Excerpt / August 2009 (Issue 8)

Excerpt from Mythil's Secret

by Prashani Rambukwella

Prashani Rambukwella's Mythil's Secret wins The Gratiaen Prize 2009. Read more here.


Prashani Rambukwella, Mythil's Secret, Perera Hussein Publishing House, 2009. 166 pgs. 

'You sit down with me and tell me all about the yaka you saw, will you,' Archchi told Mythil with one of her sunny smiles.

'Don't laugh Loku Nona,' Seeli said. 'And don't call the spirits by their name – they can hear! The jungle is full of them. Especially at this time. And Podi Baby was eating kevili – I saw. You must always drink some water after eating kevili in the afternoon – especially if you’re going outside. Yakas are attracted to the smell of kevili . . .'

'That's enough Seeli,' Archchi said sternly. 'Don't scare Podi Baby.' Seeli pursed her lips in a thin, obstinate line. 'It's true what I said,' she sniffed, flicking the kurakkan with a 'sruss' sound and grinding the grain of barley between her teeth as she walked away.

'Now don't listen to her nonsense,' Archchi said lifting Mythil's chin with her hand. 'Tell me what happened.'

So they sat down on the pantry steps and Mythil began to tell his grandmother what he had seen. One of Archchi's cats crept on to her lap with a wary eye on Mythil. It was soon purring contentedly and listening to Mythil's story with Archchi. Ammi stood behind them leaning against the lintel.

'How big was he?' Archchi asked about the yaka. Mythil forced his mind to re-conjure the image he had seen.

'Not very big Archchi,' he said. 'Maybe my size.'

'Then shall I tell you what you saw?' Archchi said with a comforting chuckle. 'I'm sure you saw one of the village boys playing in the jungle. He would have seen you and thought of frightening you a little for fun.'

Ammi turned away and went back into the house without saying anything.

'So you don't think I saw a yaka Archchi?' Mythil asked hopefully. He felt his earlobe gingerly. It still stung from whatever had struck it in the jungle. Perhaps Archchi was right. Yakas wouldn't throw stones at people would they? But a boy might.

Archchi laughed again. 'I'm sure it's just a village boy. Next time you see him tell him to stop scaring you or that old Jamis will beat him black and blue. Or tell him to come and have some rice if he is hungry. Then you will have someone your age to play with at least.'

'At first I was scared it was a snake,' Mythil told Archchi reaching out to pet the purring cat which now had its eyes tightly shut in feline contentment. He was eager to prove to his grandmother that he hadn't been completely fooled by the village boy. 'It could have been a poacher too couldn't it Archchi? Or a robber with grease on his face – planning to steal from a house?'

'Ah, that reminds me, have I ever told you the story of how I chased a robber?' Archchi asked.

'You chased a robber Archchi? On your own?' The cat opened its eyes and leapt off Archchi's lap with a hiss. It had just realised that Mythil was petting it. Archchi took no notice.

'Yes. Your Seeya was still alive then.' Archchi's eyes misted over as they always did when she spoke of her husband. He had died of a heart attack when Mythil's mother was still a young girl and Archchi had brought up her three children on her own.

She began her story. 'Seeya had taken Jamis to his hometown in the car and hadn't yet returned,' Archchi said. 'It was past midnight and I was waiting up till Seeya came back.' Mythil rested his head on Archchi’s shoulder picturing her patiently sitting in the hall till his grandfather returned.

'The house was in darkness. There was just one lamp lit in the front veranda. Then I saw a shadow moving in the garden.'

'Like from the corner of your eye?' Mythil asked. 'Like you weren't sure you saw something but you had to turn your head to see? That's just how I saw the yaka. . . I mean the village boy.'

'Yes, just like that,' Archchi said. 'Your Ammi and her brothers were sleeping in their bedrooms. Seeli was in the kitchen. I knew it couldn't be any of them. The person moved closer to the veranda entrance. When the lamplight fell on him I saw that it was a man with grease on his body. I knew at once it was a rogue then. I had heard they applied grease so that it would be difficult to catch and grab hold of them.' Mythil shivered deliciously.

'I slowly took down your grandfather's gun from where it used to hang in the hall. Then I walked out onto the veranda and pointed it at the man. I said, "Who's there?’"'

Archchi held out her hands as if she was holding an imaginary gun and said the words with force and menace. Her mouth was set in a firm line and her eyes shone fiercely. Mythil could imagine how scary she must have looked in the shadows made by the lamplight.

'The man jumped,' Archchi said, continuing her story. 'He hadn't expected anyone to be awake. In those days, before we got electricity to the house, we usually went to sleep soon after it got dark.'

'Were you scared Archchi?' Mythil asked putting his arm around her waist.

'My hands were trembling,' Archchi admitted. 'And I knew the gun had no bullets.'

'No bullets!' Mythil asked in horror. Archchi had had no real defence!

'No, with the children around your Seeya never kept a loaded gun in the house. So I had to be very stern. I asked, "Who are you man? Can you see this gun?" and the man began to stammer. So I knew he was scared. And I said, 'If you want to live run away from here. Run away!' and he ran.'

'He got scared!' Mythil crowed clapping his hands together in delight. 'Archchi you are so brave.'

Archchi laughed. 'Now wash your face and come and have your tea,' she said getting up from the step with a little difficulty. Mythil put his arm around her to support her. She smiled at him and gently patted his cheek. 'You can help me make pumpkin pudding.'

She went inside to make the tea followed by the mewing cat and Mythil went to the half-filled bucket that stood by the well to have his wash. Seeli came and poured fresh water for him after he had soaped himself.

'All I am saying,' she told him in a low voice and with a glance at the pantry windows, 'is don't go into the jungle without a piece of iron. And don't call them by their real name – they are jungle spirits and when you say their name they are drawn to you.'

Mythil's Secret can be purchased online from Perera Hussein Publishing House.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.