VERSE| CREATURES OF THE COFFEE SHOPS

Following from “Creatures of the Park” (link attached below), this piece is inspired by my varied experiences at the 2 or 3 cafes I frequent in Colombo city. As with my regular evening walk, I am also a devout tea and latte aficionado. And as a creature of habit, I do tend to absorb the full gamut of gastronomic, service and atmospheric experiences at the handful of places I go to. So here is my affable ode to the characters who, like me, are also found at the oft-frequented coffee places around town.

Angst, amusement and even downright vexation
Are some sentiments that have inspired this particular narration.
Because when my adrenaline is not racing haphazardly around,
Yours truly can’t weave verse or prose that is suitably profound.
So here’s a bit of a congenial ramble
About coffee shop folks and their queer, quirky angles.

The first of this set that I chanced to espy,
Was the gaggle of ladies who meet over coffee and pie.
They are genteel and smiling and conversing lightly
Of Ruwani’s boyfriend and Andrew’s new-found sobriety.
Of weddings and parties and stand-out memorial services;
Of yoga class affairs and other sexagenarian caprices.

Following sharply on the last set’s heels,
Is the would-be Romeo who’s eternally spinning his wheels.
While on his regular tarriance through the cafe,
He’ll go through the motions, happily epitomising the cliche-Sauntering gait, wandering eyes, and obnoxiously loud!
Because how else would this Adonis be noticed by the crowd?
This one engenders both frustration and pity,
Deluded sense of self; diddly squat in the mental kitty.

This next one (my favourite) is quite off the charts,
The 93 year old with tremendous love in his heart!
He’s delicate and fragile and yet undauntingly sure
Of his libidinous vigor and marvellous allure.
He speaks in faint tones, each gossamer vein outlined;
“I want to make love to you”, he solemnly opines. [True story!]

There is also the resident troop of servers,
With personas as varied as their gelato flavours.
There’s the hero who averts a gastronomic disaster;
And the shrinking violet who couldn’t have disappeared faster.
You’ll also see “Lurch” on his tropical vacation
Waiting tables, no doubt, for some fiscal augmentation.
(Who’d have believed the fiendish frugality
Of the profusely gilded Addams Family!)
There’s also Happy and Dopey and Sneezy and Bashful-
Each cafe with its own quirky take on the fairytale.

The likes of me, of course, continue to be,
The nose-in-the-book kind, with the-tail-on-the-seat.
Looking up only to rest remonstrating muscles,
Perennially ensnared in the Introvert’s social tussle:
Latte on standby, with napkins and spoon,
I’m in a world of my own in the bustling tea room.

The rest of the coffee shop throng is assorted
The foodies, the guzzlers, the loners, the courted.
The suited and booted, the flip-flopped, the Collared*
A theatrical cycle of life streaming onward.
This gamut of movement, that with spirit is rife
Is what makes modest coffee shops larger than life.
And so I continue to frequent the tea rooms and cafes
To reclusively delight in the milieu and lacteous lattes.
* Collared: priests, monks and other caffeine-relishing clergymen.

Read “Creatures of the Park” here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/05/11/the-creatures-of-the-park-2/

VERSE| IN NATURE’S EMBRACE

The green of the earth 
And the blue of the sky;
The cool, mellow breeze
That caressingly passes by.

The trilling of the birds
The humming of the bees;
The rustling of the leaves
In their verdant canopies.

The well-loved paths
Fringed with emerald grass;
The spring-born butterflies
Delicately flitting past.

That one beloved companion
Who matches steps with mine,
Our hearts and minds in harmony
In this precious time.

This surely is my heaven
My earthly paradise,
Where Nature gently embraces me
And I kiss her with my eyes.

POLITICAL FARCE| MY TRUMP RUNNETH OVER*

Jan. 2021 – Feb. 2021:

PROGRESSIVE CAVITY TRUMP

Donald Trump left the White House in the wake of a dithering and irresolute Biden presidency and a looming impeachment. On January 30th, in a bizarre twist of Trumpian fate, Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell was abducted by the Proud Boys* for his “disloyalty” to their boss, Donald Trump. He was taken to Waco, Texas where in another peculiar prophetic foible, the septugenerian suffered a massive heart attack and died 2 days later. The abductors were caught and incarcerated but not before becoming inadvertent icons of heroism for the “New America”.

