Since I am a new author, I thought I would share an excerpt of chapters one, nine, and te of my new book, “Sunrise, Sunset,” to give everyone a glimpse of the story.
The sun rose promisingly as the Srither twins set out for school. It illuminated the clay shingles of rooftops along the way, casting a positive, radiant effect on ruins and abandoned houses. Akil had seen many a promising sunrise and knew better than to trust its deceitful rays. He observed the setting critically as though he were watching the world from outside a television set; like an old black and white movie without sound. It was only the beginning of a million possibilities under the sun on a typical school day.
Girls joined his twin Nethra, dazzling in their brilliant white uniform dresses, pleats neatly pressed and collars folded down. Their long black manes tamed and pinned up in braided pigtails. White knee-high socks and white shoes boosted the blinding brightness of their attires; the colour of innocence, adding ignorant joy to a hope that dangled complacently above the stricken beauty of the island. This was the easy part of life, or at least, it was supposed to be. A group of teenagers riding their bicycles to school in the morning, getting through a day of lectures and tyrants shouting from the blackboards, then riding back home after. But this wasn’t just any group of teenagers in just any part of the world. They were Tamil teenagers in a Tamil city in northern Sri Lanka. An ordinary school day for them was a luck one.
War torn houses coexisted peacefully with luscious greeneries on either side like good and evil intertwined; the ugly and the beautiful erecting simultaneously out of fertile grounds. The fields too were a cunningly enchanting sight, littered discretely with live mines. Their surroundings were only meant to please the eyes, so the twins carefully avoided parts of the grass as they rode their rusting, hand-me-down bicycles.
The blue of Akil’s uniform trousers contrasted sharply against his white button-down shirt. He studied the ripples of dark and light tints and hues on the thick, navy linen. The sun threw linear illusions ubiquitously. Through the ten years they had ridden to school, he had admired the sunrise newly and differently each day trusting it to bring joy and laughter. The warm light hugged the yellows of his complexion, emphasizing streaks of cinnamon tans across his arms and chiseled jaws. He was a portrait of the teas, the spices, and earthen-tones of Sri Lanka; the result of sixteen years of absorbing island sunlight. The rays were too strong on this day, nearly burning his skin and the metal of his bicycle was untouchable.
The two-mile walk had never seemed so long, as the heat waves zigzagged through the crowds of students. The same tedious repetition of the same classmates, for years travelling the same dirt roads set his footsteps and pace on autopilot until they arrived at school. It was all muscle memory now. The twins locked up their bikes at the front gates as they did daily. The smothering heat had already worn them out, and they walked into class prematurely exhausted.
It was an oddly warm morning for December, the middle of the Maha Monsoon season. Not a cloud was in sight. Temperatures boiled into a muggy afternoon as Akil longed for rain. The pitter patters on clay roofs made the simplest days and best lullabies at night, which he preferred over sticky, humid weather. His eyes were fixed out the windows during classes all day, hoping that storm clouds would cover the horizons and bring cooling comfort, but the sun spitefully blazed on in its fiercest blood orange hues.
School cruised by as on any other day, tedious and mundane, and adjourned with loud tolls of its ancient bells. He had completed another day of school merely watching and listening, and reading and writing, in quiet desperation, yearning for a million and one moments of anything but being stuck within the plastered walls, and barred windows that looked like tiny little jail cells, yet when the bells rang he was unmoved. Unenthusiastically, he gathered his belongings and dragged himself outside to meet Nethra.
By the time they unlocked their bikes and hurled them out of the racks, pushing and shoving past hundreds of students, Akil and Nethra were too weary to ride. The sun still aglow, they moseyed along home, idly pushing their two-wheelers. Chaotic high school laughter and bicycle bells drowned behind them in smothering temperatures as they turned at the end of the street.
Something about the weather and their neighbourhood was off-putting. The streets were desolate he could here the soles of his shoes scrape the dirt roads with each step. Only a murder of crows lingered in the background, cawing greedily, circling above them, and roosting skeptically on electrical lines. They wandered in silence, wondering if there were air raids and whether they should head straight for the bunkers. There were no sounds of bombs or shootings that day, and no interruptions had occurred at school. Nervously, they crept forth through the eerie silence.
A disturbing blare of wailings rose as they passed the temple on Temple Road. It seemed larger than before, within its gaudily painted walls of red and white stripes. Looming over them, its tower and idles seemed cryptically taller, leaning in abnormally flexible poses and peering at them through black stone eyes. Shrieks vibrated violently through the empty street and past the temple tower. The Srithers shuddered as they approached their house. The wailing came from inside their own home. Dropping their bicycles at the front gates, they sprinted to the porch.
