Wanderers in Eternity – Chapter 2


Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09




1960 – 1964

“Where did mother go, brother?” Lionel could not find an answer to his sister’s naïve question right away.

At ten years old, he could understand certain facts of life. But to six year old Suneetha everything was a mystery. Lionel could vaguely remember the time when mother went to the hospital to deliver Suneetha. Mother came back carrying the little baby sister. From that day onwards he felt as if his mother had distanced herself from him. Now he felt that he yelled at the servant girl Lizzy and disobeyed mother because he did not get enough love and attention from them.

“This boy is so stubborn.” This was a saying of mother every so often. “you will end up in a jail cell somewhere.”

Lionel got more furious on hearing such words and he took this out on poor Lizzy by pulling her hair and pinching her. In the end Lizzy could take no more and she went back to her village.

Aggie Nona who came to work afterwards was a much older woman and Lionel left her alone. Also father had beaten him up, blaming him for Lizzy’s departure. Lionel would never forget those thrashings he received from his father. More than a respect, what he had towards his father was a hatred and a fear. How could he believe that a man who hit him so hard really had any love towards him? He imagined that the love he received from his mother was also minimal. After the younger sister was born, mother’s love was more towards the infant. Mother dressed up the little girl like a doll.

Those days Lionel felt a hatred towards his sister as well. But as she grew older and started jabbering cute nonsense, this animosity turned to love. Recognizing this change, mother also fed the situation with encouraging words.

“Oh, yes, little fair sister has her brother. Good brother will take good care of little sister. Yes, son, hold little sister’s hand and go. Now it is you who have to take care of little sister. My good boy.” Bathed in such words Lionel’s heart mellowed. A compassion was born within. But when mother got pregnant again, he feared that the love he shared with his sister had to be shared with another stranger. He subdued his unpleasant thoughts by getting closer to his sister.

He knew why mother went in the hospital. The reply he should have given to his sister spurted out of his lips.

“Sister, mother went to bring us another brother or a sister.”

“What for?”

“Then we will have another baby to play with.”

“I want a baby brother,” Suneetha said cutely.

“I also would like a baby brother.” This conversation was carried on while they were sitting on the front porch step and was heard by Aggie Nona.

“Mother will come home in a couple of days with the baby. If you two babies are good only, that you will get a baby brother.”

“Or else?”

“Or else she will bring a baby girl.”

That evening father came home with burdening thoughts. Sister hugged father and asked when mother was coming home.

“Day after tomorrow, my sweetie.” Lionel saw how his father hugged little sister and stroked her hair.

He entered the front room. Lionel had no habit of hugging his father. What would happen when mother brought another baby? As he turned the pages of one of his school books, involuntary tears welled in his eyes. It was no secret that when mother got back home that his life would be changed.

Just as he and Suneetha wished for and just as Aggie Nona had predicted, Lionel’s mother, Mrs. Mallika Henagama returned home carrying a baby boy.

Lionel along with his sister looked into the bundle that mother held close to her bosom.

“A red coloured baby brother,” Suneetha said.

When mother and father laughed, Lionel laughed along.

The little brother had his eyes closed and his fists clenched.

“What is brother’s name?” Lionel inquired.

“Ajith Kusumsiri,” father replied proudly.

“Ajith Kumusee,” sister tried to repeat.

“A beautiful name.”

How different was his own name, ten year old Lionel thought. He got that name because father’s younger brother had the same name. Before Lionel was born that brother had died from an automobile accident. Lionel received that name as a remembrance of that dead uncle. Wasn’t it because of his father’s selfish will and stubbornness that Lionel was not named like any other boy of those days with a name such as Sunil, Sarath, Vasantha, Mahinda or Bandula? Once in a while Lionel thought that he would change his name one fine day.

“Younger brother’s name is beautiful. Mother, why didn’t you give me a Sinhala name as well?” one day Lionel inquired.

“You know son, you were given your uncle’s name.”

“But he died. I will also die young like him.”

