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 Post subject: The Bridge - A Short Story
 Post Posted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:02 pm 
The Bridge - A Short Story

(This is a fictional story and in no way represents any person in real life)
By Hilary Rajakarunanayake

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The placid waters of the Mahaweli River, the longest river in the beautiful island Sri Lanka, flowed relentlessly under a bridge south of Trincomalee, where the river empties to the Indian Ocean. In 1983 a civil war began between the Sinhalese-dominated Government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group seeking to create a separate State called Eelam for the Tamil minority in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

Parvathi, a Tamil lass, who watched the Mahaweli river day in day out, from the time she was a little girl, saw something very unusual that day. The dead bodies of several Tamil youths, of girls and boys in their late teens were floating down the river. They were not lives claimed by the river due to the floods. They were all blood stained corpses of brave youth who had succumbed to gunshot injuries, having been fatally wounded in clashes with the Government armed forces after civil war broke out in Sri Lanka.

Never before had Parvathi seen so much human blood mix with the murky waters of the river, and such a large number of dead bodies floating down the river. Parvathi was so disturbed by all that she saw and heard that she felt nausea within her and she couldn't even eat her plate of rice for a number of days.

Parvathi was a buxom Tamil maiden of brunette complexion, in her late teens, who had since her childhood grown up with the river. She knew from the way the water flowed that the river was not angry that day, like during the floods, but that the river was feeling very sad indeed , for she could feel the river weeping its way as it flowed calmly past her little hut. Parvathi's mother used to make 'thosai'* and 'vadai'* for selling to the kiosks on the other side of the bridge, and since her childhood days she used to help her mother to make the eatables, which was their sole means of livelihood. Everyday at the break of dawn, Parvathi used to carry the basket of 'thosai' and 'vadai' on her head, across the bridge to the nearby kiosks.

That morning as she crawled up to the bridge from her home, with the basket of eatables on her head as usual, she was startled by the loud thud of boots on the bridge. As she was crossing the bridge, she heard the deafening cry of 'Halt!' from behind her and she turned round to see a Sinhala soldier from a Government battalion in uniform, rushing towards her with a loaded rifle in hand, pointing in her direction. Parvathi stood still, petrified with fear. As the soldier held the bayonet end of the loaded rifle to the tip of her left breast, she began shivering in fear and she almost toppled the basket of eatables she was carrying on her head.

"What are you carrying in that basket?" he yelled.

Parvathi could hardly speak, for she felt a lump in her throat. Before she could lower the basket from her head , the soldier had already snatched it from her. By this time, another Sinhala soldier had walked up to her from the other side of the bridge, and was holding a rifle at her back. Before Parvathi could even turn to look behind, the soldier who questioned her in broken Tamil, was running his hand through the 'thosai' and the 'vadai' to ensure that there was nothing suspicious. Having satisfied himself , the soldier began questioning her in halting Tamil.

"Where are you going so early in the morning?"

By now Parvathi managed to regain her voice. Shivering she replied,

"I am only going to sell these eatables to the kiosks on the other side of the river."

"But don't you know that there is a curfew on till six in the morning? Don't you know that your Tigers are blowing up the bridges all over the place, and that we are being sent to guard this bridge by the Government?"

It was then that it dawned on her why these Sinhala soldiers were prowling around, that there was a civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils in the North and East of the country. Guiltily Parvathi nodded in silence to indicate that she knew. She bit her tongue to indicate that she had done wrong by trying to cross the bridge before the curfew was over. Everything was so quiet and still, except for the slow gushing of the river waters . Parvathi could only hear her own heartbeat and heavy breathing.

"Do you know that we can just shoot you down and throw your corpse into this river? blurted the same soldier. With her bare hands Parvathi wiped a few beads of perspiration that had collected on her forehead from fright.

"What is your name?" questioned the other soldier who still held his rifle to her back, from behind.

In a quivering tone she managed to stutter, "Pa, Parvathi."

"Where do you live?"

"There, in that little hut just beyond this bridge, near that Palmyrah tree," she replied pointing in that direction.

