Christmas Day 2004. When I was at home by the beach ,in Matara, with my father and Dieter, they would be discussing philosophy as usual, and I would sit watching their faces at the dinner table , listening not to the words but to the comforting cadence of their tones.
Dieter was soon to leave our country, to go back to his own, to gracefully relinquish a dream that could have been, because we knew it should not. Dieter was leaving me tomorrow and we knew this.
We loved each other, we knew this, but we had never spoken about this. There would be too much upheaval caused in the lives of the people I loved. He did not want to cause this. Although I was his student in a language and in his way of thinking too, and I had learnt well about his culture and he about mine , there still would be obstacles too difficult to overcome when it came to the reactions of my people . He did not wish to cause problems to anyone, no matter how right it seemed to us. And I could not hurt my beloved parents.
Somehow the beach has always been therapy to me. It is where I go to cry, to sing, to think, to dance. On the 25th , it was where we went to spend a final evening together, and it was a beautiful evening that I will never forget. We walked that day, over wooden bridges to a place among the islets where an ancient and ruined Buddhist monastery stood surrounded by the waves. It was a place of ordaining monks - a place of peace among the crashing surf. A moment of nostalgia, of the end of an era and hope for a new one. We hung on to every minute of this last evening of ours , made it count because we knew it would be our last together, possibly for ever.
There is a church in the area , no less than a hundred years old, beautiful and white among the sand.
I knew that he would want to go to church, and he knew that the child in me wanted to play in the carnival. It was an ancient, creaking merry go round on the beach, but that was something Ive always wanted to do, playful and lighthearted as it sounds, and somehow I had to smile this last evening. And to make him smile
That night after dinner we decided that we would leave for Colombo in the morning.
I remember waking at about 7.30 preparing some tea for my father and our guest, and telling them it was better to leave as early as we could. My uncle who lived next door was walking about with some bananas that he had just cropped and agreed to drop us at the bus halt in his wonderful old Hilman. He would have gone to the market later in the morning but since he was taking us there, he finished his marketing early and returned home safe we heard.
It has always baffled me how very mundane decisions or distractions can mean the difference between life and death. Do people realise that the two minutes they lingered to kiss a loved one goodbye could mean the difference between catching or missing the train that takes you to your death? Just how much of our action is our own free will and how much of it is predestined?
I remember that bus, it was the everyday air conditioned inter-city Rosa bus you see racing along the Galle road routes. We had very little in the way of luggage and our bus began its trip at 8.35am . I settled back into the seat to read a little book of verses, the curtains were half shut against the lovely blazing sunlight of that Ceylon Morning, and I remember thinking how strangely relaxed I was feeling although I was heartbroken that I was losing him.
Eight minutes into this journey it began hazy and unreal like a nightmare that you cannot grasp.
People talking , then shouting , then keening in panic, and through the wind-screen in front the sight that met our disbelieving eyes was something simply out of this world. A part of the ocean seemed to have lifted itself vertically up towards the skies, like a great shimmering , judgmental wall of death and was racing in towards us . The breath struck in my throat and I could not speak.
(End of part one)