Short Story: The Journey
The family had been eagerly awaiting the visit to an old, upcountry
estate one of the earliest in the country. It has been begun by a
pioneering adventurer who saw the potential for green gold in the
verdant hills of Nuwara Eliya.
He had come, seen and conquered with a bold step and had begun
planting tea on the slopes of the hills. The old house in which he had
stayed, had still remained.... as did his teak lounger from which he
would enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
All this was of course, reported duly to the Pereira family by Mr.
Lewis the Education Officer, attached to one of the many Foundations
where consultants introduced new techniques and a new methodology in the
teaching of English in the Teacher Training colleges in the country.
Mr. Lewis was an island-trotter, if you call the ceaseless journeys
he made to every nook and corner in the island. He would often return
with trophies from his search, which in turn would be exhibited on a
polished mahogany table bought at an auction.
There were innumerable masks from the South, strange carved images
bought fairly cheap from poor artists whose works spoke of poverty and
deprivation: the arms skeleton-like, reaching out to immortality.
One of the carvings was of a man trying to reach out to the sky .....
There were little bottles, each with a carved ship inside, a few V.O.C.
coins and a vast array of chinaware and porcelainware.
The Pereira family were often recipients of invitations of Mr. Lewis'
house, situated in the misty hills of Kandy. Mrs. Pereira loved to talk
about art and travel and looked forward to an occasional visit -
something which removed the monotony which pervaded her existence.
The visit to the estate sounded most promising. She did not know when
she had last gone upcountry. Now she sighed as she looked out on the
changing landscape which was already becoming darker and more
The road too, had become narrower, as if it did not welcome visitors.
A few pebbles and small rocks would roll down the hill, otherwise,
everything was silent.
Mr. Lewis kept on chattering with excitement. He had decided to wear
one of his brightly coloured bush shirts with a tropical print, which
seemed in keeping with the journey.
Usually, he dressed in sober, neutral coloured shirts with socks that
kept rolling down over his well polished shoes.
His blue eyes had a deliriously happy expression as he looked across
at the green hills carpeted with tea. He sighed and turned to the rest
in the van "Ah, I really love this part of the country.... it makes me
feel at home."
Mrs. Pereira glanced knowingly at Mr. Lewis "You mean you feel at
home because your ancestors lived there...." She was a middle-aged lady
who had often heard Mr. Lewis praise the earlier phase of the island's
history when colonial rule prevailed.
Mr. Lewis cleared his throat. "yes, yes, it makes me feel so
happy.... I can feel the pulse of time... a return to the past - riding
on horseback on those estate roads.... it's a deja vu experience,
uncanny really." He looked pleased and contented, not noticing the large
grey clouds which loomed threateningly above.
Mr. Pereira felt on edge. He had never felt quite at ease with Mr.
Lewis. He criticized everything in the country - the roads, the food,
the climate. Yet he remained here. He seemed to thrive in his new
His face looked fuller, less sallow, his eyes brighter and he had
begun entertaining guests in his house. He also liked to hear the sound
of his own voice. It would run on at a tangent. At the moment he was
commenting on the state of the roads in Colombo.
"Can you believe it.... can you believe it..." he repeated to catch
the attention of the sleepy occupants in the car, "during my last visit
to Colombo I saw them chopping off the trees... no regard for others....
lack of intelligence, no long-term plans, no awareness of conservation
or environmentalism..." the voice droned on and on his words were lost
in the cool air which crept through the windows.
Mrs. Pereira was beginning to feel misgivings about this trip. It has
been her idea to go on this journey. The Jayawardena family had been
planning to come, but when they heard that Mr. Lewis was coming they had
said they were going on a pilgrimage. So it was only the Pereiras who
were now going on this expedition.
Food had been planned to the minutest detail. The Pereiras were
rice-and-curry people and six packets of rice (one extra) were in the
cane basket. There were the usual sweetmeats and cordials.
Sandwiches too, had been made in case Mr. Lewis had forgotten food.
But no, he hadn't. As the van swerved round the corner Mr. Lewis
exclaimed loudly "I'm hungry. It must be well past twelve o'clock. I
will have lunch."
They chose a small rocky outcrop which was full of grass and flowers.
The sound of gushing water came from a cascading waterfall. The
landscape looked green, merging into misty ridges.
There were abandoned paddy fields on the lower reaches of the
valleys. A few minute figures could be seen plucking tea.
Mr. Lewis had brought a suitcase full of food made by his cook who
had claimed that he had cooked for expatriates before. There was an
assortment of pastries and triangular minute sandwiches.
He seemed to enjoy the repast put out by the Pereiras too. Soon he
had resumed his chatter, cramming sandwich after sandwich into his
mouth. "I say", he said, pointing to a little estate bungalow far way,
"that looks like Sriyan and Priya's place. We'll try to visit them too.
They have a marvellous estate... hospitable people too." He looked
pleased with himself, his ruffled brown hair blowing in the wind and his
tropical shirt merging like a caterpillar amidst the mana grass.
There was a sound of scurrying - someone was watching them, yet when
Mrs. Pereira looked around she could see no one. The stealthy sounds
continued intermittently. Was it a leopard? Who was this intruder? She
felt a slight sense of trepidation.
She had often read about the dangers which awaited intrepid
travellers. She sighed and felt helpless. What had made her agree to
such a trip.
At the moment the country was facing a great crisis ..... people were
disappearing.... there was unrest because of the radical movement and
yet, she had selfishly wanted to venture out risking her own life and
that of her family and Mr. Lewis, the British Educational Consultant.
At that very moment Mr. Lewis was studying the countryside through a
pair of binoculars. She whispered a sound of warning. "Put that down,"
But it was too late. Another voice had sounded a more lethal warning.
Something stopped her from turning to where the voice came from. It
sounded aggressive, yet it was human. "Leave the binoculars and your
belongings. Do not turn around otherwise it will be your end".
She heard the sound of approaching footsteps and she closed her eyes.
She did feel scared as she felt the weight of the suitcase of food being
heaved along.... and she waited till the footsteps diminished. It was
then that she opened her eyes.
There was no one in sight but the echo of those words sounded over
and over again in her ears as she stood isolated in that lonely
landscape surrounded by sentinel hills. Only the echoes of the wind
travelled through the air.
They got into the van and continued the journey. The pair of
binoculars would now serve others on the watch-out for those in other
secluded hide-outs. As she got into the van a word kept recurring in her
Footsteps had vanished into thin air. The landscape was wrapped in
silence. No one was to be seen. Not a shadow lay on the grass.