Akil Srither stared in bewilderment at the sobbing crowd in his living room. His father sat stone-faced against the wicker settee and his mother’s face was tear-streaked and exposed. She sat against a pillar in the corner of the living room, tightly gripping a letter between her fingertips. He scanned the dejected faces around them. A deep, melancholic buzz rung in the background and the air smelled thick with sweat and tears.
Akil began to play several scenarios in his mind. Why were they all weeping? Why were all his relatives there in the first place? Remembering how the day had begun- with his mother’s singing, praying and morning rituals and the promising sunrise- a crowd of mourning relatives was what he least expected to see when he returned from school.
Drowning in confusion, he stood by the entrance with his twin, thrusting unto her a glance of interrogation. Her lips trembled, her eyes reddened, and tears collected in them. A drop trickled down the taupe of her cheek as she blinked. She understood what was happening. Soon the tears streamed down and enveloping her face with her dainty fingers, she sobbed quietly. The smile she had worn in the morning had disappeared – vanished into thin air – leaving no trace of her otherwise cheerful personality.
He shuffled uncomfortably from one leg to another, trying to make sense of the situation, and it suddenly occurred to him like a déjà vu. This exact event had taken place four months before, after the tragic death of his older sister Neela. A numbing sensation melted into his stomach as he slipped into flashbacks.
Canada was nothing like they had imagined. Reine had described it to be a land covered in a blanket of white with temperatures so far below freezing that it could numb you to the bone. The Srithers showed up to a green suburban city with trees and buildings reaching the skies, simultaneously erecting out of luscious grass and engulfed in suffocating heat.
It was still summer. Life soared at light speed in the humid city, and everyone seemed to be in a rush. Formalities, paperwork and identification cards ruled everything from healthcare to school. He had trouble adjusting to the food, especially after the sour airline meals and sore muscles from umpteen hours of sitting in a van, a train and plane, from the moment they arrived in Canada they were on the go.
They didn’t get an opportunity to explore Scarborough, Ontario, the city the church had placed them in. Jetlagged and cranky, they trudged from the Ministry of one thing to the Ministry of another. There seemed to be a governing body over everything under the sun. The first week fled by rapidly and by the second week they were already starting school.
The swarming crowd of students around the parking lot and the school entrance dazed them. It was only 8am, and school wasn’t to start until 8:45. They had to come early to meet with guidance counsellors and register. The school needed transcripts, numerous documents, and identification to enroll them. It was exhausting.
“Early?” Akil thought out loud. He slammed the door of Jonah’s old station wagon as he got out. Nethra’s backpack kept sliding off her shoulder as she went back and forth between closing the window and fixing her bag. Akil grew impatient and pulled her out of the way. He rolled up the window aggressively by rotating the stiff handle inside, shaking his head and grinning. “You’re so weak,” he muttered teasingly. Nethra ignored him. Her eyes wandered around the school yard, absorbing the activity surrounding them. Mr. Srither got out quietly and thanked Jonah for the ride. Jonah nodded his head, grinning cheerfully, and then sped off.
“Amour Park Collegiate Institute,” she stated in a matter of fact tone. “Rather big school, isn’t it?” Akil studied the large grey two-story building. It was much l larger than the school they had attended in Sri Lanka.
“Looks more like a hospital” he quipped. “Grey, enormous and dull. Too big to be any school back home.” The twins examined the parking lot. It gleamed with many metallic vehicles, none like the beetle shaped, ancient cars they occasionally saw in their town. Akil pulled Nethra by the arm and led her to the front entrance of the school. Mr. Srither followed close behind. After pausing to peep in through the glass doors, he pulled open the door closest to the bicycle racks. The racks were empty.
Back home, these racks would be full, he thought.
About a hundred students at once were shuffling through the door aggressively, trying to get in or out of the school. He became the bell boy, holding open the door as they rushed through, responding to every thank you and smile. Finally, he pushed himself and Nethra through the crowd and into the foyer. Voices buzzed around them, causing a strange vibrato in the air. Most unfamiliar were the ways in which the students greeted each other. Aside from the language difference, he noticed their body languages were oddly mechanical.
They waited awhile for the guidance counsellor and the Principal, Mr. Pierce. After receiving their time tables, Mr. Srither left, and the twins scurried through the jam-packed hallways in search of their respective lockers. Every conversation they overheard on the way intrigued and distracted them from the task.
