Contact the Author | sample_mail@mail.com

Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Crime

WTC Colombo, Sri Lanka, January 31, 1996, 10:50 a.m.

Nihal decided to skip the midmorning snack. It would be too much of a hassle to take the elevator, walk down the street, and wait in line at the busy café just to have a cup of tea. Besides, his tea buddy hadn’t arrived at work yet.

Lazy bastard.

Nihal had too much on his plate already. The opening ceremony of the new office would be in two days. As operations manager, he had to make sure everything ran smoothly by then, from elevators to the fax machine. Their company was moving to a posh office on the tenth floor of WTC, at the east tower. It was the new baby in town. He marveled at the grandness of brand-new furniture, smelled the freshness of newly painted walls, admired the new set of PCs they’d bought, and for the umpteenth time, wanted to just stand in front of the huge glass panel to be awed at the magnificence of Colombo’s skyline.

First, he should answer the phone. Telephone lines were working, so one less thing to worry about.

“Hello, brother,” Nihal said. “Didn’t expect a call from you in the early morning.”

“It is almost bedtime for us over here. How are you doing?”

“Busy as usual. Guess what? I am in the new office. You should see the view from here. It is breathtaking. I can see the Galle Face Green, Central Bank, Beira Lake, and our identical twin at the same time.”

“That must be something,” his brother said. “I heard the Colombo Stock Exchange is also doing great. You must be making a fortune.”

“I don’t know about a fortune, but we are doing all right. Do you think Janaki and kids are happy over there?”

“They are hanging on. It is harder in Toronto than we first thought. But it is a great city, good place to raise a family. Is my nephew busy applying to schools?”

“We need to push Nalin a little. Hope it is not too much of a trouble to sponsor him. You know things are okay for older people like me. It is different for youngsters. I hope we can send him abroad before it is too late. I don’t like the company he keeps. Can’t do much about it though.”

“Stop worrying about the children. They are just kids behaving like kids. I will see what I can do. Say hello to Akka too for me.”

“Bye now. Don’t you spend too much on telephone calls? You will need some extra cash once my son lands there.”

The huge glass panes in front of him made Nihal feel small. He watched the waves rushing over and over to the shore in the Galle Face Green, a sight he had never gotten bored witnessing for fifty-two years. The streets below him were busy as always, with line of vehicles snaking all around and a mass of humanity at work like in an anthill. He could see all of them but hear none of the honking or yelling—too far and perfectly insulated from the walls.

He glanced at his watch. It was 11:00 a.m. Where is my assistant? That guy has no concept of punctuality. Why am I surprised anyway?

What the heck is that racket? A lorry was entering the front gate of the Central Bank, followed by a three-wheeled taxi. He saw people running around—couldn’t say what they were running around for. The truck kept on moving as people were surrounding it. Did he see smoke? He took his reading glasses out of his eyes to have a better look.

What happened next did not make any sense. Why it happened could not be attributed to the will of God, because one had to then accept it as the most arbitrary power. It couldn’t be explained as ‘karma,’ then it should be the most irrational case of a “cause and effect.”

Science might shine some light on it.

First, light travels faster than sound. That explained why Nihal saw it well yet didn’t hear a thing. Second, the mind works the fastest. It could travel way ahead of light or time. That explained how he knew exactly what was happening as it was happening—perhaps even before it occurred.

Third, a glass prism can refract white light, creating a rainbow. That would explain the beauty surrounding the evil that he would witness in two seconds.

Four hundred forty pounds of high explosives detonated, creating an extremely bright flash that he saw at once. And it generated a shock wave that took a long time—1.8 seconds exactly—to reach the glass panel in front of him. He had ample time to ponder about his son, wife, strangers, himself, and his son again—but no chance to react.

The glass instantly broke into billions of little pieces, each refracting the bright sunlight forming billions of rainbows. The seven colors of the spectrum of visible light danced in front of him, sometimes separately and sometimes together—always with a splendor only the heavens could boast. He couldn’t escape the beauty of the spectacle as his heart cried for his loved ones. The billions of small prisms—some as small as micrometers, some as big as millimeters—traveled the two feet between his cornea and the glass wall that was no more in existence, faster than the speed of sound but slower than the speed of light.

So he witnessed. And he reflected as he was waiting. Somebody had decided to take an eye for an eye.

Fortunately, the nerve impulses that traveled from his skin to the brain moved at a much slower speed.

It was over before he felt any pain.

