Henry Jayasena Column:
More about London and how I delivered a parcel
THEATRE: Mr. Munasinghe is not the only lonely and disgruntled
Ceylonese I met in London. I met another lady - let’s call her Mrs. De
Silva. Actually I did not meet her in a subway or in the street. I was
sent to meet her and deliver a parcel. Veterans at Lake House and older
newspaper men elsewhere too, I am sure will remember a rather colourful
man called Elmo Goonaratne.
I think he was one of the ‘distinguished career’ persons who was
awarded with a special award at a Sarasaviya Festival quite recently.
Elmo came to London on some journalistic assignment or perhaps for some
training course at the time I was in London in 1965.
Being good pals he contacted me immediately and we met for a ‘night
out’. That meant a free dinner at some friend’s place a ‘night seeing’
tour of some of the tourist attractions of London and lastly (and most
importantly) a visit to a Strip Show Soho!.
I had never seen a strip show before although I had roamed the Soho
area quite a bit and even patronised some of the ‘dirty’ book stalls.
The normal pattern for ‘kodu’ visitors as their last item for the night
was to see as many strip shows as possible by jumping from one to the
other.Actually all those strip joints in Soho were situated cheek by
jowl to each other. So it was not difficult.
Suddenly, after about the third show, we realised that it is the same
set of girls who performed in every joint. We even caught some of them
hurrying along the street from one assignment to another! That cooled us
pretty soon and we called off the strip show thing even before half way.
We had a round of ‘bitters’ at one of the Soho pubs and called it a day
- or rather called it a night!.
It was Elmo Goonaratne who entrusted me with a parcel to be delivered
at some address in some unknown corner of London. Elmo’s visit was
short. He entrusted the parcel to me with strict instructions that I
should deliver it personally and went off either back home or to some
And so, the very next Saturday I set off on my ‘mission parcel’ after
a great deal of combing the London maps to locate the Godforsaken place.
Finally I boarded a bus going out of the Central City and travelled a
long distance before I reached the particular lane of the given address.
The lane was more or less deserted (I forget the name now) and all
the front doors and even windows of all the houses were closed shut. The
absolute silence was pierced with a lone dog’s barking now and then and
a cat or two making their presence felt by high pitched mewing. The
place looked eerie - rather like a scene from Sherlock Holmes.
The house that I was looking for was locked too and all the windows
upstairs were closed. I cursed myself for not getting the telephone
number from Elmo and for not calling the house before I set out on my
mission. I kept ringing the doorbell hoping against hope that someone
will be there. After about one and a half eons, I heard a window being
creaked open and a voice ‘Who is there....?’ I stepped back from the
doorway and looked up.
If it was not daylight I would have run for dear life at what I saw.
It was like an apparition in broad daylight. The face that peeped out of
the half open up stair window was that of a woman - her silver grey hair
disheveled all over her face and a pair of wide open eyes trying to make
out the intruder below. “Are you Mrs. de Silva.....?” I shouted at the
top of my voice.
Somehow I got the feeling that she was stone deaf too. “Yes, I am”
said the raspy voice and added “Who are you? What do you want?” “I am a
man from Ceylon, Mrs. de Silva, I have brought a parcel for you from a
friend. Mr. Elmo Gooneratne....!” I shouted once again. By now I was
feeling like leaving the parcel at the doorstep and fleeing from this
“Wait....” said the voice. “I will come downstairs and open the door.
I don’t know who wants to send a parcel for me....” Then the window was
closed and after about another eon and a half I heard slipper steps
coming down the stairs. The front door opened in and the lady appeared
at the doorway.
The poor thing was wafer thin. Stress and loneliness were written all
over her face. The hair was still dishevelled. It looked as if he
peering eyes were the only things alive in that woe begone face.
“Please sit down,” she said finally after perusing me for a while and
sat herself down too in one of the chairs facing me. She wore a rather
faded housecoat with a collar - just like the ones some of the suburban
women wore back home.
All my fears of a ghost disappeared as I looked at this woman with
her large sad eyes which must have been one of her attractions when she
was young, and her shrivelled tiny frame.
“This is the parcel that Mr. Gooneratne wanted me to deliver to you,”
I said breaking the silence and placing the wrapped parcel on a side
stool. Mrs. de Silva heaved a deep sigh. “What parcels for me, my
child,” she said at long last, not even looking at the parcel.
“What I need is a ticket to get back home. This must have been sent
by one of my relatives. I remember a neighbour by the name of Gooneratne.”
What could I say? I had taken enough trouble to come here and deliver
this parcel to her. She would not even look at it.
What could I say? Something was very wrong here. “Why do you speak of
getting back home, Mrs. de Silva, are you unhappy here?” I managed to
ask. I could hardly think of anything else to say.
