasal. I hail them all in shoddy Sinhalese but reserve a special smile for the younger of the two children, my favourite. He bears none of the same affection for me, however, and walks gingerly passed me, then breaks out into a dead run and disappears inside his home. The older girl stops for a chat, smiling prettily as she tells me about her day.
I ask for their names, determined to remember this time, though I will probably never see them again. Selvi and Prakash. Gorgeous. I remember them as toddlers, quite content to sprawl on the floor at our feet with their drawing books and crayons. The little boy was shy even then but had a soft spot for my mother on whom he would wordlessly bestow all his pictures. He would look at his toes as he waited for her approval, glancing shyly up at her every now and then. If she ever acknowledged the pictures with anything more than a smile, he would run away as fast as his legs could carry him and peek at us from the doorway of his house.
The girl walks to her house with her father, and I am alone again, looking at the misty full moon, which hangs innocently in the sky, eavesdropping on my conversation.
This is peace, I think to myself. Life is easy here. The river flirts but mostly knows its place. The moon can listen but will never tell. The sea roars in the distance but allows you to play in its shallows and the sand is so soft that you never run – just walk, so you can savour the slipping, silky grains as they give way underfoot, letting you leave your mark on the beach.
My mother calls to me from the main house and I acknowledge the call with a slight shrug that I know she can’t see. Relaxed herself in this timeless world, she doesn’t scold; just knows that I will come when I am ready.
I heave a sigh out to the moon and the lake, communicating my reluctance to leave them. The lake seems to still itself, as if annoyed at my impending departure. No more intimate curls of water at my shins and I suddenly notice that the water is too cold for comfort. A cloud covers my moon and I know she is hiding from me, upset that I am leaving her. I want to tell her I’ll be back, but hold back the lie.
I pull my legs out and shudder as wind hits wet skin. Stand up, turn my back on the evening’s stolen moments. Send out a soundless goodbye to that lake, that moon, that quiet, calming peace, along with a secret invitation for another rendezvous at a later date.