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acts-of-faithOn the Thursday there is a great deal of movement. Phyllis descends from the hills in her Range Rover, not as dramatically as she will later on when our story is galloping to its close, but with equal determination. John, though sick at heart, will be driven together with Lily in her Lagonda to Tom’s, and thence to the temple in a blaze of publicity, and will also cross the road as evening falls in pursuit of his destiny. Three shamefaced youths will trundle along from Negombo in a ramshackle Morris to a point near enough to Paul’s house, and then make their way there singly, as unobtrusively as possible. Paul himself will visit Indra three times in the course pf the day, early in the morning and at noon and late at night. Even Harry will advance the date of his arrival in Ceylon, and will buy himself an airline ticket. Only Tom will stay put, at the presidential mansion, the still centre of these whirling storms, but a great many of our acquaintance will of course visit him.

Let us begin with Paul since, though Phyllis left before dawn, he arrived at his destination, or to be more accurate the first station en route, before anyone else. Once again he is with Indra in the garden beneath the jacaranda tree. The scent of jasmine is stronger in the fresh morning air and Indra is calmer than on the previous days. Paul knows he must not be precipitate about shattering this calm. At first they talk just about Lily’s project, and Phyllis’ visit, and the part Indra’s newspapers are performing. Then Paul says that he thinks Radha should agree to the Black Shadow’s suggestion.

Indra knows there must be more, but Paul stays silent. ‘You don’t actually mean,’ Indra says at last, ‘that she should allow herself to be—whatever you call it?’

‘That of course is not the point of the exercise.’ Paul’s tone is matter of fact. He has been anxious that Indra should not be upset at the very start, and he thinks now that all is going as satisfactorily as it possibly could. ‘But to be entirely honest, I don’t think that matters very much in itself.’

Indra plucks a jasmine blossom, this time with a whole sprig attached, and sniffs it slowly. ‘What then is the point of the exercise?’

‘I intend to break in myself, to bear witness to the whole business.’ Paul pauses very briefly before going on. ‘I would hope to get there before anything has actually been done, but I can’t guarantee that.’

Indra throws the sprig of jasmine away. ‘You must be mad, if you think you can get away with that.’

‘I don’t intend to be alone. I shall have the security guards of various embassies with me.’ Paul allows himself to smile. ‘They have a sort of informal association, and can be relied upon to act together. Some of them are very well trained.’

‘But you can’t just break into a minister’s house.’

‘Oh yes I can. Most certainly if he’s raping my wife.’

Paul says nothing further, and Indra has to speak. To Paul’s relief he states the obvious. ‘You mean you’re prepared to marry her?’

‘Why not? There is provision at the Embassy for marrying people, and if I say she’s a Tamil who’s in danger there’d be no further questions at all.’ Paul now smiles broadly. ‘It’s also the best way of getting my chaps all romantic, so they’ll really do their stuff when we break in.’

Indra’s face too is more lively now. ‘I suppose we should ask Diana too,’ he says. ‘But if you really think it might work, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t try it.’

*

John was dressed and ready as required when Lily came for him at eight o’clock. In spite of flutters in his stomach, for which he took several tablets, he had managed to have a good breakfast. They drove direct to Tom’s, and John got down at the gate. Lily had her car parked opposite, and stayed waiting.

John had to wait, because he had no appointment, but word came through almost at once that Tom would be delighted to see him. John was relieved that he was not searched, since that might have proved embarrassing. Tom was waiting on the veranda to meet him. His effusive greeting was however cut short when John, having taken a deep breath, told him that he had come to hand in his resignation. Tom was speechless for a moment, and then hastily told John that there was no need for haste and he might as well come in and discuss it over breakfast.

John told him that he had had breakfast, but allowed himself to be led in without further protest. Mindful of the present position and what he would have to face, he even forced himself to eat something. Nevertheless he remained adamant even though Tom pointed out to him all the benefits he had received, and then drew attention to his own lonely plight when everyone he had previously trusted seemed to be letting him down.

