The short stories in this collection capture the small but seismic shifts in a person’s life: the distraction of a tutor whose wife has left him; the regret of a woman who has walked out of her marriage of 30 years; and a woman realizing that her dream house still harbours the spirits of its previous owners. “We who have lived in this house know that it conceals a hint of madness in its walls and corners. The bathtub on the first floor overflows for no good reason; in the basement pots of food burn to charcoal.”
In the story Journey to Jaffna, Geetha, a young Tamil woman, returns to the town from which, as a child, she had fled with her mother after her father disappeared during the Sri Lankan civil war. Geetha comes back to Colombo from Italy, where she now lives, and takes a bus to Jaffna. “Jaffna, the town of her childhood, evoked so many emotions in her; lights over the lagoon where the crab fishing took place, cycling to school in a white school uniform, Karathakolomban mangoes, just picked and served with freshly grated, hot, coconut sambol. If she closed her eyes for a second, she could feel the contours of the fruit, juice squirting all over as she bit into its flesh. The scent of the fruit, from the time it was a young bud, to the ripeness of the fruit in the bowl…little things that Appa could give them, before the war.”
Geetha never really found out what happened to her father and refuses to believe that he died in the civil war. She makes the trip to Jaffna in the hope of finding him alive, or at least getting some answers.
People in these stories struggle with their secrets and worries. A bride’s ayah (nanny) worries about the girl marrying a foreigner and leaving behind everything she knows. A new night watchman shares a shocking secret with the girl of the house. A woman returning to claim her parents’ belongings after they die in an accident, discovers something about herself that changes everything.
The only story that does not appear to fit in this collection is Traveller’s Diary: Laos, which feels more like a travel account.
In these short pieces, Chanis Fernando-Boisard succeeds in capturing a moment in time. Her writing has a strong sense of place, especially when she describes Sri Lanka: you can almost smell the air and taste the food.
I enjoyed this collection.