 

Chapter 6
The Storm

Three intruders rushed in as soon as Rohan unlocked the front door. All wore black masks over their faces that made it impossible to make any one of them out. Rohan noticed gray hair on the tall man who carried the gun. There was a short person who could have been either a preadolescent—fourteen or sixteen years of age—or a midget, an unlikely possibility. He was carrying a strange-looking pouch that he held onto tightly. His face was completely covered by the black mask, exposing only his eyes. A chill went up Rohan’s spine as he came into contact with that person’s stare. His gaze conveyed a penetrating fierceness coupled with an animalistic vehemence. The third person looked to be in his late teens or early twenties. He had nothing distinctive about him at all.

Somehow, he appeared familiar to Rohan.

“Mr. Warnapura, could you please step out of the house, we just need to talk to you alone.” The old man spoke in a soft voice. His tone was almost respectful, if not for the barrel of the gun pointing at Ranjith.

“We can’t let you take my husband away,” Malini replied firmly. She had regained her composure after the initial panic.

Rohan felt strange to see his mother taking over his father’s personality while his father was uncharacteristically passive.

“Malini, madam, please do as they ask you to do,” the third person almost pleaded with her. He wasn’t forceful at all. He even sounded apologetic. “Nothing will happen to your husband.”

“You can ask him anything now over here. Isn’t it so, Ranjith?”

“We are not here to harm anybody’s family.” The old man was getting irritated. “You should know better than that. We have received some allegations against you. We hope you will answer truthfully.”

Both the old man and the young short person came close to Ranjith. There was some vacillation from the other person, who preferred to keep his distance from the besieged family. Rohan felt the familiarity again, yet, could not concentrate enough to ascertain it positively.

“You are a senior manager of a multinational company, right?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Have you ever ridiculed our movement during any of your staff meetings?”

“I have not ridiculed JVP. Never. I may have criticized their actions, nevertheless I always had great respect for your struggle.”

“What actions of ours you have found deserve your criticism?”

“I don’t approve of all this violence. I hope we can find a solution to this crisis without killing one another.”

“Do you think we have resorted to violence for fun? Do you think we enjoy being tortured and killed? You speak as if we place ourselves against this murderous government because we have some itch to scratch!” the old man thundered.

Ranjith kept his head low and remained silent. Nobody could read his face to know whether he was angry, sad, or frightened.

Rohan’s attention turned to the short person. He was becoming restless, breathing heavily, sweating, and swinging sideways in an unusual manner, while keeping his stare firmly on Ranjith. He feared this one the most—more than the gun-wielding, belligerent old man. Rohan could see only his eyes. That was more than enough to see a deep malice, an animal-like viciousness that Rohan could almost smell.

He saw anger in the old man too, but he felt no hatred in him. He even sounded sad.

The other young person cut a somewhat sorry figure among this crowd. He was clearly unsure of his role in that drama. His eyes conveyed a puppy-like fear and his movements an uncertain hesitation. He avoided eye contact with anybody. He kept on adjusting his mask as if it was getting loose. He tried to look past the occupants of the house nervously. Rohan felt a rush of indignation in his chest when that person intermittently laid his eyes on Nalika’s room.

Ranjith was beginning to be annoyed by this interrogation. The initial panic had now turned into an irritant. The rude behavior of those people and even the gun pointed at him had become less threatening than that had been five minutes earlier. He was finally regaining his self-confidence. He wanted to confront those interlopers with some self-respect.

“Listen, pal. I am not your enemy. Please go and take your issue with those who are really responsible for your predicament.”

The man stared at him without uttering a word for a while. Rohan couldn’t read anything into his stare. Was he angry or sympathetic? Was he reflecting on something? He seemed lost in thought—even a little sad.

“Finally, do you have anything to say about the poor girls working in your factory who you have raped?”

They were taken aback by the viciousness of his tone and the manner when he made that allegation. Ranjith’s face turned red instantly. A raging fury boiled through his chest and exploded.

“What the fuck are you talking about? Who do you think you are to barge into my home and spit this venom in front of my family? How dare you cook up something that never happened?”

He moved forward and pushed the barrel of the gun away. Malini tried to stop him, but was too slow to react to his outburst.

“No wonder the army has any choice except to finish you all. You are nothing but a bunch of beasts that deserve to die as such.”

“No, Gune, don’t.”

Everybody’s attention turned away from Ranjith at the loud cry of the other man, who had almost been forgotten. The man came forward with his hands raised, screaming and pleading. He was trying to stop something.

Stop what?

While everybody turned to him, Rohan could see from the corner of his eye the dwarf pouncing at Ranjith like a panther. As he moved forward, his right hand went into his pouch, and the long, shiny blade of a knife came out at lightning speed, blinding his eyes.