“Hey dude!” called a tall, lean boy, with peroxided, blonde, spiked hair. His spikes were hard as rock, he wore black earrings and had a piercing in his left eyebrow. His skin was bronzed beige. It didn’t look natural, but Akil dismissed that observation thinking he’d never known anyone who wasn’t Sri Lankan before. “What’s going on?” the boy greeted someone.
“Nun much man,” replied another boy. “Just chillin, you know. So wuzzup witchu?” Akil couldn’t comprehend half of the words he spoke. He pondered what he meant by ‘chillin’. He’s never heard someone respond this way to a greeting before.
Was he sitting in a fridge to pass time? thought Akil. It is rather humid outside.
This student was also tall, but not as tall as the blue-eyed blonde. He wore a white, sleeveless jersey with a clover and a number five printed on the front, intimidatingly displaying his muscular biceps, paired with ginormous, dark blue jeans that were belted way below his bottom. The waistband of his baby blue boxers was on display for the world to see. The chocolate brown of his skin and his features were similar to Sri Lankans, but his hair was wiry and braided in a bunch of little braids.
Akil took a keen interest in the boy’s accent. His English was broken, and he constantly swallowed the consonants, emphasizing the vowels, refusing to follow rules of grammar. He shuddered remembering the teachers in Jaffna spanking his palm with a wooden ruler every time he made a grammatical error. If it was anything like that here, this boy was in big trouble.
“Justin man!” shouted the blonde boy to the built boy. “You missed so much this summer, but welcome back homie.” He extended his hand as if to shake the other boys, but the built one, Justin, slapped the hand back, gripped it tight and aggressively bumped his right shoulder on blonde’s right shoulder, all the while grinning. “How was Jamaica?”
“Jamaica was siiiiiiiick!” exclaimed Justin. The emphasis on the word sick and the smile that accompanied it were beyond confusing. “Ron lemme tell you…” he began. The story seemed to go on forever, and twins were captivated by Justin’s animated expressions. They understood that the word ‘sick’ had to have an alternate meaning. Justin seemed jolly, and full of life. He was smiling gleefully and moving his arms and body excessively with dramatic flair. Several more students gathered around him, and they all laughed after every sentence he spoke-almost on queue. It was obvious that he was one of the popular students.
“Ron,” shouted a familiar female voice. The sound stirred warmth in him.
“Hey girl!” blurted Justin in a sing-song voice. “How was your summer?” He reached out to slap her back, but she stepped away quickly, and he missed. Akil leaned forward to catch a glimpse of her face, but all he could see was her yellow, chiffon sundress, and long black hair down to her waist.
“It was awesome Justin! Don’t touch me! And how was yours?” Without waiting for Justin’s response, she turned back to Ron. “Oh my gosh, Ron, church camp was awesome!” she exclaimed. “The best experience of my life. You should have come with us.”
“Reine!” Nethra gasped. “I know that voice.” Before Akil could stop her Nethra ran towards the girl, but another student, evidently Sri Lankan and Tamil by the looks of him, stepped in the way and shoulder-checked Reine. She spun around, irritated. Nethra froze in mid-run.
“That yellow dress through,” the Tamil boy cooed. Three others joined him dressed in closely coordinated outfits – baggy, cargo pants with multiple pockets in unnecessary places, belted way below their bums, and dark plaid shirts with buttons undone. White bandanas hung loosely from their back pockets and they wore white undershirts and a shiny, thick-linked, silver chain each. One of them, a tall, lanky student with fair complexion, wore a titanic cross pendant on his chain. It clashed strikingly with their uniform attires. Intimidating, angular lines of facial hair framed their jaws. The body-checker, who was undoubtedly the head of this wolf pack, had a pierced ear and long hair tied back in a ponytail. The others had distorted mushroom shaped hair long at the top and shaved bald on the bottom.
“You look good ma,” the leader continued. “Can’t say hi? We have history baby, you gotta respect that.” He bumped her again and this time Akil was close enough to step up.
“Don’t touch her!” he blurted.
“Akil! Nethra!” Ecstatic, Reine ran to Nethra and threw her arms around her. “You made it. You’re here! This is so exciting!” Delight spread over her face.
“Who the hell is this guy?” muttered the alpha wolf.
“They’re family, AJ!” Reine shot back at him. AJ and his crew studied the twins, laughed, then sauntered off.
Akil looked for a blackboard as he strolled into the empty classroom. There wasn’t one. A whiteboard spread from one wall to another at the front of the class. The desks faced the boar in rows of three, in three sections. He sat right at the front with two seats on either side of him, hoping to make friends with whoever sat next to him.