“Oh, son don’t say things like that.”

“I’d like some other name.”

“What is the name that you’d like?”

“A name like Sisira or Athula.”

“We will ask father about it.”

Though mother said so, she soon forgot her promise. Lionel also forgot this when he buried his head in his school books. Lionel was attending Nalanda College in Nugegoda. From next year, Suneetha would also attend a nursery school in Nugegoda.

Lionel was very bright at school. He never went below third in class. When someone inquired him what he was going to be when he grew up, he replied that he was giong to be a doctor. Sometimes he would pick up little insects from the garden and toss and turn them as if to get a preliminary education from their behavior. Seeing his actions Mallika was happy. She dreamt of her son attending a big university one day and becoming an important man. Her only wish was to give a good education to her children. But how often do wishes come true?

A month after his birth, Ajith Kusumsiri had a rash all over his body. There were red blisters everywhere. The medicines given by the doctor only worsened the condition. Day and night baby cried in pain.

“Oh, what has happened?” Mallika said in tears.

Ajith drank very little milk. He was shrinking rapidly. From the red blisters, pus was oozing.

“I wonder whether any poisonous creature bit him?” Victor wondered. “Sidney’s son had a rash like that from a centipede bite.”

“So, didn’t the doctor give medicine to kill any poison? I have rubbed the calamine lotion on his body as well.”

“Calamine is only good for the surface of the skin. The poison is inside the body.” Victor argued.

“This, sir, could be a matter of an evil eye,” Aggie Nona put in her two cents worth. “You have to consider such things as well. It is best if you put a talisman around his neck to protect him from the Balagiri devil’s curse. Or else you should bring an exorcist to take the evil curse away by cutting some limes over the baby’s head.”

The Henagama couple looked at each other. They felt that there was some truth to what Aggie Nona said. The very next day with the recommendation from one of Victor’s friends an exorcist came all the way from Galle to Nugegoda. When this man named Jineris was preparing a plate fruits and flowerse, Lionel looked on eagerly. But he did not like all the attention his brother was getting during this ceremony. He wished for his brother suffered from the rash because of his own evil thoughts.

Everyone’s attention was on Ajith. Everybody talked about him. Everyone sympathized the poor baby and attended to him. What sort of weird Karma was this?

The exorcist said his incantations over a thread, cut some limes over the baby’s head, rubbed some oil on his tiny body and did a special ceremony to bless the house as well before he returned to Galle. It appeared as if the baby was feeling a little better. But the blisters were still there. Ajith cried all night. From that exhaustion he slept all day. Mallika was kept awake all night. The little brother’s crying woke up Lionel several times as well.

“What a bother,” said he and covered his head with the pillow as if not to hear the baby’s crying. But until he fell asleep he kept hearing this annoyance.

The following week an herbal doctor came from Kaluthara. Famous for such class, the man was known as the Dadha Vedamahattaya (Blister Doctor).

He looked at the patient and determined that some poison had entered the baby’s body while he was still in his mother’s womb. This he said was caused by some allergic food eaten by the pregnant mother and now the poison was coming out of the baby’s body.

At this time, Mallika remembered something. While she was pregnant with Ajith she had a great desire to eat Wadey. (A chili donut). She did not know why she had such a craving. The Blister Doctor told them that some mothers who were pregnant with babies who would later become criminals had a craving to drink blood while being pregnant. Mallika had no idea why she had the urge to eat the Wadey. She now wondered whether this chili food could have poisoned her blood.

Any way, as the Blister Doctor ordered, the goat’s milk was fed to the baby through a wick dippe din cow ghee. A poultice made with Kalanduru (Cyperus Rotundus) tubes and Kohomba (Margosa) leaves was rubbed all over the baby’s body. Also the baby slept on a map covered with the margosa leaves. This was when the baby finally slept quietly after so many days.

After this the poison within the tiny body all faded away and Ajith was completely well again. Victor and Mallika were both relieved. Many gifts were sent to the Blister Doctor along with a thousand rupees.