The time seemed to be momentarily suspended. The movements of those people occurred in slow motion. He saw blood splattering. He heard his father screaming in fear. He saw his mother fainting and falling to the floor. He saw his younger brother running toward his father only to be knocked out by a swift blow to his face from the old man. He wanted to scream. Nothing came out of his throat. He wanted to rush to his father. He couldn’t move his limbs.

His father was lying on the floor, weeping in pain. The dwarf had climbed over his body like an ape, raising his arm and stabbing him over and over again. All Rohan saw was the shiny blade reflecting light and blinding his eyes. Everything in front of him became insignificant except the shiny blade. He did not understand why, but all he could do was hope that that blade would be rusty and blunt … soon.

 

Chapter 10
Love, Joy and Deception

“Rohan, let’s go in. I will make you some tea.”

She didn’t leave room for any hesitation from him while promptly pulling the car to their front yard. Their house was much smaller than Rohan’s, but it had a modern exterior. Amanda got a key out of her handbag to open the door. The interior of the house looked very contemporary too. A large painting of a tea estate overlooking a mountain range was on a wall atop a brown leather couch that reminded him of his meditation center. She walked directly to the kitchen, which did not have many signs of recent cooking. She offered him a chair by a small round glass kitchen table. Then she placed a kettle on the electric cooker.

“You have a beautiful house. It is well kept too.”

“You should tell it to my Ammi. She is the one who makes sure everything in here is in pristine order.”

“Where are your parents?”

“They are vacationing these days down-south,” she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Would you like milk and sugar in your tea?” she asked as the kettle began to whistle.

“Yes, please.”

He appreciated her preparing a cup of tasty tea in such a short time. Both of them had their drinks without much chatter.

“How is your apartment? Is it a comfortable place?”

“It is just a big old house with six bedrooms, two heavily used bathrooms, and one hardly used kitchen. Right now, only four rooms are occupied, so it is not so bad.”

“Sounds like a fun place to me.” She laughed. “I don’t think you enjoy sharing a place like that with three strangers—especially the bathroom.”

“I am doing fine, getting along very well with my fellow occupants. How many rooms do you have here?”

“We have three bedrooms—two on the first floor and mine is upstairs. I have my own bathroom that I do not share with anybody.” She showed her seductive smile again.            “Finish your tea quickly. I will take you on a tour.”

They had a rich collection of furniture and other household fittings. He had a peek into her parents’ bedroom, which looked grand, complete with a mahogany dresser, old-style bed, and wall paintings. The guest room had a large, queen-sized modern bed and a small table, which made the room resemble a hotel room. She led him upstairs to show him her collection of flowerpots placed on the balcony. He couldn’t name any of her flowers. Her bedroom smelled sweet, although it was a little untidy. Her twin-sized bed was filled with stuffed animals with a mean-looking big panda by the pillow.

“I don’t like your panda because it is very boy like, and a fat one at that too. I think it is also bullying your other cute fluffy friends.”

“Nobody bullies my friends.”

“Can I see your bathroom? I promise not to use it.”

She blocked him with her raised hands. He pretended to go past her, but she pushed him back, giggling. He noticed a large mirror on the wall extending from the floor up to about seven feet high.

“Does that mirror make you look prettier?”

“It makes me look fat. Why don’t you check yourself? Maybe it will make you look handsome.”

He stood in front of it. He could see the reflection of the sunset through the window behind him—a colorful background.

“Well, I look ugly, as usual. Okay, it is your turn to check yourself out.” He made way for her to stand in front of him.

The golden rays of the setting sun paled in comparison with the radiant beauty of that angel. She stood only three inches in front of him, facing the mirror. Her head was slightly raised and slanted sideways, making her neck bare. Her shoulders hunched forward, and her hips were raised. He could watch the object of his affection directly from behind, plus the reflection of his dreams from the front through the mirror—both at the same time. He could smell the freshness of her hair, combined with a seductive perfume that she had been wearing the whole week. He also felt the warmth of her body from the close proximity energizing his own senses. He could hear her rhythmic breathing, at the same time watching her chest move back and forth in her reflection, causing his heart to beat faster while awakening the wild beast within him.

The reflection of her face in the mirror was looking at him in a strange way. Her smile was gone. Her innocence was fading away into thin air. Rohan could no longer identify or give a name to that expression on her face. He remembered Marla’s demeanor the night she invited him to her house. But Amanda did not have a warrior-like stance as Marla’s. The manifestation was that of a person about to surrender. She looked neither happy nor sad. She was neither intense nor tender.

She was in a trance, the look of which he would not forget for the rest of his life.

