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(AFP)

The small two-storied house with brick walls has been a familiar sight in Mandana Town. You can’t miss it. What stops you here is the soothing music that’s heard from within the house. The occupant of the residence is Wimalaratne. He loves to play devotional songs to God. Wimalaratne lives in the southwest part of Mandana Town which generates more bad news than good news. The place is called Red Street.

Just close to Wimalaratne’s home is a crossroads. All kinds of nefarious activity happen in this part of the town. What’s amazing is that this area also has plenty of temples, churches, mosques and Kovils which cater to people who are in search of inner peace. But a little distance away from these places of worship, you can see twilight ladies waiting in eagerness to entice potential customers. Red Street is amazingly capable of producing people who indulge in activities where the mind operates at two extremes.

There are a good number of young adults who hang around, daily, on Red Street. You can see them at temples and churches on Sunday mornings. For them, the evenings are set aside for fun. Wimalaratne doesn’t consider these activities, which happen after sunset, as wise. He doesn’t term them unwise either. Just the other day, someone heard him saying, “One has to pass this stage of life in order to progress to the next”.

Mandana-TownWimalaratne works as a sales assistant in a shoe shop. His mild mannered and helpful ways have been noted by customers. He often tells his colleagues that customers will forgive shortcomings if the sales staff is nice to them. Wimalaratne toiled in life before he got to work in an air-conditioned office. Many years ago, he started work as a helper in a company that manufactured bottled fruit drinks. His first job description stated that he had to maintain wooden cases which were used to transport the drinks. He also had to pack the bottles in these wooden cases. It was typical laborer’s work. But he never shied away from the hard manual work which was a feature in the early part of his career. He never hid his past and was always willing to share his experiences.

Wimalaratne served with dedication and worked himself up in the company that employed him. Within less than a year he became good enough to be promoted as a sales representative. That’s the time in his career that life became fun. He cherished all the traveling that he got to do as sales rep. The job has helped him study people and learn about different cultures.

One day he had an unforgettable experience at the shoe shop.

A snazzy looking lady walked in and wanted to try on some shoes. The lady looked familiar and seemed to be in her late forties. She looked fit and had the skin of a teenager.

“Show me some shoes made of synthetic material,” she said.

Is leather not good,” inquired Wimalaratne.

“I don’t use animal products,” she said.

“And why not,” asked Wimalaratne.

She smiled. “Personal choice,” she said.

“I’ll go for these with the red straps,” she said.

“Are you from Randles Hills,” he asked her.

“Why, yes. Are you from that area,” she responded.

Wimalaratne answered in the negative.

“But I used to travel a lot in that area when I used to work for a soft drinks manufacturer,” he said. The woman looked at him and smiled.

“How much for the shoes,” she asked.

“2000 rupees,” he said. She paid for the shoes and put them in a bag.

She looked a dignified lady. She only spoke when spoken to.

“Anything else madam?” he asked her.

She hesitated a little and said no.

The calm that described her was slowly starting to melt away. All these changes in her started to happen when she looked through the door, in the direction of the road.

Wimalaratne again stole a glance at her flawless skin and body. He was a married man and he knew that being attracted to any lady other than his wife amounted to a sin. There was still time to observe her a little more till she walked to the door.

She walked slowly to the entrance of the shoe shop. Wimalaratne’s eyes followed her. She noticed him glancing at her. She stopped near the door for a few seconds. Wimalaratne walked behind her. He was soon standing behind her at the doorway.

Right and wrong were engaged in a battle inside Wimalaratne’s head. He reached for his purse which was inside his trouser pocket. He had some visiting cards and wanted to give her one. She turned back and took a final look at Wimalaratne. The next moment she was out on the road.

A car slowly pulled uced on the headlights, revved the engine and took off. The lights flashed on some twilight ladies who were standing close-by and waiting for customers.

That dignified lady changed like day turning to night. She became a totally different person when she stepped out on to the streets. Who was this stranger who had stepped into his shoe shop? Wimalaratne asked himself this question many times.

Wimalaratne didn’t wish to compare this lady with those who were making the night exciting a few hundred yards away. He wanted to give her value, like with the many women who had walked into his life. He wanted to preserve these memories, like someone who intends preserving a fresh bunch of flowers as long as one can.

The perfume the lady wore was still circulating inside the shoe shop.

It was now late and well past closing time.

Wimalaratne didn’t show any signs of being in a hurry to close the shop for the day.