* Author : Naru Dames Sundar
* Narrator : Arun Jiwa
* Host : Graeme Dunlop
* Audio Producer : Peter Wood
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PodCastle 478: A Ghost Among The Mangroves is a PodCastle original.
A Ghost Among the Mangroves
By Naru Sundar
They must have executed me while I waited in the mangrove shadows. Here, amidst the cicada trill, amidst the basso rumble of distant ships in the Trincomalee harbor. The Seiko at my feet, my brother Vasanthan’s parting gift, lies broken. Its broken hands mark my passage into this juddering, flickering, solitary awareness. I am but one ghost, with not even Vasanthan for company, no matter how much I want him to be here. But how can that be? Sri Lanka must throng with ghosts, hundreds and thousands of them, monsters and innocent both.
And which am I?
A question to flee from, so I think of other things.
Who was my executioner? Was it Kumarasamy himself? I told him, the leader of our cadre, that I was done. Betraying him, just like that.
First he was understanding,
“Aiyyo, Shankar. How long have we known each other? You became a soldier that day in Colombo. You are still one now. In war, Shankar, people die.”
Then he was frustrated.
“Losses are inevitable, Shankar. Losses are necessary.”
In the end, there was nothing but his fury.
“Yes! It was more painful this time. It was different this time. But, ah! You and I—we have lived with such pain. How can you just leave? How?”
I let Kumarasamy vent until he had no words left, and then I left. I walked away past my fellow cadres with their eyes of judgement, with nothing but a scrap of newspaper in my hand. A scrap with curlicued Tamil and Sinhalese names. A list of those necessary losses. I left amidst a stench of betrayal as pungent and revolting as the stench of my guilt.
He would have killed me himself.
Kumarasamy—cell captain of the Liberation Tamil Tigers, the man I had followed blindly for the past twelve years. He who once held my head as I vomited down the side of a heaving ferry, who listened to that child stranger’s story of Vasanthan’s death. As much my father as anyone could be. Kumarasamy—burdened with the task of punishing deserters.
Where do I go now?
Chaos is my guide as I shift and slip from junction to junction, drawn by strange attractions. The world of the living passes by, flows around me. This excision is why I invited Kumarasamy’s punishment. But even so adrift from the world, I am not immune to the past. As I wander an unremarkable stretch of beach, so like the one Vasanthan and I walked on that day in July, an ugly memory seeps from a decade old wound, still unhealed.
I am ten, and we were all of us there in the capital, Colombo—my mother, her brother Ayngharan and of course, Vasanthan, in his crisp white Oxford shirt. My brother had been home only two weeks, a brief sojourn in Lanka before returning to his graduate work overseas. I remembered his Marks & Spencers shirts, crisply ironed, neatly folded from wrist to elbow.
We spent the weekend walking along a thin stretch of sand bordered by stalls and rickshaws, munching on rambutan hearts and sweet English toffees. Vasanthan and I talked about his life at Oxford while we turned over seashells and peach-rimmed conch.
“It’s very different, Shankar.”
I nodded, not knowing or understanding how different England was.