King Coconut

Sri Lanka – garden island, spice island, gem island, everywhere I go I hear the ocean and the call, ‘tuk tuk, madam?’.  The landscape is lathered with the intense, glittering azure blue of the ocean and then the heavenly blue sky separated by the radiant, blinding white of the mosque, the road and the sand. Corrugated iron shacks line the streets jammed hapzardly between packs of sunning dogs and nests of wires. The sand in my sandals massages my toes. Things are fast and impermanent – get the money and get out – chant the hum of the fan and the idling motors of tuk-tuks. This whole place must have been rebuilt after the tsunami in 2004 and then much of it again after the bombings during the civil war, which ended in 2009. There’s a note of distrust. Nearly five years of peace. Something will happen soon. We shall not hold on too tight. We shall feel the sunlight today and eat the fruits which our Gods provide.

The man who sells the yellow coconuts hanging from his rusty push-bike has a dark burnt current face. A spider monkey face with eyes of bright black stars. He’s tiny, drowned in a white shirt and a neatly tucked in wrap, blue and white.

‘King Coconut, King Coconut!’ He poses for a photo.

He knows the tourist well. His golden coconut husks litter the ground under the clock tower. Every so often he shifts them with his black foot and leans his back up against the sandstone clock-tower, hunched over like he will heft it on his back and carry it along with him shortly.

In Fort, the ancient walled citadel, where the Portuguese came drifting into harbour in the fifteenth century and later the Dutch took over and built the ramparts, here time is a concept for outsiders. Here, past present and future are a blue sapphire, looked into, where inside everything disappears and within it are the peace of the day, the sea breeze and the clear, endless depths of the turquoise water. Here, in peoples’ minds the Moorish boats of their ancestors could still be moored in the harbour, vendors selling dried fish from their carts may well have always been here, the tsunami could well be yet to come, the war perhaps never was, who knows where the bodies came from? Here, religion is a shade of humanity and a neighbour is a neighbour whether he wears a Buddhist kasaya robe, Muslim kaftan or a sari. Here, ethereal things happen and fade into the whitewashed pillars. Ghosts have been spotted and attested to. A flying Dutchman appears periodically on a certain day of a certain year, sometimes not for ten years. He is not the ship with the sailors cursed forever to never reach the shore, no, he is Dutchman on a flying horse who ten years ago accidentally struck a passerby and left this man ailing for months. Rumours of possessions mix on the wind with the smell of fish in the sun, tamarind pods and hot oil cooking rice flour hoppers.

Tomorrow I go to the beach at Unawatuna which means ”fell down,” because a mythical monkey warrior dropped a piece of a mountain there in his efforts to save a princess. After that, I go home, to try and incorporate this me that is a melange of moments, experiences, learnings, into a void, a long ago self left behind, when she was a little more whole and a lot less full.


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About duendest (Tina Cartwright)

Tina Cartwright grew up on the East Coast in the South of New Zealand. She lives and works in Melbourne. Her children’s picture book, Kiwi and Scorpion, was published with Penguin NZ in 2008. She edited and translated Taking Latin America Home – a self-published anthology influenced by Latin America which raised funds for the Sweet Water Fund in Nicaragua.

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