I have a neighbor who loves drinking and can often be heard singing or beating his wife late into the night. He’s a short, broad policeman with a short temper who is mostly content talking loudly and playing with his boisterous but home-bound son.
Last night he launched into a rare tale that caught my ear. It was a warm night with mosquitoes circling in earshot. As is typical for such a night a power-cut that had me trying to swat at the pests while trying to protect myself with a blanket. It was a fools’ endeavor because they outnumbered me and outmaneuvered me. In the end it was too hot inside the blanket and too pest ridden outside it. Tired and sleepless though I was, I recognised his voice immediately. On this rare night I heard him speak English and not his familiar Tamil. He was sitting, as he often does, outside his door which is built in an unusual manner- near the end of his house and not near the front. He has a narrow path from his front gate to his door and he often puts a chair out so he can sit in the middle of the path.
He was lecturing with so much condescension, that I was amazed whosoever was on the other end didn’t slam the phone down every time he finished his sentences with a smug flourish and a stretching of words. He explained that most people don’t know their “generation”. They can count back to their parents generation, to their grandparents generation at best. Beyond that they knew nothing. He however could count further. He could count beyond his great-grandparents and said he knew “all his generations”. He proclaimed his family was from Sri-Lanka, shouting the lengthy name of his village. He would fill in details in a fast paced Tamil and switch back to a English slowed down to bring as much derision as possible.
He told long tales of his grandparents, his grandmother in particular who collected so much gold that she had nothing to do with it. He ranted about his grandfathers power and his wife yelped from inside the house. He finished by calling whoever he had been talking to an idiot for trying to argue with him regarding some woman. Only then did his companion hang up on him. He went running back inside to sing with his son which continued for a time. I wondered what happened between his family’s’ Sri-Lankan wealth and his family’s current state. I also wondered how his son could do with so little sleep while I struggled to find some for myself.