The youth was about 14 or 15. My age. He was running for his life. Naked, except for the torn remnants of a sarong held bunched up to protect his modesty, he was being chased down by an angry mob. Finding himself at the wrong end of the chase a boy of around 8 tried to block the fleeing youth, dropping into a boxing crouch and balling his hands into tiny fists.
The next moment the mob was upon us, swarming around our vehicle. We held our collective breath, the silence inside the car punctuated by my mother’s loud whisper “don’t make eye contact! Don’t even look!” Then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they were gone.
We were vacationing in the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura when race riots broke out. Looters roamed freely and flames shot up along the Main Street. The night was filled with the sounds of breaking glass and the odd scream. The next morning the air was thick with the smell of burnt out fires. We took our morning coffee on a balcony and watched a surreal scene of looters returning with their booty. A group of men were carrying away a small safe, blackened with soot. A soldier walked passed, cradling his beret which was filled with looted jewellery. He saw me watching and flashed a sheepish grin.
A curfew was belatedly imposed. My father somehow wangled a curfew pass and we drove back to Colombo – a drive of some eight hours through several burned out cities. We gave a lift to a young female doctor dressed in a Kandyan saree – a garment traditionally worn by women of the Sinhalese community. She was extremely attractive, but completely uncommunicative and slept most of the way. We later discovered that she was under strict orders to keep schtum. Her accent would reveal her Tamil ethnicity and my father didn’t want us getting stressed as we passed mobs targeting her people.
Back in Colombo we settled into a comfortable curfew life. Its a bit harsher than a lockdown – wander out and you could get shot. We tried to bury the ghastly memories and the sense of helplessness in the face of marauding crowds. We played endless games of Monopoly and shared books and music cassettes with our friends. Someone found a stash of Ian Fleming novels and we lost ourselves in the impossibly glamorous life of James Bond.
Dateline London 2020. Covid-19 lockdown.
Bond has gone missing, his handlers having postponed the release of No Time to Die. But I still have all of Ian Fleming’s works and have enjoyed escaping into them. This time around I also made every cocktail mentioned in a Bond story, from the Vesper Martini in Casino Royale, to the Sazerac in Live and Let Die, to the Black Velvet in Diamonds are Forever. Along the way there were enough martinis “shaken not stirred” that I felt compelled to make a video about the proper way to mix a martini.
Now I am getting bored.
We are fortunate to live where we live. We are in a lockdown, but there are no mobs on the streets. Our shops and homes aren’t on fire. We don’t live in fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
Perspective helps. The curve is flattening. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. It’s time to pick up our tools. Let’s go back to work.