A Sri Lankan voice from : beyond our shores

The growing community of Sri Lankan authors include writers from Sri Lanka who reside overseas. The myriads of creative voice from both, home and abroad, enrich the expanding body of Sri Lankan creative writing which is slowly but surely gaining ground in the international sphere of literature. The work of Sri Lankan writer, Chanis Fernando Boisard is noteworthy. Her book of short stories, The Ayah and Other Stories is out now and available for purchase online and in bookstores such as, Vijitha Yapa.

Born in Sri Lanka, Chanis had her upbringing in our beloved emerald isle, before she went to Paris to study modern languages at the Sorbonne University. She how lives in Paris with her French husband and two daughters. Over the years, her spectrum of experience has included working in the airline sector for 26 years which included working for American Airlines and later Sri Lankan Airlines. Her line of work allowed exposure to cultures of many countries which include Borneo, Argentina and Iceland, which have surely enriched her pulse for writing.

In 1976, her short story, The Ayah won the British Council Short Story Competition. And over the course of time she wrote many more works of short fiction which has now come to fruition in the publication of, The Ayah and Other Stories. For the enjoyment of Sunday Observer readers, through special arrangement with Manjul Press/ Amaryllis of India, excerpts from the short stories The Ayah, and Amidst Orchids from Chanis’ book have been produced in this feature.

The Ayah

A lizard called from its corner. An air of uneasiness settled in the kitchen. The firelight picked out two figures. One had the bent appearance of an old woman, while the other’s careless posture against the wall brought out her extreme youth. The younger woman turned to face her companion and in a single word seemed to pose a question.

‘So?’ she asked.The older woman spat out some betel with deliberation, and then shook her head. ‘I still don’t like it,’ she said. ‘But why, Asilin?’ insisted the other. ‘What have you got against him?’Asilin, the older woman, spoke again: ‘I don’t have anything against him, but I know the ways of the world...yes, I do. I may be just an old servant, but I have seen life and seen plenty of these foreigners.

There were hordes of them here during the war. If only you had seen those foreign soldiers and the way they behaved, you would never want to marry an outsider, Miss Nelun.’ ‘He is not a soldier, Asilin. You know that,’ the girl, Nelun, interjected quickly.‘Yes, I know that,’ answered Asilin. ‘But, Missy, why don’t you want to marry one of our own boys? Look at your mother now, and your aunts – they are happy, aren’t they? Local girls should marry local boys. You should have found a nice young Ceylonese boy. What about that young doctor who used to spend so much time here? Why not pick one of them and….’ Nelun broke into an impatient laugh.

‘Ah, you can laugh,’ continued the older woman, ‘but Missy, I’ve worked with this family for three generations. I’ve seen your grandaunts and your aunts and then your cousins. They have all settled down quietly and happily with their own people. They bring their children here to see me and just like their mothers used to, these children too, sit in my kitchen and listen to my stories. But you Missy, of all people, the little one I’ve looked after...I never thought I’ll live to see you marry a stranger and leave your home.’

Moved, the girl reached out and placed her hand on the old woman’s bony shoulder. The ring she wore on her fourth finger touched Asilin’s leathery skin for a moment. A strange fear possessed Asilin.

Amidst Orchids

‘I’m going blind,’ she had said, barely looking at him, continuing to tend the orchids in the damp but sunny bathroom. The sunlight found its way in through the fig tree’s meshed shadow. It caught the auburn reflections of her hair, brightened her face, dropped down to the silver chain that she so loved and the last beads from which had been ripped off by a baby’s grip.

He noticed no tremor in her voice, no fear...just a statement.

Her hands came to rest on the orchid leaves. Short nails, he thought, natural, no nail-polish.

She wore no rings on her fingers. Just a thin silver band on the fourth finger; a reminder of what he would have liked to forget, but couldn’t. Nor could she.

Should he pursue the topic or let it drop? What should the course of action be? He saw her once or twice during the year, caught her voice on the phone for a few seconds once in a while and then forgot her existence, until their next meeting in a crowded place.

They knew their roles, what convention and decorum expected from them, and the words would stumble out, ‘How are you?’‘Haven’t seen you for a long time....’‘How is business?’‘I’d ask for advice,’ he heard himself say, cutting the silence short. ‘We can research on the subject. It might not be that bad. Maybe you’ve read too much into what the doctors say.’‘No,’ she looked up from the orchids this time and faced him for a second. 

Comments

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
9 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.