I knew Andy from years gone by. No one bothered with his real name, he was simply Andy Roberts, of course, connected in some way to cricket and the West Indian fast bowler. Andy’s mother, Cicilin, worked for Aunty Dee, job description, Major Domo in the kitchen, plus all the chores that went with a middle-class home in the sixties. Big, charcoal black, that was Cicilin, hefty as a hippo, with a smile that sprouted through toothless gums and an abundance of breast that overflowed out of size forty-two. Cicilin was ramrod at Dee’s home, duties including everything, plus occasionally spanking the little masters of the household. This was Sri Lanka, sans wars and turmoil, times of life in a lighter shade, slow lane and lazy stuff, where laughter came easy and plenty to all comers.
Sarong tucked in Kahapata fashion, long galloping run-up, a sky jump and of course no overarm, simply a wild chuck and Andy sent his missiles to little Dee who smashed them into makeshift boundaries in all corners of the garden.
Andy was about ten and hailed from a family of more than a dozen. He tagged along with his mother, to stay at Dee’s, one more mouth for Aunty Dee to feed, one less for Andy’s father, that’s how it all worked, super simple.
Andy Roberts was ordinary, the prototype average in everything, eternally with a faraway took. His marbles clicked slow, and his lift never reached the top floor, stuck somewhere at lower rungs to go through life with the most mundane of want and ambition. He’s been to school to learn to write his name and a few syllables and there ended his academics. He passed his time at Aunty Dee’s, helping his mother in the kitchen, and doing small time work as watering the garden and sweeping the house, plus running errands for whoever needed his services.
Andy’s day began when Aunty Dee’s son came home from school. Same age as Andy. The two would go straight into the garden with bat and ball, an imaginary Lords. They would set stumps, the master taking guard and Andy measuring his run up. The contest begins, and the little master would wield the willow to all fences and roofs in the neighborhood to the demon fast bowling of Andy. Servant boys seldom got to bat, they only bowled, and Andy bowled. Sarong tucked in Kahapata fashion, long galloping run-up, a sky jump and of course no overarm, simply a wild chuck and Andy sent his missiles to little Dee who smashed them into makeshift boundaries in all corners of the garden. They played every day till the Angels chimed at the nearby church. Little Dee was Gary Sobers, Harvey or Ted Dexter, whoever was the flavour of the season, and of course the mate Andy was always Andy Roberts, the errand boy, waterman in the garden and Cicilin’s kolla, who transformed into a demon fast bowler by afternoon. Little Dee went on to become a well-known and respected international cricketer.
The world got older, so did the rest of us. Growing and drifting away from tender years. Little Dee’s name got splashed in sport’s pages, and Andy took the domestic servant’s route and went to work as a temporary gardener in a five-star hotel. No more cricket, just rainbow memories of kahapata sarongs and chucking balls at the little master. That was fine, new chapters to begin and Andy fell in love with a hospital attendant who he met daily on the train while wending to work. Love story modernised, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Niel replaced. Andy was in star status with daisies popping out of his ears. Lo and behold, love and all, stolen Matinees and amorous evenings at “Hard Rock Cafes.” The movies were in Hindi, long and dragging, longer the better, who cared a hoot about what went on the screen, the action was all on the seats. The Hard Rock Cafes were no fancy restaurants. They were the granite boulders along Wellawatte beach, where pauper lovers sat, lulled by the sea breeze, munching ten cent gram and talking sweet nothings with exploring hands, rewriting Bard’s immortal Romeo and Juliet. Sri Lankan version.
Andy did fine, temporary job tending the five-star flora, riding trains with Ali MacGraw and the evenings at the Hard Rock Cafe, what more to ask of life?
