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Miss Petipa's Art Class: A Special Story Celebrating Sri Lanka's Presence at the UN Conference in GenevaRoma Tearne for Salem-News.com
Another new entry from Novelist Roma Tearne.
(LONDON) - Foreword by Editor: We are delighted to be able to bring our readers something different; the fictional writings of acclaimed Novelist Roma Tearne. Her contributions to our informational efforts are delivered in a real time context and the message spares no prisoners in its impact.
By the time he heard about the news SS Ranasingha was almost ready to leave. He was off to launch an exhibition of his paintings, thirty seven new watercolours, in a secret location beginning with the letter D. Please don’t ask me to divulge the name of the place. I’m just a novelist not a spin-doctor. You’ll have to work it out for yourself, okay? On this particular occasion SS was travelling alone. Sue, his wife from Basingstoke couldn’t get any more time off work and Sallybaby, well, after the now famous Festival in Paradise (and the ensuing diarrhoea) she was going nowhere.
‘You’d have to have her surgically removed from the arms of Spotty Bloke, if you want her to come with you,’ Sue told her husband.
She couldn’t stop laughing.
‘Are you mad?’ Sallybaby screamed, overhearing them. ‘Remember what a shitty time I had in Paradise! Remember those ignorant cretins with thick lips who tried to snog me?’
‘Well…’ began SS.
He disliked the way his daughter spoke. No decent, well-educated, middle class girl in Paradise would talk in this way to their parents. His nieces all kissed their parent’s feet, quite literally, on auspicious days before going to the Buddhist temple. It’s true. They stood up when their father walked in to the room, and they smiled sweetly when spoken to.
‘Oh don’t be ridiculous,’ Sue said. ‘You should know your daughter better than that!’
SS sighed. He did. The child of this love union was more White that Paradisians.
‘Half,’ said Sue, with unusual sharpness.
She sounded a little riled.
‘She’s only half English, SS. Don’t start!’
SS knew better than to argue when his wife used this tone.
They were having dinner.
‘Ugh!’ said Sallybaby. ‘For God’s sake…vomit, vomit!’
Soggy pasta, lentils and Maldive fish sent over from Paradise.
‘Don’t be ungrateful,’ SS told her, mildly, enough. ‘Your grandfather sent it all the way from Paradise. He bought a special vacuum packing machine for the purpose. You mustn’t forget your roots.’
‘How come you did, then?’ Sallybaby demanded, quick-as-a-flash.
But she spoke without heat not being very interested in any kind of roots except those on her own head. That which held the hair she wanted to dye.
‘I did not,’ SS said, never recognising the demarcation line when it came to combat with his daughter.
‘What time is your flight?’ Sue asked.
Goodness how scratchy they all were tonight.
‘4.30,’ SS said, shortly.
Sallybaby smirked. Then she went in for the kill. Like a soldier mindlessly attacking a group of civilians. Like the army using bodies for a landfill.
‘We’ve got a new art teacher at school,’ she said.
‘Will someone meet you at the other end?’ Sue asked SS who nodded.
He let out a deep breath and took a sip of beer. He should have been looking forward to the adoration that lay ahead. People, fans, those who holidayed in the Number One Paradise destination floating in its own latrine of untouchable filth, were all eager to view SS’s new works. But in fact he just felt tense and anxious. This business with the Government of Paradise was very unsettling. English people who had hitherto never heard of Paradise Island were asking him questions he couldn’t answer.
You don’t know what’s happening there?
No, no it’s fine I don’t blame you. There are much more interesting things going on in the world at the moment. Hey! No worries, I’m sure Paradise is the last thing on your mind, right now.
But you must understand that for SS it was different. He was part of the diaspora, and therefore in the firing line, so to speak. Added to which he still had lots of assets in Paradise. For instance he had a house and land that rolled down to the sea. He had a father and a mother, a sister and a brother-in-law. Two nieces, (who kissed their parents feet, remember) and an old ayah. And then there were his cousins, his uncles and aunts, all his school friends, gentle loving people who welcomed him back-home for yummy-scrummy luxurious holidays. Making him the envy of his British acquaintances, stuck in January blizzards and British politics. Brrr.
‘You lucky thing, SS,’ these people would say, as Christmas drew to a close each year. ‘You’ll be off to Paradise, I expect?’
And SS would bob his head up and down and smile his splayed tooth smile and admit that yes, his family were indeed off.
But now all this was being threatened in Geneva where a group of people, calling themselves the International Community had begun stirring things and accusing the Government of Paradise of war crimes. SS couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. Cha! he thought, it’s a total disgrace.
Sue Ranasingha watched her husband’s lips as they moved furiously and said nothing.
‘She’s called Angelina Petipa,’ Sallybaby said.
‘What?’ Sue asked, frowning, distracted.
She had heard the name somewhere before.
‘And she’s very, very good.’
‘Who?’ asked SS, helping himself to more Seeni sambol, also fresh from Paradise Island.
