I walked into the hollow that had been my father's office. There was no large desk heaving with piles of legal briefs, those blue and beige folders frayed at the edges, sometimes tied up with a piece of thin ribbon. The wooden shelves that stretched from the floor to the ceiling on two walls were bare, the top ones no longer warped by the weight of too many books. No antique maps of Sri Lanka hung above the desk. One of these maps, from the sixteenth century, showed the island as a rectilinear pentagon, not unlike a small child's lopsided drawing of a house, and in the middle, along with a few mountains and rivers, the cartographer had etched a colorful elephant with ornate anklets on all its feet, perhaps to compensate for the lack of geographical detail.
As I stood in the dark of that room, fragments of our last days here kept flaring up, unbidden. Malli tying clusters of balloons on the frangipani trees in the back garden because we were having friends to dinner, and what's a party without balloons. My mother teaching Vikram to play "Silent Night" on the piano, and his deliciously dimpled smile as he changes the chords and presses hard on the pedal, making the tune unrecognizable. Steve wearing that burnt- orange shirt the night we had the party, the shirt I'd bought him only that day, a tad more flamboyant than his usual choice. All of this now sharply in focus just by being within these walls, my vaporfilmed mind clearing for a while. I looked out the window and saw the lime tree in the front garden. The tangy smell of those lime leaves, when they are torn into small pieces, I know that so well. Familiar insect noises filled the outside, crickets rubbing wings together, cicadas vibrating tiny abdominal membranes. A few moments of quiescence. Home.
Upstairs in our bedroom, the two double beds, no sheets or pillows, naked. The wardrobe empty, I traced inside the shelves with my fingers, and there was no dust. In the corner of a drawer, I found some seashells, small cowries that Malli and I gathered on the beach, feeling their pearly smoothness under our thumbs. He called them "favorites," both his and mine. Drifting in and out of the rooms in a daze, I looked into the small shrine room at the top of the stairs. On the floor, under the Buddha and Ganesh statues, was a set of Vikram's cricket stumps, the tallest ones he had, Steve would tap them into the ground with his bat in the middle of the athletics track of the Sports Ministry playing fields every evening. I picked up one of the stumps, staring at its pointed end that was darkened with soil, the wetness of the earth still clinging to the wood, almost. I took it to our bedroom. I struck at the bed. I stabbed the mattress with the muddied pointed end, over and over, harder and harder, until a tear appeared, and again to make the hole deeper and again to make another gash and again to join up all the gashes. The four of us, we slept here in all our innocence. That'll teach us.
Dust, rubble, shards of glass. This was the hotel. It had been flattened. There were no walls standing, it was as though they'd been sliced off the floors. Only those clay- tiled floors remained, large footprints of rooms, thin corridors stretching out in all directions. Fallen trees were everywhere, the surrounding forest had flown apart. As if there'd been a wildfire, all the trees were charred. A signboard fallen in the dirt said yala safari beach hotel. I stumbled about this shattered landscape. I stubbed my toe on this ruin.
This was my first trip back to Yala. I went with Steve's father, Peter, and his sister Jane. On the two hundred-mile drive from Colombo, we had to stop often, so I could vomit.
The wind was fierce that day we went back, it flung sand into our faces. A strangely quiet wind, though, bereft of the rustling and shaking of trees. It was midday, and no shelter from the seething sun. The sea eagles that had thrilled Vik, they were still there. Bold in this desolation, they sailed low, sudden shadows striking the bare ground. Eagles without Vik. I didn't look up.
Excerpted from Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. Copyright © 2013 by Sonali Deraniyagala. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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