Thirty more students came bustling through the door, but none sat beside him. He looked back to find all the other seats filled. Everyone stared at him, while some girls giggled and whispered while pointing at him. Embarrassed and face flushed he turned his head back to read the writing on the whiteboard. He didn’t expect such hostility. Back home everyone was friends and liked each other. But they also all looked the same, talked the same, maybe even thought quite similarly if not the same.
HIS301, he read. Advanced History. Maybe sitting in the front isn’t allowed, he thought. Maybe they’re whispering because I’m sitting in the wrong seat. He slowly collected his things, when Reine and Justin barged in jauntily laughing and giggling, planted themselves in the empty seats on his sides. Akil sighed loudly in relief as Justin stared at him, an eyebrow lifted in concern.
“Hey man, how’s it goin?” Justin asked with a fist in the air in front of Akil’s face.
“I’m good. Thanks,” Akil responded, glaring blankly at the fist.
“You just gonna leave me hanging?”
“Make a fist,” Reine ordered. She grabbed Akil’s fist and bumped it against Justin’s. “It’s called a prop. Kinda like a high five.”
“Much better,” Justin said. Reine turned away whipping her hair in Akil’s face. It’s smelled like pomegranates and he inhaled deeply.
“You smell like heaven,” he blurted.
“Oh, thanks honey,” Justin replied in a high-pitched voice. “It’s Shampoo.” Reine and Akil laughed uncontrollably.
Thank God I’m sitting next to popular kids, Akil thought. Interrupting his thoughts, the teacher bombarded in and ran to the white board, dropping his back in front of Akil’s desk. He picked up a dry-erase marker and wrote Mr. McArthur across it. Akil noticed that half of the teachers’ names started with Mc. He turned back, leaned like a jock against the whiteboard and looked piercingly and directly at Akil.
“You’re new,” he said pointing at Akil with a marker.
“Yessir,” Akil replied.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your full name. You’re Sri Lankan, right? I bet it has more letters than the alphabet.”
“I knew it!” Mr. McArthur laughed. “Darn it, I should have made a bet. I gotta tell ya, I lose bets all the time trying to pronounce your names. They’re a mouthful.” Everyone laughed, even though more than half the students were Sri Lankan. “Now,” he went on. “Let’s talk about the World War two. To be honest, I don’t even like talking about these old wars, but I gotta teach something if I wanna keep coaching the football team. Akil, you any good at football? Not the kicking football, the throwing kind. It’s more like rugby really.”
It was the first class in his entire life, during which Akil wasn’t bored half to death listening to the teacher. Teachers from where he came from were monotonous and robotic. They opened their syllabuses and read out loud everything, which the students later memorized. Mr. McArthur was hilarious, and brutally honest. He taught with a comical flare and spoke to the students as though they were adults. Before he knew it, the bell rang and class was over.
The whole body of students rose from their seats in sync, grabbed their belongings, and scurried to the door in a hurry. Akil drifted with the crowd from the front of the classroom, being shoved and pushed, banged into desks and toppling over book bags, before he reached the exit. As he reached for the door a backpack banged into his ribs, nearly knocking the air out of him, and a hefty blonde with thick eyeliner and heavy scowl smeared on with makeup glared at him.
“Watch it FOB!” she growled and elbowed Akil in the side sending him reeling into a corner as she passed through the door.
“Don’t be rude!” Reine shot, and Justin helped Akil up.
“You alright man?” he asked, “Ignore her. She’s always bitter and rude.”
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Akil stammered. “What’s a fob?”
“Fresh off the boat,” Justin muttered. “New to the country.”
“Oh. What’s wrong with being new?”
“It’s just a stupid term.” Justin shrugged with disappointment. “Don’t entertain the madness. Brushed it off and try not to stand in Hefty’s way. If anyone knows anything, we know she’s got a mean elbow.”
“Hey!” Mr. McArthur shouted after the rude girl. “Office! Now!”
“Whatever,” she croaked and kept walking as he speedily chased after her.
Akil breathed in deeply and slowly as he collected himself and carried what was left of his dignity out the classroom door. The remainder of the day went by almost as speedily as the first class, but he hovered in the background waiting for the rooms to empty before he walked out. Nethra sat with him in one class, and in the other two classes there were empty seats on his sides. It was going well and not so well for the second day of school, but he figured he’d eventually make some friends, and decided to focus on the material being taught.
Thank you for reading. If you like what you’ve seen so far, please do grab a copy on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com and share you comments on the full book.
R. A. Douglas