Poetry & Prose

The Kabaraya *

We first heard the shouting, the noonday air was shimmered in the heat. As someone looked out of the inner room, the Kabaraya had already crept into the office.

“A Kabaraya” exclaimed our colleague at the door jumping back like a fish on a hook. We stopped chatting and crowded around the door craning our necks to catch a glimpse. The Kabaraya having crawled in, paused on the dusty floor, looking around as non plussed as we were. The sunlight slanted onto it’s dark grayish-brown back, looking tred and afraid, it’s body heaved as hissed now and then.

“it’s hissing” exclaimed a child in the garden outside. The kabaraya continued to hiss, it sighed with look as if it realized that it was in a area where it’s tormentors could not reach it. Someone outside aimed a pebble at its back, but the pebble missed it’s mark and ricocheted off a table leg and landed in front of the Kabaraya. It narrowed it’s eyes and looked at the pebble thoughtfully; and began moving forward, its belly on the dusty floor making a scratching sound setting our nerves on edge.

“ Hey! Don’t throw stones, it’s coming in” shouted one of us. There was no reply, not that a reply was expected, all our attention was on the Kabaraya.

The kabaraya crawled forward shyly setting our nerves on edge once again , it was then that we saw the welts on it’s back They were formed of small red wounds it had two on it’s back and another one on it’s left hip. The ones on its back towards it’s tail were smaller. It suddenly stopped again as if stricken with stage fright by it’s audience and looked around sighing.

“Now what do we do” someone asked.

“Now what do we do” we asked ourselves. It was less than a metre away from our inner room door, should it crawl forward a few paces with that enervating noise, it would be far too close for comfort, it’s strong jaws were shut tightly together and it regarded us balefully with it’s muddy eyes, tightly gripping the cement floor with it’s splayed claws.

It’s tail sharp as a sword seemed to us capable of severing a mans foot with a lashing indeed that was what we had heard and this increased our nervousness.

“A lash from it’s tail could take it off from here.”said one showing his ankle.

“I,ve seen, with my own eyes, some one who had his legs taken away by a kabaraya” said another , moving away from the door trying to remember the name of the victim.

“Me too…”

“Why, even in my village…….”

The hubbub in the room increased. Every one wanted to relate their past experiences with Kabarayas. At that point all our values seemed to be determined by our relationship with Kabarayas. The kabaraya crawled towards the door once again setting our nerves jangling.

“bloody hell- it’s nearly here” said someone near the door, the hubbub subsided. In an emergency of this nature, internal cohesion is essential, and in any case nobody had any idea how to put the vast corpus of our past experience with kabarayas to any practical use.

The temperature was increasing rapidly in the little room, the table fan revolved lackadaisically, ineffectual against the heat. The hot stale august air weighed turgidly down on us.

“Those asses outside sent it in” said one indignantly, really it’s surprisingly hard to find any thing more constructive than railing in situations like this.

We began inveighing against the stupidity and arrogance of the neighbours, if no one can be blamed in an unexpected calamity, increases ones helplessness, so blaming the neighbours brought a sudden sense of relief. They were to blame for the situation that both the kabaraya and ourselves were in.

“If these morons hadn’t started chasing it, it would have gone it’s own way, why would it come in here.”

“ Bloody stupid bastards”

“should be beaten to within an inch of their lives”

Once again tension was mounting in the inner room, it was quite plain that were it not for the Kabaraya sprawled across the threshold the neighbours would have been most severly dealt with.

However the Kabaraya remained gazing at us unflinchingly with no intention of moving.

It’s eyes began drooping in the noonday heat, now the sunlight slanting onto it’s back was spreading down towards it’s fearsome tail. The Kabaraya was no less than five feet in length. And the redoubtable tail at least two feet long.

“ Of all the Kabarayas around none have ever stepped into this office before, why would this want come in among humans? Suddenly the general wrath turned upon the Kabaraya, this was perfectly true, the Kabaraya could not have any official business transact in the office. It would be cause for great concern if this were to become a trend, and this was already a very bad precedent.