There was another march on Washington DC on February 5th, 2021 led by a brand new coalition of the Proud Boys and QAnon*. Despite a sizeable National Guard deployment, the capitol was stormed in much the same manner as the January 6th, 2021 insurrection. 27 people were killed including Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Congressional Republican from Georgia. She had gone out of the safety of the House Chamber to talk with the QAnon-Prouds*; confident in her right wing sympathies. The raging crowd had seen only a member of the new “fake administration” trying their age old insidious political tactics and had rushed at her with their combined wrath. And so, in another curious turn of events, QAnon’s most ardent supporter became the accidental martyr for the reeling, gobsmacked Left.

53 Republican senators joined the ranks in favour of impeaching Donald Trump.

March 2021 – May 2021:

THE BACK TRUMP PLAN

Donald Trump had watched what came to be called the “Revival Movement”with interest from his Mar-a-lago HQ. Without the megaphone of social media to throw his tweets into the furthest corners of redneck America, he had improvised… or his supporters had. They had set up a ham radio network across the country; Revivalist Patriots manning the amateur radio bands between 7MHz and 20MHz in almost every city. They received a broadcast from Mar-a-Lago and in turn disseminated the message via social media. Almost overnight, a ragtag militia had organized into the pitch perfect exactness of a communications commando force across the entirety of the American geography.

NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU TRUMP

Two months into this new fangled broadcast methodology, DT* being overcome by his ADHD-afflicted persona, got bored. It was too little for too long. He had stopped watching Fox News simply because he had slowly faded away from its screen as its most beloved protagonist to an increasingly dubious and infrequently shown antagonist.

The words Mutineer and Delusional Demagogue had come up a few times too.

How he despised that Chris Wallace!*

Melania wanted out – out of the marriage; of the partnership. He wasn’t having any of it. While his celebrity had diminished into the wasteland of slander and defamation, she was now wearing the cloak of a woman who had bravely survived the madness. She already had 6 book deals and 25 million dollars in the bank. No, he would rather poison her! … that is, lose her through quick, natural causes, than let her bask in reflected glory – his Glory!

Yes, he hated Melania as well.

June 2021 onwards:

PROTON TRUMP INHIBITOR

And now the former president of the United States had clinched the deal of a lifetime. The operation had been highly covert, unknown even to the most ardent of his supporters. In fact, his resentment and even dislike of his base had grown exponentially in the last few months…. how did a man of his bearing and finesse attract these rural, rough-shod bumpkins? He had mulled over it in those rare moments of reflection he was sometimes struck by and could only put it down to Mike Pence. DT had always been mildly suspicious that his VP showed a peculiar preference for the Deep Southern trucker sorts. And now, like some backwoods parasitic mold, they had mobbed together into his adoring electorate. Well, he didn’t have to deal with Pence or his hillbilly, rustic fan base anymore.

He was all set to move to North Korea, as Kim Jong-Un’s First Secretary.

The Secretary General of the North Korean Worker Party had been approached by an increasingly marginalised and entirely desperate DT. The world renowned fascist had an admirer all his own, and no less than the 45th POTUS! Surreptitious talks progressed at warp speed as an established oligarch took an aspiring senior under his totalitarian wing. And on June 5th, 2021, DT was whisked away from the land of the free and home of the brave to a secret facility in wonderfully dictatorial Pyongyang.

The Brilliant Comrade was home at last!

THE TRUMP FOR RED OCTOBER

On American soil, Article III, section 3 and the subsequent Title 18 or the death penalty were filed against DT. In the wake of the Great Escape, the Republican Party was thrown into further disarray as Trump supporters perpetuated and publicised their own version of their supreme commander’s act of treason. The great DT was urging them to incite a revolution, a war, a call to arms for the good old days of sovereign authority and Old Northernism*.

The third bomb in as many months, had exploded; this time in New York City. The revivalists had notched up another 500 fatalities. The Revolution Collateral Damage was already at 1,763 dead.

THE NIGHT THE SUN CAME TRUMP

In Pyongyang, there had been a series of short-range missiles launched between July and August 2021 marking its first missile tests since the Brilliant Comrade had joined their ranks; a superb impetus to boosting both, their nuclear weapons prowess and their global confidence. There were already plans to “rock that horrible continent” as DT liked to say. Long range missiles were being readied for a spectacular North Korean fireworks display in LA, NY, Chicago, Hawaii and Alaska.

