Yesterday's thousand or so moments that happened with my friend Budika (also my guesthouse owner) between approximately noon and five are too many to mention and almost too absurd to describe. Certainly can't get them all on paper but some are worth it. They offer an exact moment (or moments) on a an exact day in exact places in Colombo with a certain person of a very particular stature.
Should I start toward the end of the day, humid and overcast but not particularly hot, when we spotted and stared at a large box of spilled string hoppers on the main road, each of us calculating and mourning the loss and considering what to do with them or what could be done or what might have been done with them or how they were made, packed, and ended up there? A Sri Lankan moment where we both thought, "monava karanneda?" What to do?
Or toward the beginning of our afternoon adventure when Bu had his assistant Niroshin finishing up the shopping at Cargill's (a huge long list in Sinhala) as we stood near the liquor counter near the pharmacy corner checking the wine. "I want you to meet my friend Gamini. He's the pharmacist here and an old friend, not here yet, he's supposed to come at one. Gamini shows up. Gamini is a working man, a man with a neat white shirt and a professional demeanor of quiet reserve. One or two niceties are exchanged. Gamini looks at me and at Bu and tells me, "A very rich man but he acts very simple." I'm embarrassed, kind of, for Bu. But for him maybe, it's just a fact. The way he acts. He is a rich man who behaves simply.
For example our trip to the kades (small shops) in Ratmalana, on the market street just off the main road south of Mt. Lavinia. Bu's interactions with the skinny old lady on the ground whose teeth are flecked with purple, buying all her greens for the evening's party but not taking the sample of small jackfruit she offers. Then, turning onto the market street after he tastes and buys fried gram patties and puffs for us to eat out of a piece of notebook paper. Meets a lady in a motorcycle helmet who hands him a receipt and he carries away more fish and more prawns, even though he just filled his cart at Cargill's and sent Niroshin home in a tuktuk full to the brim with plastic bags. "There won't be fish on the 24th, since most of the fishermen are Roman Catholic," he tells me, though I didn't ask.
The slow slow driving along Galle Road. The chief inspector he waves to across the road, who doesn't see us from behind the smoke and trucks, who's waiting on the corner by the Galkessa bus station, in front of the Bata store because he's waiting for his chief inspector who, if I understood Bu correctly, is a friend who can't come to tonight's party but who Bu would like to give a promotion to this mutual friend on the corner who's put in 25 years of service (I see it later in his graying mustache) but who, Bu insists, shouldn't be out on the corner. He should be sitting behind a desk in his office when the chief chief inspector shows!
The searching in Arpico for decorations for Charles. A little boy has pulled down three of the Christmas balls Charles put up at the guesthouse. He needs to replace them. He needs a reindeer with a sleigh. Charles will have a fit if Bu doesn't come home with one. Will we have to go down to the Pettah to find it? Our hands digging through dozens of bins of plastics for Bu's deaf-dumb cook and room boy Charles, who he says would make a wonderful teacher for the deaf boys in Batticaloa but who I suppose never will leave the guesthouse in his life. "They don't have much Christmas stuff this year," Bu complains.
Ordering a plastic tree for his second wife's house, which he just opened with a formal "danna," (giving ceremony). First the phone call. Inevitable reporting, negotiations, the smiling and the twinkling, mission accomplished. He orders from a floor boy. He is brought a piece of green paper. The boy indicates that the boxed tree will be downstairs when we check out. Later the box appears in Bu's cart. The cart is wheeled out to his SUV after we buy wine and white rum downstairs next to the parking lot.
The egg store narrow, tiny, like a nest stuffed between two places. "Susantha told me he wants 50 extra white ones," as if Susantha were his boss and not the other way around. He brings back two plastic bags of eggs with straw on the bottom and in between. "How do they sell eggs in your country? How much do they cost? If the eggs are all refrigerated how can you tell when there's a bad one?"
The long talks about Buddhist philosophy in the car about "duka," (suffering) and the end of suffering by giving up desire. Giving up desire by giving up attachments. Giving up attachments by giving up striving. What do we need? Can we give it all up? I've had these conversations with Bu over the years. Today in the car with the AC running and the humid dreary air of the Arpico parking lot they're more intense. Like there's more need to have them.
He is preparing for the annual get together of his school chums (he calls them a clique but I'm sure not in the sense it's used normally). They will show up later with their wives (his first wife will be there but not his second), some of them ministers, others businessmen, government leaders. All of them important friends of his from a long time ago. All advanced in life with loss part of everyone's script, simple people, smart people, thinking people, scheming people, people on the same social raft as Bu floating, bobbing, sloshing, perched on top of a wave, half-drowning in the froth, polite at first and as the white rum and whiskey go down singing, telling, shouting, relating, secreting.
So what was this day Bu showed me? Was he nervous for the party, which ran beautifully until after midnight when the buffet was served, and the home-made "kiri-peni" (curd with treacle) one of his friends had brought from his gentleman's farm? Who discussed with me coconut growing and irrigation and fertilizers? Or the friend who recognized me from two years before when I asked how to get to Moratuwa and took me to the bus I needed and sent me along on my way? Or the friend with an athlete son in Birmingham or the one with the son elsewhere or children all over the globe?
Was Bu just showing me (as it seems he was) what he can't show his kids and hasn't thought to show his nieces and nephews when they come from Maryland to visit? Or was he just relaxing like he enjoys doing? Buying food for the next week or two at the guesthouse? Or was it to instruct me about McCurries brand ("a good brand") and Maldives fish and curry and chutney and pickle and rice flour and shark meat?
The generosity of spirit, very much like my other rich friend Victor, looking at, showing the details. Drinking in the mundane like it's ambrosia, moving through a thousand moments whose only meaning is that they exist and go?