Durians look intimidating because they are so big. They exceed every other fruit in size. They also exceed all other fruit in foul-smelling, some would say. Street vendors will open it for you and sometimes they provide you with disposable gloves to prevent your hands from stinking to high heaven. I think durians taste great. Quite a few hotels forbid you to take durians inside the premises because the smell is obnoxious to the uninitiated.
It looks like a football with thorns and it tastes like custard with baked onions.
I was drinking kopi at my favourite food stall as a man came standing next to me. He placed a rumpled packet of cigarettes on the table.
Two ringgit, he said.
Sorry, I said.
He put the cigarettes away and looked despondent. It rained heavily and my feet were getting wet. I produced a one ringgit note and gave it to him. He put the cigarettes on the tabel, again, hoping that perhaps I had changed my mind and had warmed to the idea of smoking.
I don’t want your cigarettes, I said.
He looked forlorn.
Two ringgit, he said.
I looked away into the rain. Maybe I could make a selfie with the man.
What is two ringgit to me? I thought. I felt in my pocket and found another one ringgit note and gave it to him. His face shone when he left. Soon the rain ceased and I went back to my hotel.
In the hotel an older foreigner came sitting next to me. He had a white beard and wore a panama hat. His dark tan betrayed many years of living in the tropics.
I heard you talking to Rita last night.
Yes, I said.
Where are you from?
I am from Holland.
I thought you were American.
No, I said.
You sound American.
Sorry, I said.
He was from Sri Lanka and belonged to a white minority that once ruled the country when it was still known as Ceylon. He was one of the Burghers. When I was there a few years ago, I had read Running in the family, an autobiographical work that I remembered was written by Michael Ondaatje.
That’s a cousin of mine, he said.
We have a crazy family, he went on, my grandmother was crazy. She floated down the river and she was laughing. She was laughing when she was drowning.
I smiled appreciatively, he must have been referring to a passage in the book I had forgotten.
It’s a beautiful country, I ventured.
There are too many tourists now in Sri Lanka, he said. They all go to the beach. The beach is where the poor people live, he explained. We Asians don’t go to the beach. The fishermen, they live in huts on the beach and shit on the beach, next to where they live. He laughed. We only go to the beach in the weekends to swim. We don’t sit in the sun. He laughed again.
When I walked around the Indian temple, trying to appreciate the opulent ornaments, I heard music coming from the inner coartyard. Two musicians were playing on their instruments, one on a nadaswaram, an Indian trumpet, the other was beating a small drum. Several people had gathered and a small wedding ceremony was under way. Curiously I sat down, leaning my back against a pillar and listening to the captivating music. The rituals were conducted by two priests who were were bare chested, dressed only in lungis. The ceremony included the moving of flowers to the left, where they had been to the right before, a bowl with fire was swayed around and participants were given dollops of paint on their foreheads. Ancient rituals that symbolised forgotten legends (I conjectured) and I no longer watched the nuptials, but only listened to the music that had sent my mind wandering.
A white woman was taking photographs with a big camera. She was sweating profusely. Soon her Facebook page would be awash with ununderstandable scenery of these foreign rites. The drums swelled and the nadaswaram went besirk.
Afer some time the music stopped. The wedding guests had left and I walked to the vestiary where I paid 20 cents to get my slippers back.