A Teardrop In The Indian Ocean.

Paul and Andrew had arrived in a country to which they had never been before, a paradisical  place which made them both feel they didn’t want to leave. Her beauty and culture held them spellbound. Her nature kept them entranced. But most of all it was her people which kept them prisoner. 

The Lola Boys were now inmates on the Island of Sri Lanka.

And willingly so!

Surely there was nowhere on earth accommodating such an accommodating population.

And Paul and Andrew had been around!

The sheer joy which exuded from the island’s population was as infectious as the dull Corona virus which had so blighted the world for the past couple of years, making the theatrical life the boys had once known practically impossible. They had both been forced to re-evaluate their lives. Change them perhaps. 

Paul had decided to ditch the heels! He was the wrong side of fifty for six inches and he knew all too well that he could behave like one to his partner at times when wearing them! It was part of the character he put on but he’d grown tired of ‘him’, along with his hips and calves which had recently decided to kick back.  As most women know there is usually a high price to pay for constantly elevating oneself – eventually. Unless, of course, one is Naomi Campbell, although Paul suspected she too would need some kind of crutch when she became superannuated rather than a super model! 

He and Andrew had both adored their time as cabaret artistes but they felt it was time for a change.  Covid had thrust it upon them but sometimes an unexpected thrust could be a good thing. Especially if it came from the right direction.  And Sri Lanka definitely seemed to be just that.  They were both re-invigorated.

Inspired.

Energized.

And they had only been in the country for two months! But what an eight weeks it had been. 

They had experienced so much love and adventure, two of their favourite pastimes, than they had over the last two years!  Of course they missed their family but they were used to that having been fairly itinerant for most of their lives. ‘Born in a trunk’ was a phrase one of their great show biz friends used to describe herself. Paul sometimes wondered if he and Andrew had shared the same piece of luggage as they never seemed to stay still for too long. Life was a tour. And there were so many venues to play. Now Ceylon was their new stage. Exactly their cup of tea!

They had already made a small circumnavigation of her southern parts. Beginning in the heady beach city of Negombo on the west coast and then heading south on a packed and sweaty seatless train to Galle, an old colonial gem of a city crumbling charmingly into the Indian Ocean.  In truth, they had found the old fort of Galle a touch Disney.  A few too many avocado shakes and rude Russians invading the narrow lanes.  But at dawn before the ‘Eat, Pray, Wank’ brigade arrived it was a special place.

Quite lovely.  It’s old Dutch ramparts shared only with the odd cappuccino monkey instead of the cappuccino set!

The Lola Boys had then moved on to the small beach town of Unawatuna.  A very close drive in a tuk tuk – though their hapless chauffeur had no idea where they were going and had driven them round and round the paddy fields until Paul felt as though he’s been working in one of them for a day and a half. They eventually rolled up at the ‘On Time Villa’ thoroughly not on time. He and Andrew feeling almost late!

Andrew and Paul had chosen to stay with a family, eschewing any modern hotels for reasons of finance as well as taste.  The best way, after all, to get the flavour of a place was to reside amongst her people.  And they were not disappointed.  They had intended to stay with the family at the ‘On Time Villa’ for just three days but they ended up extending their stay to sixteen instead. 

Their small room with just a rickety fan looked out across a paddy field through which peacocks fluttered clumsily, blue avian flashes mid the verdant rice crop.

Bliss

A colourful crew of six or seven workers picked the harvest during the sweltering midday sun still finding time to joke amongst themselves and smile at the lucky lazy tourists who looked on in amazement whilst swigging cold beer.

The Buddhist temple across the way would ring out prayers and covid advice at dawn for two hours and the bread man would appear at a most unBuddhaly hour every morning to the mechanical strains of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. This was a sound to which Paul and Andrew were to become very familiar. The German composer’s tune rang out with such frequency across Sri Lanka, that Paul thought it lucky the old boy had gone deaf before snuffing it, or he’d be spinning in his grave interminably. It was rarely in tune!

Although the bread was good.

And most importantly the family were so welcoming and warm that they both felt they’d become a part of it. They had breakfast in the house each morning with whomsoever else happened to be staying.  Most guests only stayed a night or two, preferring to move on to a hot shower and some air conditioning. But those for whom the conditions were just right stayed much longer – just like the boys. There was a charming English musician whom Paul and Andrew got to know quite well named Anton – who had a passion for converting every new resident to the pleasures of ‘Marmite’! He found it hilarious to try it out on any naive German or Russian girl that would give it a go and laughed uproariously when they showed there displeasure at first taste.  Of course, Paul had been a fan of the tar like spread for decades and was thrilled when Anton presented him with a gift of a large jar of the stuff at breakfast one morning.  Apparently it was a hit with the Sri Lankan’s and was sold in almost every establishment – a colonial hangover Paul wondered, although his history of the spread was rather thin on the ground, as it should be on toast, so he couldn’t be sure. 

