By Ranjan Abayasekara
The four-wheel drive vehicle has stopped at the market –
Where my mother sits on a mat - wearing her green saree;
Ash-plantain, capsicum, vambotu laid out in front of her
Beans, onions, bitter-gourd, arrayed around.
She hides her right hand – with its burn-marks and whitened skin -
Keeping it tucked under the fold, until it is time
To take payment for whatever she has sold.
The family who alight from the vehicle are well dressed –
The lady is smiling and has a kind face.
They’re all in western clothes -
As if from a world far away;
But they are from our own small tear drop shaped island -
They’ve never been to the North before, they say.
I see the lady look at the vegetables and exclaim
“See how nice these capsicums are -
Wonder why we can’t grow them to look so fresh,
Maybe our soil needs fertilizing”;
Her words make my eyes well up, as I think
Of the soil in these parts…..enriched for over two decades
By rivers of blood, and tears, and the scattered remains
Of a generation lost to war.
My mother smiles and waves a hand over the produce;
A look serene – but only I know the sorrows that lie beneath -
Like the saree draped to cover her left leg, amputated above the knee.
The lady’s son looks bored – he must be about 11,
The same age my brother would be, if he was alive.
It was the same shell that took off his head and my mother’s leg
As he lay asleep in the dugout that terrible night.
The gentleman is large in girth – and gives orders to his driver;
Seeing him brings a chilling memory to my mind –
Of bloated bodies floating in the lagoon,
And the sight of drowned children.
He buys a mango for his daughter, and holds her hand.
I wonder where my father is – he disappeared seven years ago,
Will I recognise him if he is found?
Or will he be like our neighbour who babbles and laughs,
Ever since his wife and daughters died in a multi-barrel rocket attack.
These people must have a nice home – like those shown on TV,
What would they think of our half-burnt dwelling, I wonder.
The lady looks in her handbag and takes out a camera;
She is interested in the vendors, carefully framing her photographs.
Unexpectedly she turns in my direction –
Her kindly face smiles at me – “Say Cheese”
…..and I say ‘Cheese’.
Ranjan Abayasekara - 16/06/10