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 Post subject: Carapace
 Post Posted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 9:18 pm 
Carapace

ANURA PERERA IS coming over tonight.

Amma - my mother - says I ought to take him
seriously. I told Vijay about it.

So?

He's coming to see me because he is
interested in me and he has serious
intentions. He lives in Australia!
Vijay grinned and said nothing. That's the
way with Vijay.

Do you know who Anura Perera is?
He shook his head, no. Then he laughed,
So he's looking for a Lankan wife?
Yes! I said. Anura Perera has a dollar job, a
Sydney house, and an Australian ticket.
So what are you saying? Vijay laughed.
You are going to marry this prick with a
foreign job? Is that what you've come to tell
me?

That wasn't what I had come to tell him at
all. I first met Vijay at the new 20 disco. It was a
birthday party and there was a crowd of about
twenty people in our group. I didn't know
many of them. My friend Lakshmi took me
along to it. It was her friend's birthday but we
had all been waiting to go to this new place.
Everyone was talking about it. It was packed
out that night. The dance floor was fabulous:
round, with lights flashing underneath and all
sorts of fantastic gadgets turning around the
room. Vijay was not in our party. He came up
to me and said, How about a dance? I could
hardly hear him, but I could see his mouth in
the dark. And when the lights flashed on him I
could see him looking straight at me like he
really wanted to dance with me. We danced
all night. He bought me rum and coke and
smoked lots of cigarettes. In the end he asked
whether we could meet again.

Only the next day I discovered he is the
cook at the Beach Hut. He is older than me;
tall and long and always smiling. He has such
a mop of hair and is so skinny. He never eats!
He says he likes to see his food eaten by
other people. To watch his customers, his
friends, grow fat and happy. He says there is
nothing he likes better than to stir his pan
of squid in front of the ocean. His face is
big and square like a bony box stretched
over with skin; his lips barely keep his teeth
in and he always seems about to burst into
a laugh. And when he does the whole sea
seems to crease up. The beach is so lovely
with him.

When I went to see him today he said
hello with a big grin on his face. Come sit
down, I won't be long. He had a basin full of
enormous prawns on his lap. Loku isso, he
said.

A newspaper spread out on the floor
under him was heaped with plucked prawn
heads and shells. Orange whiskers. After
peeling each prawn he carefully pulled out
a thin blue vein that curved around it like a
backbone. Look at that, he held the vein
up: sea-poison.

At first I didn't even want to open my
mouth about Anura Perera, but Amma says
you must always go for the best you can.
And I know Anura Perera will come in a big
Mitsubishi, air-conditioned with tinted glass
and a stereo. I wanted Vijay to know.

When he finished with the prawns he
washed his hands and poured out some
coffee for me. What are we going to do? I
asked. I wanted to know what he really felt
for me.

About what?

About us, I said. What are we going to
do?

He said, There's an American film at the
Majestic.

It is so easy for him. He doesn't see
anything. There are no problems, no hangups.
He's not like the other guys around
here, always trying something on. He
comes straight out with what he thinks. But
I must have looked worried; he leaned
forward. What is it you want to know then?
he asked, touching my hand. He has such
a light touch. His fingernails are like sea shells,
slightly pink, with little half-moons

peeping out. When he touches my hand with
his fingers I feel tremendous and I want to go
on like this for ever, just drinking coffee
together and looking at the sea.
I told him we've got to sort things out.
Going to the pictures won't solve anything.
But you like movies, he said.

For months nothing has happened and now
suddenly everything happens: 100 Vijay first, now
Anura Perera. When Amma talks to me I see
a whole new world. I don't think Vijay could
even imagine it. He would just laugh. Amma
said we could go and buy a new saree.
Something really nice. And I saw just the
shoes at Tonio's, next to the supermarket.
Imagine flying, stopping in Singapore! I can't
believe it but it is what I've dreamed of all
along; something happening so I can be
someone instead of this crazy feeling that
nothing matters. But then when I go to Vijay I
really don't know what I want. . .

He looked at me and clicked his tongue, So
what matters so much? He lit one of his thin crackly
cigarettes and stretched out on his chair. His
head rested on the back of it; he let his mouth
stay open like a fish gulping. Sometimes he
can be so idiotic!

But it isn't that simple. It isn't! We can't just
stay like this, I said. The Beach Hut isn't going
to be here for ever. The bamboo and coconut
will split. The wood on the window-frame is
already rising, turning itself inside out. I
looked out of the doorway and watched the
green sandy water of the ocean swelling and
falling. You can't be a beach cook for the rest
of your life, I said. Or is that all you want? Do
you really only want to be a cook all your life?
I didn't want to upset him, I just wanted him to
say something; but he just stared at me. He
looked at me as if I were way out at sea,
already floating across the ocean. But who is
the drifter? Not me.

A crowd of bathers turned up looking for
beer and his beach roti, so I said I better go;
he had work to do. I asked him to call me as
soon as he could, before evening. It is
important. Call me, please. He smiled sweetly
and nodded OK. Then he screwed up his
eyes and sucked the last of his smoke
through his fingers and held it in his chest.
At home everyone was busy. I came to my
room and stayed out of the way. I wanted

to be alone. Nobody seemed to miss me.
By five o'clock, when I looked out, the
whole place was dusted and tidied up; the
floor in the front room has been polished
and Auntie Manel has even brought flowers
for that ghastly green vase that sits by the
telephone. The house is filled with a kind of
sea musk. Amma has made sandwiches
and patties and roasted cashew nuts
spiced with red chilli to put out in her
special silver bowl. I have never seen the
place looking like this.

Amma has been having palpitations; I
know she has been rushing around all over
160 the place arranging everything, her breasts
heaving with excitement. She is so
anxious, but it's no accident that this first
meeting is happening tonight; she would
have consulted her astrologer. She
wouldn't have taken any risks! It must be
the most auspicious day of the month. I
suppose I should make a fuss and ask her:
Do I have a choice in all of this? But I don't
want to choose. I hate choosing.
It's all so crazy. What's in Australia
anyway? Everyone wants to go there,
especially when there's any disturbance
here. But what for? I like the beach here. I
like our road, our bougainvillaea slumping
over the wall and that sandy walk we go on
across the railway tracks down to the sea. I
like the disco. I like going by putt-putt
yellow three wheelers. Just to live in a large
fancy bungalow with a view of the Opera
180 House or something! What's so great about
that? Vijay would say it's all in the head.
If only he would turn up with something.
But Amma would die if she knew about
him. She'd throw a fit. A cook on the beach!
What she wants to say is . . . Good evening
Mr Perera, so pleased to meet you. Do
come and take my daughter away;
transform her world with your brilliance -
and your nice fat bank account. Give her a
modern house, a big car, fancy clothes,
shoes she can afford to throwaway after
every party. Give her expensive things, and
by-the-by your unswerving respect, and all
will be well. She will be an asset to your
career, a pearl in your crown. Just take her
Mr Perera, please take her to Australia
away from here, and don't forget her
mother . . . Anura.

I waited and waited for Vijay to call. I didn't
know what I wanted him to 200 say, but I thought
he would find something. He wouldn't let
things slip just for the want of a few words.
Then about an hour ago the telephone rang. I
let it ring for a bit. Amma was in the bathroom.
Nobody else answers the telephone in our
house. Eventually I picked it up. I was so
nervous I could hardly speak.
What time can you come out to eat tonight?
Vijay asked. I've made a special dish:
fantastic, with those big prawns!
I could hear the ocean in the telephone. I
could see him with a big grin on his face,
pulling open his white shirt and rubbing his
bare bony chest with his long fingers. He'd
have the lamps lit under the trees.
I said, I can't talk; the iron is on. I was
ironing my jade green saree, the one that
Amma bought for me. I told him, I have to put
the phone down. I put it down. He won't ring
220 again. He thinks I know his number by heart:
Mount Lavinia 926979, 926979.



© Romesh Gunesekera
First published in ‘Monkfish Moon’ 1992
Reprinted here with the kind permission of the
author


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