He moved forward and squeezed her shoulders tightly with both of his hands. The front of his body gently rubbed her back, making her shudder. She turned her head and pulled his face toward hers with her palm, which also caressed his hair simultaneously. He kissed her cheek, first with immense love pouring out of his heart, then grabbed her tightly with both his arms, turned her around, and kissed her lips with an uncontrollable lust. His lips probed all over her face and then moved down to her neck while their bodies got entwined tightly.

She felt the intensity of his desire pushing on her body, making her want to moan. She kissed his cheeks, lips, neck, and ears erotically. Then she whispered his name in his ear over and over again.

He whispered her name into her ear once.

****

He woke up in the middle of the night. Am I awake or still dreaming? The room was in semidarkness with only a faint ray of moonlight highlighting the curves of her naked body. She was sleeping on her side, turning her back to him. He pushed his body against hers while gently stroking her skin with his fingertips, marking the contours of her curvy body, from top to bottom. He pulled her toward him while wrapping his legs around her tightly. Then he kissed her neck and worked his way down gently.

She didn’t wake up, only made a weak hiss, welcoming him.

No thought of past or future entered his mind. He was neither happy nor sad. There were no worries or expectations lingering in his heart. All he felt was an intense joy that effortlessly occupied his whole being. That was the ultimate bliss, even though it would be all too ephemeral.

He was genuinely living in the present, only moving from moment to moment through space and time …

 

Chapter 22
Unceasing Sufferings

Geetha recognized her platoon leader instantly. She wore her full uniform with horizontal tiger stripes, war medals, an armband on her upper left arm, and two grenades on her waist. She entered the ward making no effort to lessen the thumping noises of her heavy boots, showing no regard for the tranquility of the patients.

The first thing she did was grabbing Geetha’s hair and kicking her lower abdomen with her right knee. Then she slapped both of Geetha’s cheeks as she fell to the floor.

They took her to a jungle camp two miles’ walk from the clinic. The two soldiers, young boys who escorted her through the jungle, were not mean to her. They were instead joking about Geetha’s rendezvous with a stranger. They just wanted to know some spicy details. But the beatings resumed at the prison. This time, it was by two prison guards—a man and a woman—both middle-aged, who used a long thin stick and a belt to spank her before asking any questions.

“Is it true that you are pregnant?”

“I don’t know. That is not your problem anyway.” She was still belligerent. After all, she was a battle-hardened soldier, not like this balding old fart and his fat accomplice.

“Keep your mouth shut, will you? You don’t want to be in this hellhole forever.”

“Yeah … like you care.”

She was not afraid to be sarcastic to her tormentors. She knew the rules and the consequences. She had seen it happening to others. They were not allowed to have lovers until they finished ten years in the organization. The punishments would be severe—first derision, then beatings, and finally imprisonment.

“Who is the man?”

She had been dreading that question. Her confrontational mood disappeared as soon as that question was asked. She held her head low and kept quiet.

“Who is the man?” The middle-aged guard raised the cane.

She kept mum, not a single word, not even a whimper during the next two hours of torture.

It was on the fourth day of her solitary confinement in a small dungeon, actually an abandoned well in the middle of the compound, that she heard the sound of several vehicles approaching the camp. Usually, it was only a tractor pulling a tailor that brought provisions. From the sound of it, she could figure out that those were not old tractors. It meant one thing. They were having important visitors.

“I heard that you have been quite stubborn.”

She recognized the regional leader under whose command she had gone to battle on numerous occasions. She had a ray of hope. Maybe he was there to pardon her. After all, what she did was just human. She wanted to say something, but didn’t know how to answer him.

“I know you are a good fighter. However, that shouldn’t be an excuse for breaking the rules. I think you have already been punished enough for that. But why can’t you tell us who your boyfriend is?”

She didn’t answer him.

“This is not acceptable. Do you think we can’t find out who it is? I can do it in two days if I want to. I can also get both of you shot together.”

“Please kill me. Not him. I am the one who broke the rules, and I am the one refusing to talk. I am ready to die.”

He stared at her for a few moments, which felt like a lifetime. She couldn’t guess whether he was angry or disappointed with her. He finally breathed a deep sigh before speaking.

“I am not here to kill anybody. You have no right to ask to be killed. Didn’t they teach you that in your training? We kill our enemies or get killed in the battle for one sacred purpose. All of us have to do our historical duty to our nation. That is the reason, the only reason, we take and give life.”

“I understand. I am sorry.”

“Your punishment for not talking will be death. I can’t change that. I wish I had the power to spare your life. However, we have a suggestion for you.”

