How I left a sleepy village
In the serene village of Mudiyansegewatte, amidst the picturesque landscapes of Ceylon, my mother confronted me one day with a stern expression.
“You are getting too wild in this place,” she declared, expressing concern and reproach.
In my youthful defensiveness, I replied, “And go where?”
Her suggestion was clear, offering both promise and uncertainty. “Go somewhere, Europe, because you spend too much time on the road here. Maybe London or Germany.”
As her words lingered, a determined decision began to form within me — a departure from the familiar, a venture into the unknown.
“I will take you to the parish priest.” She softened her tone. “God can perform miracles. But you must go from here. You are getting wild.”
And so, the wheels of change were set in motion. The prospect of a journey beyond the boundaries of my sleepy village beckoned, guided by the wisdom of a concerned mother and the uncharted path awaiting me in a distant land.
Reflecting on it now, my mother’s understanding proved correct. Without my awareness, I had descended into a realm of recklessness. Evenings were consumed in the company of friends, enveloped in the smoke of cigarettes and the sound of clinking glasses. The appeal of this lifestyle had firmly gripped me, making it difficult to break free. Smoking had evolved into a defining aspect of my identity — an action I held onto, a symbol of how I wanted to be remembered, with a cigarette securely grasped between my fingers, pressed against my lips.
One evening, we ventured into Colombo, ascending to the first floor, and finding ourselves in a narrow dark passage. The atmosphere buzzed with the presence of numerous women, lingering, giggling, and casting glances. A conspicuous sign declared, ‘ADULTS ONLY. MASSAGES TWENTY RUPEES AN HOUR.’
We settled for a soft drink at their eatery, a refreshing concoction that revived our senses under the watchful eyes of the madam-in-charge. In a moment of candour, my friend posed the question, ‘Which one of the women do you fancy?”
The implication struck me immediately, and a mix of shyness and self-awareness enveloped me. The inclination to flee, to retreat home, tinged with a hint of fear, but I resolved, “I must overcome this.” Despite that initial discomfort, I was drawn to the club repeatedly — each day when I had a bit of money was marked by return visits, occasionally culminating in longer sessions.
“You are getting too wild. You have too many friends,” my mother admonished.
I paid her no heed until the night I failed to return. The following day, facing the consequences of my choices, I made a solemn vow to halt the drinking and indulgences that transpired in that place.
“I don’t want to live here,” I told my mother. I was afraid that if I lived here and died in my sleep, I’d go straight to hell, to the welcoming arm of the devil.
About a week later, she insisted, “You must come with me. We are going to the priest. We can get you out of the country for ten thousand.”
The parish priest, renowned for his evangelical fervour and promises of financial liberation, received us warmly. Placing his hands on my head, he commenced a prayer for guidance away from my habits.
He continued his prayer, uttering in a mystical language.: “Yahweh, hallala sallalh melekala halamala.” Onlookers were astonished as the priest and a group of elders gathered around me, pointing dramatically towards the sky and pushing me to the ground, making me kneel.
The priest was adamant that I needed to pursue some form of tertiary education, and my mother expressed gratitude for his encouragement. “Imagine coming back from London in a fancy Benz,” he added. The idea of returning from London or Germany with a sleek Mercedes Benz became a compelling motivator.
Over the next two months, everything fell into place for my departure, thanks to what my mother referred to as the priest’s “miracle hands.” A friend secured a job, an air ticket to Dubai materialised, and my mother’s ten thousand was saved. The chance to go abroad seemed to come out of the blue, attributed by my mother to her prayers working miracles in the clouds.
On the night before I left home, things got really emotional. My mother talked about how tough it was to see me, her oldest son, leave. She brought up memories from when I was a kid, and tears rolled down her face. My father sat on my bed and said a few things too, but I couldn’t fully grasp how sad they were. It felt like there was a hidden, deep sadness beneath their words.
The day of my departure was a mix of emotions. Relatives bid farewells, focusing more on eating, drinking, and gossiping than on my impending journey. In a strange turn, my mother kissed me, adorned me with a Mother Mary’s medal, and shed tears. Edward handed me a ten-dollar bill, Nimal contributed a new brown comb, and Asoka and his brother Sunil provided a luxurious ride to the airport in their shiny Borgward car.
As my bag was loaded into the boot of the orange Borgward, my mother called for a moment of pause. Tearfully, she kissed my cheeks, and I avoided eye contact with my family and friends.
In contemplation, I looked outside while driving through the streets from Mudiyansegewatta to Kohalwila, then onto the Kandy road, and finally along the Negombo road.
Reaching the airport, I began to wish I wasn’t leaving. The vast airport lounge felt overwhelming, but the loud announcement confirmed that my Singapore Airlines flight was on time.
When I passed the security officer before climbing the steps to the giant Boeing 747, he asked, ‘Are you going to study abroad?’
And I proudly replied, “Nah, I am going to buy a Benz”.
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