Meanwhile DT has discovered a newfound love of snake wine*, and KJ-Un has taken to golf with monocratic zeal, all while the empire plots and prepares for an epic change in world order.

Read the first (rather prophetic!) episode here, written on September 1st, 2020: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/09/01/existential-fictionthe-age-of-stupid-part-deux/

Glossary of Terms:

**The main and sub-titles are puns on the word “Trump”. The original terms are: My Cup Runneth Over/ Progressive Cavity Pump/ The Backup Plan/ Never Gonna Give you Up/ Proton Pump Inhibitor/ The Hunt for Red October/ The Night the Sun Came Up

*Proud Boys: A far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only terrorist organisation that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States and Canada.

*QAnon: A far-right cult of conspiracy theorists alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling them

*QAnon-Prouds: In the wake of the Jan. 6th 2021 Insurrection at the US Capitol, the 2 right wing factions came together to launch the revolution for New America under the auspices of the twice impeached 45th POTUS

*POTUS: President Of The United States

*DT: Donald Trump

*Chris Wallace: Christopher Wallace is an American journalist, and television news anchor of the Fox News program Fox News Sunday. Wallace is known for his tough and wide-ranging interviews. He is especially despised by DT for his vague propensity to tell the truth

*Old Northernism: An ideology of racism which views the Nordic race as a superior and sometimes as an endangered racial group.The theory argues that the Nordic race is responsible for most of humanity’s great achievements and any mixing with other races was “race suicide” where the great Nordic race would be supplanted by inferior races. 

*Snake Wine: Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty and considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine. It is also the preferred drink of choice of Kim Jong-Un.

FEATURE|BY TUK OR BY CROOK

I have now been using these four-stroke creatures to transport me around the island for the last 5 years, and I have to say that we’ve developed quite a lovely (e)motional symbiosis. They take me where I have to go, and I help them log a part of their daily distance while we both also get in a bit of a quaint conversation. The tuk tuk chatter ranges from Imran Khan’s political likability (he’s at least universally loved by the SL 3-wheeler brigade), to expertly compressed 6 minute summaries of their lives delivered amidst unexpected swerves, dodges and lurches, as my driver looks back during the choicest parts of his particular narration. I react congenially enough until imminent death threatens our largely blindly-pitching carnival of drama. Then I don my mother superior mantle, cut my voluble driver short and tell him if he doesn’t focus on getting me to my destination still in possession of my earthly form, that I will disembark right there, right then. That works, because losing a “hire” is almost as bad as having an animated conversation killed at its apex – this tuk tuk double whammy is a thing to be avoided at all costs. So the rest of the journey continues in inhaling the toxic and nauseating but thankfully silent, and undramatic fumes of over-taking vehicles.

Tuk Tuk drivers come in all manner of forms, from the road runners to the pavement huggers and a whole colorful gamut in between. There are the staid, honest types who drive in sedate silence (a perrenial favourite and an increasing rarity); the sly, intrepid ones who will take you on wildly circuitous routes to your destination; the meter cheaters who with undisguised enthusiasm will punch in 10 extra buttons on the instrument to awaken the tuk tuk Beast of Deceit; the MI6 Hall of Famers who will glance suspiciously at every other vehicle they pass, with special x-ray vision scans reserved for when they stop at traffic lights. The ones that are big fans of external trappings, their carriages outfitted with WiFi, a DVD player, a 15 inch monitor, sanitizer, a tissue box and, wait for it…. seatbelts! The nervous, anxious ones driving barely intact tuk tuks that groan and whine in anguished protest – (I tend to tip them the most generously. My sentimental, rooting-for-the-underdog knee jerk reactions continue to be alive and well). The Goodwill Ambassador who will, over the 10 minute ride, deliver a heart warming speech on the goodness of his countrymen and the many wonderful bounties of his paradise isle. Then there are the tenacious shopping mall 3-wheeler brigades with ethics that are as dubious as they themselves are territorial – one has to spew some quantities of brimstone and hellfire to get out of their clutches; also probably the only contingent that all the other tuk tuk drivers hesitate to lock their … headlights with!

