Sri Lankan writer Romesh Gunesekera's new book 'Heaven's Edge'
has just been released in the UK by Bloomesbury, (hardcover
edition UK pounds 16.99). Gunesekera's earlier books 'Monkfish
Moon', 'Reef', the Booker Prize shortlisted novel and 'The
Sandglass' are all woven around the island where he grew up.
He now makes his home in London.
Edge' is the poignant story of Marc, a young man in search
of his identity. He leaves his home in London for the island
where his grandfather grew up and where his father's plane
was shot down in flames.
war-ravaged land Marc meets the enigmatic Uva and their troubled
love story unfolds amidst a trail of death and destruction.....
The Sunday Times publishes an extract of 'Heaven's Edge' by
special arrangement with Bloomesbury. The book is available
at a special price of Rs. 899/- at Vijitha Yapa Bookshop.
day I was impatient to get back to the duckweed pond. I wanted to
hear what else she could tell me. Or already, perhaps, I just wanted
to be with her. I couldn't be sure she'd return; my only hope was
to be there at the same time as before.
After the usual
bland lunch at the hotel, I set off back into a world of field glasses
and feathers. The sun was piercing, but I didn't care.
When I reached
the pond, I noticed the water was rimmed with scum. A small lily
had opened near where we had stood the day before. It had some colour:
a tinge of red on the lower petals. The weeds on the bank also seemed
a little darker. I tried to locate the tree that her birds had flown
to, but there were no fruits to be seen anywhere.
There were no clouds, no wind. The heat seemed more severe than
before. I sat in the shade to wait. I had a flask of drinking water
with me this time, but it didn't help. There was not much I could
do to relieve the burning I felt inside.
I tried again
to meditate; to balance the heat inside and outside my body. I was
close to a kind of equilibrium, when the thrashing of wings startled
me. I twisted around. She stood there just as I had remembered her.
A radiant face, her whole body held taut. Only her hair seemed a
little more tousled. She had the same cage open; another dove was
flapping in her hand. This time she was not surprised to see me.
'You disappeared,' I complained, rising up to my feet.
She lifted the
bird up to her face and came close to me. 'So? You are back, no?'
I wanted her to talk some more, yet I could say nothing to encourage
her. I was worried I might blurt out something stupid again. I felt
she was looking at me, assessing me, even while she soothed the
bird. In her hair I noticed a scrap of yellow. As I reached to remove
the leaf, it unfolded into a small butterfly and fluttered towards
She shrank back.
'What are you doing?'
'Nothing,' I said. 'I thought there was something stuck.' My hand
felt detached. It floated between us. A stick in limbo. I pictured
my father meeting my mother somewhere on the coast of this same
island. What did he say standing in the sand?
'Why have you come?' she asked.
I couldn't tell her it was because of some old home video. I couldn't
even say that it was because I wanted to see her again.
"There's nothing left here, you know?"
'What about those?' I nodded at her cage.
She sighed and seemed to relax a little. 'The birds?'
'Where are they from?'
'My ashram.' She paused.
I told her that there were ashrams where I came from too, but they
were meant for people stressed out by city life.
'London.' I hesitated.
She nodded with
a small grimace as though I had said enough for her to imagine the
rest. She then told me how her mother had wanted to create an ashram
for all the birds of the air because she believed they were the
souls of us all. Emerald doves were her favourites. 'Come, I'll
show you a nest.' She took my hand in hers and led me towards the
trees as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do.
I had never
felt a touch like hers. Her skin was soft, yet the grip firm. I
looked at her small hand; her fingers wrapped around the ends of
mine. The knuckles were smooth. A greenish vein swelled on the back
of her hand; her wrist was chafed where her bracelet had rubbed
it. I could feel the life in her.
I curled my
fingers to let the blood in them flow closer to hers. All along
the forest path dark ferns genuflected as she brushed past. Noli-me-tangere,
she said they were called. By an old mudbank she pointed out a litter
of pigs she said she had released to the wild and, in the distance,
her favourite trees. 'Over there, in the older jungle where nobody
goes, is my farm.' She pressed her finger to my lips leaving me
a crystalline trace to savour from the giddy whorls on her skin.
'Illegal. Nobody knows.' She nearly smiled again.
I was intrigued.
She didn't say any more about it; I could see she wasn't ready to
take me there yet.
She let go of
me and used both her hands to clear a way through the bushes. I
smothered her small sandal marks with my larger treads, watching
the curve of her neck as she bent her head to go under some branches.
I had to stoop lower to follow her. Her bare foot straightened,
ahead of me, as she stood on tiptoe to climb over a fallen tree
trunk. The bone of her brown ankle peeped from under the denim as
she lifted her leg over. 'Come on, this way,' she urged.
Then, in a clump
of straw saplings, she uncovered a secret woven nest for me. 'This
is one of the halfway houses.' She blew a small blue fluffy feather
up into the air; there was nothing else in it. She explained that
it was where she nursed the birds who were slow to regain their
foraging instincts. Pulling the branches back over the nest, she
concealed it as before. Further on, underneath the ironwood tree,
she found the corpse of one which had come to grief. She picked
up the little sunbird and folded in its wings. Her face dipped,
solemn but not tearful. 'Oh-oh,' she clucked like someone who had
grown too fast into the world. 'It is not easy for them, you know,
to learn to be free.'
I felt a tingle
run down my spine. I had come to learn too. Perhaps the eroded coast
I had reached was, after all, the right place to start on this island.
Watching her bury the bird under a small mound of leaves I wondered,
was this the person who could show me what I really needed to know?
our tracks and dusted her hands, looking around thoughtfully. Then
she turned to me and said it was time to take me back. 'The path
can be tricky, you know, when it gets dark. Sometimes the night
patrols are trigger-happy.'
I wasn't sure
whether I should hold her hand again. I swung mine close as we sauntered
out into the open, but she seemed too busy thinking about military
manoeuvres to notice.
When we reached
the edge of the village, she said, 'I must go now.' 'When can I
see you again?' I asked.
place, the same time again. I have lots more birds to bring.' She
looked up at the darkened sky above me, filling it with wings. A
nervous quiver ran down her throat. In my mind I turned it to that
laugh from the previous day, still hovering inside her, waiting
to break free."