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(AFP)

The lamp lit close to the coffin flickered annoyingly. Saman watched the flame of the candle dance in the wind. He thought it might die because the blowing that two fans-placed on the sides of the coffin and operated at full speed-were producing was huge. The deceased was his father, a journalist, who didn’t know that people had to stop now and then and take a breather in life. The dead man, Alfred Soysa, worked hard all his life. He worked seven days a week, betted on horses and drank heavily. What he wasted was negligent compared to what his wife, who died five years ago, busted in terms of money. Alfred lived for two reasons; to write everyday and see his son grow up into a man.

Saman attended Gamini Maha Vidyalaya in Mandana Town. It was a mixed school and Alfred was hell-bent on enrolling his son in a mixed school because he could study alongside girls. He knew the advantages of boys mixing with girls in an academic institute because the girls were more disciplined and would sacrifice anything when it came to succeeding in studies.

Saman preferred to do sports, but was forced to study as well because he knew from his early teenage years that his father was dying of cancer. He didn’t find it strange when his father showed a huge interest to spend time with him at home in the evenings during weekends. This was during the last few years of his father’s life. Saturday and Sunday were the only two days Alfred came home before dusk. On other days, Alfred returned home passed 11 pm. He had an extra key to the home and when he returned home in the night his son would often be sleeping.

Mandana-TownSaman’s father loved to see his son study and perform academically. Saman studied because he realized that the cushion that his father was providing him with in the form of finances would be removed from his life. That time had arrived. His father was gone now. The Advanced Level Examination was just a few months away. Tuition fees were costly and so were school fees, uniforms and meals. He thought of his father’s sister, who was unmarried, but then he didn’t have the courage, more than the capacity to analyze his future, to seek her help. He was lost in his thoughts, some of them desperate. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and indicated that people were pouring in to pay their last respects to his late father. He later realized that this ‘someone’ who had tapped him on the shoulder was his father’s brother. He termed anyone who didn’t relate to him as someone.

Saman had his peculiar ways. He had few friends. And most of them had to make adjustments to maintain their friendships going with him. Saman was often jealous when he saw his friends warm up to their parents. He knew he had only a single parent, and he too wasn’t available for him most of the time.

His father tried to explain what a journalist’s life was. But here too, he wanted his father to make the adjustments, so that he could see more of him. Saman was selfish, spoilt and arrogant. Wherever he went, he had to be tolerated and accommodated.

Mourners at the funeral greeted him in traditional Sri Lankan style with their hands clasped in a praying pose. He went through the motions. He didn’t feel anything now. His head was heavy. He hadn’t room to put anything more into it now. He was 19 and like most unsupervised children at his school, he was already consuming liquor. He wanted to have a beer, but he thought he’ll wait a little more till the crowds died and it was passed dinner time.

There were just a few mourners now. He took a look at his father’s face. He knew he would see it for a few more hours, the most. The burial was scheduled for the following day morning.

Saman went to the kitchen and opened the door of one of the pantry cupboards. He saw that the bottle of Vodka that his father often took sips from was missing. There were a lot of relatives helping in the funeral and moving inside the house. He figured that someone would have taken it. After all, in the culture that Saman grew up in, liquor and sorrow had a close relationship. He searched the fridge and in one corner found a bottle of beer. He took it to his room and drank from the bottle itself.

He finished off the contents in the bottle in double quick time. His mind became dull. That’s how he wanted to feel now….dull. He was too drowsy and tired to think. But he was still awake. He lay in bed and observed his tired mind. He liked how he felt. Then he heard a shriek from the direction of the hall where the body of his dead father was kept. He told himself that shrieking was one way of releasing sadness. He saw such acts as normal when the human mind is grieving. He was extremely sad. What could he do if people who were distant relations were shrieking because that was their way of mourning his father’s death?

He lay still in bed. He was a bit cocked too. But he was silent. It was clam inside his mind, just like before a storm. He hadn’t reacted to his father’s death. He was concerned how he’d react when mind and body cooperated in the act of expressing sorrow. He was slowly nodding now. He heard more shrieks from the direction of the hall. He didn’t need reminders that his father was dead. He didn’t have to be told to cry even if he hadn’t still shed a single tear over his father’s demise. He hadn’t cried in many years.

The dullness in his mind was slowly vanishing. He felt a pleasant drowsiness. He told himself that he understood death. He didn’t close his eyes. They closed by themselves and he fell into a deep sleep.