This endearingly sensationalist lot also believes in pithy, public declarations of the meaning and gist of their lives, emblazoned as they are on their autos. There’s a sweet, almost nostalgic obsession with certain historical personages and quaint adaptations of favored English idioms: Like Che Guevara who always wants the tuk tuk contingent to rebel; Bob Marley who would like them to forget their woes in most likely, a moonshine-steeped, reggae-rocked weekend. Then there is the tuk tuk driver throwing out a barefaced challenge asserting “if you’re bad, I’m your dad“; or the one who’s had it with arrogance saying “fly not high so you fall not low“; or the myriad others who loudly declare that their hearts are up (on their tuk tuk behinds) for the taking, and as many more who have publicly closed themselves to love… certain lady passengers always being an exception!

On wet days, of which there are many on this tropical island, the rickshaw drivers will race home largely oblivious to the desperate hails of rain-soaked pedestrians. The ones with a flair for a bit of perverse drama, will even pretend to slow down and then rev up almost immediately, leaving momentarily buoyed spirits crashing into the puddles forming all around; revelling in the reversal of the supply/ demand structure for the course of the monsoon torrent. I have tended to see the comic relief in this too as I have been lured and then abandoned by the fickle advance and departure of an unoccupied tuk tuk. Like they say, everyone needs their own particular form of catharsis!

As colourful and varied as the character spectrum is on these public carriers, they, one and all, manage to go where no other/ bulkier vehicles can. Through nooks and crannies, brushing, with millimetres to spare, past a lumbering bus, racing down paths barely wide enough for 2 people to walk abreast. There is something of a mild urban censure of these contorting asphalt plyers – many say, a menace on Colombo’s narrow roads that are already burgeoning with their automotive burdens. But for us, the carless, environment-preserving lot (inadvertent as this reduced CO2 footprint state of being may be!) they are our reasons for remaining happily mobile across our neighbourhood geographies.

And so, as I spend my days roaming the city in between bouts of reading, writing and grocery shopping, I have formed an almost affectionate bond with the tuk tuk posse of the metropolis. Despite the ravages wrought by the pandemic of 2020, they remain optimistic, enterprising, courageous and cheerfully defiant on the roads. I still call them out for over-charging, they still respond with outlandish excuses but together we go pitching and careening across the city in a haze of mutual appreciation.

Getting around the island by Tuk or by Crook!

POLITICAL FARCE|AN ODE TO @therealdonaldtrump

**There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple too.
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird
Is popping out to say cuckoo cuckoo, cuckoo...
Regretfully they tell us
But firmly they compel us
To say goodbye...
To YOU!
And so my dear Mr. President
I wrote this ode for you, for you.
Your time is up, you tried so hard
I always rooted for you, it’s true!

Despite intuitive knee jerks to the contrary
I kept steadfast in my fidelity to thee.
And now you’ve been sadly booted out
By the insidious US political machinery.

‘Tis true you created gross divisions
In a fundamentally diverse United States
But you were only showing up what was so viscerally embodied
By large swathes of the American electorate

‘Tis true you were the Demonizer-in-Chief
You gave the Corona Ravagement Envy
You were gleefully racist, bigoted, xenophobic
But you were only exemplifying what so many were intrinsically;
Not just quietly closeted anymore with those lofty ideals
But free to strut them, and really relish the feels!

And although there was now all that national drama
There was also the new MAGA*-powered Sovereign Fiefdom
You uplifted the cause of exclusionary statehood
Allowing The rest of the world that rare freedom
To regroup, repair and renew in a space
Not perpetually imprinted with Uncle Sam’s face

You were summoning home all American troops
As you rolled back on the US’ war waging strides
You were making your America great again
And letting the rest of us get on with our lives.
But you were unique in your internationally disinterested approach,
Since America had always been that one invincible roach
That brazenly roams your kitchen by day and by night
Leaving you with the detritus of its pillaging might.

Your political incorrectness was apostatized
To paint you as the resident devil incarnate
Your incongruous presidential demeanor
Was touted to be the fall of the American super state.
And so 45th, you have been summarily dismissed
As a globally failed one term president no less!

But I mourn your hyper-blustery POTUS days,
And Im hazarding a guess that I’m not alone.
The last 100 years of American politics
Have elicited their fair share of planet-wide groans.
Another 4 years of you would have at least shaken
The memory of a bullying, blood-letting American nation.

