7th May 2000
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By M.T.L. EbellI cannot sleep. The room is hot, my mat is thin. Mother is talking to Father. She is more worried today than she was one week ago when the "horrible" things happened. No one I knew died so I think it was more exciting and interesting but the grown-ups shake their heads and say, "Horrible, horrible", so it must be.
It is not difficult to hear Mother speak for we all sleep in one room, which is our whole house - Father, Mother, Elder Sister, Baby Sister and me. Now Mother and Father are talking. Mother says we must move. The shame of it is bad for the girls and everyone in school is jeering at them saying, "Ah! you live in that Terrorist Garden. We saw pictures in the paper".
Last week about 200 yards from our garden, just near the railway line, terrorists had been discovered in ambush. Surprised, they had not waited for their target but had shot and killed as many people as they could before some had killed themselves and others had run away. Just people, going home from work, and checkpoint policemen, had been killed. My friend Selvam and I had heard 'pop-pops' and 'crackity-cracks' like firecrackers but with a funnier, blunter sound. We were about to run on to the road. Then we heard a deep 'boom'. Elder Sister caught Selvam and me and pushed us into the house. I fought with her but she sat on me and kept Baby Sister on her lap. Mother and Father said she had done right but I was very angry. I want to be a soldier for the government when I grow up and how can I learn these things if I am not allowed to go and look?
Those days, when I said I wanted to be a soldier everyone laughed. I was the shortest 12-year-old in my class. Also the government was not taking our kind into the army. But now I am 14 and am taller than Father and the government is taking anyone into the army.
I want to be a fighting soldier. One day the lady for whom Mother works had sent us some picture postcards. One of them had a picture of guards in funny hats standing in front of a palace in England. The lady had told my mother that those guards don't move or talk, not even if you go right up to them and say something. I don't want to be a stiff and straight soldier, I want to fight.
The day after the attack my sister couldn't stop me. Some of the escaping terrorists had run along the track and gone to a set of flats some distance away. There they had hidden and killed many security personnel. Then, early one morning, they killed themselves. After lunch, Selvam and I ran along the track and went into those flats. There was yellow and black tape all over and we were not allowed to go close, but we mixed with all the people who were watching and taking photographs. People with TV cameras were also there. We could see blood on the ground and bullet holes in some walls.
At three Selvam left, he had a tuition class and he was afraid of missing it. I stayed much longer, until it started to rain. Then I walked slowly back along the railway line. I enjoy the rain, it cools me. Close to our garden a new checkpoint had been set up. There were two soldiers and a home guard; they did not look as if they enjoyed the rain.
"Elder brother, shall I bring an umbrella?" They looked grateful. When I brought it, I stayed and spoke to them. People passed us while we talked. One of the guards said he had left school six months ago. The others were older. I told them about wanting to join the army. The oldest looked sad, but the other two laughed. "Good, good," they said. One of them gave me his weapon to hold and showed me the different parts. By the time the rain ceased, we were friends. I swaggered home.
At home it was a different matter. Mother wouldn't believe half my tales. She was worried that I had gone and hung around the flats where the terrorists had hidden. Besides, I had missed a lot of things here. The police had come and searched our garden too, taking away two people without identity cards. Photographers and soldiers have been all over our area. I was sorry I had been away. I retold my story with additions to make up for what I had missed. Father heard me and he got very angry. "Tchah," he spat, "one day after a terrorist attack and they give a young boy a rifle to hold. No wonder the government can't stop the war."
"But-but, he was friendly. I told him about joining the army."
"No, no Raam, listen to me. You did a very wrong thing. You held his gun, you say. Now your prints will be on it. If something happens to that soldier, if someone shoots him or he shoots somebody, you will also become involved. You have no brains. You know what we are. If there is any trouble, do you think anyone will believe you? If you want to join the army, don't do foolish things and don't talk too much."
He went out spitting again.
"Never mind," Mother comforted, "it's not your fault."
All that didn't worry Mother much, but three days ago a picture of our garden appeared in the paper. The words under it said "Garden No. 16 Potter's Road. Overcrowded low-cost housing estate safe-haven for terrorists."
On the next page was a picture of the flats where it all happened with the description, "Drug dealer's second home in this vicinity."
"Anyone will know that the pictures got mixed up," Father said.
"That's not much better. Next thing they'll be saying all of us are selling drugs. No, no. We have to move."
Mother was funny. She didn't worry that my fingerprints were on a soldier's gun, but anything that might shame my sisters got her all worked up.
I will miss Selvam if we move. I will miss the railway line and my new friends at the checkpoint. I remember the feel of the rifle in my hands. Hopefully he cleaned his rifle well and my prints wouldn't be on it anymore. Had it been wrong for that soldier to let me hold his weapon? I had not thought that these soldiers were as important as those who did the real fighting and shooting. But now I began to see. It had been policemen at the checkpoints who had been the first to die that day.
I roll over on my mat. How important they really are. I had not thought
of it like that. I would be proud to be a checkpoint soldier. And, no,
I would not give my gun to a child to hold.
By Laila Nasry and Ruhanie PereraWe open our eyes in the morning thinking 'oh no, not another morning' and then drag ourselves to rush through the morning routine, leaving home with uncombed hair and shoes in the hand. This is just the beginning of the same old story - eat, drink, sleep with lots of work in between, day in day out. Chatting to friends, arranging cupboards, bathing the dog, daily chores or just talking and laughing all pile up like a heap of unattended washing. Where's the time?
In a world of sitting back and clicking buttons, convenience is supposed to be the key word. With all the modern gadgets made in the name of providing relief, life should be getting easier and there should be time to stop and smell the roses. Yet, let alone the roses we don't even have time to breathe in car fumes unless it's directly in our faces.
The issue is always the same - there is no time for anything. Is it that time is hurtling at record breaking speed and the precious 24 hours is enough only for the 'important' work we have? Or is it indifference on our part that we don't make time for the trivialities that matter the most? Little things in life that will make all the difference; that will bring a smile to our face or even better make someone else smile, lessen the burden on heavy shoulders or wipe away a frustrated tear.
When was the last time we watched a sunset? Had a water fight while washing the car? Flown sky high on a swing? Danced in the rain? That 'no cares in the world' completely- free-feeling is something that has become alien to us. Once we enter the real world we end up in a never ending rat race. The inevitable money making grind mill that sucks in everyone sooner or later. Churning out gray haired, stressed out beings with cholesterol, migrane and high blood pressure. People who've forgotten the joy of feeling happy.
"I think that we are very fast at getting into routines. And forget the smile that spreads across our faces when we do things we enjoy most. It's very easy to forego these little things, because of bigger responsibilities. But I believe it's important. We've just got to make time to do what we love, because they help heal the ills of the soul," says Lahana, who has a true 'joie de vivre' spirit.
Much as we'd like to follow dreams and indulge in our hearts desires, we can't forget our obligations, which are equally important. Maybe it's all about time management. "You've got to balance your time," says Ms. Fernando, "when you take on more than you can do, you feel pressurised. You have to stick within your limits. I didn't take on a full time job until my son was married and I had completed my obligations as a mother. Then I was free to take on all that comes with a job".
Maybe we can do it all. Give of ourselves to the world that needs our support. At the same time give ourselves the time to 'live like a canonball, careless and free'.
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