(Divisional Awards – 2018 – 01st Place and District Awards – 2018 – 01st Place)
The sun was setting behind the tall building that made its image over the pavement where I was seated looking at the moving vehicles on the carpeted road, and the hurrying people to their homes after a heavy burden of day’s office work and their faces with too much fatigue and many of them carrying some files of home work as schooling children. Many were not bothering me and was not observing trying to catch their buses of destinations, to move into their families and to do all the household work and to get ready for the next day’s life. For them the time, the life were moving fast but I was there nearly five hours lost in my own observations, dreams, and was answering all the peeping up questions from my own mind and quiet bored following the same posture. There were some coins dropped by an old lady and a young man misjudging that I was a kind of beggar with trousers, long sleeved shirts and of course wearing a tie.
There was a beggar some ten yards away from me and was looking at me all the time and was quiet annoyed for the arrival of another beggar to his territory which caused him some unsteadiness and I was humiliated many a times when he was not receiving any money for his little womanly voiced prayers, songs and all the tricks they used to have. I grabbed the coins while I was standing and went to him and stretched my open palm with the coins towards him. He did not hesitate to have those which made me to give him some extra coins from my own pocket.
“Sorry for bothering your livelihood.” I said when leaving. He was watching all this without a single murmur and was quiet surprised of the unexpected occurrence. I could hear his prayers again, now from distance and less strong than earlier. Incidence make people changed, establishing some sort of novel thoughts.
There was nothing in my mind. For the passed five or six hours I was thinking heavily, deeply. It was just like a graveyard. There was silence throughout my soul when I roamed on the busy pavement without looking either sides-continuing on a good pace and a rhythm. The night time was beginning in the busy city. Ladies with painted lips, wearing too short gowns with their boy friends, husbands or whatever was changing the image of the dusty city gradually. There were much laughter flowing out from the open windows and doors for the humid nights. Little ones were gathering around the televisions after their tutions or straightly from the playground even without washing their faces. Life seemed to be running to them, but for me it was a full stop, making too much disappointment in each and every passing minute. The picture of my belovings invaded my mind when I saw a family of two children had stepped out of their flat for a night walk. I did not want to think of my ones as I was boring on it.
My roaming stopped in front of the cinema. I did not wait to look at the name board of the cinema and went in and bought an ODC ticket by paying money to the counter boy. There was nothing else to do other than sitting in the lonely cinema till it fills with some other men or women or youngs. There were only one or two dimly lighted bulbs making the surrounding more darker but I did not bother to observe it and just closed my eyes lowering into the seat till the film starts. Some dreams came in to my mind. Dreams of a childhood. There were demons trying to swallow me, chasing after me not thinking about my desperate effort of saving. There were my past, my young age where I met my wife, my life companion who was with me all the time, in all the hardships I had faced. My father came and the mother and all the beloved relatives that I had missed so much in my life and were seemed so real. The dead had found the freedom they had had wanted to, I am the only one left, like a solitary ape in a huge forest.
The film had begun when I recovered from my little siesta and to my surprise there were only very few in front of the screen, but yet many were specially the couples were in their own cinemas. Though I directed my eyes towards the screen, they were not watching the falling events and they were just following the bright light emitted. People do not bother about cinemas. That is something past. The TV was there in a great invasion.
A sudden cough made me to look at my right. A man seated hunched was coughing, disturbing some watchers and non-watchers too. Again my mind was busy about that old faded figure and wanted to recall that tired face. But only the problems I had faced from the morning were peeping in to my mind. Though there was a familiarity on him I neglected his cough and directed my eyes again towards the bright light.
Some one came and sat beside me after the interval, which was too short as the manager too wanted to go home early, than showing a film to this much of a small crowd. He was smiling to me, the person who coughed to make the others disturbed, and then only I remembered him. He was the beggar who was next to me, scolding me, discouraged by me when I was idling on the pavement. I wondered his presence inside the cinema and also understood the beggars can even find an income than a normal government officer. The question about real beggars was then entering my mind. No one to be blamed. That is how life goes on. Everyone has to make a living and spend it for some other’s living. That was economy I learnt. Not like the evening he was with a smile and was a sort of loving-kindness. He offered me some pea-nuts from his small packet and with the hesitation I took some.