The monsoons changed, so did people. The hospital attendant shifted gears and went upward from her temporary gardener to a more prosperous salesmen at Ceylinco House. Andy’ s sails collapsed, the romance went rotten, broke our fast bowler’s, heart. He didn’t know how to cope. Pleadings with the attendant to resurrect the love fell on deaf ears. How to go back, defended Ali MacGraw, “no more Penny Counters in my life” and “no more Hard Rock Cafes either.” She was now eating Buriyanii at Pilawoos and drinking milkshakes at Cream House with the Ceylinco man.
No way out, no life without the attendant, Andy, the lost lover, shattered soul man, an also ran in the race of romance, took eleven gulps of Pynol to end his life.
Miracles did happen, a retching Andy was noticed by a colleague, alarms rang, the hotel staff gathered and rushed Andy to the accident ward. A quick cleansing of the stomach, flavoured with a little bit of luck, Andy survived. Visitors trickled, and visitors asked, Andy stared at the ceiling and kept silent to all the questions of why and why.
Two days later a sergeant came, from the Police. Kata uththara business. Andy had to tell him why he attempted suicide.
A wail and a cry, a swear, and a sigh, Andy tearfully told his tale of woe. How he was one of the many, the voiceless victim class. “What was there to live for” Andy lamented, “toll in the sun from dawn to dusk, year after year, the village boy, perpetually temporary, no hope to become permanent, no say in the matter.”
Tears poured, and the sobbing Andy went on, cunningly leaving the attendant and how she booted with a penalty kick. “Where was the light, more than the reason for suicide, thanks to the establishment that tortured the poor.” The whole “Wretched of the Earth” rigmarole, not Feron’s but Andy’s version. The nurses heard, the doctors too, The Police sergeant scribbled his notes and left the room. Outside in the corridor, they spoke in whispers, how wrong it all was, the system that ignored the wants of the downtrodden. The doctor, the nurse, the policeman, converted to instant Samaritans and agreed to inform the hotel to take some immediate action, lest they wanted the “exploited headline stuff’ in the weekend newspapers.
Someone spoke to someone, eyebrows raised, favours asked, and the silence was assured. All happening among the penthouse people.
The ward never saw so much food, straight from the five-star buffets, they came in silver plated containers with matching spoons. Andy feasted and shared his good luck with his ailing buddies in the ramshackle ward. They ate like Kings, thanks to the possibility of some smart alec journalist who could open a new Pandora’s box against the five-star management.
The Personal Manager himself visited, patted Andy on the head and promised not only the moon but the Milkyway itself, “We’ll make you permanent as soon as you recover.”
“We are so much looking forward to having you back,” promised the bossman, the usual fairy tale of the frightened.
A week later a reincarnated Andy left the hospital and rejoined the Five Star Hotel as a permanent gardener, casual leave, EPF, medical facilities and even entitled to his share of the service charges. No more need for pretended Pynol solutions.
In some old half torn Bristol Board file was Andy’s report gathering dust in the Slave Island Police Station. Conveniently forgotten.
Little Dee was Gary Sobers, Harvey or Ted Dexter, whoever was the flavour of the season, and of course the mate Andy was always Andy Roberts, the errand boy, waterman in the garden and Cicilin’s kolla, who transformed into a demon fast bowler by afternoon. Little Dee went on to become a well-known and respected international cricketer.
I saw him again, at Aunt Dee’s 75th birthday party. Promoted to Butler status, serving drinks and supervising the food. He is now married (not to Ali Macgraw of Hard Rock fame) well settled with a wife and two children, steady job, laughing at life. Same old Andy with the far away look, demon pacie, train ride Romeo, horticulturist, hemlock man, all-round dust gutter snipe, who while lying in a hospital bed in one quick thinking moment yorked and clean bowled the establishment.
The above is a guest post by Captain Elmo Jayawardena. He left school at 17. He’s been an aviator for a long time. In the midst of an illustrious career, he penned many books, including the 2001 Gratiaen Prize winner “Sam’s Story and State Literary Award winner “The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay”. “CandleAid Lanka,” is his brainchild, for people in need. Capt Jayawardena can be contacted via [email protected]
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