Ganesan strolled leisurely on the Galle Road at Wellawatte, in particular on the sidewalk opposite Chapel Lane.
Earlier when he was ready to leave the house, his youngest son Parasu had stopped him at the door and said, "Where are you off to when the ceremony is about to start? And that too all alone?"
A few months ago Ganesan had a bypass surgery done on him, hence the family's concern.
"But I've come back after many days and you don't let me go near the diner at all. At least this way, I can see the places I'd wandered around all my life." Ganesan had been adamant.
"Don't go too far, Dad. You need to be back in ten minutes." He hadn't missed the command in his son's loving voice.
"What am I? A child?"
After fondly patting his son on his shoulders, Ganeshan had left the house and reached the Galle road within two minutes. Around the corner stood their diner.
His dream of many years was finally going to become real in the new two-storey building at the back.
Ganesan stood for a few moments in front of the diner.
These days the diner, where the most delicious delicacies and refreshments of this area were served, once barely managed to accommodate ten people. Despite that, the place had been his solace in those early and difficult years.
The glitter from all the years of hard work reflected off of him. Wasn't this where his life took a different turn? Ganesan watched it longingly for a few more minutes, then slowly began to walk away.
His glances alternated between both sides of the road. No matter how many times he had seen it, every inch of this place had the power to rouse up a tide of new emotions.
Did you know that some memories of childhood, whether they’re pleasant or grim, are etched deeply into oneself as if on stone?
Once upon a time… fifty years ago… he had come to this area as a ten-year-old boy. He didn’t know his father and had no interest in knowing him either. Adoring or abusive, his mother was his entire world.
In the beginning Ganesan would flinch when memories of those days took shape inside his mind, but as years progressed he even stopped hating those thoughts.
At an age when hunger dominated his life, he had managed to digest the event that had caused him disgust, fury and bitterness.
Those were the days where he had scrambled around with feet bare, cracked, and sooted, clinging onto his mother’s torn saree with a begging bowl.
A full day of begging had brought little to quench the starving boy.
That’s right! For him, only the stomach would beg to be looked after. No matter how barren his feelings were, he could acutely spot both hunger and thirst.
On a day like that…
Ganesan tried to put out the memories beginning to flare up again.
In his mind, the question sprang up with force: ‘Do I need to entertain these thoughts now, especially on such a happy day?’
Despite that, memories surged out quick and plentiful, unwilling to wait for a response.
It was a nipping cold night; almost midnight though the street was still alive.
And... his extended hand was pointing to the front of a building. He and his mother were huddled along the curb in front of the lined shops.
The craving emptiness in his stomach had refused to let him sleep. The biting cold didn’t help either. The old sarong was already lost to the cold and felt damp. The boy, as always, tried to clutch his aching belly tight with his hands, and tried to snuggle into his mother.
His mother's stomach would have been burning with hunger too. Her son's proximity may have been irritating too. What more? The sight of that man lying not too far. His one foot was disabled. No one knew when and where he had come from. He had been in the vicinity the last few days. Even though she had managed to ignore his gaze, tonight she could not contain her feelings. As he lay and gazed at her from an arm’s distance, her son’s proximity felt like ember.
"Get away devil! I’m stuck with you from dawn till dusk.”
She pushed the boy with all the strength she could muster. At that moment he had appeared to be her biggest burden.
The man’s eyes flashed with desire and victory.
The boy burst into tears as he fell away from the torn sack. He looked at his mother's eyes sparkling in the dark with anger.
"Mother has become mad these days.”
He grumbled, but couldn't sleep anymore. When he realized that a nearby diner was closing, he took a shaky breath and ran towards it with whatever energy his malnourished body could spare.
'Surely sir will give me something to eat.' His mind was desperate. He felt giddy at the slight chance of something to eat. He consoled himself that if he could get rid of the street dogs that scavenged the trash, he could get a little more.
'It's enough for me and Mother!'
His hopes were not dashed. There was no need to scavenge the litter and fight off the street dogs. The young man in charge of the diner packed some food parcels in a plastic bag and extended it to him with a kind look in his eyes.