Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel
Chapter 17; Bitter
Jayadeva was eager to watch the six o’clock TV news after hearing
about the rising popularity of One Nation Party on the car radio while
driving home from work. However, as he approached the University of
Western Australia, he found himself enmeshed in a traffic jam.
It was caused by a Transperth bus which sat broken and immovable like
a huge dead kangaroo on the freeway, blocking the traffic flow. Jayadeva
had to wait nearly twenty minutes before the broken bus was towed away.
By the time he reached home, the news item on the One Nation Party
had already been telecast. Asela glanced up at his father for a fraction
of a second, gave him a small grin, and then turned his head back
towards the TV set as if there were a magnetic pull.
During the ad break Asela spoke: “Dad, you were telling us the other
day how bad the One Nation Party was. Do you know that their popularity
have gone up in WA? It was in the news. The One Nation Party will get
twenty-five percent of the votes at the next election!”
Asela already knew of Jayadeva’s apprehension of the One Nation Party
after observing his reaction and comments to their landslide victory in
the Queensland state election.
“Dad, what will happen to Asians if they come to power in Perth? Will
we have to leave Australia? Are we Australians or Sri Lankans, Dad? Me,
Sue and Mum got Aussie passports, but you don’t! Will they ask you to
leave?” Asela’s voice quivered with apprehension.
“Don’t worry, Putha. Where can we go? This is our country now. You’re
all Australians. Maybe this is the time for me to get an Australian
passport as well!”
Jayadeva wondered why he had not followed up his wife’s footsteps and
become a naturalised Australian.
-- How can I give up my Sri Lankan citizenship? I was born there,
grew up there, studied there, perhaps one day I may go there to die…or
take yellow robes and follow Buddha's footsteps.
“Dad! What are you thinking? Are you worried? Do you think that we
have to leave Australia, if the One Nation Party wins?”
“No. I’m thinking what curry to cook tonight!” Jayadeva pretended to
study the recipe book on the kitchen table. Still thinking, he moved
onto the bedroom and changed his office suit and found a pair of track
pants and a jumper. In a minute or two, he was back in the kitchen and
was ready to cook.
After the dinner, the kids rushed back to the TV room to watch an
American sitcom. Jayadeva started washing the dishes on his own.
-- Why did I come to this country? Is this the right thing that I
have done for my children... and for us? How can I live in a country
which is going against historical trends? No place for Aboriginal
people, no place for Asians. The White Australia policy is back in full
swing through right wing political parties.
Asela came back and opened the fridge.
“Dad, there’s nothing for dessert!”
“Well, I’ll buy something tomorrow.”
“What about tonight, Dad?”
“There’s no time for shopping now. I’m still washing up. But if you
practise your music, I’ll take you out. Maybe we’ll go to Claremont as
soon as Amma comes home from work. But you must practise your music and
finish all your homework. That’s the deal!”
“All right. You don’t give anything for free, Dad! All right!”
While washing the dishes, Jayadeva could hear Asela practising his
violin. Jayadeva followed the tune of Ode to Joy, and tried to recall
his childhood. His mind wandered over lost opportunities to learn music.
-- I wish we had these facilities when I was a child. How lucky my
kids are! What a good thing to grow up as kids in Australia!
-- If I had the opportunity, I would have learnt to play the violin
or sitar. But thaththa didn’t have the money to buy me any musical
instruments. We can afford these facilities in Australia. But can we
continue to stay here with racism raising its ugly head again...?
When Malini came home after attending a meeting, Jayadeva went
through Asela’s homework and to his surprise found that he had completed
“Okay, let’s go and have an ice cream, my son.”
Asela understood that whenever his father was in a good mood, he
would call him son, instead of Putha. As they were walking out the door
Malini asked, “What is this night trip?”
“This is secret men’s business!”
“Asela must have a shower. He’s still in his school uniform. You are
in your jogging suit,” said Malini. “You’re spoiling him. He’ll go to
bed without even brushing his teeth.”
“No, I’ll take care of that,” Jayadeva said, and they left. When they
reached the junction near the Stirling Highway, Jayadeva unconsciously
turned the car towards the city, instead of turning left to reach
“Dad, where are we going? I thought we were going to Claremont. Why
are we going towards Perth?”
“I made a mistake! Let’s go to Perth and have some ice cream there.”
When they reached Mounts Bay Road, Asela noticed the full moon
hanging over the Swan River. The moonlight reflected on the water like
“Dad, look at the moon. See how the moon shadows moves like mirrors
on the river and breaking into thousands of pieces when a big boat
“Would you like to see it properly? Let’s stop the car for a few
Jayadeva turned the car onto the foreshore closer to the old Swan
Brewery. Jayadeva compared the abandoned building to a prison camp with
a tall metal fence surrounding it. The bright moonlight covered the
entire building, adding a ghostly aura to the site.