****

December 2001, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Geetha waited in the line patiently until it was her turn to be frisked by the female guards. She knew the routine very well. That was her third visit to the hospital. She even remembered one of the female soldiers guarding the entrance. The female guard might have noticed her too. But Geetha did not make any eye contact. She didn’t want to start a conversation that would have revealed her race. She spoke good Sinhalese, but that wouldn’t be good enough to pass as one.

The clinic was full of patients, many mothers to be. However, she wasn’t there to see any doctor. She just sat on a bench at the rear end of the clinic, closed her eyes, and waited for her contact to arrive. He was late. Not a good thing. What if one of the nurses asked her what she was doing there?

She picked up a newspaper from a nearby table. She didn’t read Sinhalese very well although she could speak. There was something about a new government and new peace talks with LTTE in the headlines—nothing worthwhile to read about.

She walked to the canteen and ordered a cup of tea. It was early afternoon so many people, mostly civilians, were still eating lunch. The soldiers must be eating at their mess hall. She noticed a stout man with a thick mustache eating rice in front of her. He had prawns, eggplant, and coconut sambol on his plate. The big serving of rice on the plate was steaming hot. The man seemed to love his meal although he was not patient with his food. He was making a mess trying to eat the hot rice—picking some from here and some from there and burning his fingertips and tongue.

Her mind drifted to a faraway place …

****

Geetha was dressed in her full uniform that was washed and neatly ironed for the occasion. Two heavily built men who did not bother to utter a word to her or to each other escorted her through the compound. They didn’t carry guns, nor were there any armed guards inside the house. An odd situation considering the contingent of men and women armed to the teeth at the entrance and all around the cluster of buildings. What surprised her most was that nobody cared to search her when she first entered, quite contrary to what they had heard.

They shoved her into a dimly lit room, a large space with a square dinner table and two chairs as the only furniture. Both fixtures looked very expensive and showed excellent craftsmanship. Two dinner plates, finger bowls full of water, and napkins were already set on the table. The wall behind the table had a large flag of Tamil Eelam, nothing else on the other walls. The men closed the door behind her.

She just stood still, not knowing what would be next.

“Sit down.”

She had no idea how he came near her. The door behind was still closed, and she saw no other entrance. It was no occasion to wonder about such things. She promptly got down on her knees and greeted him by touching his feet.

A chef arrived, rolling a trolley full of dishes as soon as they sat down. Aha … then she figured out. There was another door below the flag.

The chef served rice, fried prawns, potato curry, and coconut sambol to both of them without bothering to inquire about their preferences. Then he took other dishes out one by one and asked only her whether she liked them on her plate. She shook her head to deny each and every one of the extra delicacies: dhal broth, papad, murunga curry, squash, and a few others. She hesitated only when the chef offered fried eggplant. A sudden urge went through her body to accept it.

Why am I craving this dish? Is that the desires of two hearts?

She refused fried eggplant too with great effort.

He was known to be extremely edgy with many things. But, within minutes, Geetha came to know one thing the man was very patient about.

The rice was steaming hot. He started from a corner of his plate to mix only a small amount of food using his fingertips. He put it into his mouth only after convincing himself that the bite was neither too hot nor too cold for his palate. He slowly, yet methodically and steadily, worked his plate. When it was completely empty, the chef rushed in and refilled it with, again, rice, fried prawns, potato curry, and coconut sambol.

Geetha hardly ate but just kept on mixing her food with her fingertips silently—her head lowered and her stare blank. As her dinner companion was consuming the feast, she began to notice his features. He was not as tall as she had imagined. The fully built figure they always saw in the posters then seemed just fat. His eyes were not as fierce as she had thought them to be. They were pale yellow and seemed lifeless. The person in front of her who was eating his dinner so devotedly looked less than the God she wanted to venerate.

All of a sudden, she had a revelation of the true nature of the hollow room in spite of the expensive furniture, the large flag, or two people eating hot rice.

It was a death chamber!

There was nothing that treasured life inside that room. It had only darkness of the other world—no luminosity of this existence. It was all about death and death only. Nothing else.

Except the life eagerly waiting to see the light of day inside her body.

She felt weak and nauseated. She clutched onto a leg of the chair she was sitting on. The wooden leg felt rough and had a sharp edge. She wiggled it, making it a little loose without realizing what she was doing.

A strange thought came to her mind at that point.

It would take only four seconds for her to break the leg out of the chair to plunge the stake into his chest or forehead. The forehead would be hard to penetrate, but it would be the way to go because he might have time, perhaps two seconds, to go under the table, covering his chest before she reached him.

It would be over in ten seconds. Then she could finally wake up from this nightmare.

“You may try it, but I can guarantee that you will be dead before you get up.”