Now vestigial shadows of America’s wars
Are rearing their ugly heads once again to explore
New conflicts, new conquests, new treasures to be taken;
More intrusion, displacement, refugees, coercion,
Every ounce of dignity and fair play foresaken.
There seems to be naught but more US agitation
Writ portentously large on our collective horizon

And so in ending, to the @realdonaldtrump I say,
We will indeed miss you HUGELY sir;
Your autocratic, Jesus complex,
Your dash of frankincense and myrrh.
Now is also the time for the rest of the planet
To take to their tranquilizing zen spaces;
My crystal ball tells me we’ll soon be battling again,
In America’s brand new edition of The Hunger Games* Races.

De Khudai pe aman

**lyrics from “So long, farewell” from the movie The Sound of Music
*MAGA: Donald Trump’s political slogan - Make America Great Again
*The Hunger Games: A 2012 apocalyptic science fiction trilogy where children battle it out to the death in a bizarre state run electorate-subduing campaign

OPINION|THE BIG BANG OF SMALL KINDNESSES

As the pandemic marches on, this is more true than ever. I have felt impelled to write this piece mostly because we have all now, as a planet, lived through a year of the Covid-19 blight. All 7 billion lives have, in some measure, been affected, afflicted or completely upended. And the sobering truth is that there is no real end in sight yet. These past 8 months have also seen families not only devastated by the virus in many parts of the world, but crippled also by the general economic slowdown/ shutdown.

We in the South Asian belt have been relatively more fortunate with regard to our pandemic mortality rates. The conjectures and theories on how the delevloping world is coping so peculiarly well with the disease are varied and many. Call it providential or karmic or the universe finally lining up all the fortuitous constellations in our Asian skies – that is how it is and for that we are grateful. Grateful while still being aware of the economic ravages wrought on the healthy but the vulnerable; the uninfected but the reduced; the vigorous but the poor. Which brings me to the mission of this piece – the importance of being kind. Of engaging in little everyday gestures of generosity to alleviate in some part the struggles of the less fortunate members of our communities.

Start with your neighbourhoods.

Give just a little bit extra to the tuk tuk driver who’s been whisking you about town (or running errands for you) through blazing hot days and even the errant tropical storm. Even if you don’t get into his carriage much or at all these days, tip him for all his gracious service and for persevering still, to earn a decent living despite bleak business.

Patronise your local fruit and vegetable sellers and your standalone neighbourhood grocery stores rather than the larger franchised establishments. The balance sheets of the latter will survive a year or so of beleagured business; the former, however, will be forced to shut down their doors permanently, changing the fortunes of entire nuclear and extended families forever.

⁃ Even if you’re of the genteel old school of thought, for whom the hawkers of malodorous incenses, oddball children’s story books and car cleaning paraphernalia are persona non grata in the general milieu of roadside traffic, be kind. At the traffic lights, despite yourself, roll down and buy some incense, buy a book or buy a cleaning product. Be gracious with your privilege.

⁃ With restaurants and bars in operational flux, if you do go out, tip generously. For most of the kitchen and serving staff, your service gratuity makes all the difference between being able to send a child to school or not.

⁃ For those that are now enjoying, in the safety of their homes, the gastronomic pleasures of Italy, Pakistan or the entire junk food spectrum of the Americas, tip the delivery staff openheartedly. For many of them, their endless google mapped excursions around the city are second and third jobs taken on to supplement incomes made ever more meagre by the pandemic.

Be kinder to your domestic staff, those consummate companions one can’t do without in keeping the household engine well-oiled and chugging along immaculately, peaceably. It’s also no secret that a lot of domestic bliss is owed to their inimitable roles in our daily lives!

⁃ And last but not least, our usually bustling towns and cities are also home to a multitude of scavenging animals. These urban-bred packs of stray felines, canines and even a sizeable number of the avian population depend on the scraps and oddments of the teeming human millions going about their usual day. That food source has become unreliable at best. Do your bit by putting out some water for our creature cohabitants, and food if you’re blessed with an outdoors.

These neigbbouhood civics, in my mind, are fundamental and therefore incumbent on all of us. They are the very basic protocols of social decency and community living, but have over time, and as i look around me, lost their place in our intuitive DNA. And hence, as with so many other virtuous but faded/ lapsed communal interactions in our lives, the need to recall, restore and revitalise is important.

