Short Stories, prose and other pieces

I have written several short stories, and some prose. I hope you enjoy these:

Alice’s heart is broken. 

Mary Eastey’s Quest

Ghost of Woodland Manor.

Scarred hearts of Modbury

Sri Lanka

We were transported to another world when we took a midwinter overnight flight from the harried surroundings of Heathrow airport to the tranquillity of Colombo, on the Indian Ocean. At an elegant waterfront hotel, with hot towels and cold drinks, our holiday began. We were a group of friendly strangers, intent on enjoying a relaxing fortnight and it seems odd now to say we had not a mask between us and hand sanitiser was a preventive for amoebic bacteria which might, at worst, upset the digestive system.
I have memories of glowing lights around the pool, shared restaurant tables and gritty eyes, struggling to stay awake.

The other worldliness continued when our first day’s visit, dominated by the stench of rotting fish laid out row upon row across acres of blood soaked sands, took us to the nearby town of Negombo. Netloads of catch were being washed in the sea churning and red with their blood. Clusters of fishermen and women, the men with heads wrapped in scarves and chests bare, the women full body-wrapped but deep in water, skirts hitched above knees. Ignoring our gapes and clicks, they worked like robots sorting, cleaning, salting and packing.It was a fish market, but certainly not as we know it. Not an ice cube in sight.

Leaving Negombo to its pungent seafood counter we drove for hours in our fresh-air cooled coach, purring through coconut groves and forests thick with broad waxy leaved trees. When we approached Dumballa, where four hundred year old Buddhist shrines are carved into the rockface, we read billboards. ‘Dedicated Economic Center of Dambulla’ and ‘Always on the Cutting Edge’  beckoning from the roadside. A bit overstated perhaps, as corrugated iron structures were glimpsed in a higgledy piggledy layout in the background.
Some adverts were for agencies which place girls/women in jobs in the Middle East/ Saudi Arabia. We are told that it is not the Arab culture for women to work, so Sri Lankan village girls now go to Saudi to work in wealthy homes sending money back to their  families.

Suggesting a slight exasperation at the antics of young girls, our guide, who for some reason dressed like a man working in Canary Warf, recounted how a seventeen year old with a forged passport was executed when the child she was minding was accidentally killed. Adding with a nonchalant shrug that sometimes husbands have very little to do when the women leave and so they must turn to drink. He tells us that when women come back they find ‘many problems’. I’m sure we have heard that story before, my heart goes out to the poor men.

Arriving at the sacred caves we are instructed to remove hats and shoes. I’m ordered to wrap a sarong around my waist to obscure my offensive knees. Walking gingerly, tippy toed in my temple socks, my temple-socked feet are reluctant to rest on the hot uneven ground.
 A heavy pulse of heat beats down on our heads as we jostle for space beneath the only coconut tree in the entrance courtyard until, chivvied along by our cheerful, suited and now umbrella toting guide, we pick our way across to the caves beneath the white hot cloud free sky. My eyes fix on the heels of  a man walking ahead. His brown skinned feet stride, unflinching, on the burning stones. His bleached white sarong flutters in time with his moves. A rim of thick cream callous edges his soles and cracks, like rivulets, run from ankle to heel. No office job here, this is a man who doesn’t sit in front of a computer.

We take turns to enter the sacred caves, craning our necks and imaginations to appreciate the ornate painted patterns covering the curved ceiling. The cave interior walls are frescoed with intricate designs, eye catching gold swirls around shimmering red beauty. We are spellbound by the opulence, this really is another world and our cameras click, ignoring the sticky, humid atmosphere, imbibed with the scent of crowded humans. Our guide, sweat pouring down his face, patiently repeats information for us twice, three times, and dates, 1800, 1400, swirl around my tired brain.

Groups of immaculately uniformed school children gather at the cave entrances, out sparkling Buddah’s gold. The younger ones wave, venturing a ‘hi!’, whilst their older classmates, neat hijabs or faint shadows of moustache giving hints to the adults they will become, gravely ignore us. Respecting their distance I remember that the essential prerequisite for the young is to be cool. I leave with a sense of history, sparkly white teeth in coffee coloured mouths,feet, many feet, faded postcards and skinny monkeys offering playful relief.

When Canary Warf man tells us that many arranged marriages are initiated, if not consummated, between the sheets of the Sunday Observer, I scarcely believe it. Then I buy a copy and read the bride-and-groom-seeking adverts which illustrate the importance of Sri Lankan family ties and the maintenance of ongoing financial security. I read that horoscopes, government pensions and good morals are prerequisites for a satisfactory union. The expressed requirement for ‘slim, pretty, fair’ was high on the desirability scale for every bride.

The holiday over, I settle into my aeroplane seat, awestruck by the elegance of the cabin crew hostess, attractively dressed in traditional, peacock designed sari, who helps me load my cabin bag overhead. Thanking her, I shake open my Sunday Observer again and read.
“About our 1979 October born pretty fair slim 5’4”,virtuous daughter with unblemished excellent character, working in leading international airline as cabin crew senior supervisor drawing attractive salary and owning assets with modern house and car. We parents, Colombo suburbs seek suitable decent son professionally qualified and well employed here and abroad, never married. No differences. Willing to migrate. Please reply with horoscope.”

The hostess was certainly slim, pretty and fair. Is it she? And I wonder whether I could offer some help myself. Or has the otherworldliness of the country made me take leave of my senses. I have an unmarried son whom I’m sure would be willing to migrate to slim pretty, fair, at least on a temporary basis. He often does. But I wonder, would his horoscope fit?