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how did I end up here anyway?

September 7, 2011
I am sitting in the car with a strawbery icecream in each hand, licking the juddering pink gloop as fast as I can. It's a hopeless cause. The car is hot, the summer heat outside is even hotter and the icecream is melting faster than I can eat, and smearing over my white school uniform. I know I'm not going to get in trouble over this. My grandparents are too soft on me. I get an icecream pretty much every day after school. My grandfather picks me up from the Don Boscoe convent every day and drives me to Subas icrecream parlour in town for a cone. Today, I had done well in a test. Stumped over how to give me an extra treat, as I was already indulged, he bought me two icecreams. The uniform will need to be bleached and hung out to dry, and the sugar and fake colouring has made me too wired to sleep that night, but I still remember that afternoon. 
 People pulled their children close to them in those days, urged them to study, to play, to eat as much as they could. The country’s politicians were febrile, the young men were becoming thugs and revolutionaries. War, as it turned out, was around the corner and there wasn’t much time for school children with neatly combed hair and pristine uniforms to eat sweets with their family. My grandfather had bought me a dictionary for my birthday that year. Now he was giving me as much sugar and milk as I could eat before the taste turned sour.
I shouldn’t even have been in Jaffna in 1983. My parents weren’t. They had moved to England when I was 4. I had gone with them. I rather liked thie first house we lived in – a cottage perched at the edge of a huge green field in the grounds of a Colchester hospital. I remember buying a tray of cakes at a bake sale in the field – I think of it as our garden but I think it was communal land. And I remember that first snow, bundled in a red coat and gloves. I didn’t know how to make snowballs so I just grabbed handfulls of the stuff and threw it over my head, then caught the second hand flakes on my out stuck tongue.
I also didn’t fit in. I didn’t like the sandwiches on synthetic bread we were meant to eat at lumchtime, and I hated the school dinners and custard drenched puddings that were the alternative. I know now that everyone hated those school dinners – this was the late 1970s and early 1980s – but at the time, my parents and I felt that the people of this country simply had different taste buds, ones that we could not grow, no matter how many tins of soup or slices of plastic cheese we ate.  And I didn’t understand the other mums. They were sturdy, kindly, brisk and no nonsense – I now seek out the friendship of women like this but at the time I didn’t understand the reserve, the rigidity and the routines of these women.
So when my grandmother arrived from Jaffna, soft and smiling, smelling of talc and spices, to help my mother look after my new baby brother, I buried myself in her. I clung on, and wrapped myself in her floating saris, and when she had to go back to Jaffna, I said I wanted to go too. England was never meant to be a permament home – my parents came to sit some exams and complete their medical training, and had every intention of going back to Sri-Lanka. So when I said I wanted to go back, they thought there was no harm, in sending me home a bit early.

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One Comment
  1. Beautiful! I can never forget little ones I met in Jaffna last Dec, my eyes melt, just like your ice cream, just thinking about those innocents.

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