It is summer. Sticky air coats the impoverished town of Kottawa as the morning sun retreats into a humid evening. Fraying power lines lie limp in the windless air surrounded by soaring coconut trees, lavished with clusters of clay King coconuts. The village anticipates the end of the working day.
Hush, the aunties, are hard at work. Whipping up an assortment of meals to feed an exhausted army. They whiz around the kitchen like a flame of windblown fire, embedding a diverse range of ethnic spices into their creation. An explosion of flavours lies humbly on the banana leaf plate. The ruffles of their mismatched saris light up the dim room as the cracking radio plays Baila beats in the background. More chilli, more coriander, more curry leaves, each spice brings a new colour to the dish. The battalion gathers inside after a hard day of farm work, they reach out for the lensu roti in hunger. Soppy gravy is shoved into mouths, coated in the pungent curry, impeccable softness melts the array of seasonings and spices. Their mission is complete, the task of the next meal now awaits.
Look now. Tropical fruit is scattered throughout the bushes and trees alongside the ensemble of vibrant parakeets. Crimson red rambutans, forest green durians, auburn orange mangos fill the canvas of the garden, which shield the stealthy snakes which slink in between. The chestnut brown monkeys hang freely by their tails, young ones grasp tightly on their mother’s backs as they bound between the rusty roofs. Mischievously, they peek through the barred windows, swiping away the sweet passionfruit and stealing bits of leftover curry, they grunt with success. The tribe chatters with glee as they swiftly flee the scene. The villagers may live on the land, but it is the primates that own it.
Listen. The bronze-skinned boys burst into laughter, smacking and chasing the battered ball, coddling it like a prized possession. Raven-haired children glisten in the evening heat, shirtless and barefoot, they exchange snarky remarks at each other. “Meh bole tah out vey!” The cheeky boys tease – this ball he will get out! Their love of the game has them playing into the brisk night. As the shops close and the evening settles, they stay out in the streets. The crack of the exhausted bat sends the ball high into the over-ripe banana trees, hornbills squawk in terror. The patter of feet rumbles the earth as they scatter away from the enraged aunties’ jandals’ swing, forcing them back into their shacks.
Time passes. Clouds the colour of mangosteen welcomes nightfall. Geckos call out into the icy evening air, the nightlife awakens. Homes begin to settle down as the orchestra of animal sounds falls to a hum. Families gather around the cracking screens, the Lanka News title card blazes brightly.
They lean in closely to hear what has happened on this regular day in tropical paradise. Another bombing? Another corrupt politician? Another mob of angry protestors? Mosquitos swarm around the dimming light, hunting for blood. The once pure sky morphs into a black bandaged night while bullets of rain plunge into the fragile roof. The pearl moon looks down on the humble village. The midnight murmur falls silent as the night grows stronger. The mask that paints this paradise is clawed away, the bleak reality of this penniless nation settles in.
This is their home, it is all they have.