Mandana Town goes into a spiritual mode around 5pm every day. That’s the time when the bells in the temples and kovils begin to chime. People flock to these religious places of worship after work in the evening. Some come to obtain the blessings of Lord Buddha while the Hindus ask for the protection of gods. There is one man in this town who doesn’t go to either of these religious institutes. His name is Almeida Ayya (elder brother in Sinhalese).
He operates a three wheeled taxi at the junction, where there are vendors selling incense sticks, flowers and fruits in baskets. Most devotees don’t forget to speak to Almeida Ayya while on their way to the temple or kovil.
Mandana Town is a place where there is equality. There is equanimity in almost all the people whom you bump into. Almeida Ayya doesn’t spend time in religious observances, but he is known to be a calm and collected individual. Many believe that three wheeled taxi drivers are very knowledgeable about society, even though most of them haven’t had a sound education.
Almeida Ayya comes to the taxi stand in the evening. He doesn’t operate his taxi in the morning. He hasn’t told his friends and customers why he starts work only in the evening. However he loves to talk to his customers when he undertakes a hire.
Almeida Ayya is a Catholic. He is a big man and carries a little too much bulk around his waist. He has a double chin and broad shoulders, but no beard or moustache. Most of his flaws in his appearance are covered by the Santa Clause like smile he sports at all times.
One Friday, about a year ago, he was returning to the three wheeler stand after finishing a hire. It was about 11 pm. He saw a man pushing a motor bike along the road which seemed like having stopped after running out of petrol. Almeida Ayya slowed his three wheeled taxi and inquired from the bike rider what was wrong. “Petrol flood. I know a place where I can put this bike in for the night. Can you drop me home…..I mean undertake a hire,” he queried. “Sure,” Almeida Ayya replied. He rarely refuses to undertake hires, even if a customer is not from Mandana Town.
The bike rider identified himself as Ravindra. Almeida Ayya hadn’t seen him before in Mandana Town. However, Ravindra didn’t take much time to make an arrangement with a house he went into close by. An old lady appeared from the house the moment Ravindra rattled the gate and called out her name. They spoke a few words to each other and then Ravindra pushed his bike inside the garden that led to the lady’s house.
Almeida Ayya was impressed by what he saw.
Ravindra was also a big man, but he was much younger than Almeida Ayya. “Take me to Sea Street. It’s about 13 kilo meters from Mandana Town,” Ravindra said. Almeida Ayya began the journey slowly. After proceeding a short distance, there were still no signs of Almeida Ayya speeding up his three wheeled taxi. “Can we go a little faster,” requested Ravindra.
“This is my speed. If I am too slow, you may always end this hire and board another taxi,” Almeida Ayya responded. Ravindra gestured with his hand that they should continue the journey. He didn’t talk for some time.
Ravindra saw a cross, with the image of Jesus Christ embossed on it, strung around a mirror inside the three wheeled taxi. He thought it was time to break the silence that had set in.
“You seem to be a religious person,” said Ravidra.
“I am a catholic,” responded Almeida.
“Good,” said Ravindra.
“What do you mean good? Do you know what it means to be a Catholic?” asked Almeida Ayya.
“No,” said Ravindra.
“Then why did you comment on a subject that you don’t know much about?” asked Almeida Ayya.
There was silence inside the three wheeled taxi again.
“Sir, Jesus Christ protects you at all times,” said Almeida Ayya.
Ravindra didn’t know how to respond.
Almeida Ayya then related a shocking, but touching story to Ravindra.
Many years ago Almeida Ayya was married and lived in a large two storied home which provided housing to his sister’s family. This family had rented the downstairs of this home.
His wife was very beautiful and was given all the freedom to go wherever she wanted and meet whoever she wanted. Her name was Jayangani. Ten years into their marriage, Almeida Ayya came to know that his wife was having an illicit affair. He was very angry. One day Almedia Ayya planned to kill Jayangani.
During this time of his life, Almeida Ayya was an atheist. His sister, Rupika, was a Catholic. Almeida Ayya was restless from morning that day. Rupika observed the strangeness that had set in, in his brother. It was not that she didn’t know about her sister-in-law’s activities. She moved in and tried to calm him down. When nothing worked, she queried from Almeida whether he liked to go to church with her. He gave his consent. Inside the church they prayed together. Almeida Ayya had never prayed before. But he prayed. Strangely he asked The Lord to forgive his wife for her sins, not punish her. He felt a calmness taking control over his feelings. He felt his anger melt away like ice melting in the hot sun.
When Almeida Ayya came out of the church that day, he went home a new man. His relationship with his wife was never the same again. But he had good working relationship with Jayangani, given that they had a grown-up son.
He told Ravindra to go home and pray to Lord Jesus Christ. “Say thank you to Jesus,” he said.
“Why, for what?,” queried Ravindra.
“Because he sent me to you. This night I have taken you home safely. Please say a prayer and thank him,” Almeida Ayya made a request.
“So you embraced Christianity?” queried Ravindra.
“Yes,” came the reply.
They had arrived at Ravindra’s home. His wife was peeping from the window to see why her husband was late and had come home in a three wheeled taxi.
Ravindra paid the fare and picked up his briefcase. “Will you forget my request” asked Almeida Ayya.
Ravindra smiled, but didn’t respond.
Almeida Ayya started the three wheeler taxi and began the return journey to Mandana Town. He thought about change and how it happens slowly. “Change that happens slowly, stays with you,” he said to himself.