The beautiful off-the-cuff rendition of the old ballad Silver Dagger was the final punch of a strange evening. I had stood there for about an hour, before she came on, feeling intensely out of place, drinking arrack and beer, and smoking to keep my hands occupied.
I listened to the people at the mike, laughed with some, and laughed at others, wondering why. I didn’t disagree with their words, just with them. There was something slick about it all, like a revolution with no plan. Like a silver dagger. I wanted to give in to the anger then, the Spartan shield I’d used for many years, shake my head and walk away. But I couldn’t. I didn’t think they were wrong. But they didn’t understand, and frankly, neither did I. Maybe that was why someone suggested I should take the mike and say something on behalf of MR, and another that I should read out a bit of the constitution. It pissed me off, but I laughed it away. Fuck ’em. They were Sri Lankan, but they weren’t Sri Lanka. And again, just like me.
It reminded me once more that I was still an outsider, that I’d stepped out of this world for a short time, years ago, and somehow, my spot had filled in again while I was away, like footprints in the surf, and I couldn’t get back in. I was born here, in this city, like most of them. I spoke Sinhalese better than a lot of them, and English better than many of them. I liked music, and pretended I understood art. Just like them. I wanted change in my country, just like they did. But I wasn’t them, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be again.
There have often been moments like this in the past years, though less frequent now, and sometimes I forget. And then I remember where I went eighteen years ago. It would have been cool to say that that had been my world, but it hadn’t been. They hadn’t really been my band of brothers, and they’d wondered what I was doing out there in the jungle, with them. And like at Barefoot, I’d had no answer. I was born in this country, like all of them. I was Sinhalese-educated, and so were they. I loved this country, and so did they, though we didn’t know why. I was young, and like many of them, fighting was in my blood. But they’d agreed with the people at Barefoot — at least on this — it wasn’t my war.
But it was. And it is. But how do I explain something I don’t even understand myself?
And then Hania Mariam started to sing Silver Dagger, and I sipped my beer and drifted back over the last year. The lyrics seemed to accuse me of so many things. The song is about fear, and as I watched her sing, I felt that fear. I watched her lips and eyes, the light on her polished dark skin, willing her to look up at me. But she didn’t, and the song faded. Under the fear, I felt a hunger for something I can’t put a name to.
I left my empty Carlsberg on the bar and walked out as she started to sing Sarah McLachlan’s Angel. I know that song by heart, and there’s a line in it that will tell me that it’s endlessness I fear. I don’t want to hear that, and I quicken my pace.