“We will be descending into Colombo International Airport shortly,” the speakers supposedly relayed. The lights from the runway offered some glimmer of hope that this pilot could land safely. I watched as those lights got closer and closer, until they vanished under the plane and we bounced carefully unto the ground. Each second went by like decades and unexpectedly we were allowed outside. It had been eight years. Eight years, since I had last seen my Sri Lanka.
The heat hit me in devastating waves; the sweater I was wearing felt like banishment into a hot oven. I pulled the offending sweater off of my body and glanced around the pickup area. My father was ironically smoking his Marlboro cigarettes in front of sign that explicitly said “No Smoking.” Then in front of me walked a young man with glasses, was this my eldest cousin? Big brother, I would call him in my language. The intelligence in his tone of voice, the “this is me, take it or leave it” attitude became quite recognizable. I got into my uncle’s car and, to my immediate surprise, the air conditioner was on.
I glanced out my window as my uncle swerved through lanes. Where was my Sri Lanka? Buildings and houses filled every nook and every cranny. My brows furrowed, where are the trees, the flowers, the fruits? Maharagama, Colombo had become a populous city and many had built residential areas wherever there was an opening. Everything felt more crowded with everything except people. Then again, it was 3 in the morning.
My inability to detect the feeling of Sri Lanka was blamed on the grogginess of the flight. The next day most of my family members came to where we were staying; aunts dressed in beautiful saris and others in beautiful smiles. Every morning I woke up to the smell of something new, yet ancient. The scents hadn’t changed: the smells of curry, of kotu rotti, of incense, of papaya. But I had found something more important than this. My 8 cousins, my 5 aunts, 5 uncles, 2 grandmothers, 2 parents, and 2 sisters were seemingly becoming one unit. My family.
Days passed by as I got to know each one of my family members better. July had already finished? We are heading into August? What, we are leaving tomorrow? The pain of leaving my Sri Lanka, my dear family, did not hit me until the morning of the day we had to part. That morning we laid offerings for Lord Buddha and wished for a safe travel back home. Tears welled up in my eyes as we recited the last verses of the prayer. Not only were these the last verses of the prayer, but it was also the last few moments with all of my family. Our parting became a union of our tears, our mutual feelings of wanting to stay together forever. Can’t we stay, please can we stay?
“I promise I will come back, I promise I will come back to live here,” I said to them. As each day of my stay passed too quickly, I understood where my Sri Lanka was. It was in these people, my family. I realized that my Sri Lanka was not in the smell, it was not in the way it looked, my Sri Lanka was the way it felt. The feeling that no matter which decade, no matter which country each of us were in, our family would always be together.
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