Colombo, Peace and Conflict

The Terrorist Complex

Responding to a friend’s inquiry on my silence I realised how much I valued being away from home. I actually responded saying I was out and glad to keep away from the madness when he asked me how I was keeping and why he hadn’t heard from me.

Of course I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends. But I hurriedly forwarded the various mails to a few interested contacts and deleted them without reading them myself. I wanted a respite from the situation reports from this or that place, the press releases by this or that body condemning this or that attack.

I felt the reverse of what someone returning home after a stay abroad would probably feel. I want to think I will return with a nostalgic longing for the familiar.

Instead, I exited the airport with my elbows out, a frown and a blank and unseeing stare. I was grateful that I wasn’t subjected to the same humiliating and invasive “body search” I got on my way out. I was glad for the tinted glasses on the car. I could see the soldiers, trussed up in their uniforms in the heavy heat, wielding their guns.

I will myself to look beyond the gun barrels and see the tired boys. But instead I see hard and piercing looks. Mouths twisted in sardonic grins.

I will myself to meet their gaze unwaveringly, politely and confidently. But instead I find myself steeling myself to meet the onslaught.

I will myself to see through their eyes. They must be tired and on edge. It must be hard to be on the alert all the time. It must be hard to stand out in the heat and check and recheck and check. But instead I find myself shutting down and closing in.

I will myself to understand that I have nothing to fear. I look quite the modern working girl. I have made sure that my dress, attitude and accessories say just that. I was born in a town which is uncontroversial. So what if I’m classified as a Tamil. I’m not a terrorist. But I’m already anxious and hating them for making me feel this way.

I will myself to believe that no one can control the way I feel. I am the master of myself. But the vicious cycle is already in motion as he looks at my ID looks at my face, sticks his head inside the van and looks at my bags and myself. “What are you doing here?” he asks me in Sinhala. “I’m sorry I don’t speak Sinhala” I lie. The driver hurriedly explains that I am an “airport hire”. The soldier leafs through my passport, gives me another “once over” and motions us on. I gladly shut the window and hope I am not stopped at anymore check points.

I can’t help feeling guilty that many others may not be able to get off as easily as I did. I am instinctively bracing myself for some unseen trouble and think I don’t have to go out again to get groceries if I can pick up something on my way home. I wonder if someone back out there will be so nice as to tell me, “That’s ok, it’s natural in your circumstance”.

I wonder if it can be safely classified and named, maybe something like “the Terrorist Complex”. Hopefully that way it can be treated and I can feel normal again.