In the short term, the person worst affected by Mark’s pronouncements was the Red Shadow (though for the sake of balance we ought to note too at this point that, in the final analysis, he had very little to regret). Even before Mark’s appearance, he had been in trouble enough with his superiors; the television news clips of his contortions amidst the mobs, followed by the graphic revelations of the police dossier, would he knew prove fatal. All he would have to look forward to when he was sent home, which of course would happen immediately, was prison, exile, or at the very least several years in a corrective institution where cold baths and electrodes would be the least of his worries. There would certainly be no chance to enjoy the pleasures he had so recently discovered.
This was more than he could take. He would have been at his wits’ end had it not been for something Mark had said, that tied in with his own enhanced perceptions since his transubstantiation in Negombo. It had occurred to him even then that the free and easy sensuality prevalent there might have had something to do with the free and easy absolution readily available from an indulgent church. Amongst the orthodox things had been very different. The Red Shadow felt that he could not bear to return to a land of cold and dreary penances. A few moments after Mark had spoken, he went into has back garden and clambered over the wall into that of his neighbour, the Papal Nuncio.
There he lay in comfort and in silence, while the storm raged, and the Big Red Embassy disowned him, and his disappearance was asserted conclusively to prove the vicious magnitude of the plot. Naturally he was received as soon as possible into the bosom of the church. There was nothing dubious or hesitant about his faith. In particular, he had an absolute conviction that the Nuncio would get him safely out of the country and bestow him unharmed, even if it were necessary to be disguised as a nun for the purpose, in the refuge offered by Rome.
It could not be denied that the effect of Mark’s speech to the nation was almost miraculous. The troops fired and the police charged as required, and the mobs melted away. True, there were sporadic outbursts of violence, and there was still menace in the air and there were those who said cynically that it was all a matter either of coincidence or of prearrangement; but by and large, and especially where it mattered, in the drawing rooms of Colombo, Mark was held to be the hero of the hour. Indeed, less than twenty-four hours after he had finished his speech, there sprang up in some of the more salubrious avenues of Colombo posters that declared that the hour had found the man to save the country. In some of them, the more brightly coloured ones, Mark even appeared to be possessed of a sparkling set of incisive teeth.
Within a few minutes of Mark’s appearance, Luke had met with his advisers and, with their full concurrence that it was in the best interests of the nation, determined that he too should do his bit on television for peace and harmony. When he asked for permission the next morning however Tom, looking much brighter and cheerier than on the previous day, replied that it was quite unnecessary, since things seemed to have settled down. By evening though the posters had appeared, and Tom decided that tensions were still latent and might burst out again at any minute.
Luke therefore appeared on television exactly twenty-four hours after Mark had done, and when the positive impact of that forceful performance was still fresh in everyone’s mind. It is a tribute then to Luke’s dramatic talent that he too managed to create a sensation. He started by saying that the government now had evidence that the plot Mark had mentioned was not directed only against Tamils, but also against Muslims and Christians and even against those Sinhalese Buddhists belonging to castes that the Brahmins considered inferior to themselves. Indeed, Mark’s statement had been misleading in one minor detail, understandably so in view of the fact that at the time Mark spoke all the facts had not been clear to him. In any case the government had felt that, as a member of the Brahmin caste, Mark could not be expected to disclose the iniquities of what was admittedly only a small segment of that caste, but one that was influential and might take a hateful vengeance on him if he gave them grounds for classifying him as a traitor. Mark after all was particularly vulnerable to such a charge, for he was the only leader who could be classified as absolutely pure, a solidly Buddhist Brahmin of the Brahmins, albeit his family had fallen on hard times before he had restored its fortunes by his advent into politics. It was, he added, a tribute to Mark’s breadth of vision that he had joined together with their great leader Tom, who had been born a Christian, and with Matthew, who had traces of foreign blood, and with John, who was a Tamil, and with himself, Luke, who was emphatically not a Brahmin and would like to make it clear that, whatever anyone said, he was proud of it. Continue reading