12 May, Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Smriti Daniel

I watch my husband and try to absorb something of his calm. It feels like S has embraced this quieter life in a way that I still struggle to. His days are filled with little projects. He is growing things on our small balcony: spinach, chillies, curry leaves, coriander and spring onions. (The mustard seeds died in their box, but the ginger is thriving.) Our friend downstairs is weathering the curfew with her family, so he sweeps and clears her little garden; he is tinkering with the long neglected compost bin, rearranging the messy section under the stairs, and draining suspected haunts of dengue mosquitoes.

If he is not gardening, he is cooking. We rely on the trucks that drive around for our fresh produce but they are irregular, and so he finds ways to stretch what we do have. One coconut produces milk for a curry, water and pulp for pol roti, with just a little left over to garnish a stir fry. He sends a portion of everything he makes to our neighbours, because he knows the little ones like vegetables and their parents are bored of their own cooking. Like everyone feeding the people they love, I think his is a kind of essential service, an offering of comfort and nourishment.

As a child of the 1980s in Sri Lanka, S has known what it is like to lose a home, and live on a pittance, and as a consequence isn’t afraid of any of it. Yet, we have never both been unemployed at the same time, both of us entirely uncertain of what the days ahead hold, of what choices we will make. We have parents who will need us, and savings that will only stretch so far. This week Sri Lanka comes out of lockdown. Inexplicably, we have more cases coming out than we did going in, and now there seems to be nothing but stark choices for us all. We don’t have IDs from a company or a place to go to work, but I feel the pressure to start looking.

In a 15-year marriage, this is the longest uninterrupted stretch we have spent purely together. These days when we bicker, it tends to be half hearted, knowing that tonight we will go to sleep in the same bed, and tomorrow there will be only the two of us again, moving around this small house which we have learnt to share without any spaces in between.   

This morning, I gave up banging my head against a document I’ve been working on, and instead decided to experiment with a recipe of my own for our breakfast. He’ll be up soon, and I’d like to serve the pancakes hot.