The Old Woman at St Mary’s Bambalapitiya


The bell chimed before midnight
Lights were afloat in color, flickering
In the mistral that brought along a cold front
To the church goers, as they slowly
Crept through the arches to the waiting choral sounds,
And a lofty pine tree stood
Like it was brought to life by the wonder
Of the deco of little globes and candy sticks
That grooved in the meek convection.

And outside this church there was a half-hunched hag
Who wore the same saree every Sunday
An avocado green cotton saree
That hid the withered skin and the gradual decay
Of bones. Her vertebral column was bent
Almost like a mud-guard of a bicycle, as if
God gave her an excuse not to look up
At those glamorous red dresses that
Strung over shoulders and the festive shirts
That were buttoned down the sternum.
She that day, mustered enough courage
To walk towards the alter boy who was holding
A little collector’s pouch that was filling up
Fast with thousand and hundred rupee notes
And slowly placed a small collection of coins inside.
She had gifted her day’s collection
From begging on the road, a woman
Who will never see the inside of a mansion
Or toast a glass of eggnog, but who
Will listen to the jingling bells and the chorale harmony
Of a plush church in Colombo 7
And count her blessings.

She was alive
In spite of Alzheimer’s pinching away
And arthritis making creaking noises
At those boney intersections and that meant
Something for her. Warmth of a handshake of a perfect stranger
Silent night caressing the ear lobes, the cold air
Pushing a little extra blood to the heart
And the smell of pine needles scattering
Forest fragrances. She had a whisk of communion wine
On her lips, carols in her ear and pine in her nostrils
And her heart that was filled
With the currency of mirth.

She glided away
Like a sleigh, over the pavements, like
She was skiing on slippers, mirth spilling
Over her weary shoulders. She had learnt
That the art of giving was like a sugar rush to a child.
It gave her heart a little extra pace
And a little jingle had jumped on every muscle
And tendon. She was like a rug rat now
Uninhibited in nonsensicality, living larger
Than she ever did. All her life she had wished
For a miracle to settle on her palms,
And finally this Christmas, she had encountered a miracle
As her little purse serially filled
A little collection box. She was empty
Except for a little clatter of noise
Inside a fibrous till, as echoes of the Christmas cheer
Left a lasting impression. Rapture was like a scale,
A melody of a perfect hurricane,
That became a score in her heart.

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