‘Angelina Petipa,’ Sallybaby said, ‘our new art teacher.’
The response to this statement was instantaneous. Rather like a cricketer, SS knocked over the dish of lentils and spilt his beer. Then he bowled a mango straight out of its dish.
‘I don’t believe it!’ he said. ‘I…I …I’m going to complain. Sue, Sue…did you hear this? Now tell me Sallyputha, are you certain that is her name?’
Sue, recognising if not the name, then the state SS was getting himself into, thought, what a little thoroughbred he is. Silly Sue to have such a dangerous thought! She then went on to remember the woman from long ago.
‘Fiery Tamil girl, wasn’t she?’ she asked.
Tut-tut, Sue. Give over, love!
‘She’s half-caste,’ SS screamed, his voice going back to his native-island accent, this being a moment of stress. ‘A troublemaker from the gutter, I tell you.’
He spluttered causing his beautifully greying hair to tremble.
Oh dear, thought Sue, belatedly.
‘She’s bloody good, though,’ Sallybaby said, who like her father’s countrymen never knew when enough was enough. ‘She’s the best teacher we’ve had. She’s going to help me with my Foundation application and we’re going to sort out my portfolio next week, too. She’s really, really nice, Dad. What’s your problem?’
‘Do you know who that woman is?’ bellowed SS. ‘She’s a Tamil terrorist!’
‘Oh don’t be so ridiculous, SS,’ Sue said, sounding cross, now.
‘You’re insane,’ Sallybaby said, calmly, and she coolly helped herself to a beer from the fridge.
SS eyes bulged. Never very articulate at the best of times he realised he was reaching a new level of speechlessness.
‘You don’t understand,’ he told his family.
‘She’s…she’s… one of the people who’s being saying the Government of Paradise is corrupt. She one of the ones who goes on about war crimes! Don't you see?’
‘Well,’ Sue said. ‘In that case why doesn't the Paradise Government just let the international community in? And be done with it? Let them take a good look at what went on? Reassure them? What are they so frightened of? If they have nothing to hide…’
‘You silly bitch,’ SS screamed, forgetting himself.
‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Sue. Oh God I’m sorry…look, Sue, Sue…wait… I’m upset, that’s all…that woman…oh you don’t know what they’re like…the Tamils in the West are trying to destroy our beautiful country….and then...when after all these years we’ve got rid of the terrorists those meddling bastards in Europe are trying to cause trouble all over again…’
Sue walked out.
‘Sue…’SS cried in despair.
‘Now you listen to me,’ Sue said, changing her mind and coming back into the room.
Deciding it was much more fun in, than out.
‘Your problem with that woman, whatshername, has Nothing To Do With The War,’ she said, digging the knife in. ‘You’re just jealous of her, that’s all! You don’t give a toss about anything so long as people think you’re wonderful. But, you know what, unfortunately, there are people from the wrong side of Paradise who are just as good as you…’
She would have gone on a bit more, not having liked being called a bitch, being a woman who could bear down on a grudge like any old native giving birth, but Sallybaby was waiting her turn.
‘Dad, listen,’ Sallybaby said, with all the authority of her White side. ‘You should talk to Angelina Petipa. She’s so nice. I asked her about the problems in Paradise…’
Problems,’ snarled SS, working edgeways with his words. ‘There are no problems!’
But it was Sallybaby who had the last word. Surprisingly calm, unusually grown up, amazingly articulate, and not a little drunk, she raised her hand and faced both her parents.
‘Look how long it took Mum to get over Grandpa’s death, Dad. She’s still not over it, yet, are you?’
Sue stared at her daughter.
‘There you are, then.’ Sallybaby said, resting her case, right there by her empty beer can. ‘And don’t forget, Gramps died peacefully in his sleep.’
No one spoke.
Miss Petipa’s father died too.’ Sallybaby continued, softly. ‘Stripped naked and killed. By army soldiers, laughing at him. Don’t you think under the circumstances her family deserve an investigation? All these many years later?’
Roma Tearne is a Sri Lankan born artist and writer. Her first novel, Mosquito, has been shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Book Awards first Novel prize.
Currently a Fellow at Oxford Brookes University, she has had many exhibitions including "Nel Corpo delle cittá" at the prestigious MLAC ( Museo Laboratorio Arte Contemporanea ) in Rome.
She became the artist in residence at the Ashmolean Museum Oxford in 2002 and while there, worked on "Happenings in a Museum"
Salem-News.com is extremely pleased to work with this esteemed author, and to be able to utilize her approach in communicating stories about war and ethnic strife that cross all boundaries; those things that make the very soul of our earth bleed needlessly.
Roma Tearne's Writing CollectionMosquito (ISBN 0007233655) was published on March 5, 2007 by Harper Collins.
Bone China (ISBN 0007240732), was published in 2008 by the same publisher.
Brixton Beach (ISBN 9780007301560), was published 2009 by HarperPress.
The Swimmer (ISBN 9780007301591), published in 2010, was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2011.
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