We’d come from Mirissa; endless beach parties of backpackers too young to drink in their own countries. The sound of the bass pounded through the wooden walls of our guesthouse until well past 3am.
Maybe if the music had been better I would’ve wanted to dance, but a mixture of intense strobe lights and pounding techno turned me off the party scene of Sri Lanka’s beaches.
Guess I’m getting old.
When Hannah and I arrived through the pouring rain, early on Christmas morning, sleepy Midigama was waiting for us with her calming, open arms. We checked into a family-run guesthouse, a German couple on a surf holiday and a French girl on a long-term stay our only companions.
Christmas was a wash of torrential rain. Taking turns riding on the back of Steve’s motorbike to the corner rotti shop, the only place we were brave enough to venture for food. And a carefree run through the farm fields of Midigama back to the guesthouse because no umbrella would’ve saved us anyway.
When the sun came up the next morning, we lay still in our shared mosquito net, listening. There was no continued pound of the promised rains outside. The sun was shining and we took to the beach.
A sunburn, a sunset and a yoga session in a field of cows later, we were off to give the parties of Mirissa another shot.
We were taking the bus, but as the tuk tuk started their bartering, we raised our eyebrows in consideration.
This was the standard price, we’d never paid less or more.
Last night we got it for 300.
I looked at Hannah, intrigued at her sudden desire to barter, something she never did. I let her go.
She flicked her wrist rather casually as she walked away. A price we’d never even been offered, but she didn’t want it. We headed for the road to give it another shot.
We both saw the bus at the same time as we ran across the single road that runs all the way from Galle to Matara. Buses, trucks, and tuk tuks serving between each other for the length of it. We both looked up at the same time to see if it was the bus we needed, we’d spent 30 rupees on that trip instead of 400.
I saw it happening. I looked down a split second sooner than she would’ve. Her thong-clad foot stepped straight into empty space.
The concrete gutter.
The gutters run deep along most of the roads in Sri Lanka, but sometimes, just sometimes, they disappear. That’s why she didn’t think to look.
Her entire leg disappeared into the mystery of the water trickling through that concrete drain, thankfully, it wasn’t full.
She didn’t say anything, but her eyes told me what I needed to know and I pulled her up and onto the stability of the tiny convenience shop’s wooden bench. We passed about thirty minutes on that bench, the ma and pa of the shop fussing with Dettol and tiny pieces of cotton they offered me one by one to clean the scraps on her foot and knee. Finally, she explained the pain in her foot.
Looking back, I don’t remember any of the words. I have no idea how we communicated our messages to any of these people. But we found out there was a medical centre in the next shop door, about a 100 metre walk. We started the long hobble from the shopfront to the centre, Hannah weighing heavily on my shoulder. Not even 50 metres in, it was too much.
I can carry you?
I wasn’t really sure, but it seemed worth a shot. I flung the 2 litre bottle of water I’d just bought into the grassy patch inches from the road.
Never underestimate the ability to find humour in what seems to be impossible. It was at the moment that I bent my knees, attempting to make myself as small as possible to accommodate the injured:
She’d done it. In the midst of some of the worst physical pain of her life, she’d brought back all of the memories of the moments when we’d met. We’d practiced all of our lives for this. I mean, what are sisters for, after all?
Why is it that the second someone hops on your back, you start running? Like some kind of bore-in animal instinct I attempted to sprint Hannah to the waiting area of this so-called doctor. As I braced myself to set her into the seat of the plastic waiting chair, my unconditioned legs gave out, just as the chair skittered away and the two of us ended up in a heap on the floor. But hey, we were still laughing.
Again, through some form of signing and translating magic, we learned that the doctor wasn’t there and we’d have to go to the hospital. I ran for the nearest tuk tuk and we drove off into the night.
It felt much later than it was, only about half past seven. But as we would up the winding streets through the back alleys of Weligama, the English on the shop signs began disappearing, families popped their head out of doorways to watch our tuk tuk whiz by; one white girl with her foot carefully propped out the side door.
As we approached the emergency room, a long row of male nurses in white stared at us, unsmiling. We looked back, unsure.
Can someone help us?
No one budged.
Ehh… can someone help?
I pointed to Hannah’s outstretched foot. Suddenly a man came around the corner with a wheelchair.
The doctor was no more than a cartoon caricature of what you’d expect a Sri Lankan doctor to be. Bald on top, with two wispy, white, Albert Einstein tufts sticking out from the side of his brown head. As he explained to me that we’d need an x-ray but they didn’t have the machinery and yes I could get pain killers here, his head bobbled in that telltale way, which confusingly comes across enduring while simultaneously causing you to question if this is all a big practical joke.
I went to the front counter to collect the medicine, what I got was second slip of paper with no decipherable words.
I heard her call from somewhere in the depths as she’d passed by me. I thought we were going home, with an agenda to head to the Karapitiya Public Hospital in Galle in the morning. When I saw her she was holding onto one of the concrete pillars which held the only shelter for what would turn out to be the hallways of the Weligama hospital. We were very slowly wheeled through these open-air hallways, through a ward of sick Sri Lankan women – literally, between their beds – to a secluded emergency area.
The nurse with his jumbled English instructed Hannah to sit up on the bed, which she refused. Suddenly extremely lightheaded (likely from the medical fumes and adrenaline) I attempted to prop myself on the mattress while we waited for the surgical nurse.
Don’t sit there.
She didn’t really look up when she said it.
Look at it.
That’s when I noticed the darkened, almost black stains of old blood and mould swirling from under the single sheet of plastic draped across the middle of the mattress.
The nurse seemed more fussed putting iodine on the cuts and scrapes than in understanding Hannah’s unseen injury, but finally, the foot was wrapped and the painkillers swallowed.
As we hobbled up to the guesthouse a few hours later, everyone made a big fuss and we were presented with a spread of homemade curries, fresh, dense coconut rotti and it was agreed that we’d take the 30-minute tuk tuk ride to Hemas Southern Private Hospital in the morning.