Home Sweet Home

The sea is a dull green. The beach strewn with jetsam and flotsam — broken coral pieces, empty bottles, rubbish, green and white dried seaweeds. A little girl skips along the shore, followed by a man carrying a pensive sad looking toddler that he is trying to feed from a plastic milk bottle. I stop to talk to him and learns his wife is in hospital and the toddler missing his mum is not keen on bottled milk. No, he is not from Hikkaduwa but from Medawachchiya, but had married a lass from here. The little girl, his daughter is a joy to watch — carefree, happy with the gloomy grumpy monsoon sea at Hikkaduwa. Sentimental me. I note every facet of the day, for this is the morning after the first night I’ve slept at Siriniwasa after the fateful tsunami of 2004.

A little girl skips and plays along the shore. Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. 12 August 2013.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A little girl skips and plays along the shore. Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. 12 August 2013.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Further along I watch a scene I have seen many times before. A man brushes his teeth with sea sand, rinses his mouth and splashes sea water on to his face. A simple easy villager’s way of starting the day.

Then in a Déjà vu scenario a wiry sunburned man saunters up, and starts talking to me, mistaking me for a local tourist with a camera. “You like to see coral, take you on glass bottom boat.” I can’t help smiling as I see his face change when I say he can’t show me anything as I am a born here person.” He turns points to our house. I nod and his Whose Who knowledge kicks in and he slinks away.

Monsoon sea at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Monsoon sea at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

So, were the tsunami ghosts disturbing? How easy is it slip back into a familiar world?

.Arriving last night, around 9 pm, it was a joyful reunion. My nearly 91 years old Mum was up at the door, all smiles to greet me.

Portrait of my Amma  Manel Kirtisinghe 12 August 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Portrait of my Amma Manel Kirtisinghe 12 August 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

There was much laughter as stories were retold, news bits updated as we sat chatting well into midnight. Out on the back verandah, I stood listening to the surf pounding on the reef. The garden was in inky darkness, with two little streams of light from the next door Poseidon diving station. Leaning against the slightly damp walls soaked with the salt breeze, I forced my eyes to see through the muted shadows till I could see the white foam on the reef as the waves broke. No twinkling lights of boats. Just the wind, the cool damp salty wind.

This morning my Mum proudly says “I am 93 years old now.” Padmini, my sister-in law gives me a knowing smile and says she was 102 years a few days ago. I quietly tell my mum she will be 91 soon not 93. Returning from my morning walk on the beach I find Amma sitting with a white paper and pen on her lap. Neatly written on it is 2013-1992=91. She looks a tad disappointed!

Padmini, my sister-in-law  combs and plaits Amma's hair. Siriniwasa, Photograph© Chulie de SilvaHikkaduwa. 12 August 2013.

Padmini, my sister-in-law combs and plaits Amma’s hair. Siriniwasa, Photograph© Chulie de SilvaHikkaduwa. 12 August 2013.

It was time for Padmini to get ready to go to open her Ayurvedha clinic.  I bring out the photo albums of Tara and Laxmi for my Mum to see her great grandchildren. Matheesha, my nephew and Padmini’s son is sweeping the garden. I try to pick my Mum’s brains on the ancestors from her Panadura side without much success but there are one or two new anecdotes of family that she recalls.

Later Mathhesha brings her to see photos of her great grandaughter Ella’s 10th Birthday on FB.  She reluctantly sits herself down in front of my computer and before long she has seen all her great grand children and two great grand nieces on FB. From this we move to see more photos on my computer. She recognises everyone and there are more anecdotes and she perks up as she sees her young beautiful self in the photos. Life and history and a cavalcade of relations roll by. This is family — the living and the departed, the ones near and ones far, the young and the old, intertwined network of strong bonds. This was like many other ordinary days that I have spent in this house without realising the value of such mundane days. One can say nothing much to write about —  but no, this was a day to be recorded. This was our family capital — our home sweet home, this was where I belonged.

4 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home

  1. Chulie, I can’t find the words to do this credit so just a simple thank you. I remember my visit there with you so very clearly still and the hunt for swimmers as the sea was so tempting and the surprisingly strong sideways current and the dive shop and the pretty little girl with the old house caretaker. And most of all I remember the rubble and mold on the wall, the scarring which I’m sure is white and cool again. This must have been a special welcome home. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. How lucky your family members are to have you refresh their memories with photos and information gleened from your mother on your visits home. May you make frequent visits home. That we should all be as fortunate. Your mother isn’t the only one that forgets which birthday she is celebrating; after age 70, one tends to just be delighted to have yet another birthday.

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