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 Post subject: Cupboard Lover
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 5:01 pm 
Cupboard Lover

She was beautiful alright, but he had only wanted to enjoy her company with no serious intentions of marriage. She was in the second year of university and had many uses for the money he had on him freely. He bought her bundles of halfsheets and once in a while an attractive frock or a skirt. They even went to the movies and enjoyed each other’s company, yet what Upul consistently thought was about why Kusum could not be like Vipuli or even Uma shedding her awkward country manners.

by Vijaya Jayasuriya

Upul came out and sat on the chair in the little veranda of the house. The lunch he was treated to was not much to his liking although it tasted pleasant and different from the routine diet he was used to in at his work place in town.

‘Typical country face... What a sell-out!’ his mind was revolting against the whole thing. It consisted of a ‘kos melluma’, dried-fish curry, a tomato curry and a pumpkin salad. It this the way they treat a visitor, he pondered. How can they get out of this rustic rut and be at least a bit fashionable so that they would not be the laughing-stock of his home people and friends!

Into his mind flashed the fabulous lunches they were given when they even casually happened to visit the homes of the girls in the office and also those the his friends married. They were all done with a touch of sophistication which Kusum cannot even understand leave alone imitate a little bit.

He cast a deep sigh of despair and it was quite inadvertently that his eyes began to scour every nook and cranny of the drab little house which had at first sight in the morning created a deep antipathy towards the people living in it. It was an ancient tiny affair with walls whitewashed with just a thin coat of lime while its windows and doors had never seen any kind of paint at all. There was no ceiling and so the sky could be seen through gaps among the old-fashioned tiles. The floor was full of cracks and crevices made in the bare cement surface while under the chairs and other furniture ugly patches of mildew had formed a farcical design of no obvious pattern.

What a far cry all this is from the houses of his colleagues in the office! Uma’s was a very attractive one though small and displayed signs of meticulous care and refined taste. Prabha was from a family of mostly teachers and theirs was a newly-built spacious house with a large hall for visitors to sit and rest. What made everyone in the office stare flabbergasted was Vipuli’s uncle’s house when they visited it for the funeral of their grandmother. Being a businessman’s dream it boasted a vast courtyard with fabulous landscaping including waterfalls and large ponds full of ornamental fish. It was an imposing affair with three storeys and refreshments for them were served on the balcony of the third floor which gave on to a vast magnificent paddy-field extending upto the horizon.

‘What a shame if they visit this hovel!’ Upul was contemplating in disgust.

‘I’m sure to lose all the regard they have for me built with years of hard work!’

It was Sena, Kusum’s only brother who did this to him. It used to be only a kind of friendship between him and the girl whom he had met in the train while travelling to work.

‘It was she who first sent me the message through her eyes...’ he began to find fault with her behaviour as well.

She was beautiful alright, but he had only wanted to enjoy her company with no serious intentions of marriage. She was in the second year of university and had many uses for the money he had on him freely. He bought her bundles of halfsheets and once in a while an attractive frock or a skirt.

They even went to the movies and enjoyed each other’s company, yet what Upul consistently thought was about why Kusum could not be like Vipuli or even Uma shedding her awkward country manners.

‘Why are you trying to avoid me, Upul?’ she was querying once when he tried to slip away into another compartment in the train.

‘No... no... I just wanted to see a friend there...’ He stammered trying to give a pretext for his suspicious behaviour.

‘No... I think you are trying to leave me... Upul... Please don’t do that. Our friendship should lead to our marriage one day...’ She was saying seriously.

Upul did not say anything to this and kept silent with a cryptically amusing look on his face.

The gloom that was generated in her mind in this closing encounter was destined to stay for the next few months as after passing out and having to stay home at a loose end she could not see him again.

‘I know why this happened to you... I also know what to do for it...’ threatened Sena, her elder brother, when mother started to question her only daughter’s glum looks and the pensive mood throughout the day.

