One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Elevan. Twelve!
I am still wide awake and counting the chimes. The past weeks were bad enough. The next couple of hours are going to be simply traumatic. Guess what? I am going to Colombo tomorrow. The city phobia is making my heart beat faster and gives me that ‘need to go to the bathroom’ feeling. No wonder sleep is far far away.
It’s not like going to Colombo once a month or so with ammi and thaththi to visit our relatives and their friends. That’s just familiar grounds. This is so very different. This is going to Colombo to stay! and all by myself! Oh my god! Ammi and thaththi wont be there to tell me the usual do’s and the don’ts. Not that they know much about city life either, having been born, bread and buttered in Gonapinuwala. Of course when they were both medicos over three decades ago, Colombo was a very different place, they say. I can see how self conscious they are too, now, when we go to Colombo.
What do we wear? Where do we eat? Should we go shopping? If so where? Should we shop at Odel? May be House of Fashion is a better option? Should we eat at Green Cabin or try out Flower Drum? Questions, questions and more questions…
I keep reliving that moment when ammi and thaththi told me “putha, we have to go to London on an assignment for a couple of months and we’d like you to stay in Colombo with uncle Terry and aunty Sunitha until we come back. You can start a course in marketing while you are there and when we come back we could find a place for you to stay and continue your studies.” I choked for sure. But now it seems like a great plan.
I remember feeling numb soon after. Was it joy? Was it fear? Or was it adventure? Couldn’t really fathom it. Havent fathomed the feeling even after two weeks of agonizing! I am sure it’s going to be fun getting lost in Colombo. Getting lost in the strangeness of a city. A city of dicotomy ; both beautiful and ugly, full of people and yet lonely for some, a place that makes people and also breaks people, sometimes? Rich in action yet sterile in values I am told. I have heard that most people are too busy to pause and too much in a hurry to arrive…so will I fit in?
Our lives have been simple and relatively uncomplicated. Ammi and thaththi always shows us how to be content with small things; things that make us happy and not things that make other people happy. They keep telling us that simplicity and honesty can never be replaced with money and position. They always walk the talk. That’s why we never left our village. The furthest we went to a town was Galle. That too because of our schooling.
Ammi and thaththi could have easily got jobs in Colombo as two leading specialist doctors. But as a family we decided that life in Gonapinuwala was bliss. No private practice until midnight for my ammi and thaththi. They didn’t have to work so hard as their modest pay as two government doctors was enough for our simple life style. Loku aiya may have had the same anxiety when he had to leave Gonapinuwala to go to the US for his higher studies and podi aiya may not have even thought about life in Colombo as he was only focussing on joining the army. My mind is full of vivid memories of visits to Colombo after the decision was made. It’s truly mind boggling.I keep tossing and turning as different technicolour flashbacks keep entering my mind.
I am at the Institute of Marketing. Waiting to enrol. In a flash I thought I should have picked a different attire. My skirt looked a little bit out of place amongst all the three quarter pants and jeans around me. May be my blouse too should have been simpler? I started being conscious of my bag, hair, shoes all at once wondering if I was good enough for Colombo. This was strange as ammi and thaththi always told us not to judge another by their clothes and appearance. And I am simply judging myself!
I am now at the DSI showroom in Galle, trying to buy a pair of shoes I could wear for my classes. Ammi’s words were echoing in my ears “putha let us buy one pair from here and may be buy something else from Colombo. Styles in Colombo may be different and you will feel more at ease.” “How true ammi, I am glad you said so” I thought while looking at all the multi coloured rubber slippers that were worn by the jeans clad ‘wanna be’ Marketers. I made a mental note of these fancy rubber slippers which I later learnt were called Arugambay flip flops! So expensive and worthless was my initial thought. But will I need to buy these to be a part of Colombo?
Thankfully I too had a mobile phone which seemed like a part of everybody’s wardrobe. Of course mine is the cheapest, simplest contraption which is good enough for me to call home, a few school and neighborhood friends and of course send a quick SMS if needed. Ammi and thaththi made sure we had what was absolutely necessary to get by. Nothing we had was extravagant for sure.
The phone became handy when we were having our ‘living in Colombo’meeting at uncle Terry’s a few days ago. How to travel in Colombo when I had no clue about roads was a concern to all. My travels of course were not too complicated. It was mostly going for classes in the evening and coming to uncle Terry’s around eight in the night. That was a bit scary. Trishaws were totally vetoed by uncle Terry, who was kind of a practical and no nonsense type. He hatched a plan. A meter taxi will be called to pick me up and dropped from the class. However when I reach my class and leave the class, I was to call my temporary home, to make sure that I was safe. Everybody was happy with this arrangement. Since uncle Terry and aunty Sunitha were not bus goers, neither had a clue about bus routes and bus travel in Colombo. This was a challenge I had to learn by myself as I didn’t want to spend my parents’ hard earned money on taxis. Uncle Terry introduced me to google search on the computer which I plan to master. May be by the time ammi and thaththi arrive I will be a professional tour guide for those who need city tours courtesy SLTB!
In the dark, my eyes search the bags I had half packed. What about my little trinkets, will they be good enough for Colombo? I remembered seeing chunky jewellery, big sun glasses and large hand bags being sported by girls who were shopping at Odel. ‘As long as you are confident about yourself, don’t worry about your clothes darling” I recall thaththi de-stressing me. Hmmm…I guess he would know better. May be I will know sooner than later if these are words of wisdom!
Leaving the comfort of my home to stay with Uncle Terry and Aunty Sunitha is also a new experience… How should I behave? Do I help them with their housework? Cooking? I know they are old and sickly. So will my staying there be an added burden for them? I have heard that Uncle Terry listens to classical music that I know nothing about. Do I pretend to like it or stay in my room when I feel bored? What do I talk to them about? Should I make some special dishes ammi makes at home?
More questions and more anxiety…
One . Two. Three. Four.
The clock just struck four times and I am still tossing in bed. Am I ready for Colombo? I heard ammi filling the kettle and switching on pirith.
I opened my eyes wide and told myself ‘aasai bayai’!