NOTE: Written originally on 2 January 2015
It was late in the day and I needed food and so off I went to ____ down the road from me and up I went to the cashier thinking “Hey, there’s no one here, this should be a breeze.”
After initial confusion over what I wanted so much so that I had to pull the menu out and point because the girl doesn’t know what is served, she asks me if it is takeaway.
She rings it up and I pay. Then I ask “Ok, what do I do – do I wait here? Do you give me a number and call me?”
“It will take twenty minutes.”
I blink – ok, not what I asked but ok. “So I just sit down then?”
She does a half nod, half shake. I sit down and after a couple of minutes of wondering whether I should go over and say something like “Patiya, darling, I am new to this – you need to tell me how this works here.”, I decide to concoct a fiction.
Champika, for that is indeed her name, and I know it because it’s on my bill but she would be shocked if I were to address her, not making the connection – Champika is young, fresh out of school, maybe from Colombo but she lives with her parents and she catches the bus home everyday from work. She didn’t do well enough to get into university but the work gives her cash which is wonderful for her. She spends it at Majestic City, House of Fashion, Liberty Plaza and smaller boutiques on very glittery, bright and cute things like a butterfly slide for hair in a garish pink or some flat slippers with bright red sequins on the straps and she wears them with her jeans and t-shirts outside of work.
She wants to vote for Mahinda because Namal looks nice and they won the war and he has built things but she sometimes wonders if that’s right as she hears customers walking past her to Arpico or arguing loudly over their meals about things going wrong and accusations of corruptions and words that she realised are to do with economics but that don’t make sense to her and she recognizes the other names scattered in the chatter: Ranil, Hirunika, Maithripala, Chandrika.
She thinks that she understands that building new roads is good but she only knows money moving from her purse to a cash register and from a bank account to her purse. Anything bigger and they are no longer numbers belonging to her. That she can understand completely. [Tweet “There are things that don’t belong to people like her and she knows this. Big numbers would bother her anyway. “]So maybe she will not vote for the UNP. She understands roads – he built a road and now if she had the money she could go to Galle faster. That is a good thing. And Namal is good looking.
At least one of her friends is married, despite being just eighteen or nineteen, and she feels a bit happy that she has a job (where she gets to operate a computer and handle cash – it’s very important) and is an adult now. She is a romantic and she crushes on Shah Rukh Khan or another male member of the Khan family and possibly a cricketer though she won’t know anything about the game.
She dreams of a boy with a square jawline and good hair who will come in one day to have lunch while she is at the register and he will have a motorbike and a job, a good job, in a business somewhere, where he has just started but he will work his way up – maybe even in public service. Since she can’t take him home, they will meet after work in Viharamahadevi Park, just around the corner, walking and talking, maybe even in Independence Square after he treats her to an English movie in 3D – something from Pixar for kids and maybe he will treat her to a burger from Burger King as well. And one day he will propose and they will get married, maybe even at a hotel somewhere with a sari from India and he will give her a gold chain. I think he would be called Navin.
It would not be a bad life.
But until he walks in for lunch that fateful day, perhaps she will save her money to watch Bollywood movies (illegal copies burnt onto discs, encased in plastic bags, sold in tiny barely room to turn around shops dotted randomly down the sides of Galle Road heading towards Mt Lavinia) and to ask an astrologer when the day will be.
And she will be street smart as she walks to the bus stop in the evening but clueless and naive enough not to realise what sort of dodgy jokes her male co-workers make, her cash handling skills enough for her to concentrate on, freezing up when customers ask questions.
And completely clueless that a tired, starving stranger is making up a life for her while waiting for her food.
I like Champika – I think I will keep her. I just won’t order from her again.
(c) 2015 Marisa Wikramanayake