Winning For Whom?

[Featured image courtesy Amantha Perera, IRIN News

Editor’s note: This poignant piece is the final of a series of poems submitted by the author as entry criteria for the Write to Reconcile Programme, which brings together emerging writers with the goal of writing fiction, memoirs or poetry on issues of conflict, peace, reconciliation, memory and trauma in Sri Lanka, post-war.]

“Catch it!” Two words that snap me into action,
The crowd cheering, my team turns and looks at me.
The adrenaline surges and I am out of my daydream.
Catch it, and we win,
Miss it, and nobody goes home.
Amma cooks for me after every match,
The smell of her food takes over my legs and I run.
So fast, I can never remember,
So determined, nothing else matters.

The cheer blurs into a loud, repetitive clap,
Edging me closer to victory, as I leap,
Slide across the grass, look up at the sky
and throw my hands out.
I can never see the ball against that bright sun.
I close my eyes.
Did I catch it? Did we win?

I’m in the temple.
Abandoned, empty, I try to silence
the thud of my boots against this mud floor.
My team are scattered.
My clothes give me belonging,
My gun gives me purpose.
“Be a better version of yourself,” they told me,
So I signed up and I never looked back.
I go home next week – my wife is due
It’s a boy, she told me; I will teach him to catch like I do.

A stream of light plays shadows with the statue beside me,
And through that light, a ball glides in silently.
The sound of the crowd is muffled
as it comes straight towards me.
I stare – this time, my legs won’t move.
This time, nobody shouted, “catch it!”
This time,
I’m frozen.

The crowd’s chanting rises, I know I have to run.
But I stare, I don’t blink and,
I don’t know how to flee.
The beat of the claps flood my ears,
a waft of Amma’s food hits me and I’m nauseous,
My son is laughing, catching a six…

I open my eyes to a flashlight above me
When I became a soldier they told me
I would be a better version of myself, and yet,
Here I am now.
They amputated both of my legs.
Cut off two of my limbs.
Everything else the Doctor said, faded,
And merged, with the distant cheer of the crowd.

My wife is nursing my wounds,
My son cries in the next room.
I can’t walk to him,
I can’t teach him,
I can’t protect him.
He looks after me.
As for my team – Where are they now?
Where is the crowd that once cheered so loud?
I can’t take anymore.
With the flashlight still shining above me,
I close my eyes.

Did I catch it? Did we win?