Since then Ajith received special attention which the other two children did not get.

“Son, take care of your little brother,” Mallika told Lionel. “You are going to be a doctor, so, learn by taking care of your brother.”

To Suneetha, the little brother was like a doll. She helped her mother in dressing up the baby. She would place the baby on her lap on a pillow and slowly rock the baby to sleep. “Mother can you see little brother is smiling in his sleep.” She would often point out.

“He must be having beautiful dreams,” Mallika replied. “Maybe he is dreaming of the place where he lived before.”

“Where could he have been, Mother?”

“In heaven.”

“Then where was I and older brother?”

“All of you came from heaven.”

Lionel who was studying in the next room also heard this. Hearing that he came from heaven made him happy.

He remembered the gods and goddesses who were standing on clouds holding garlands in the upper parts of the temple walls. Was he himself living on a cloud like that? What was life like in heaven? He could not remember any of the heavenly foods of the heavenly robes. He could not imaging how they could have been. If younger brother came from heaven how come he had a rash all over his body? Even the thought of those blisters was revolting.

The younger brother who smiled in his sleep, Lionel could hear crying at times in his sleep as well. So, was he crying because something went wrong in heaven? Once he asked mother about this.

“Mother, if everything was so dandy in heaven, why is little brother crying in his sleep?”

Mallika thought a while before answering. “He is crying because he remembers all the comforts he left behind.”

“Did I also cry like that?”

Mallika smiled. “You cried a lot when you were little. But as soon as I fed you milk, you went to sleep.”

“Am I good, mother?”

“Yes, my golden son.”

Though mother said such sweet words Lionel felt as if he were distant from her. Most of mother’s attention and love was upon little brother. Sister also received new dresses and gifts. Father showed his love mostly towards sister. If Lionel did not eat all the food on his plate, father yelled at him. If he ran around a little too much, he was scolded by father.

“Look at the way this boy is growing up,” Father said often.

What wrong did I do, Lionel wondered.

One day, Lionel did not get permission from his mother to go on a trip organized by the school. He took his anger out on his sister by hitting her. She started to cry out loud. “This monster,” Mother said and gave a slap across Lionel’s face.

Lionel also started to cry. Father told Lionel to stop crying. Father who had not gone to work that day because of a severe cold had a rougher voice than usual. Disgusted with his father, Lionel kept on crying. At this time, father hit Lionel several times across his back.

Screaming, Lionel ran out the door. He had a burning anger towards everyone. Underneath that rage was the pain of a love, a warmth and an affection never received. He ran out of the garden to the main road. He had enough nerve or strength to do such a thing. He sat under a tree by the side of the road till his tears dried up.

A little while later, Aggie Nona came looking for him.

“Come on, little master,” she pleaded. “Lunch is ready, little master.”

“I am not hungry.”

“I fried dried fish just the way you like, little master.”

Lionel’s mouth watered on hearing this. His hunger grew. Holding on to Aggie Nona’s arm, he came back to the house.

After this Lionel was closer to Aggie Nona than to his own parents. He listened only to Aggie Nona. If they wanted anything done by Lionel, the parents had to go through Aggie Nona.

“This must be a connection from a previous life,” Mallika said to Victor.

“That’s a possibility,” Victor replied nonchalantly.

Gradually Lionel distanced himself from his sister and started showing love and affection to his little brother. When he heard that his little brother was just like him, he was happy.

When the little brother got older and started to talk, Lionel felt that he now had a playmate. Little sister and Lionel always talked to each other in an angry argumentative tone.

They were bickering all the time.

“See, Amma, brother hid my books,” Suneetha complained once.

“See, Amma, brother hid my books,” Lionel repeated in a funny voice.

“I will knock you on the head.”

“I bill clock you on de dead, I bill clock you on de dead.”

“Look at him, Amma.”

“Took at sin, Mamma.”

