The House on the Corner

Before I existed , before I was imagined, it was there in it's own private part of the universe. White in the tropical sun, with its majestic balconies and verandahs, red tile roof and green lawn in front of it. Built traditional style, with each front room having its own personal entrance, high ceilings that allowed the air to circulate in the hot afternoons. I have seen pictures of myself as a smiling sleeping child , whose naked body was striped with the shadows of the steel bars on the windows, there to keep the bandits out. Pictures of myself sitting on the roof of an old black car, a Humber, supported by a smiling uncle, now long dead and buried. Older now, with friends surrounding me as I blow out the candles on a birthday cake shaped like Mickey Mouse. It is the late Seventies but everything looks like the Fifties- time moves slow in this island home of mine. Time is light and as the sun shines down steadily, the seconds drag into minutes , elongate into hours , stretch into days, dog days, cat days.....days when the monsoon rains whipped down outside , sending us scurrying to close the shutters and place containers where the rain leaks though the ceiling - buckets and basins , all catching the little drops of rain.

I have eaten many bowls of rice in this house . I have walked though the cool corridors of this house, my bare feet sliding over the polished floor, the house silent as everyone takes their afternoon nap to get away from the stifling heat of the afternoon. I have seen geckos creep slowly across the ceiling, wondering whether they would fall on my head. At night when the white ceiling fan thrashes the humidity away from the perspiring skin, I would curl myself into an uneasy ball , arranging my skinny body so that if the fan fell it would miss me and slice through the bed instead.

From this house , I have run onto the boiling asphalt of the road to buy fresh bread and buns from the bakerman who rides by in the heart of the afternoon. From four o'clock onwards the air around the house is filled with music - Chopin, Bach , Handel .....for all around me are teachers of music who strive to teach their students the art of noise. Even today when I hear a scale being played hesitantly I time travel backwards to the sunny afternoons when I lay sleepily in bed and listened, seperating the voices from the choirs, hearing the clear pure notes of Mozart trickle upto the sky.

From this house I have placed a white cap on my head and walked through the dusty streets on a Friday afternoon , joining in the crowds that throng the streets flowing towards the mosque, all responding to the muezzeins high clear call to prayer.

From this house I have run to the beach on Saturday mornings ,with my father and my brother, to float lazily in the blue sea, inside the fat embrace of an inner tube. Talking about everything and nothing ........ jazz, politics, dreams .

From this house I have watched the sun sink slowly below the horizon, painting the sky a blushing pink.

In the garden of this house, a jam fruit tree, a large spreading tree into which I used to climb into on a lazy afternoon with a cushion and a book to read high above the street , losing myself in the adventures of the Hardy Boys, Huck Finn and Tom Swift, that marvellous boy engineer who would build fascinating machines to take him around the world and away from it - with me tagging along for the ride, hanging onto the tail of words that blew from his jet exhaust.

In this garden, I watched fascinated as a snake charmer's cobra raised itself up in front of me and stared me brazenly in the eye, its hood moving back and forth ever so slowly. The same look reflected in the eye of the snake moving easily amidst the forest of nails and broken glass on the balcony, put specifically to stop such easy traversing .

And the cast of characters who constantly appeared in the movie of my life.

The 'bombay mutti' man, who sold coarse candy floss, sweet and sticky for us to ruin our teeth on.

The broomseller who trundled through the streets with a green tin tank bristling with brooms and mops.

The "bothal-patherey" man, who came once a week to pick up stacks of paper and dozens of bottles for recycling.

The dhobi man who arrived every week with an enormous bundle of clean laundry that defied gravity to sway balancing upon his head.

The curly haired fisherman with the infectious grin, who brought us fresh parow and thora every weekend, squatting outside the front door while my mother weighed the fish,while I danced around chasing away the hungry crows that followed him around like a king's ravenous retinue.

From these windows I have watched the terrible riots that broke out one hot July , when neighbour turned on neighbour simply because of their race and the God they worshipped. I remained outside this whirlpool and watching from my barred window I saw the rampaging mobs burning and beating. That July I watched one of the bravest acts that I've ever seen: a Sinhalese neighbour confronting an angry mob who wanted to burn the house of his neighbour, a Tamil. "No, they are Sinhalese. Trust me " he said, as their (Sinhalese) maid pressed her forehead to the ground and begged them not to destroy their house. And the mob replied, if you're lying we'll burn your house down as well. "Trust me" he repeated. And the mob turned and went away.

I have seen good and bad from this house.

I have heard the voice of God in the storms outside.

I have found peace within its whitewashed walls.

Inside there is love and memories and ghosts of people yet to come.

There is the present, the future and the past inside its heart, the heart of my family.

And in my family, it shall stay.

I promise.


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