I followed the course of the wave inland, time and again. In a trance, I scrambled through the uprooted scrub. The jungle had been devoured by the water, vast tracts of it were now covered in bonewhite sea sand that had been swept in by the wave. I ignored danger and walked far into the forest, there were wild animalselephants, leopard, bear. I lied to my unsuspecting friends from London who sometimes came with me. "Are you sure this is safe?" "Yeah, course it is, come on."
Nothing was normal here, and that I liked. Here, in this ravaged landscape, I didn't have to shrink from everyday details that were no longer ours. The shop we bought hot bread from, a blue car, a basketball. My surroundings were as deformed as I was. I belonged here.
I kept returning over the next months and saw the jungle begin to revive. Fresh green shoots sneaked out from under crushed brick. New vines climbed around tilting pillars, and these ruins suddenly looked ancient, like some holy site, a monastery for forest monks, perhaps. Around our rooms a scattering of young ranawara bushes dripped yellow blossoms. And everywhere, on bare ground and between cracks in the floors, tiny pink and white flowers that flourish along the seashore forced their way up. Mini mal, or graveyard flowers, they are called. I resented this renewal. How dare you heal.
Still, I began to experience a new calm. In Colombo my chest cramped continuously, here that pain lessened. I lay on the warm floor of our hotel room as a slow moon scaled above the sea, and I could breathe. At the edge of this floor, there was a small bolt- hole, filled with sand. When I saw the wave coming toward us, I asked Vik to shut the back door. It was into this bolt-hole that he pulled down the lock. Now I traced its rim with my fingers. I cleaned out the sand.
We loved this wilderness. Now slowly it began pressing into me, enticing me to take notice, stirring me from my stupor, just a little. And here I found the nerve to remember. I'd walk on the beach following the footsteps of a solitary peacock, and allow in snatches of us. I could see Vik and Malli catching hermit crabs on this beach. They'd keep the crabs in a large blue basin that they'd landscaped with sand tunnels and ditches, then release them by the water's edge at the end of the day. Now I could hear the two of them, their innocence twinkling in the late- evening light. "Have I been good, Mum, and will Santa bring me lots of presents?"
I had glimpses of those hours before the wave. Vik jumped on my bed. "Come give me cuddle," I said. "A Boxing Day cuddle?" he asked, snuggling up. We were to check out of the hotel soon, my mother would have had her vanity case packed. I remembered our last night here, a star- sprawled sky. "Look, Dad, the sky has got chicken pox." We were sitting outside on the sand, the air was still, from the mayila trees, like a marble skipping on stone, a nightjar called. A fucking nightjar? When I needed a vast pronouncement, of what was looming. The end of my world.
I never did find Crazy Crow. I stopped searching the day I found the shirt Vik wore on our last evening, Christmas night. It was a lime- green cotton shirt. I remembered him fussing that he didn't want to wear it, it had long sleeves, which he didn't like. Steve rolled up the sleeves for him. "There, that looks smart." When I found the shirt, it was under a spiky bush, half-buried in sand. I pulled it out, not knowing what this piece of tattered yellowing fabric was. I dusted off the sand. Those parts of the shirt that had not been bleached by salt water and sun were still bright green. One of the sleeves was still rolled 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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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