Tripin 2017 - 2018 - page 82

80
Loyal Stalkers
WORDS BY CHHIMI TENDUFLA
Sending a Night Breeze
In a private room sheltered from the Colombo riots, a
seventeen-year-old girl gives birth to a hate-child. At a
city gym, an introverted fitness instructor obsesses over
his unattainable client. Inside an untended guest-house
room, an adolescent cricket champ is caught unawares by
his coach’s violent fury. By a rain-drenched gravesite, a
special-needs teacher confides in a stranger.
Edgy yet tender, racy yet warm, these interlinked stories
take us into the unfamiliar everyday of Sri Lankan living,
where smugglers, waiters, single moms and cheaters
cross paths as they attempt to negotiate a web of shock,
subterfuge and irony.
A collection of infinite brio and charm, this is Chhimi
Tenduf-La at his inventive best.
He wears swimming goggles and a bright yellow raincoat.
I am naked from the waist down.
He scratches his bald head and leans over me. No love
in his eyes. No hate. No warmth. Nothing. As if he has
never seen me before.
He tightens the straps on his goggles and sits in a
rocking chair, while the fourteen-year-old maid pulls up
his Wellington boots.
I am drugged up to my eyeballs. As far as I can
remember, this is the first time I am not scared of him.
Instead, I love him even though he has never coveted
my affection.
He is my father.
The maid lifts one of my legs. The eighty-year-old
nurse, chosen because she has no memory, raises the other.
It is July 1983 and there are riots and curfews in
Colombo. This barely registers with our family, because
I am seventeen years old, unmarried, and having a baby.
My father delivers babies for a living, most of the time in
a hospital. For a hefty fee, he also performs unrecorded
deliveries to spare the shame of anyone in Sri Lanka
whose lives are ruled by what their neighbours think.
When he does these home deliveries, he is careful that
blood does not get onto his person or in his eyes. The
goggles, I have always been convinced, are more for
effect than necessity, to intimidate in a way he thinks is
mischievous rather than cruel. Like how, as a diabetic, he
sits at the dining table and injects his stomach in front
of us while we’re eating. A smile on his face – and this
is a man who rarely shows any joy. Not to his wife and
daughter anyway.
I am charged a nominal fee for this delivery, because I
am family. My mother insists I pay something even though
I could have had it done for free at a government hospital.
‘But what is the price for being judged?’ she asks me.
‘What is the price of shame?’
She is not here, but that’s no surprise. I cannot
remember her ever hugging or kissing me. I’m told she
never rocked me to sleep as a baby, burped me, consoled
me. Those kind of things were left to the youngest maid
she had in her employment. Still, I always imagined her
holding my hand when I was giving birth. I imagined
holding a hand bigger than mine, but now I am squeezing
the small right hand of the fourteen-year-old maid.
My father, your grandfather, looks at me. He could
be a gym instructor. A drill sergeant. ‘Push, duwa, when
I tell you.’
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