Laura Davies » Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Laura Davies

Former Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Part of UK in Sri Lanka

26th December 2014 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Searching for Maya

For our final blog in our#TsunamiRemembered series, we turn to fiction, sometimes the best way to make sense of facts. Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe is the author of Rhythm of the Sea and Trinity. Her 2011 book of poetry, There’s an Island in the Bone  won the 2011 State Literary Joint Award for poetry. She was longlisted for the 2011 Fish Poetry Prize of Ireland and was a joint runner-up to the 2009 UK’s Guardian Orange First Words Prize.  She is also a freelance journalist.

Searching for Maya

27 December 2004.

Neela is searching for Maya. And for Maya’s mother. And for Maya’s sister. And for Maya’s brother-in-law. And for Maya’s husband. And for Maya’s first son. And for Maya’s second son. And for Maya’s daughter who is 8 months old; whose birth, Maya said, had done-her-in and so she desperately deserved a Boxing Day holiday somewhere, anywhere, for a bit of pampering, away from London.

The 72 miles of road that links Colombo to the ancient Dutch Fort in Galle has ceased to exist since the waves came in on the 26th.

“Really, nothing exits anymore”, thinks Neela as she begins the journey to the South. People wave her in every direction.

Can’t go that way, the road is gone.”

“They were in Hambantota? It’s all gone. Don’t go alone.

The news reporter updates the numbers of bodies coming on to the shore every fifteen minutes. 12,000 at 11.30. 13,000 at 11:45. She switches off the car radio to stop the news reporter but her brain keeps adding;

“13,000 and the eight of them, that’s thirteen thousand eight” it reminds her.

Neela stops thinking.

She goes to the hotel. The staff are clearing what they can. Men lift plastic chairs from the kiddies pool; sweep the glass from the dining room that had ended in the reception hall; cut off the dangling electric wires; pull down tablecloths hanging from the branches of coconut trees.

With its roof and four walls gone, the cement floor of the dining room burns in the sun.

They all remember them. “They were at breakfast madam.”  “You should go the beach. Try the hospital, some are there.”

At the beach, a British High Commission officer offers her a surgical mask. For a moment, Neela is not sure what to do with it. Then the smell hits her and she keeps the mask to her face.
The bodies are laid out; some frozen in motion – hands swimming, legs kicking. Some incomplete. Some no longer human – all, one row of flesh melting in the heat of the tropics. Nobody knows how tell a body of a quiet waiter-boy from a young advertising agency executive from London. Neela keeps searching.

The search moves from the beach to the hospital, to the morgue, to the rooms in the hotel that 8 people had occupied, and back to Colombo; in between, Neela finds Maya.

Maya is singing the latest jingle that she has written for her Coca-Cola campaign in London.  “Think of it this way, darling”, says Maya. ”I am your 21st century door-to-door saleswoman in London. The non-stop voice behind the sales pitch, the magic behind the formula. Without me, the caramel and water in your Cola will be caramel and water.” And she laughs.

The wind snatches the laughter and dashes it on to the waves. It goes bobbing, surfing, dancing across the sea. Unharmed.

Most things the sea took in didn’t come back; the 5 carriages of the train, the 8 of them. They turned into a thousand sea-butterflies; a million rays of sea-stars that flutter and dance and sparkle in the sea’s gushing waves and still depths.

British High Commission flowers at the Jawatte cemetery in Colombo
British High Commission flowers at the Jawatte cemetery in Colombo

Other blogs in the series: