Feeling it all fall apart in Anuradhapura
Tortured thoughts of her kept me up late again last night, despite the exhaustion making my limbs ache. She filled every dream and nothing was ever right, and I was halfway though a thought about her when I woke up.
Another day trying to see the beauty of it all through shit-colored glasses.
It’s something after 7:00 when I walk out to get food from the Family Bakery on the main road, where the women will smile shyly as I order, and they will ask if I have change when I try to pay with a 1,000 rupee note ($8) but I need the smaller bills for the bus to Jaffna today.
The roads are good here, smooth pavement between reddish dirt shoulders where plants grow so ferociously they are like sedentary explosions. Men in tired slacks ride bicycles slowly, while younger men in crisper shirts zip past on motorbikes
Women in brightly colored saris give cameras a meaning as they walk slowly along the road with consummate dignity. Someday I’ll get a picture of it… One in forty makes brief eye contact with me. One in a hundred smiles back. None are unfriendly, it’s just the way it is here.
The men all meet my eyes and say good morning, usually with a smile. As I walk around this town I feel like the guest of honor strolling the grounds the morning after his speech, but my only performance was how much I can sweat during dinner…
The flock of schoolgirls in bright white skirts giggles as I approach, and responds eagerly to my “good morning!” with a chorus of replies. Just past them the boys are swaggering a little, but grin even wider and all reply as well.
The town’s motorcycle cop has a stern mustache and hard eyes that make me double check that I have broken no laws in the last…ten years. He stops me on the way out, his manner relaxed, his uniform sleeves bright white, with red reflective tape accenting the gloves.
“Excuse me sir. Yesterday I saw you walking that way, now you are doing so again.”
“Yes, I am going to get breakfast.”
“You are still here.”
“I am still here. For another couple hours.
“Very good sir.”
On my way back the officer does a U-turn to pull up beside me.
“Excuse me sir. Come here.” My mind does another quick check. I don’t have my passport on me, could that possibly be a problem? “How long you have been in Sri Lanka?”
“About a week. I was in Colombo, Kandy, and now here in Anuradhapura.”
“What is your country, sir?”
“The United States, America.” I say, since different people respond to different versions.
“Aah! America! What are the differences between your country and Sri Lanka?”
I search for something interesting but innocuous. A passing car honks at the bushes. Good enough.
With a smile, “People here honk more often.” His answering smile is bright under his dark mustache. I am encouraged that he does not chew betel nuts.
“In your country sir, how is the police?”
I don’t know what to say to that, and he helps me out. “There the law is very strong, yes?” I agree with him. “And in your country there are many murders.”
I waffle a bit. “Well, there are many people, but yes, there are many murders.”
“And in your country anyone can have a gun?”
I decide not to try and remember felon gun restrictions. “Yes, anyone can have a gun.”
“There is no need for a…” he taps his pocket, “a permit?” I tell him we do require permits and he asks if I have a gun in my country. I tell him no.
“I am sorry to be bothering, sir, but I am police officer and when I see person from another country, I like to talk to him to work on my English.”
I assure him I don’t mind at all, tell him he speaks very well (he does) and ask where he learned it. He gestures at the street with a smile. “Here. Have a nice day sir!”
Near my hostel there are three brothers who are always out riding bicycles. Yesterday I made race car sounds with the oldest as he rode his overly-large rusty bicycle barefoot and at top speed down the road, his youngest brother perched on the rack behind him with wide eyes.
They are out again today, and smile shyly at me. When I say good morning they burst into grins and say good morning back. They keep waving until I am out of sight.
Mornings like these, non-events in some respects, are exactly why I travel. That walk should have me high all day, but as I open the door to the spare room with smears on the walls and mosquitoes in the bathroom, I remember how I’ve felt the entire time I’ve been here…I try to hold onto the good feeling, but it is not easy.
Time for a new place. Up on the north coast is the town of Jaffna, where they say tourists couldn’t go for a long time due to the civil war. I’ll go see.