SRILANKA, JULY DECEMBER 2005
Someone had removed the brass plate with my father's name on it from the gray front wall. It had his name etched in black italics. I sat in the passenger seat of my friend Mary-Anne's car, my eyes clinging to the holes in the wall where that brass plate was once nailed.
This had been my parents' home in Colombo for some thirty- five years, and my childhood home. For my sons it was their home in Sri Lanka. They were giddy with excitement when we visited every summer and Christmas. Vik took his first steps here, and Malli, when younger, called the house "Sri Lanka." And in our last year, 2004, when Steve and I had sabbaticals from our jobs and the four of us spent nine months in Colombo until September, this house was the hub of our children's lives.
This was where we were to return to on the afternoon of the twenty- sixth of December. My mother had already given Saroja, our cook, the menu for dinner. This was where they didn't come back to. Now, six months after the wave, I dared to set eyes on this house.
I was wary as I sat in Mary-Anne's car, which was parked by our front wall. I didn't want to look around. I was afraid of seeing too much. But I couldn't help myself, I peeked.
Apart for the now nameless wall, the outside of the house had not changed. The tall iron gates still had spikes on top to keep burglars out. The rail on the balcony was white and safe. The mango tree I was parked under was the same mango tree that gave me an allergic reaction when it flowered, that sickly tree, dark blotches on its leaves. I noticed some small black stones on the driveway, and I remembered. Vik would juggle with these stones when he waited out here for the New Lanka Caterers van to come by selling kimbula paan sugarcoated bread rolls shaped as crocodiles.
It was a humid, sticky afternoon, and Mary-Anne rolled down the car windows. From its perch on a nearby telephone post, a bulbul trilled. And I recalled the pair of red-vented bulbuls that nested in the lamp that hung in the car porch, just over the front wall. In the hollow of the glass lampshade, there would be a nest built with dried twigs and leaves and even a green drinking straw. The boys were spellbound by the arrival of fidgety chicks, still part covered in pale red shell. They watched the first flutter from that lamp many times, shooing off the mob of crows that rallied on the wall waiting for an unready chick to drop to the ground. Now I could see the two of them, placing a chair under the lamp to stand on and get a better look. Shoving each other off that chair. My turn now. I wanna see the baby bird. Get off.
A phone rang indoors. It made me shiver. It was the same phone, the same ring. From my father's study on the other side of this wall, the phone kept ringing, no one picked it up. Now I could hear my father push back his chair to go tell my mother that it is her sister calling, again. I could hear him open the door of his study. A bunch of keys always dangled on that door. They tapped against the door's glass panel when it was opened or shut. I could hear them jingle.
In the past months, I'd been unable to focus on the death of my parents. I'd held back thoughts of them, so utterly bewildered was I by the loss of my boys and Steve. Now, as I lingered outside this house, my parents emerged, a little.
Then I saw through the branches of the mango tree that the windows of the bedroom upstairs were closed. That was my bedroom when I was a child. Then Vik and Malli slept there when we visited. Getting them to bed in that room took forever. They'd call to my mother to plead for yet another fizzy drink, and she'd gladly oblige. They'd squabble, trying to stretch a too- small mosquito net over two adjacent beds, and argue about how dark the room should be. Vik wanted some light, Malli did not. He'd say, "Don't be scared, Vik. It's good when it's all really black. You can see your dreams better."
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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