And so, this petition is meant as just a little scratching of the surface to that human part that is intrinsic to all of us bad eggs, good eggs, tough eggs, quirky eggs and all.

I’ll leave you with a cheeky little refrain as a gentle reminder of the compassionate beings we really are, and for when we lose that thread now and then in the frenzied rush of life.

I was a hard boiled egg
Less sugar, more spice
It’s taken a pandemic
To remind me to be nice!

VERSE| CARPE DIEM

I sit here, encircled in my routine,
My safety net spread around me like a bright yellow blanket.
The sameness, the everydayness keeping it close, gently embracing.
I’ve gulped down the first half of my mug of coffee
So now I’m surrounded also, by a warm cloak of caffeine.
I stretch inwardly with the languidness of a just-fed, just-loved cat.

I look outside at the recently blue sky
Where the clouds have now gathered in heavy eskers of grey
The suddenness of the assailment, the eclipsing of the sun,
Breaking the spell of my Constancy Ritual.
I sip on the second half of my mug of coffee, rhythmically bolstering my caffeine haze
Even as the sudden coolness of the breeze loosens my other subliminal layers of warmth.

Then the rain begins to fall.
Free, fluid, gleaming,
Skipping down the sidewalk; dancing in eddying pools on the street below.
And i stand up and stretch with the lustiness of the Alive and the Kicking.
I reach out and catch the falling raindrops in the trough of my open palm;
I reach out and seize the day.

De Khudai pe aman.

SHORT STORY|A TWILIGHT IN TAPROBANA

Some background to this piece is essential I feel, to give it that bit of relatable relevance. Felicia’s character is based on an old family friend in Sri Lanka who is as lovely as she is absolutely, delightfully eccentric. Donald Rajapakse is a more sinister inspiration, based on the character of a man whom i know nothing of but who has been in my coffee shop writing space for the last 6 months – loud, obnoxious and a bit of a hassler. (I had to have the cafe management intervene to have him back off). Ruwani is a happy figment of my imagination, introduced to bring life and depth to the madcap machinations of my 2 main characters.

(I)

Felicia looked around her with the air of the resident matriarch, her gaze more acicular than that of a quality control inspector at a pharmaceutical manufactory. She noticed everything; from the brand of shoes on a toddler’s little feet to the caliber and concentration per square inch of a counterpart’s cosmetic applications. She sniffed delicately, her scan of the Cinnamon Grand lobby complete, and picked up her mug of double chocolate drizzled mochaccino.

She turned to Ruwani, her friend of 60 years and a bulwark of a woman in bearing and bulk.

“I’ve had a new salwar* stitched for the next meeting of the International Ladies’ Club. It’s from Pakistan. That Shihani thought she looked like a beauty queen with her Janpath market purchase. Did you see the cheap gold lace on her shawl?” She rolled her eyes as she spoke disparagingly of her social arch-nemesis.

Ruwani laughed her high tinkling laugh, delicately belying her ponderous mien. Her eyes twinkled as she said, “imitation is the purest form of flattery darling. She’s always looked up to you as her role model”. She laughed again at the mental image of Shihani looking up to Felicia as a role model of any sort. The two women could barely coexist in a social environment, and when they did somehow manage to come within six feet of each other, there was almost always a thrilling finale to the affair. The stuff of Page 3 high adventure.

Felicia frowned and took a slurpy swig of her saccharinus coffee, letting the heady brew course through her body, giving her the mental vigor to “drop it for now”. She had recently been diagnosed as a prediabetic and on the behest of her Ayurveda* guru, she had begun meditating to “will away the extra sugar” as she called it. She had also realised more recently that her willpower increased dramatically when her blood was fortified with caffeine or spirits. Still, she gave a last withering look to Ruwani before allowing the sugary caffeine to whisk away the wisecrack into some not so obscure recesses of her mind; the memory to be retrieved later, brazen and embellished, when she needed stirring reinforcements of lividity in the wake of an especially karmic day.

Ruwani watched Felicia’s face as expressions of resentment, detachment, reanimation and a final ferocity played out in the fond encore of an oft repeated act. Despite the bluff and bluster, Felicia was a good sort. The kind that needed copious scratching of the surface before any glimmers of goodness shone through though; a diamond in the consummate rough. Felicia Pelpola and Ruwani Edirisinghe had been friends for 50 years now and had had their fair share of fall-outs and run-ins. But time and grace (mostly on Ruwani’s side) had brought a bristly tenderness to their equation and their friendship had triumphantly weathered multitudinous storms in teacups and the occasional tsunami.

