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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

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The metropolis

Gabriel Aiya was lying wearily on his shaky bed leaning against the bedstead and thinking. His incessant cough bothered him. From time to time he raised his head, cleared his throat, spat out into the garden and leaned back on the bed again. The darkness of the night had just begun to fall, slowly creeping into the old hut. Aimlessly Gabriel Aiya stared up at the rotting cadjan roof of his hut with several scattered holes. When the rain came water poured in through these holes flooding the mud floor.

Through these broken spots on the roof Gabriel Aiya could see the faint rays of the rising moon peeping in through the misty clouds a solitary star like a malathie blossom was glistening in the desolate sky.

”Ranmenika!” Gabriel called his emaciated wife, ‘did you hear me’. “Did you light the Seevali lamp?”

”How could I light the lamp?’ I used the last bit of oil that was in the house to fry you the few bones of dry fish. And I do not have copper with me. I am waiting for kolla. I do not know where he has gone.” said Ranmenika in a tone of anxiety.

”Then what is to be done?” Gabriel Aiya said in a hopeless voice. “Oh why can’t even the gods see our misery and suffering”.

In the cemetery beyond set against the dark sky a funeral pyre was barking with its rising orange flames wavering in the wind.

The wind blowing from the direction of the cemetery was mixed with the strong acrid smell of burning kerosene from the pyre. The smell of kerosene made him feel sick. He wearily turned his head towards the cemetery. He could see the sparkling embers and the rising flames from the pyre.

”Those who die without having to suffer like this are lucky,” uttered Gabriel Aiya in a broken voice.

‘That kind of talk will not take you anywhere. You spend every bit that you earn on your evening booze. Why don’t you think of at least buying a bit of grass to that poor bull of yours with that money. He is a bag of bones,” broke off run Ranmenika angrily.

After a pause, Ranmenika looked at Gabrial’s pained face. She spoke again in a subdued voice.

”Why don’t you go to see the mayor and explain to him our plight. Those people are aware of our difficulties! They will try to do something for us.”

”I am not going. I am not going to worship those heartless brutes. Before passing these damned laws they should have realized that there are poor harmless people like us who are affected and almost forced to die in starvation because of their bloody laws. If you want you go,” shouted Gabriel Aiya in a rage.

Even in the earlier week Gabriel Aiya had been waiting in his cart near the co-operative store, anxiously waiting for the consignment of cement to arrive hoping to snatch a ‘hire’. But his hopes were shattered and he had no way of buying a bit of hay or poonac for his poor starving ‘Walliya’.

He stared at the bony figure of the bull in the garden silhouetted against the sky. It was a walking skeleton with its half closed eyes sunk deep in to the sockets. Gabriel sighed heavily.

His heart was heavy with pain for the poor animal. He got up from his bed and stood leaning against the door post staring into the darkness.

The grieving relatives of the dead had gone and the cemetery was now empty.

A burning log rolled off from the pyre and fell to the ground-sending up a myriad of sparks. The noise disturbed Gabriel Aiya’s thoughts, Gabriel remembered the day his father had died, when all the children embraced each other and cried bitterly.

”At least the spirit of my dead father, look at us and help us out of these difficulties, I must go tomorrow morning to see the mayor”. Muttering to him Gabriel Aiya started walking towards the boutique feeling the waist of his sarong for the few coin he had. Early in the following morning Gabriel Aiya went to the town hall and stood waiting near the mayor’s office. His head was dizzy.

He hasn’t had even a cup of plain tea in the morning. His feet were almost collapsing, standing there for nearly three hours. At about ten clock the mayor arrived in a gleaming luxurious limousine. He stepped out of the car with a haughty pompous air and humbly Gabriel Aiya removed the torn, dirty towel around his neck, and bowed as the mayor passed him. He wiped off the beads of sweat of his forehead and waited anxiously for something to happen.

After about ten minutes a call bell sounded. Gabriel Aiya heard the gruff voice of the mayor.

”Amaris, go and see that beggar who is standing near the door. Don’t you know to chase them away without letting them hand around here. Today is not the day for charity payment!” the mayor shouted at the peon.

Quiet shaken by the mayor’s shouting, the peon came rushing out of the mayor’s room, towards where Gabriel was standing. With a menacing look on his face he yelled at Gabriel Aiya.

”What do you want, wretch?”
”Pardon me sir ! I want to see the mayor” said Gabriel beseechingly.
”You can’t see the mayor like that,” barked the peon.
”I have a problem. I want to tell hamuduruwo about it” said Gabriel Aiya in a meek voice.
”A problem? In that case you will have to put it in writing”, replied the peon.

”Oh Please sir ! How could I, when I have not gone to school to learn or to write?”
”Then go and see his deputy”.
”I was refused in.”
The mayor’s peon was infuriated.
He turned back and slowly walked up to the mayor’s table, before he said,
”Sir! The man says he wants to see you and refused to go until he sees you.”
”What ? What does he want? send him in,” bawled the mayor.

Like a frightened animal before prowling predator, Gabriel Aiya crawled in to mayor’s room. Before he could walk any further the mayor shouted at Gabriel.

”That’s enough! Stay there ! What do you want early in the morning, you rascal?”

”Pardon me your honour, a new law has been brought in prohibiting us from bringing in bullock carts within the city limits and now we have no means of earning our living. For about a week I have not had a meal of rice,” said Gabriel Aiya with his eyes filled in tears.

”Your honour, my father had worked under your father ‘Maha Walawwa’ in the buggy cart. It was he who drove you to the college in the cart. After my father died I came in his place to work in your ‘Maha Walawwa”. But when your father bought a car, the buggy cart was discarded. Those days they allowed bullock carts in to the city. But now they have stopped saying that the great queen is coming and the bullock carts damage the roads. Out of the city limits we will never get a hire. Lorries have grabbed our chances. So how can I earn something to feed my family, Oh, your honour, show some sympathy towards us,” begged Gabriel Aiya. ”You want me to change the laws and let you damage the roads? Get out ! You are uttering lies. We have never gone to colleges in buggy carts.” Yelled the mayor. Gabriel Aiya walked out of the mayor’s office slowly, tears streaming down his face. He thought of his starving wife, his child,his poor “Walliya”. Gabriel Aiya was feeling weak and faintish. His eyes were getting blurred. Unable to walk any further, be sat down under a “Mara” tree. The tree could not give him the shade that Gabriel Aiya much desired for most of its leaves had fallen. He slowly got up and moved under another tree and sat staring at the town hall of the metropolis.

 

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