He was trying to make a company. “I have seen you going to that building each and every morning. ” he started.
“I used to work there,” I told him by exhaling a deep breath from my nose.
“Why used to? What had happened to you today?” he was much more inquiring.
“I was chased away by some other’s fault.” I was almost into tears but I managed.
“Cry if you want. It makes you relax.” He was talking much better than I thought. There was a fashion on his speech and a type of attraction. This could not be a beggar-suddenly the words came to me. Though he was in rags there was something deeper than that, specially in his complexion.
“You are not a beggar.” I said directly.
“Why not? I beg in front of your office all the day though you haven’t seen me. This is my living.” The reply was sharp and loud and a middle-aged cinema fan was disturbed too, by which we were scolded. There was a moment silence. Then he talked again. ‘Don’t you have a home or something?’
It was something I was always thinking about. Throughout the evening I had been thinking about it. I was not in the practice of getting late to home but on this particular day I was much embarrassed to face my wife and the little one as chased away man from only source of living. They would have been waited for me anticipately. There was no one nearby but the neighbours, who were not with the helping hands. The house rental, electricity bill, water bills, debts to the boutique, and thousands of expenses were entering to my mind. I was not given a chance to forward my reasons, and I knew it was too difficult to find another job shortly. Life was something not to be escaped from-I had thought always. But at the moment I was running away from my life.
‘I know. Losing the first job is too sorrowful.’ His words made me more surprise this time.
‘What the hell? How do you know that it was my first job?’ I inquired hurriedly.
‘I too behaved the same.’ he simply replied. ‘From the same company you worked, some ten years ago. Like you. For some others wrong-without an inquiry-just threw away out. I was there too on the pavement thinking of a way to settle the life again. Just like you.’
There was something I was expecting and I was arguing with my mind – is there any solution for an income. Will I find something new? Will it be really possible? Who is there to give a person a job without a service certificate – after working ten years in so called reputed organization. ‘What was your decision?’ I was not reluctent to ask.
‘I thought to kill him. It was like suiciding. It would have made my family into a more pathetic level. I went home at last.’
‘Do you advice me to go home then?’
‘Why not? Job is not the main thing in ones life. There are many. Have you a family?’ I nodded. ‘Go to them as I did. They need you. Income can be recovered.’
‘But how?’ That was the question roaming throughout my mind all the evening and I did not want to throw it at him. I have seen thousands of people in a struggle for the living. Some disabled in more pathetic level. They live however. If there isn’t anything I can beg my living as the man seated next to me doing. I glanced at him, but surprisingly he was not there. He was nowhere. Was it a ghost or was it a dream or one of my own imagination?
The film was almost over. By ones and twos the audience left their seats and I also joined without biding farewell to the name list of the cinema. The town had gone calm except one or two fast moving three-wheelers, and wandering youths. Though I was feeling a little hunger I did not stop at the nearby hotel and started my slow wander on the ghostly streets.
There were footsteps behind me for nearly half-a-mile which I did not bother. As they were not vanishing I dropped down my speed to make it so closer. The sound was from a gentleman, wearing black trousers, white colored short-sleeved shirt, a tie and also holding a small office bag. He did not pass me over. He continued with my pace.
‘Sorry for leaving without telling.’ The recently heard familiar words made me stop and stared at the strange figure which had also stopped.
‘Oh, no. You have mistaken this time. I am Mr. Andarawewa, The Senior Funds Manager, of Robert Co. Ltd. The beggar has gone.’ It was surely him weather it was a ghost or a human.
The answer emerged in my mind. ‘You make the funds by begging and you use the cinema hall to change into uniforms.’ He nodded for my explanation.
We did not talk thereafter. All the things were understood. We might have walked nearly two miles when he had stopped. ‘Time to say good night. This is my place.’ He pointed to a nicely build small house where a lady – probably his wife was waiting near the door. ‘If you can step in she will make you a nice cup of tea. Of course you can have the company of my little ones too.’
‘Some other day….’ I said him good night and walked forward. ‘Go home!’ I heard his loud voice from a distance. I waved my hand without turning at him. How strange was his company? Miracles happen in life. Tomorrow I will meet the same man on rags, begging on the burning street. Yet their lives continue.
The last bus to my town was there on the stand.
By Dimuthu Samudra Liyanage