Another guest was Reiner, an affable German who had discovered the place during the lunacy of Corona virus the previous year and had been locked down.  He had now returned to be voluntarily locked down again after succumbing to the family’s charms but unfortunately had also been knocked down! A bike accident had left his left arm swollen and discolored. He sat in a chair for most of the day and attempted to read a John Grisham novel with his good arm as the bad one grew worse.

Or simply grew.

After a few days Saman and Rassica, their beautiful hosts, took him along to the hospital.  He returned with a strangely bandaged and bloodied limb.  Paul thought it looked somewhat dodgy but said nothing. 

Unawatuna was quite charming. It had three beaches – his and Andrew’s favourite was the least touristic and picturesque, clinging scruffily onto the motorway and frequented by wannabe surfers.  They spent several days at a hip cafe there making rude jokes with the rude boys.

It had been a laugh. 

The town itself was nothing really special but had a great feel. The popular ‘Good Karma Hospital’ was filmed on it’s main drag – and Saman had taken great pride in showing Paul and Andrew the exact location – which was in reality a college and not a medical centre at all. 

‘The Good Karma Hospital’ – not!

As Paul was driven by the ‘Good Karma’ for the first time he knew he’d feel much calmer were his chauffeur older than ten!  Saman’s son, Vishwa, was a very good driver, but both Paul and Andrew suffered a few nerves as they pulled out of the country lane on which they lived and onto the main thoroughfare. Sri Lankan roads were busy to say the least. Tuk tuks, taxis, trouble and ten year olds.

He clung on tightly to Andrew’s arm until they reached home and alighted the vehicle bidding a ‘Guten Tag’ to Reiner and his arm as they passed him and his latest John Grisham on route to their room to recover.

A few days later and Reiner’s forearm had doubled in size! The family suggested another trip to the hospital, to which Reiner agreed.  Although he was very tough with sky blue electric eyes, making Andrew liken him to Daniel Craig, he knew he didn’t have Mr Bond’s ability to self heal. He needed attention. He returned one evening with an altogether novel dressing and a different novel.  None of it looked readable.  Both the book and the arm were a profound mystery.

Paul and Andrew reluctantly moved on from the family they’d got to know quite well.  They had visited their relatives in the jungle and been ferried around, at no cost, to anywhere they’d wanted to go.  They had eaten together, drank together, smoked together.  And on leaving, when Paul attempted to pay the bill, Rasica was having none of it.

‘Saman says no bill’ she said.

‘’What D’you mean?’ Paul asked.  After all, this had never happened on any of his and andrew’s previous travels.

‘’You friends – no pay!’

‘No no’, Paul insisted, ‘we are friends yes – but we pay.’

He was now speaking in clipped English with a Sri Lankan accent. An unfortunate habit which he’d noticed many a traveller adopt in order to make oneself understood. He knew he sounded quite ridiculous.

But he was almost moved to tears by the show of generosity which was entirely genuine – Rasica was quite happy to let he and Andrew walk away without paying a rupee – and during the extreme economic crisis the country was currently undergoing. It was a revelation to him.  He had never, on his various foreign adventures, encountered such humility. Such kindness.

In the end the only way he could make Rasica accept any cash was by leaving it on the kitchen counter and insisting it was for the three kids of the house.  For their studies.  He knew this was important to Saman and Rasica, as even though their children were on school holidays they were each sent to private class every day for some subject or other.  Rasica reluctantly accepted and hugged him.  Although she didn’t count any of the cash.

As they said their goodbyes to Anton the Marmite King and the rest of the ‘On Time’ family Paul couldn’t help but notice Reiner’s arm had begin to grow again.  It didn’t look swell.

Or rather – it did!

He refrained from shaking it as they bid farewell for fear it may fall off. 

They said their goodbyes. Paul shading his tears behind a pair of outsize shades. He’d always been useless at farewells – even with strangers on whom he’d depended for kindness. T’was a lachrymose fault in his nature he was aware, but he was too old to change it now. No use crying over spilt tears!

He and Andrew jumped into a tuk tuk and headed for the tiny railway station of Thale to make their way to Tangalle in Sri Lanka’s Deep South.  Sri Lanka at her most sultry.  A new experience was about to begin – one that was to take Paul entirely by surprise.

Or part of him!

On their arrival Paul’s ‘Tintin’ ringtone rang out a the bottom of his rucksack. He fumbled his way through the mosquito coils and beer cans to answer.

It was Saman. Just calling to make sure he and Andrew had arrived safely at their next destination. He was at the hospital with Reiner. His left hand man for the umpteenth time. Apparently the German’s arm had grown even bigger. Paul was now quite pleased he and Andrew had left the ‘On Time Villa’.

There would never have been room for the three of them!

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks Paul, it really took us back to our time in Sri Lanka, wonderful people…
    Sad to hear you’re hanging up the heels though

    Liked by 1 person

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