John did not attempt to argue, but chewed his food slowly and continued to shake his head insistently. Finally Tom asks him what his particular grievances are. John tells him that the minorities are suffering, and the government is doing nothing to help. Tom again points out to him the position he enjoys, but John says that he now feels guilty about his fellows and that he intends to starve himself, even to death, unless the government does something about it.

Tom, who had watched with annoyance John taking the last piece of toast, did not quite believe this but he still thought he should do what he could to make John change his mind about resigning. He asked John what he proposed. John had not thought this out clearly, so he countered by telling Tom that proposals should come from the government, and that it was its failure in this regard that had precipitated his disillusionment and his decision. Tom pointed out that John was a member of the government, but John said that it was Tom who was the President, and an Executive one too. He also remembers at this point that Lily is waiting outside and, draining the last of his tea, he gets up to take his leave.

Tom gets up with dignity and, accepting the letter that John hands him from his pocket, accompanies him out to the verandah. On the way he tells John that, as President and indeed an Executive one, he does have plans to resolve the situation but he does not feel at liberty to disclose them now in case they are jeopardised.

‘If only you had had patience,’ he says, shaking his head sadly and holding John’s hand at the steps going down to the porch. ‘You would have been satisfied.’

He lets go of John’s hand, and holds up his own in a farewell salute as John goes down the drive. He holds the position for a minute or two, and then turns and walks slowly back into the house. Once inside he rushes to the telephone and rings up Mark and tells him what has happened. Mark promises to come at once. He also rings up Matthew who tells him that he should hold John back, by force if necessary. Tom virtuously tells him that he could not think of such a thing. Matthew then tells him that he should at any rite prevent John from beginning his fast, and Tom reluctantly gives him permission to proceed to John’s house and do what he can.

Matthew rushes to John’s house but John is not there. Instead, the curfew having been lifted that morning, there is a large crowd of very curious people, most of them apparently in high spirits. They are in general not the sort of person he approves of; but he remains polite and says that he has come to try to persuade John to change his mind. He is told that it is too late.

He finds out later that, at the very moment John resigned or possibly even earlier, a series of telephone calls had been set in motion that conveyed to the city and the country and the world the news of John’s resignation and also of the projected fast. He also finds out, courtesy of Indra’s newspapers, special editions of which come out not much later that morning complete with photographs, that having left Tom’s house John was driven direct to the temple on the steps of which he is now standing. In the car itself he had stripped off all his outer garments, so that when he got down he was wearing only a loincloth. He carried a big stick too, so that he looked very much like Gandhi in the photographs. It was also reported that Lily had joined him in the fast, though she remained in the shadows of the temple entrance and no photographs of her were printed. If in twenty-four hours the government made no response, the papers said, volunteers were invited to join them.

*

Phyllis came down to Colombo in a state of extreme irritation. She had been rung up the previous day by Mark, speaking officially on behalf of the cabinet, to tell her that the government thought she ought to cancel her march for peace. When she told him that that was unthinkable, he suggested that she postpone it. She told him that that was impossible because Harry was returning to the country the following week specially for the march. There was a pause, and then he told her almost apologetically that there was a deportation order on Harry, and that he would not be allowed into the country.

Phyllis could not believe her ears. Mark had to repeat himself before she took it in, and then she asked for Tom. She was told he was not available. Phyllis insisted and, when Mark still refused, declared that she would go ahead with the march anyway, and banged the telephone down. A few moments later, it rang again and Tom came on the line to request her in the national interest to cancel the march. Phyllis, who was still irritated, asked what would happen if she refused. Tom said very earnestly that the government might feel obliged to ban it formally, at least till the situation grew less tense. He added that, since Harry had been banned from entering anyway, there was no reason why the march could not be postponed. He suggested that she come down to Colombo in a few days and discuss the matter with him. Phyllis kept a hold on her temper and asked him the reasons for the ban. Tom mentioned the activities of delegates to CARP and when Phyllis said that was irrelevant, added confidentially that there was more that he could not disclose on the telephone. Once again he said that he would be delighted to discuss the matter with her when she had the time to come down to Colombo, and hastily put down the telephone.

Ceylon Today 8 February 2015 – https://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-84214-news-detail-transitional.html

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