“This is cool, Dad. I’ve never seen the moon rising over Perth like
this before. This is great. A real beauty, Dad!”
“Let’s go, son. You have school tomorrow and I’ve to go to work early
in the morning. You have to take a shower tonight. We’d better hurry
up.” After turning the car on to Riverside Drive near the Esplanade,
Jayadeva asked, “shall we have our ice cream at the Hyatt hotel?” and he
parked the car on Plain Street, closer to the five star hotel.
“Dad, isn’t this an expensive hotel?”
“Yes, but why not? This is where your mother had her meeting today.
We don’t go to hotels every day. Let’s try this one out.”
The moon was still shining brightly over the Swan River. As they got
out of the car, he saw heavy clouds rolling in, over the Darling Ranges
in the east.
While crossing the road Jayadeva smelt an enticing aroma of food
coming from a nearby Chinese restaurant. Standing on the path to the
five star hotel, Jayadeva changed his agenda.
“Let’s go to that Chinese place. After all, we are not dressed
properly to go to a five star hotel,” he said, looking at his track suit
pants and Asela’s school uniform. “We might be able to have some ice
kachan or ice cream at that Chinese place. After all, we need to support
Asians who are working hard to make ends meet in this country. It’s
better to go to a small place than to a big hotel.”
He looked over his shoulder at the hotel, standing like a tall giant
reaching for the sky. The moon was still shining over the City of Perth,
but he saw the dark clouds moving in from the east.
Jayadeva pushed open the heavy door, decorated with a large red
dragon. Inside, a group of fat people were having a banquet at a round
table, and before them were all sorts of exotic foods.
A man, wearing a black suit, sat behind the cashier’s desk. Looking
at Jayadeva and Asela as if they were from another planet, he asked in
amazement, “a table for two?”
Jayadeva mused thinking if the person knew how to count. “There will
be a delay because we are catering for a special group of people
Jayadeva immediately felt that they were not welcome. He controlled
his mood and said, “That’s fine. We’ll have some Chinese tea and wait
for a few minutes. By the way, do you take American Express?” Jayadeva
showed his Gold Card.
“Oh, yes Sir!” The man willingly escorted Jayadeva and his son to a
table in the far corner and away from the group who were enjoying their
exotic food. After five minutes, a woman wearing an oriental dress came
to take their order. Jayadeva looked at her moon-like face and wondered
whether her make-up had added or destroyed the appearance of her face
with small and slanted eyes.
She dumped a menu on the table. Jayadeva saw the rays of anger like
burning flames emanating from her moon face.
“What do you want?” she asked, and looked over their heads at the
“We already had dinner. We are after dessert. Ice-cream! This young
man wanted dessert.”
The waitress gave Jayadeva a strange, blank look. She immediately
went to the front counter and returned with a laminated notice promptly.
“No, we don’t serve only ice cream. This is not a café. You have to
order at least twenty dollars worth of food per person. This is our
policy,” she threw the laminated paper on to the table.
“Don’t you sell ice cream here?”
“Yes, but we don’t sell only ice cream to customers. It’s our
regulation. Look at this?” “What regulation?” Jayadeva asked angrily.
When he realised that they wouldn’t be served, his blood began to boil.
He repeated the question. “What regulation?”
“We just don’t just sell ice cream, mister! Do you understand English
“Yes, of course! This is Australia, Mate! A free country! People can
buy anything that is legally available.”
“That may be the case, but these are our regulations and this is our
Asela, who was eager to have ice cream, but watched a verbal battle
between his father and the Asian woman.
“When the One Nation Party comes to power, you may have to change
your regulation and perhaps leave the country!” said Jayadeva who
couldn’t control himself.
“Well, that’s if they come to power lah! We won’t leave alone. If we
have to leave, we’ll go with other Asians lah!” The woman countered
heatedly and gazed at Jayadeva as if he was her sole enemy.
Jayadeva nearly ran towards the dragon doors feeling as if he wanted
to escape from a prison controlled by some strange looking group of
people from another part of the world.
Once outside, Jayadeva walked slowly back to the car like a soldier
wounded in battle. He was feeling tired. Asela followed behind with a
long face. He too was tired, and unhappy about missing his dessert.
“Putha, let’s go and have a good ice cream from Hungry Jacks in
Claremont. We’ll order it from the drive-through. It’s quick. I’ll order
the special chocolate flavour that you like.”
While driving back along the Mounts Bay Road, Jayadeva desired to
find the moon’s reflections floating on the river again. There was no
sign of the moon. An ugly dark cloud had swallowed the moon.
The Swan River flowed slowly into darkness.
(To be continued)
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Disclaimer: This is a work
of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.