“Look, Kabarayas don’t think the same way about offices and humans as humans do about Kabarayas and offices. A counter argument, but the argument was not without it’s logic, this Kabaraya was either wandering aimlessly or it had lost it’s way; by definition it could not have had an a priori intention of coming into our office. Therefore the counter argument had some basis. However it certainly had no intention of moving from where it was.

If it were only possible to turn it around 180 degrees towards the door. Then it would have been childs play to send it out of the door into the garden, it could then go to Timbuctoo for all we cared; but it remained as it was.

We looked on confused and helpless. A Kabaraya sprawled across all our plans for the rest of the day. Hunger pangs are sharpened in the noon day heat, as sweat collects on our brows. Regardless of our thoughts sentiments and feelings the Kabaraya will not move.

Daily countless numbers of goats, chickens, dogs and cats traverse our office, these animals belong to our genteel neighbours. The shortest way from the common strip of garden that separates two lines of houses, incuding our office from one another and the railway track behind is through our office, our polite neighbours themselves including our landlord,indeed because of their politesse refrained from this practice However cattle poultry and domestic animals, not having any use for politesse, did not hesitate to use the shortest route from their domiciles to the rubbish heaps along the railway track. Putting up with all that was one thing but now a Kabaraya, was squatting our office!

No doubt a very bad precedent of the worst kind!

The fortuitous happens without forewarning. “Time” is the coincidence of two or more random factors. And in this sense our time had come, our seemingly ineluctable fate of spending the rest of our days as the hostages of a Kabaraya changed in a single random instant

The reverberation of the window panes and the gradually ascending rattle of the teacups in the kitchen heralded the arrival of the train and finally the horn seemingly culminating the announcement of a earthquake jolted the Kabaraya from it’s reverie. It moved faster than it had done before. As in a miracle it was now well past the door of the room where we had been holed up all this time, and stood facing the

kitchen door leading out onto the railway track. Determination and courage are of the essence at decisive moments such as these. We leapt out of the room and onto the writing tables in the hall vacated by the kabaray, in a tumult, when it turned it’s head enquiringly we were already on the tables. We knew that the Kabarayas tail to be more vicious than the laughter of the neighbours. And in any case it would be a fundamental error to confuse the Primary Contradiction with the secondary ones. So ignoring our neighbours hoots of laughter we began shouting, to shoo the Kabaraya out. ‘shoo, shoo , dup, dup, hoy, hoy” - it was one tribal carnival.

The Kabaraya looked at us and at the open door, and at that very moment our neighbouring brave tribals burst in to save us, they carried rods and sticks. Our friendly grocer rushed in brandishing a rod like Tarzan taking on a ferocious lion. It was a wonder that the Kabaraya did not fall unconscious for the beating it was given, it struggled wildly as if begging for mercy if it could have leapt out of the kitchen it would have done so. Blood filled up the welts on it as blows rained, showing the white flesh beneath it’s skin.

What pain...

We were free, we spent the next few minutes in jubilation and self congratulation. The grocer, the pensioned railwayman mean and foulmouthed , his slatternly wife and their offspring were as if by magic our closest friends!. A cross-border alliance against a Kabaraya.

But did any one notice the Kabaraya sprawled out in pain in the garden.The murky eyes full of pain would have cryed tears of pain shame and pity. It would have turned and wondered at our jubilation, it might have wondered at our pleasure. It had been seeing climbing onto the railway track with great difficulty. And then it was as if erased from memory. Could a Kabaraya commit suicide?

Lunch was a victory celebration, then the day began wearing off. A wonderful day wasted because of a Kabaraya. The kabaraya will no doubt be effaced by the debris of memories, but the murky eyes full of pain…!

The calm night follows evening, all evenings are alike, for those who do not dream nights are short. Many nights are like the surface of dark and still waters. Murky eyes full of pain haunt certain dreams, rippling the still waters of the night. We never speak of them. That fateful creature occupies all our memories and dreams.

What Pain....

 

Bashana Abeywardane

2001 September | Translated by Prathap de Silva

 


* (Kabaraya = Monitor lizard, can become aggressive if provoked and lash out with a powerful tail causing injuries, a creature feared and disliked by Sri Lankans)

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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