‘Chathura in your junior batch told me everything’.

Kusum stood dumfounded as she never thought that any of her home people knew about her affair. She also never expected that Chathura who went to university from the adjoining village would spill the beans like this.

Sena suddenly came to Upul’s office one day and introduced himself as Kusum’s elder brother.

‘You must marry my sister. You can’t be allowed to play with her life like this...’ he directly threatened Upul.

‘No... no... I... I’ Upul stammered trying to explain away something.

‘No... no... After three years of carrying on everyone now knows that you had an affair with my sister. Please do not try to get away after giving her this black mark. She is a girl with a good future...’

Then he was asked by Sena to visit their home on a subsequent day and he came on that day to accompany the lover as well.

‘What a trap I feel into,’ Upul was thinking aimlessly slouched in the arm chair when he saw a grey-haired head emerge above the hedge, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the face of that elderly man.

It was Mr. Siripala, their Sinhala teacher in his school many years ago. Though he had grown very old, Upul was able to make him out without mistake, and almost involuntarily sprang to his feet when the old man entered the compound of the house.

‘Upul’.

It was Mr. Siripala’s usual strong bass voice and Upul almost unthinkingly answered:

‘Sir... you’re here?’

‘Yes child... this is, my sister’s home... Kusum’s mother is my sister. Sit down... sit down. We can now talk with some understanding...’

The teacher sat in the other chair arranging his pajama sarong over which he was sporting that spotless national shirt. He used to be one of the very popular teachers at school who treated students almost like his own children and also taught his subject perfectly well. The way he recited Sinhala folk poems everyone enjoyed while his deep analysis of them enabled the students to appreciate poetry at any higher levels.

‘Sena wanted me to come and meet you here today. I never knew it was one of my pupils involved in this. You know child, I do not want to act the match-maker here. I hate to be a spoil-sport too. But what is at stake here, as you very well know by now, is the future of a poor girl,’ the teacher went on.

‘If you remember the folk poem where a village woman was walking past a philanderer asked her to stay a while for a chat in the ‘ambalama’. But the woman refused saying that she was a mother of a child and he went on to quote: "Since my child is waiting in my distant home and I’m a married woman I have to hurry."

‘Yes... I very well remember the two poems, Sir,’ Upul rejoined.

‘So now you can appreciate the self-respect of even a poor village girl. So make your decision accordingly,’ and the teacher settled down in his chair finishing his exhortation.

And after a while, he invited Upul to visit his own home while the young man was deep in reverie now ashamed as if he had made an attempt to offend his teacher. Sena also joined in the walk calling Kusum too to come with them.

‘Yes, Kusume... why don’t you also go to uncle’s place...’ her mother expressed her approval.

‘No... no... You must not go like that not yet,’ said the master opposing the idea.

‘He doesn’t know how much we have roamed all over Colombo’. Upul was thinking to himself, when the master walking ahead turned back and said as if he had divined his very thought:

‘I know you must have been going about freely... but it is not so in the village. We have to be careful until you formally come together...’

The teacher’s house was at a walking distance and when he slowed down and turned, Upul could not but be astonished by the sight of the beautiful house there.

‘Come come... this is my ambalama...’

Upul looked a little nonplussed and queried: ‘Why ambalama, sir?’

‘Any mansion you build becomes only an ambalama within a few years when you get the message to leave this world...’

Upul felt very much happier and satisfied now as the teacher’s home proved to be a much better place than any of his friends’ place he had visited.

‘When can have your wedding in my house... Upul. Kusum did not have that luck as her father, my brother-in-law was a wasteful man who did not care for his family at all...’

Upul cast a deep sigh of relief and as he was making up his mind to be faithful to Kusum his sweetheart turned his head towards Sena and smiled. Sena smiled back and also breathed an almost audible sigh of immense consolation now that his sister’s destiny is ensured by the intervention of his teacher uncle.


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