“Son, can’t you leave your sister alone,” Mallika scolded. “The way this boy is growing up is no good. The eldest in the family should be an example to his younger siblings.”

Lionel went quiet. He became more stubborn.

A few days later, Lionel went to the main road while holding his younger brother’s hand. By this time Ajith was learning the vocabulary.

Mother was heard saying, “Don’t go too far.”

At this time of the afternoon, there was a lot of traffic on the road. This was the main High Level road. The vehicles travelling between Colombo to Avissavella via Nugegoda were endless. For an instance, Lionel had a thought to push his little brother to the road. But this sinful thought faded on hearing the little brother’s cute voice and seeing his beautiful big eyes.

“There, car, car… go .. go… “Ajith who was laughing while saying this, suddenly started to cry.

Lionel saw a petrol bowser coming towards them.

As this heavy duty vehicle went by them, Ajith screamed and started to run towards the house. He stopped only when he go to his mother who was cooking dinner in the kitchen. Though she quizzed him for some time the only reply from him was a cry.

Lionel also entered the kitchen in a little while.

“What happened to little brother, son?”

“I don’t know. He just started crying and ran away.”

“I don’t know what this boy did to the little one.”

“I told you, I did not do anything,” Lionel yelled out loud.

“What a foul mouth you have. I should burn your mouth with a torch.”

“No, no,” it was Ajith who cried out. “No fire, no burn mouth.”

Ajith ran out of the kitchen and hid under the bed. Feeling very low, Lionel also walked out of the house and sat under the Nam-nan tree in the gathering dusk.

Aggie Nona consoled Ajith. Taking the little one from under the bed, she sat him on the mattress. While doing this she could feel that his body was burning like a hot rod.

“Oh, the baby was very high fever…. Madam…”

Mallika felt the baby’s forehead. “You are right. He has high fever.” The thermometer confirmed this.

“This kid has gotten afraid of something. What did the little brother get afraid of, son?”

“I don’t know,” Lionel yelled from the garden.

“Don’t you ever take brother anywhere again.”

“I don’t want to, either.”

“Look at the way he is yelling. Wait till your father gets home, you brat.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Lionel started to cry.

“This boy has done something bad to the little one,” Mallika told Aggie Nona. “Maybe if you ask him, he might tell you, Aggie Nona.”

Aggie Nona went to the garden with Suneetha as if to walk around. Lionel avoided her as well.

“Our little master took care of little brother real well, didn’t he?” Aggie Nona asked in a pleading tone.

“What was there to take care? He got scared by something and ran home.”

“This could be from an evil spirit,” Aggie Nona came back in the house and told Mallika.

The baby’s fever increased. He started to shiver. Now Mallika remembered a vow she had made to the shrine in Katharagama when Ajith got sick the first time. Was this fever a kind of reminder from an angry god who had not been appeased?

She lit lamps to the god Skanda and worshipped him. She prayed to him saying that as soon as the baby got better she would go to Katharagama and release the vow.

She placed pillows all around the baby’s body and lit a fire in a potsherd and placed it under the bed. By the time Victor Henagama came home in the evening, Ajith’s fever had subsided somewhat. But immediately he took the boy in a taxi to the dispensary in the Nugegoda junction.

The doctor who examined the child gave a red liquid for him to drink. He also prescribed a white powder to be taken every six hours. Ajith showed signs of getting better from the red liquid medicine.

Though the fever was gone by the next morning, Mallika urged her husband to make a pilgrimage to Katharagama to release the vow. She also told Victor that Lionel should be kept away from Ajith. “This all happened when the little one went up to the main road with that one. That one has an envy in his heart – because we pay attention to the little one.”

“Don’t let the two of them go towards the road together after this.”

Though Lionel did not get a thrashing from his father for this incident, he felt his father was very cold towards him. Because of this, Lionel became more and more remorseful and quiet.

He lost the privilege of going to the roadside with his little brother. If he did go, there was always Aggie Nona and Suneetha with them.

“Why can’t I go to the roadside with my brother on my own?” he complained.