“Child, I was brought here by deceit. I never wanted to come. My son
wrote to me to say that his wife was expecting her first baby - my first
grandchild. I felt very happy. They had been childless for a long time.
I came only because of the story about the child. When I came here I
found it was a lie. They concocted all kinds of stories. They wanted me
here to keep house, clean and cook for them. They are never at home. I
am left here all alone. It has been more than five years now.”
“But surely aunty, you must be having some opportunities to get
about? Visiting your son’s friends etc? At least on a weekend?” For the
past five year or so, this woman must have changed a lot. She must have
been a good looking woman.
She tried to tie her unkempt hair into a knot but failed every time
because of the abundance of so much wavy silver grey hair, which may not
have had the touch of a comb or a brush for days. Her face was lined
with the stain of the years. There was a permanent twitch at one corner
of her mouth, just below a dimple which must have been very pretty when
her face was fuller and more relaxed.
“No, son, they don’t take me anywhere. They don’t take me even to the
temple. My son was not like that when he was with me. All that has
changed now. Their one concern is to make money. I don’t know what they
do with their ugly money. All I know is that I am imprisoned here, doing
all their work and that my life is rotting away....” She sighed a deep
“I am sorry to have to say all these things to you, son. I have no
one to talk to. I was worried that you will also run away as soon as you
see me...” The poor thing tried to smile and that was a sad, sad, but
beautiful smile. I saw my mother’s face through her.
My mother had the same, sad smile too, as the years went by. This
woman had just called me ‘son’. My mother and I had been parted when I
was a very little child. I could not recall her calling me ‘son’ when I
was very young.
I only remembered her calling me ‘Ukkung’. This woman was calling me
‘son’. I felt very sorry for her. I felt like giving her address to the
Police and making a complaint about the cruelty of her son and
“You must be mad!” said an inner voice within me. “What do you know
about those people? How do you know this woman is speaking the truth?”
“Couldn’t she be a demented person?” No, she could not be. I was sure
“Why don’t you complain Aunty? Why don’t you tell them that you want
to get back? You can phone the Police and tell them that you are being
held here without your consent?” I burst out in my chagrin. The lady
looked at me with her large, kind eyes.
“How can I complain to the police against my own son? How can I do
that, son? Even if someone else does they will say that I am mad and
that they keep me here for my own safety...” She wiped her eyes with a
corner of her housecoat collar and looked down, at her tiny wrinkled
feet. I felt like crying.
“Aunty, why can’t you write a letter to someone back home and ask for
help?” I asked in exasperation. She took a deep sigh and was silent for
a long time.
“I don’t have anybody back home. My husband died sometime back. I
only have a brother who occupies my house now. These people send him
money and gifts. I believe he too prefers me to be here. I don’t get
even a letter here. The postman never calls here. They get their letters
to their work places. I am truly and firmly imprisoned here.”
She took a deep breath and leaned forward towards me. “Son, do me a
favour. I have a letter upstairs. It is to one of my closest friends.
Perhaps she will do something to help me. I have no way of getting it
posted. Will you please take it along and post it for me?”
“I certainly will.” I assured her. “In fact I will be getting back
home in a month or so. If you want I could even go meet your friend and
explain matters,” I said. “No, don’t do that. If these people find out,
I will have hell to pay. You just post my letter, my son.”
And she got up and climbed the stairs. She came down in a few
minutes, her hair somehow tamed and twisted into a bun, her face looking
much better. She handed over the letter to me and offered me a one pound
note for the postage. I did not take the money.
“Don’t worry, I will stamp it and post this letter today itself.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to meet your friend and explain
matters?” I asked her again. No, she did not want that and with a sad
heart I left her standing there and went away.
Thought of the week
I have got a gift of a book of poems from the author herself -
Jegatheeswari Nagendran. She has enclosed a little poem and a very
touching letter for me along with the book. I have read most of
Jegatheeswari’s poems in her collection titled ‘Rainfalls.... The
Sunrises’ and found them fascinating, compelling and sometimes funny.
Says she - “All this was hand written. No typewriter or computer...
Eventually a kind friend computer printed my poems to be given to the
publisher...” She adds - “Carl Muller wrote a gracious and witty
Dear lady, I am no critic - I am only a peddler of words. But I find
your poetry soulful, compassionate and full of the indomitable human
spirit. I find that spirit in many of your poems like ‘Mountain Road’,
‘The Weaver’s Art’ and ‘The Abandoned Home’.
Jegatheeswari’s little dig at the English language in ‘Oh, English
Spelling’ is rib tickling. She dedicated her book to ‘My Parents,
Siblings, my Husband, my six Children and their Spouses’. That should
speak volumes about the writer as a person - a loving woman of our