I see her on most mornings. The mornings that I don't see her are usually the days I'm not looking for her. I'm sometimes so lost in my world that I forget to look. Not that I have to put much effort into looking. She's usually there, right at the turn from the road opposite Ananda College towards Maradana. A short distance from where I get off.
She's dark, small and from her features, looks quite young. Maybe my age. But I was never good at assuming ages. I was never good at assuming anything. Her skin looks grey, maybe a skin condition, maybe unwashed. Whenever I've walked past her, she hasn't smelt bad. So she can't be dirty, right? Her hair is brown, looks dry and is tied at her neck. Nothing fancy. It looks like a comb hasn't gone through it in years. She's not very tall and is thin. She carries a bag with her, and always wears these salwas. I've noticed only two outfits but there could be more. They are pants and long tops made of the same material. The shawl is draped like a beauty pageant winner’s sash.
But she is no winner. She isn't even a contestant. She just stands there. Waiting.
That last word is an assumption. Who knows if she's waiting for someone or something or is just standing there?
We see her on most mornings. Or rather, we notice her on most mornings. She is a topic of discussion on some mornings. By that time, there are only two other passengers in the van. They discuss this girl with the driver. I don't join these discussions. I don't join any of the discussions.
The discussions are usually the same. Why is she waiting there? Again, the assumption that she is waiting. They conclude that she isn't right up there. That she is crazy. Insane. Mentally unstable. There are so many words for it. Some politically correct. Others not. But most, if not all, who see her will say, එයාට පිස්සු. She is crazy.
While I have walked past her a few times, I've never spoken to her. I've looked at her, trying to understand who she is and what she's doing. So far I've had no luck. So I assume.
Her clothes are clean so either she washes them or has someone who takes care of her. But then, her hair is dirty. Maybe they can't get her to wash her hair. Maybe she is crazy.
She carries a bag. One of those black ones they sell at the market. Of thick polythene. It seems full. Could she be carrying all her belongings in there? I've often imagined her packing clothes for a trip; a towel, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, a set of clothes, a bottle of water, some money.
She stands there. According to my assumptions, she’s waiting. For someone, not something. I like to think she's waiting for a man she loves. Forget love. She's waiting for a man who has promised her a job or a holiday, an escape from her life. But he never came. So she waits and waits.
If I go and tell her about my assumptions and the story I have in mind, she may laugh and say, ඔයාට පිස්සු. Maybe I am crazy.
I don't have stories of my own. So I create stories for other people. I see people in the train and make assumptions. The lady leaning against the silver bar in the train. She works as a maid. She can leave by four, so she can avoid the crowds. She has an extra outfit with her, one she doesn't mind getting dirty. Now she wears a skirt and T-shirt. Hair tied tightly. Her nails are clean. Not pedicure-clean but clean after having washed things for a long time. The pale clean look you get after washing plate after plate or cloth after cloth.
Her feet are slightly swollen and the soles are cracked. They look like they hurt. That dull and constant pain that is our best friend, most faithful companion. She is lucky to work for a kind family. The kid loves her, a spoilt little brat. Fat. He loves it when she carries her. Her curves allowing him to sit comfortably, leaning against her, breathing in her fragrance which is mixed with spices and soap.
But she doesn't care much for them. She just wants to finish her work and go home. Pray. Cook. Have dinner.
I make these stories because I have no stories of my own. I live a mundane life and often, the most exciting things that happen to me can be told in 140 characters. Not words. Not letters. But characters. So I have to imagine. I have to assume.
That girl in Maradana may call me crazy for doing this.
Our van ladies are an interesting bunch. One who works close to my office, she is ready to call that girl crazy. මොලේ හොඳ නැහැ, she says.
This lady, I don't know where she works. But she gets in to the van at around 7.10am. She gets off at around 6.20pm. Her husband has a 'good job' from what she says. She gets off at Galle Road itself and doesn't walk home, but takes a three wheeler. She can afford it. She once said she walks around on Saturday, buys at least one outfit for herself every week.
So why does she have this job that keeps her away from her children? Does she really need it? Wouldn't she be closer to her kids if she found a different job or stayed at home? Her friend shares a similar story. Her child, maybe six years old, is taken care of by her grandparents. In the evening, as soon as this lady gets in to the van, she calls her daughter. From what she has said, the daughter sleeps by around eight. This gives her a mere two hours with her child. And during these two hours she has to have a wash, cook and eat too.
The girl in Maradana may listen to their life stories and call them crazy for not spending more time with their children.
When we make our assumptions and call people crazy, we often forget that, to another, we too are crazy.
There is a man who walks around Maradana. He’s somewhat big-made or seems that way. His clothes are usually dirty. He has a beard and needs a haircut. He walks in the middle of the road and sometimes says things as he walks. I’ve always thought he was crazy. I’ve always been scared of him.
One day, while looking for someone to give a packet of rice to, my friend told me to give it to him. I was hesitant. The man was crazy, right? What if he hits me with the packet? She walked up to him and asked if he wanted a packet of rice. He smiled. We gave it to him. He didn’t try to snatch it from me. He didn’t shout at me or follow me. He didn’t throw anything at me. He wasn’t as scary as I thought he would be. He took the packet and walked away.
I was crazy to have assumed he was crazy.
Crazy is the person who uses a selfie stick. Crazy is the person who takes selfies. Crazy is the person who doesn’t take selfies.
He who buys piles and piles of books is crazy. He who reads is crazy. He who doesn’t read is crazy.
She who tweets everything that happens is crazy. She who rarely tweets is crazy. She who never tweets is crazy.
So you see, we may have our opinions and identities but we have this one thing in common. And I think we are absolutely crazy if we ignore what we have in common and use the things we don’t have in common to build walls around us.