Maggie lived in Kalutara. She took the laundry, washed and ironed to the big house in the area, and
always had a cup of tea and late breakfast in the
kitchen. While she was
having her tea, Seela,
one of the maids brought a
message that the master wanted to see her in the study. Maggie gulped down her tea, wiped her hands on her sari, tidied her hair,
and went briskly to the study.
It was the New Year of 2011 and she put her palms together and greeted
Mr. Kumar, as he was known, greeted her likewise and escorted Maggie to the lounge chairs on one side of his office. He sat across Maggie and said, “We have heard of how helpful you were to the people of your area when the flood waters came.”
Maggie was surprised and replied, “It was nothing Sir, anyone whose house was saved from the flood waters would have done the same.”
“My club members heard about it. They sent you this with their respects and best wishes for the New Year.
Do what you please with
it – it’s wholly yours.”
He handed her a roll of money. “No, it’s not from me. It’s from all of us, ” he went on, as she struggled to speak. “Just enjoy it. It has done us good to give it to you,” and before she could speak he had escorted her to the door giving her a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
Maggie was agitated
and tarried awhile on the
corridor. Then she gathered her umbrella from the
kitchen and rushed home. She fell on her knees by her bedside and buried her face in the bedclothes. After awhile she calmed herself and sat and counted the money.
“Here’s two thousand rupee notes, one, two, three, four, five… there’s twenty, no there’s fifty… and here’s the thousands,” she counted with shaking fingers. It was more than one lakh fifty thousand! “Why? I’m rich,” she shouted and fell to her knees and thanked God
saying, “Aney deviyane,
bless you, bless you.”
Then she became aware of her husband, who was on the armchair in the living room. She told her husband who was ill and weak with
arthritis what had happened.
“How much did he give you, stupid; can’t you speak or are you struck dumb? I just wish I could reach you! I’ll shake you till your teeth rattle.”
Maggie roused herself from her stupor and shouted to little Leela, her daughter, who was playing outside. She hugged Leela when she came running in, much to the little girl's surprise.
“I can get you a new frock and shoes and schoolbooks and everything.”
Leela thought her mother had gone bonkers and asked, “Amma, are you alright?”
“Alright? Yes, I’m going to bring some food for us.”
“Don’t tell anyone about the money,” shouted her husband. “They will rob us. Buy me some tea, tobacco
for my pipe and a new
blanket and newspapers.”
“Ok, Ok,” laughed Maggie and told Leela, “Duwa, sweep the house clean.” Then, she rushed to town. She came back more than an hour late. She gave her husband all the things he wanted and made him a cup of sugared tea. She gave a nice frock for her daughter to change into and showed her two more frocks which were even better. A pair of good shoes too. “I can go to school now,” sang Leela and danced round the room, “But, I wonder if little Selina could go too?”
“You just wait and see. Marathelis Aiya from the kade will bring the groceries and some parcels. We have to get ready because we are having a New Year party for all our neighbours. We have a lot of work to do.”
“We will have a feast,” said Maggie throwing her arms up in the air. Leela caught in the excitement of the moment hugged her mother and waltzed with her around the room.
“I will make garlands of araliya with Selina and hang them over the doorway and drape them all over,”
shouted Leela. “Without keeping the money and using it wisely, this is what they do. They have gone mad,” mumbled Maggie’s husband from his armchair. But there was a softening in his face. Perhaps the tobacco and the tea had worked!
Now to work! The
groceries arrived. They got big pans from the temple. Water was drawn from the well and stacked in
barrels. Leela had an
exciting time parceling the gifts for the neighbours.
The next morning, Maggie was up at 4 a.m., and she got hustling and bustling. Her friends arrived to cook by
5 a.m. The fires were lit in the kitchen and the two
fireplaces outside. Sopi Nanda cut and prepared the vegetables and Heen Hami prepared the chicken and fish.
The dining table was put out and two more were
borrowed from the
neighbours and added to it. Maggie covered them with pale coloured sheets.
Then she placed three large stacks of plates in one
corner. Glasses and jugs of well water were placed on a small side table. Leela and Selina decorated the trees with bunches of balloons and
garlands of araliya that swayed in the breeze.
By 1 p.m., people walked in and took their seats. What a feast it was! There was yellow rice, spiced with
raisins and cadjunuts. Chicken curry spiced and enticing, and fish in white curry. There was brinjal moju, lentil curry with red pieces of chilli in it, mounds of potatoes fried with lots of onions, bean curry and murunga white curry. Carrots, green peas,
cucumber, tomato and
lettuce in a salad and fried bitter gourd sambol with onions and green chilli, puffed up pappadams and pickles given by friends.
All sorts of goodies were there and mangoes cut and sliced for dessert.
People were conversing, laughing and joking. Later, somebody struck up a viola and a drum and had a
sing-song. Some men and all the children danced. When they left, they all had a
parcel of food items and
Many stayed back, to help in the cleaning up. The whole neighbourhood
of 15 families had warmth in their hearts and a happy outlook when they left. Maggie’s feast would
never be forgotten.
It would be talked about for many, many years to come. Maggie chuckled to herself as knew she had money left for food and firewood for a few more months ahead.