“You will have to ask that from Sir,” Aggie Nona replied right away.

“Father is no good.” Lionel yelled out.

“I am going to tell that to father.” Suneetha threatened.

“Go ahead, go ahead and blabber. See if I care.”

“Oh, little master.”

“All of you are the same. From the same bunch of coconuts.”

“Then you are a breadfruit,” Suneetha kidded.

At this time, Lionel hit his sister. Suneetha came running into the house and made a complaint to her mother. Very soon, Lionel received a good beating from mother. He sat in a corner of the yard and cried till night fell. He came back in when he sniffed the dried fish that Aggie Nona was frying.

When Victor came home that night, Suneetha’s complaint was renewed. Furious, Victor caned his son in a manner that he would never forget.

Lionel went to bed without his dinner. While tears streaked his cheeks, he fell asleep. He was awakened when mother came and rubbed some oil on the blisters on his back. But he pretended he was asleep. Within him flamed a raging though to take revenge from his whole family one day.

A few days after this incident the family went on a pilgrimage to Katharagama. In the hiring car, next to the driver sat Victor, and Ajith say next to him. On the back seat, Lionel and Suneetha were both competing for the window seats. Mallika sat between the two of them. As they left Colombo and the car was speeding down Galle Road, Lionel realized that his sister had the better seat which faced the ocean. He was not happy about this. But he kept quiet and travelled with a sour face. When everyone got out of the car at Kalutara to offer money to the temple, Lionel took Suneetha’s seat.

“Look, mother,” Suneetha started to cry. “Brother stole my seat.”

“I want to sit on this side,” Lionel said stubbornly.

“How obstinate is this boy!” Mallika yelled at her son. “Give that seat to your sister.”

“She had this side all this time.” Lionel was trying to find excuses. “I want this side now.”

“Lionel give that seat to your sister.” Victor also scolded him. “Or do you want another beating from me?”

With a long drawn face Lionel went back to his old seat. After this he did not speak a word. Everyone else chatted happily all the way.

Later when they stopped in Galle for lunch, Suneetha offered her seat to her brother because she felt sorry for him.

Though Lionel said “I don’t want it,” he did take the seat. After this he enjoyed the scenery all along the coast line and cooled down from the sea breeze.

Lionel listened with disgust when mother and father spoke of his sister as a girl with good qualities and an understanding. But he hardened his feelings like an outsider who could not hear these comments and got lost in his own little world. His stubbornness grew a great deal during this journey.

“I will take revenge from all of you one day,” he told himself.

The town of Katharagama brought some peace of mind to everyone. Lionel imitated his father when he swam around in the Manik river. They managed to get a room for the night at the Ramakrishna guest house.

The elders were planning to have an early dinner and then go to the shirne. As if forgetting all his anger and animosities Lionel started playing with his younger sister and brother. They did not go too far from the premises. Instead they ran around in the sandy yard and along the shiny tiled floors of the hallway.

“Come and eat,” Mallika called her children. “Come and eat.” She was asking them to join in the feast offered by the organizers at the guest house.

“Come and eat,” Suneetha also yelled out imitating her mother. “Come on and eat.”

“Come on, come on,” Little Ajith also tried to imitate. “Kanna Sami, Kanna Sami.”

“Mother did you hear that?” Suneetha was amused. “Little brother said Kanna Sami.”

“Kanna Sami?” Mallika repeated.

“Kanna Sami, Kanna Sami,” Ajith kept on saying.

“He must have heard that name from somewhere.” Victor guessed. “Maybe by the river…”

“Kanna Sami, Kanna Sami,” saying this Ajith became contemplative.

“It’s not Kanna Sami, son. It is Kanda Sami.” Victor corrected him.

“Father, who is Kanda Sami?” Suneetha was inquisitive.

“God of Katharagama is called Kanda Sami. Kanda Swami.”

This time Ajith muttered “Kanda Swami,” and then closed his eyes. His face registered a pain. All of a sudden he started to cry.

