A Tale of Two Colombos

I overheard a conversation between lovers the other day.

But I am broken, one said. .

That’s ok, the other replied: so am I. Sometimes broken pieces fit together better than things that are whole.

I shouldn’t have been spying, but how could I help myself? I am seated next to them but they don’t see me. I am turned away from them, but I am almost sure they are smiling.

I smile too. I’m hopeless and romantic like that, even if it wasn’t my romance. I sip my coffee and wonder if we could come to all things like lovers do. Because it would make us kinder. Less cynical, even. Mostly, I’m sure we could see the poetry in all things, like this mixed bag of contradictions we call home.

I am seated at a table by a window and outside a bullock cart passes me by. Momentarily distracted by the rare sighting, I don’t notice the couple get up and walk away. My eyes are still fixed on the street outside. A Porsche passes the cart on the other side of the road. This is poetry, I think. Two worlds colliding on the city streets. The moment they pass each other, time stands still. Like two lines from mismatched poems being cut and pasted together. They rhyme. They become a song.

I turn around. Their table is empty. In the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Colombo is a mixed bag of contradictions. We do one thing and say another. We think we are a metropolis but some parts stubbornly insist on staying the same. Colourful saris hung outside rickety shop fronts are carried upward, dancing in a sudden gust of afternoon wind. Five minutes away are malls and pubs and clubs where people too are carried higher as they dance from night to early light.

Yes, Colombo contradicts itself.

At once a storm and the eye within it, rejecting any possibility of confirming to the norm. A cloud you can’t catch and pin down to a single identity. In fact, I’d venture so far as to call Colombo inappropriate. A lewd joke, perhaps? Or something more inspiring, like a church and mosque sitting side-by-side down a dusty lane in Dematagoda, despite the historic disharmony between the connected faiths. Is it two women holding hands down Gregory’s Road, oblivious to judgmental onlookers? Or is it that flyover where cars go up and down while trains pass underneath?

How could this be a single city? There are two Colombos here. Two sides, two halves. A Gemini. Lovers made of broken bits that fit together. And depending on how you choose to look at it, these are the best of times or the worst.

Originally published in my column (COLOMBO ON MY MIND) for Colombo Living

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