Short Short, by Gayani Jayathilake


How did I wake up on foreign soil? One night, there I had been. Where the air had smelt of kadala parippu curry and fried wambatu. They had slept on mats, spoken in circled gatherings, swept with coir broom and cooked together around a large cauldron in that one hall. At the far edge of the hall had been me. Trying to figure out where I was. Who had called me. And why.

Young girls with flowers in their hair had prayed with eyes closed. I did not even speak their language. And yet I understood what they had asked for in their minds. A loving man to marry. Pass that exam. Have children. Find a job. Bless them with money. Un-confuse their confused minds. Love. Health. Wealth. Beauty. Long hair. Bigger bosoms. Curly hair. Straight hair. Happiness.

There at the corner had been one faucet to wash up, drink, brush their teeth, and cook. Like mammals around a desert pond, they had flocked around it with toothbrushes and wrapped towels. On another side, men had sat in a circle gulping down glasses of sap. I had had no space or time to think and figure out how I got there. For they had been everywhere. There had been too much to see, hear and feel.

It was when night had transformed into early morning that they had lumbered down to quiet slumber. I had walked past the bodies on coir mat. They smelt of sandalwood, burnt moth balls and fermented sap, I remembered. The floors had been washed with sandalwood water. Strings of cloth flags had been pulled from corner to corner. Entangled knots on string had cradled coins in there. Echoes of yearnings had tripped over each other around my earlobes as I had moved by from there. Jaspered carvings of stone in a corner had been wrapped in far too much polythene. Mottled lines of flower necklaces had been laid in piles. They had prepared for something. That much I knew.

The sun had risen in radiance outside, over orange latosol soil and scraggly hills beyond. Swarms of green butterflies had sat on the dirt road eating mud. The dirt road was being transformed into a tar road. Bulldozers and backhoes that looked heavy for the small road to carry were parked by the sides. Barks of the trees had been scratched by propped tools and heavy trucks by the side. I had remembered the taste then. Of floating moringa leaves in a pool of lentil. There had been just one tree in the garden tended and nursed with a calm so gentle. And here was a row of moringa trees, neglected and wounded. I had turned to see me. My forehead had been wiped with red vermillion. Shoulders draped in flower garlands. Hints of turmeric splotches had appeared where I had not been washed. That was when I knew.


Before I knew it, the sun rose giving me no more time to look around. People yawned awake. They got to work like bees in busy assembly. Crowds began to swarm. Stalls by the sides selling fruit baskets and incense sticks opened up to participate in the racket. Flock after flock walked towards the temple dressed in blaring colour. They brought drums. They came with fire torches. They came in fuel regurgitating two by two wheelers.

Trays of marigold flowers adorned the pulpit when plenty more were on the way. The scent scratched at my nostrils. Of all the flowers why marigold? Vapor’s of burning incense blinded. Slices of lime lay by rings of pineapple on a plate. Sugar lumps of sukiri glistened an orange with the rising reflections of the sun. Bells tolled. Men in sarongs muttered foreign words. Flock after flock entered. And there they sat and ate and spat. All the while in praying mode.

In a moment, thumping of the drums began. Pulling of strings began. In this wavering state, music moved through me like lucid waves. Drums made me dance. Strings made me sing. All the while in invisible mode. Devotees who got too close to me got into the rhythm to writhe in dance. When I saw their agitated moves my dancing stopped. For I lost the mood. In that moment no music waves moved me.

Days, months, years, ambiguous numbers of years passed. There I was. Still. As long as they needed me, I was there. To grant their wishes. To unwish for others. Solve their conflicts. To curse. To cuss. To rant and weep with them. The day they needed nought; I was free to leave. I waited. And waited. And waited till that day arrived, dreaming of the moringa tree by the gate. Where my younger sister had thumped her foot sole on the ground to the rhythm. Where my amma had sprinkled ash from the fire hearth to ward off pests. Where my appa had propped up a rickety fence by the tree. Where I had stringed marigold flowers to pin in my hair for the village temple festival, for the temple Pujari’s son to see.


Gayani Jayathilake, a Sri Lankan writer currently residing in Germany, embarked on childhood adventures that took her through enchanted realms, beneath ocean depths, and allowed her to live two centuries without aging a day. Along the way, she sought guidance from celestial deities and engaged in lingering disputes with river nymphs. These enchanting tales ultimately shaped her into the person she is today.

She is also the author of the forthcoming novel, “When August Comes.” In the interim, she enjoys crafting both fictional and nonfictional narratives, giving life to her diverse collection of short stories while exploring the uncharted spaces within.