Pic by: Rukshan Abeywansha

He must have been about 60 years of age.  He was balding.  There were more grey than black in the hair that remained on his sparse pate.  There are vendors who like to talk.  He was not a chatter-box.  In fact, he communicated more with a wave of the hand, nod of the head and expression on face than with words.

The time was close to noon.  There wasn’t much traffic.  He had sold a dozen or so king coconuts.  He had about 50 more to sell.  A bus came to a halt nearby and a bunch of people alighted.  They wanted thambili.  Some just wanted to slake their thirst.  Some also wanted to savour the londa or the soft and delicious kernel within.  He obliged them all.

Some wanted to relieve themselves.  They asked the relevant question and were duly answered by a slight nod of the head in the direction of the toilet.  It wasn’t much of a property anyway and the toilet, which stood separate from the shack that was both home and shop to the man, was easily found.  As easily did they find a pini-jambu tree laden with hundreds of the juicy light-pink  fruits.

Once again the question was asked and approval for plucking given by a slight movement of the head.  He was, as we mentioned, not a man of many words.  They picked the fruit.  They harvested enough for the entire busload of people.  The man just smiled.  He went about his business.

To know what exactly ‘his business’ was, we must describe his property.  We mentioned the shack, the toilet and the pini-jambu tree.  It was one of those wayside dwellings. Small and modest.  All on a plot of land that was probably less than five perches in extent.  There was a deep ditch which might have even been an irrigation canal.  The ditch separated the road from the property.  The man had laid a few planks and these serves as a bridge.

He had served his customers. They had paid.  They wanted other favors and he had obliged.  All for free.  His ‘work’ was done.  His work outside of business was not done.  He began chopping up the king coconuts that were now drained of liquid.  Whether this was to make sure that they wouldn’t collect rainwater and be turned into mosquito breeding receptacles we don’t know.

Whether he wanted to dry the chopped up pieces and use them for firewood, we don’t know.  He went about his work diligently, not at all distracted by the activity around him, the people moving around him, the animated chatter or the laughter.

When he split the thambili tossed aside by those who hadn’t shown interest in the kernel, he made a spoon for himself with a sharp and well-aimed stroke of his knife, scooped out the soft, fleshy londa and tossed it into the ditch.  Dozens of tiny fish immediately zeroed in on the white stuff which floated on the surface for a moment and began to sink slowly.

The thambili-seller of Giriulla is not a man of many words.  He is a man of many deeds.  He lives a simple life.  His footprint on the land is soft.  He is not a burden to the earth.