The port of Italy.


 Why did I agree, oh yes, I know, it was a chance to see where I was born? 48 years old and I haven't gone back to Ceylon or Sri Lanka as it is called now. A year ago, I received a call from my sister-in-law; would you like to celebrate your eldest brothers 60th birthday in Ceylon at the Mount Lavinia hotel. She was trying to gather friends and family to organize a group booking in the month of October; it was still off-season so keeping costs low. I was getting on with my eldest brother, so to speak, the relationship been okay. My middle brother had already bought a flat in Ceylon. So yes, a good time to go. I will also invite my daughters, Zoe and Freddie. Zoe is my eldest 23 years and Freddie, the youngest at 16. I was just clearing my debts and this was a great chance to see where I came from. I always felt a bit lost, I suppose & always felt I needed acceptance in this world. You see, no one in my family really filled me in. Being the youngest at the age of three I was brought up with little knowledge of Ceylon. I've of course heard snippets of conversation in family gatherings. I had a set of cousins who lived around the corner from us and I must say the early days were fun. We always celebrated all the sibling’s birthdays with whatever feast we could muster. I remember the preparation of making a variety of foods. Dishes and dishes of different types, vibrant colours and smells it all ignited my taste buds. Beef cutlets, Fish patties, coconut sambals, to chapattis, rice, a variety of curries, date chutney, string hoppers, and for desert, wattalappan, Pineapple puff or juggery & banana hoppers, and of course love cake, what a name by the way, the cake was packed with semolina, honey, cashew nuts and rosewater. Oh, the lovey memories. Of course, I didn't realize that in the 60s in London, all the ingredients were foreign. I used to be trundled around London trying to find all sorts of pieces of gold as they were called. There was a Chinese shop in Piccadilly my mum took me to. Who would have guessed that within 20 years the Chinese would build their own town on one side of Shaftesbury Avenue. My mum did the best she could with the limited ingredients, so much so that I realised years later it was unique to her. Not totally authentic, but boy did I love it. I suppose, because I was the youngest, I became the boy who didn’t know & even now regarded in that same light.

 So, the time came for us to go, I couldn't quite save the money so all expenses went on my credit card. The first family trip with my girls. Unfortunately, also with 25 other people. Some people I knew & some from a distance. Oh well, never mind, I can't wait to start, to finally step on my birth place. You see, not only was I going to gain some knowledge of my background I was going to trace my birthday certificate. Again, because I wasn't told I was an alien for 8 to 10 years of my life. Never officially registered. Born in a brand-new clinic run by sisters, although I was in their books, which of course not the registry office in the town. Amazingly, when we traced the clinic, the nurse who attended to my mum remembered our family. She was still working there, now an elder statesperson. She straightaway took us to a room with large leather-bound books. Picked the year, fingered to the page and showed us in her writing my name Jude Roman Thompson, hey, who needs a computer. Her name was’ Romani’. One thing my mum did tell me, was where my middle name came from. Now to my first name Jude. The patron saint of hopeless causes. Still, to this day I joke about my mum first seeing me & saying ‘yes, there’s a Jude. Then as a young boy my mum divulged to me that she lost a baby girl through miscarriage and that she wouldn't have had me if the girl had lived. You see, I always laughed but inwardly, as a little boy in London, fatherless with an empty feeling, I took that to heart. Now, to the family name Thompson. My father was white with Scottish & English parents, my mum descended from the Dutch, unfortunately the marriage was frowned upon, from my father’s side of the family. The colour of my mum’s skin was too dark for their liking. I found out just recently that the reason we came to the UK was that everyone was emigrating to Australia & my parents had decided to make a clean break from the disappointments of family. My village was named Kochikadi. We all arrived in the minibus & straightaway found people who knew us. There was a string of houses, some with large verandahs, some with small attachments, used as make up local shops. People with bare feet and acknowledging smiles. My second brother was reminded that he played with their young daughter at the time, pointing at the very spot. We then entered our last home. A very humble interior, quite spartan with the very basics, needed in life. An open fire still used, not just for heat but also for cooking. There was a well outside for fresh water with a picture postcard look of palm trees and wild vegetation as a garden. Eventually I was introduced to a friend of the family. Mrs Abbott who was very close friend of my mother. With my brothers and a couple of friends in the group & my eldest daughter we formed a circle in the living room. I was finally going to hear, first hand some stories of facts. This was a lady of standing who in her heart wanted my mum to find a happy future. One story that intrigued me most, was about my father. He was a motor mechanic and worked in town with two brothers who owned a garage. The brothers had a falling out, my dad took the side of the older brother. The younger brother hated this fact, so much so, he hired someone to assassinate my father. So, one night the assassin approached the open window of our house. Through the blinds he had set his eyes on my father, so, with a block of wood in his hand and slowly easing himself towards my father who had his back turned towards him. He was just about to strike my father who had turned to face his maker. With astonishment, the assailant stopped in his tracks. My God, he said I know you. He had recognized my dad from the past. So, he held down his weapon and with that, explained to my dad why he was there & added you are a good man, therefore I am not going to go through with this. Well, I said to myself that was cool.

 Most of the talking was from my eldest brother he was reminiscing laughing and joking with our host. And then eventually I had something that threw me again. It was explained that when we boarded the ship called the ‘Fair Seas’ which held large number of families emigrating towards the UK. I remember very little except two things, being attached to my mum's legs and accepting a gift from the captain. A group of us little ones were given toys to help us while away the hours and keep our minds busy. Unfortunately falling ill wasn't part of the game and I only remember plenty of seasickness.

 My brother explained that with an uncle of ours & dad, they had reached London 2 to 3 months ahead of us, to set up a home. My dad had got himself a job in the railway. I always remember a picture of him smartly dressed in his uniform and looking proud of himself in the street just outside where we first lived. On our journey to Southampton we had docked in various ports. Then Mrs Abbott picked up the story. Word had got back to our village that Mr. Thompson had died. He had been admitted to the tropical disease hospital in King's Cross and in hindsight was showing signs of Parkinson's disease but unfortunately there was no diagnosis and hence discharged, after three days I remember my brother telling me that dad used to shake and there was no explanation from the doctors. Then suddenly formed a clot in the blood which caused thrombosis and sadly passed away. Mrs. Abbott made a decision that changed our lives. After finding out where we were, she decided not to tell my mother, as she felt that if it was known, my mother would return & that would've been a disaster.

 Where were we? we were just leaving the Port of Italy.