Felicia had, in her heydays, been quite the social starlet. She was the debutante that had changed the norms of the party circuit with her boisterous manner and her delicate anatomy. Her demeanour and her countenance were at such odds with each other that the resulting befuddlement of the senses became her piece de resistance. She provoked a serendipiptius sensation of attraction and discomfuture that pulled at all the male heart strings and incensed, in equal measure, the traditional ladies of leisure. Ruwani looked at her now robustly girthed friend and chuckled. Time had diminished her beauty yes, but had also compensated her unsparingly with a persona that strode into most rooms before her person did. She was absolutely, delightfully formidable!

“Oh look who’s here!” Ruwani, still grinning, looked towards where her friend was gesturing. Donald Rajapakse had just walked in, behatted and bellicose, loudly berating someone on his way into the coffee shop.

“Donnie! Donnie! Aney!* He’s getting deaf as a door nail!” crowed Felicia.

“DONNIE!”

There was startled hush in the cafe which neither Felicia nor Donald noticed as the one shrieked back a “Hellooo!” and the other cackled in what was meant to be a guileful titter. Donnie came towards them, swaying from side to side in his quintessential rheumatic lurch.

“Hello my beauties! How are my favourite ladies?”

Felicia smiled affectedly and in the high pitched, adenoidal voice reserved only for eligible men and her hair dresser, she quipped, “We are fiiiine! Having cappuccino. You want? Come sit aney!”

Donnie sat in the chair that afforded him the best view of his surroundings and looked around. Felicia continued to smile like a loon and shifted her bulk at a precipitous right angle towards Donnie’s chair, her hand delicately supporting her chin. But Donnie was already distracted by a solitary woman sitting two tables away, engrossed in a book. He stared hard, only half hearing what Felicia was chirping into his ear. When his hypnotic stare didn’t get the creature to look his way, he devolved in his trademark manner into Neanderthal mode and then there was a bustle and a frenzy as he guffawed, bellowed and produced all manner of primitive-man noises to hassle the object of his current coffee shop infatuation into acknowledging his presence. She did finally, by calling for the bill, casting a disdainful look towards the voluble, senior party of three and sauntering out into the sunshine. Donnie was woebegone as his buoyant hat came off and he sat there with an inadvertent twinkle on his bald head. But not for long; you can’t keep a socially catastrophic but tirelessly optimistic man down for long. And so the next couple of hours were spent sipping coffee and annihilating plates of mutton pies and smoked salmon wraps over boisterous conversation.

At 3pm, Donnie left the group to join another party at the 70s Club. Felicia took back command of her person and her surroundings and the next thirty minutes were spent in a focused wardrobe and character breakdown of the other coffee shop patrons. All in all, it had been a charming afternoon!

(II)

On the way home, both women were thoughtful mostly because of the stupor of all the food consumed and partly because of the waning day…. Life. Ruwani glanced at her friend who had leaned her head against the seat and closed her eyes, blocking out the world perhaps, after spending an afternoon in its fervid embrace. Ruwani looked outside her window. They had stopped at a traffic light. A young man on a motorbike was arguing with his female pillion as she pushed away from him clutching a Beverly Street bag to her chest. A snot-nosed boy ran across the road with a dripping ice cream cone in his hand, following a hassled mother. A tuk tuk driver looked at his phone in distressed anticipation while glancing every so often at the red traffic light. The only quietude in the scene outside surrounded a duo of mynahs promenading along the sidewalk in perfect creature harmony.

(III)

Back home and post a shower, Felicia sat at her dressing table looking at her reflection. She brushed her hair slowly, the once lustrous strands now feeling meagre and inadequate in her grasp. She looked at the lines in her face; each had become a more avid companion as the years had gone by. She looked away and out of her bedroom window. In the waning twilight she saw a pair of mynahs, frolicsome and songful, performing a last little dance before being blanketed by the stillness of the night.

*Salwar: local colloquialism for the Shalwar Kameez, the long shirt and loose pants indigenous to the northern subcontinent

*Ayurveda: An alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. 

*Aney: a colloquial Singhalese expression meant to show mild irritation/ concern.

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