“Oh, my son. Don’t cry.” Mallika hugged her son. “Let’s go and eat some rice.” As if comforted by the warmth of his mother’s bosom, Ajith wiped away his tears.

After having their meal in the hall of the guest house, they dressed in fresh white clothes, picked up some baskets of offerings and crossed the Menik river and started to walk towards the shrine. They had just walked across the bridge, when Ajith stopped in his tracks.

At the end of the bridge, near a stall stood a woman with two children. The boy was about nine years old and the girl had reached her puberty. Ajith’s stare fell on the girl. As if by some magenetic force he ran towards her and grabbed on to her arm.

The girl who was wearing a shiny white dress held Ajith’s hand with great affection.

Ajith laughed.

“Son, come here,” Mallika called out. “Where are you running like that?”

“Go on, baby. Go to your mother,” the woman who had her head covered with the sash of her sari also spoke.

A tough black man who came out of the stall said something to the woman in Tamil. Ajith looked up at the man, then got scared and ran towards his mother.

The boy and the girl who stood by the woman laughed. It was as if with a happiness from deep within.

“Janaki enne kuda wa,” the man held on to the girl’s hand.

Ajith turned around to watch that group walk in the other direction across the bridge. Unintentionally he muttered “Ala wana, ala wana.”

“Mother, little brother is saying something about ala – potatoes,” Suneetha reported to her mother.

“These kids are crazy,” Mallika said.

“Why did you run towards those Tamil people, little brother?” Suneetha asked.

Ajith did not respond. He bent down his head in sorrow. From the shrine came the rhythm of the drums and the bells. As they neared the sanctuary, the sound increased tremendously to deafen them. Ajith started to laugh again.

But once inside the shrine, all three kids looked on in awe. The chant of the priest, the sound of the drums, the clanging of the bells and chimes, the scent of burning camphor, the aroma of the flowers and the fruits – all these created a strange world close to god. The crowds wearing white were bound together by a certain faith.

Ajith kept staring at the red curtain hanging in front of the god’s statue. When the peacock feathers held by the priest struck his head he reacted as if he was comforted by its touch.

After this Ajith behaved as if he was at peace. Happily he laughed and ran around as if some evil curse in the pas had been removed from him after the releasing of the vow. This is what Mallika thought. The parents felt that on the way back all three kids were friendlier towards each other.

On their return trip, they stopped at Hambantota for a little while. Victor suggested that they go into the rest house and have a cool drink.

The morning sun was shining upon the rest house garden. On the shore in the distance were many moored boats. Upon the sea could be seen the sails of a few boats still afloat. The three children started to romp around the yard. Ajith parked by the road. Lionel and Suneetha came running after him as if to keep an eye on him.

They were in charge of taking care of their baby brother.

Inside the van which was covered in a coating of dust were a few passengers. Among them was the Tamil family from the night before. Janaki was staring out of a window.

She looked at Ajith and smiled and waved. As if recognizing her, Ajith aslo smiled and muttered something. Nobody understood what he said.

The engine of the van roared to begin its journey. A cloud of smoke spurted out of the exhaust pipe and the smell of petrol was all around. Ajith started to cough. As the van left he felt dizzy. Coughing he fell down. The van was gone in a haze of dust.

“Stink, stink,” Ajith said as he stood up.

“That’s the smell of the petrol,” Suneetha said.

Hearing mother’s voice they came running back to the rest house. After this incident, for a very long time Ajith could not tolerate the odor of gasoline.

For many years he got on a bus to travel anywhere with great reluctance. “Our youngest cannot travel in a bus,” Mallika would say to people in her conversations. “He would throw up every time he would get on a bus.”

“That’s because of the smell of petrol,” Suneetha added.

“This boy is born only to travel in luxury cars,” Victor added kiddingly. Gradually Ajith got used to travelling in a bus. Though he felt dizzy sometimes and felt like throwing up occasionally, he adjusted to these journeys eventually.


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Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09