Parvathi noticed that the soldier who had held the rifle to her from behind had a more humane tone of questioning. By now both soldiers had relaxed and held their rifles at ease.

"With whom are you living?"

"With my mother"

"Only the two of you?"

Parvathi felt a lump again in her throat for her brother Krishnan, who was a Tiger insurgent and was hiding in the ravine behind their little hut, flashed to her mind. She mustn't breathe a word about him, she quickly thought.

"Yes, my mother and I, only the two of us."

The elderly looking soldier cast a greedy look at the basket of 'thosai' and 'vadai', which lay on the ground beside Parvathi, and remarked, "Young girl, we are very hungry. I think this thosai and vadai with this sambal*, will be just nice for our breakfast".

Parvathi half smiled still more out of fear than with any warmth in her heart., and nodding acquiescence quietly began walking back to her little hut, leaving her food basket on the bridge, beside the soldiers. As she was tracing her steps climbing down the riverbank, the younger looking soldier clapped and called her back. He placed a twenty-rupee note in her hand, and requested her to fetch two plates and a jug of water for them, from her little hut. Parvathi smiled and was quite touched by the warm gesture of this young Sinhala soldier.

"But Sir, twenty rupees is too much for those 'thosais' and 'vadais'," she softly said.

"No, No, not at all. You keep the change, Thangachchi (young sister), replied the young Sinhala soldier with the sideburns on his face, beaming with an amorous glance at her.

As days rolled by the Sinhala soldiers posted to guard the bridge became more and more familiar with Parvathi, for it was from her that they bought their breakfast every morning. One day the young Sinhala soldier with the sideburns pressed a chocolate into her hand in such a manner that the other soldiers didn't see. Parvathi was quite touched by this. Whenever she plucked ripe mangoes from the trees that grew wild on the riverbank, she quietly pressed one or two into the hand of her young Sinhala soldier friend, so that the other soldiers didn't notice. In this way the bonds of friendship between the young Sinhala soldier and Parvathi grew stronger and stronger.

But the dragnet for the wanted Tamil Tiger youths who were insurgents in hiding according to the Government but who were freedom fighters according to the people of the North-East, became narrower and narrower. Before long, Parvathi knew that the Sinhala soldiers were hot on the trail of an insurgent Tiger called Krishnan, who they said was supposed to be hiding in the ravine behind her little hut. Parvathi felt a creeping sensation within her, as if a giant octopus had caught her in its tentacles. When her brother Krishnan's name was mentioned, she tried to keep calm and unruffled, though her heart was racing pitter-patter. She distinctly heard one soldier swear, "If we catch this fellow Krishnan anywhere round here , we know what to do with him."

That night when Parvathi took the dinner for her brother who was hiding in the ravine behind their little hut, Parvathi thought she must definitely warn him.

In her daily chats with her Sinhala soldier friend she ascertained that the next day a large battalion of soldiers was due to comb the entire ravine where her brother Krishnan was hiding. She knew that if she was to save her brother from certain death, she must now act fast.

Parvathi decided to meet the young Sinhala soldier with the sideburns, who was guarding the bridge, that night itself, for there was no time to be lost. She detailed to her brother Krishnan the plan of escape and told him to creep across the bridge when she lured the young Sinhala soldier into the cavernous hideout under the bridge that night. As pre-arranged, Parvathi met her soldier friend under the bridge at midnight. She had never in her life slept with a man, but she did so that night not because she was in love with the Sinhala soldier, but because her love for her brother's safety was much greater.

As she felt the heavy weight of the young Sinhala soldier penetrating and tarnishing her beautiful Tamil virginity, she realized that her tender and supple body was the bridge that enabled her brother Krishnan to cross the river and to escape from arrest and certain death.

(Note: *Thosai - a flat and round shaped food preparation made usually of ulundu or wheat flour, which is a favourite food of the Tamil community.

*Vadai- A type of doughnut shaped food preparation with onions and chilies, made of ulundu flour, also a favourite of the Tamil community.
*Sambal - A mixture of ground coconut with chilly used as a ketchup for eating thosai and vadai.)

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