Komalee used to hang around with the men in uniforms. They seemed to be sympathetic towards her. They shared their lunch packet (Army issue) and she slept in their tent. But most of the time she sat with them at the checkpoint and longed . Longed without , knowing exactly what they were longing for.
Before you get any wrong ideas, let me tell you that Komalee was a bitch . I mean it in the real sense . A female dog. She was dirty brown and white , with heartbreaking dog eyes . You know the kind , a typical street dog. A pure bred valsashen. Her hip joint was dislocated during litter . This made her walk slow and in a peculiar manner , which seemed to resemble a girls stride with a Kalaya (a clay container to carry water) on the hip. A lonesome soldier missing his sweetheart back in his village would have pinned the name Komalee. And the named stayed on.
There was a routine to life at the check point, she remembers . At day break a young man in faded green uniform with his T56 hung on his back used to take a hold of a eckel broom and sweep the leaves and yellow blooms the Asala tree has shredded and collected it to a pile . She liked to watch the lined designs he drew on the sand . And how they disappeared underneath the heavy boot prints during the day.
She watched them , when they unfold the Chithra Katha papers from their pockets and read . How they discretely wiped the welling tears from the their eyes , after reading the perfect round lettered words off the torn out exercise book pages .Letters from home.
She noticed how they attempt to lower their voices and sound solemn when they checked the identity cards of the girls in white school uniforms . At other times how helpless they appear , when they concentrate on the ID card given to them through half lowered dark shutters of a big car. How they seem misplaced, just before they set up straight and say “ Tank you sir”.
There were regular visitors to the checkpoint too. There was the Bread man , Paan uncle , who used to sell buns , bread and other stuff from a box tied behind his bicycle. He came at dusk and gave Kimbula Banis free. Most days somebody would throw a half of Kimbula at Komalee too. Which she would chew to sunset.
Martin uncle , came for his mid day chat . He would ask “kohomada yudde, Api dinanawa neda ?’ (How is the war going, are we winning? ). And never waited for the response. Nayana , in her midlife, was a domestic aide from a nearby mansion. Who’s childhood dream was to marry a man in a uniform. Youth long gone , yet the dream residing in a dark nook of her mind , unrealized . Making her act a bit flirty and make her blush , every time she passes checkpoint.
All that , is a faded reminiscence today .
All that began to change after that day that lot of fire crackers were lit. Somebody stuck a lion flag on Takarang sheet roof and people brought Kiribath and Kavum to the checkpoint. Martin, Nayana , Nayana’s master & mistress all came .
They said it wasn’t possible without the soldiers and the whole country was thankful to them . This made Komalee feel the pride , for she was part of the platoon. “Now that everything is settled , we would look after you, we won’t forget you” they said . Komalee, like the men in green , believed it , yet wondered whether men of war are remembered, when war is no more.
Then everything began to change . The checkpoint was dissembled . The soldiers marched as usual to their camp and never came back. No more Kimbula buns or SLA issue lunch packets. Peace was having it’s run.
The check points , war and the terror mentality was a part Sri Lankan life for years , if not generations. I can only imagine what it was in war-torn Wanni and forgotten border villages , but I can not forget what it was like in my little world. Where one get conditioned to the uncertainty and the military become part of your life. Where qualm justified intolerance and narrow mindness. And as time goes by we forgot how to accept diversity, accommodate and basically make peace . I opine that there was whole socio structure based on the existence of war , it seeped in to basic fibers of our values & habits . And now that war is no more, it leaves a gap. We as individuals, groups and a country will have to find a way to fill that gap and alter it to a constructive force.
As for Komalee , she just sits on the road looking at a forgotten green plastic gunny bag filled with sand.