By Chandrika Gadiewasam
Nimal from Tangalle, in the South, was one of those quite young boys that you occasionally find somehow struggling at the back of the class, you know the type I mean; not too bright, not very good at saying smart things at the correct time and tall and skinny so he began to hunch around in fifth grade. The type that ‘there were none to praise’. His grades were not too good either. But he was kind and harmless and at home, he was the dutiful son and an elder brother with two younger siblings. By 19 and after having got lower than average results for his A/L’s, he decided to ‘pull his socks up’ and do ‘something’ worthwhile. He did what any other lad who saw the need of his beloved country would do. He joined the Forces. The sea had always been where his heart was at and he had found his ‘calling’ when he joined the Navy.
This put an end to his hunch and for the first time and was able to gain strength out of the fact, that he was now a valuable part of the country. He was proud to serve his country when she needed it most.
This was some years back at the time, when the country was embroiled in conflict, the North and the East. Man against man. Nimal along with thousands of other men, women and children in the country were smack in the middle of it. He was not the type, one would send onto the line of fire, he seemed too delicate for that in spite of all the toughening up he was subjected to; he was given routine clerical work in the stores division but the fact that he was doing meaningful work for his country, gave him a character of quiet determination. When one’s country is concerned, every aspect, however small it may seem, was important.
They say good things come to those who wait. But on rare occasions it doesn’t.
Nimal along with his crew of 90 odd soldiers waited a long time to return home. They were on their way home for vacations in a naval convoy, when the unthinkable happened. Their convoy was rammed by a truck and blown up in a terrorist attack. The boat which rammed the convoy was driven by suicide bombers, packed with high power explosives resulting in a blast of such magnitude that it would have spelled instant death for all the sailors in the convoy, possibly without even a minute of consciousness, even to understand what was happening.
When people who are old or ill, die, they have some time to understand that they are dying. They understand that death is close and that it is time to say goodbye and leave. In an accident like this however, the body is completely destroyed in a matter of seconds and the human thought process cannot understand what has happened and the spirit of the person sometimes cannot even accept that it’s journey is over before it has reached any destination.
The life force so-to-speak, continues in its usual flow. The spirit goes on in the mundane day to day parody of existence. Nimal who had been on his way home, when he died, went home.
It wasn’t until two to three weeks after the ‘thun mase dane’ or alms giving of three months, that people in the surrounding area begin to notice him. Not his family however. Only people who were not very close with the family saw him. They didn’t recognize him of course as such and such Nimal, but an ordinary person on the road, in the bus halt, taking a walk and so on.
Once a man from the census team working in the South, visited their house, where as they were waiting for the main respondent to return home. Nimal’s sister came around with the tray and served him tea and biscuits, after she had served him she placed the tray with tea cups on it on the coffee table and withdrew. The census man told her that it wasn’t important that the head of the household answer these questions, but anyone could, and sensing that she might be shy to speak to him he said, “I can speak to your brother, it’s o.k.” at which she gave him an odd look and withdrew to the kitchen.
The census man had seen a quiet slim man who sat at the couch near the television with a thoughtful look on his face, not looking at anyone. He had the vacant look of someone whose thoughts were miles away although his head was turned towards the television, which was off.
The census man tried to smile at him and even tried to speak a word or two but it he seemed mute so he waited for some time for the head of the household to appear.
This was the closest anyone had been to Nimal’s aura, but people from the neighbourhood say that if they pass the house they can see him sitting quietly with the family as they go about their day to day life. He has so far, never appeared to anyone who knows him. Maybe because he thought that would scare them, but people who don’t know about him, talk to him, ask him directions when he is standing at the bus halt, and even once gave him a lift on a motorcycle when he said he would be getting late, since he was in his uniform and they wanted to help.
The family when inquired had sincerely stated that they never saw him. They feel his presence among them and they know he was considerate in death, as he had been in life.