This country used to be bombed out and ours. We’d jump walls into empty factories in the abandoned center of town. We’d take sweaty buses to the coast, sleep in people’s houses and dig through the ruins of hotels until we got turned around at military camps. This country was a gentle post-apocalyptic ruin. It was like a tropical Shining. It was ours to explore.
When the war ended that all changed.
That rock in Arugam Bay where we dropped acid and watched the stars spin and colors flow into the world, they put a hotel there. The placid waters of Passikudah, where you could swim out for hundreds of meters and float in perfect quiet; they rammed that place with mega hotels and somehow trashed the beach. Slave Island, where you could drink cheap arrack and play craps at the crumbling Castle Hotel and then stumble out to a public bathroom / rabbit hostel — that’s been razed and apartments and hotels are coming up.
The little treasures that we discovered — the secret coves, the quirky corners — they were all quite obvious in hindsight. They were bought, developed, turned into hotels and condominiums. This sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not. For one thing I’ve gotten older and I don’t want to sleep on the floor of a mosque, waiting for the next bus out of town. I’m glad there’s hotels now. For another thing, there’s not many jobs in the post-apocalypse. The country needed the change.
It’s just a feeling. Like an old friend is changing and moving ahead in the world, but also away from you. In the old days, that sleepy fishing cove would be the same fishing cove in five years. You could fit the country in your head, you could map it out on the palm of your hand.
After the war ended it wasn’t like that anymore. The country that we’d traipsed and loved had found new lovers, ones with money. I remember feeling like I’d discovered the Buck Lighthouse, hidden away in a high security zone. Now it’s not even next to the ocean. The Chinese have raised an entirely new city out of the ocean, still sand but eventually towers and roads. That lighthouse is now kilometers inland.
But this was fine. This was where we were going. Until we weren’t.
When the bombs went off again, it all stopped. Different bombers, different bombs, but same results. The city froze, the flights slowed, the people and energy all washed out like a sudden tide.
Now it feels like bomb days again. Sitting alone in a hotel restaurant, AC blasting for no-one, watching cricket with five staff. Being the only person for breakfast. Being alone with the country once again.
It doesn’t feel the same at all. It’s not some distant tragedy that’s acquired some poetic beauty with age. It’s not post-apocalypse as much as apocalypse now.
It’s like the blast blew out all of the tourists and left the waiters still standing there, napkins over arms, ice melting in trays. They’re here now, but the jobs are melting as well. That’s what worries me.
When I was wandering around earlier ruins, it wasn’t my fault. It was an inheritence that earlier generations had squandered, a distant tragedy, not mine. But this is now. It happened now and may be happening still. I don’t know. It’s not a nice feeling. It feels like bomb days are back again.