To Romaine Rutnam

By Mr H L Reed 
2nd January 1956

 

Romaine Rutnam's nine today,

How the time does slip away!

Strange it is to contemplate,

Yesterday she was but eight.

 

After that, we think of when

In a year she will be ten,

Changing soon to a teen-ager,

Then a regular old stager.

 

But for now it most doth please

That she stay just as she is,

And we hope that this will be

A lovely anniversary.

 

 

 

A short story entitled “An adolescent”
By Romaine Rutnam
Winner of the Kanthi Wijemanne Memorial Prize
For an Original Short Story
December 1962


Helen was an ordinary girl. She lived in an ordinary house and had ordinary parents and an ordinary brother. But she didn’t have an ordinary ambition. She wanted to become a nun.

Actually her ambition was not so extraordinary for her. Their family was mildly religious except for her father who never stepped inside a church. They were all Church of England, and Helen went with her mother and brother to Church every Sunday, in the evenings as well as in the mornings. She sometimes played the hymns at her Sunday School, and had been asked to teach there as well. She would have liked that, but she was afraid of being called ‘soppy’.

Such self-consciousness should not have been the attitude of a future nun. And that was just what was wrong with her. Sometimes she felt good, and that she could justly serve her God in a Convent, working for orphan children and being alone with her creator, away from the rest of the world. But other times, she forgot and listened to ‘pop’ music and jived by herself, and talked about boys and sex with her cousin, and then she felt that she had contaminated herself, and felt a hypocrite.

It was a hard battle that was going on within her. Her cousin who was three years older than her said that she should get over her fear of boys and go out and meet some more. But whenever Helen tried, she felt that she was doing something wrong, and went back into her shell, and felt miserable.

She couldn’t confide in her mother. And when she prayed, sometimes God seemed far away. She cried hopelessly every night when she was alone in her room. Everything was in a muddle. Her school friends seemed to ignore her and leave her out of their jokes. They grew catty and unpleasant and as a result her school work became worse and worse. And all the time she kept praying that something would happen so that she could go away from the world she was living in, away from all the troubles that seemed to surround her in her home.

And one day when she was at Church, she met a boy who was much older than she was, but who was kind and friendly. He seemed to share all her thoughts and opinions, and so their friendship grew, and Helen began to lose some of her shyness and her introspection. She began to take a greater interest in life, and she tried to correct her defeatist attitude. Everyone remarked on the change in Helen; she seemed to have awakened from her apathy at last.

Then the boy went away. Helen was upset, naturally, but her new-found courage did not leave her. She had experienced the joys of living the life which her creator had given her, and so everyday afterwards, she dedicated herself anew to helping others who were like her, to find life.


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The outlaw

Romaine Rutnam

Form V (Science)

Ford House

December 1962

 

He stopped, panting. His black face shone with moisture. His hard, horny feet were cut and bleeding, and very painful. His body ached all over, exhausted after the hard journey through the jungle.

He could not go on much further. He threw himself on to the ground to rest for a moment and catch his breath. But the sound of the galloping horses filled him with uneasiness and when the thunder of their hooves grew louder and louder, he scrambled up once more.

 

He changed his course; he ran down a small path to the right. He was dexterous in moving through the thicket, but soon it got thicker, and he had to walk more slowly so as to break off the branches which kept slapping his face and tearing it with their sharp thorns.

 

Yes, he had to go on, for the police were hard on his heels. Yet they had no right to be. He had done what he had thought justifiable – only killed that old witch Koboki who kept poisoning peoples’ minds, and who therefore had no right to live. Why should they catch him, anyway? It was all his brother-in-law’s fault. He had suggested it in the first place…

He was very tired now. His body was shivering with the effort of running about four miles with hardly any break. He decided to climb a tree and rest up there, out of the direct path of the officers if indeed they came that far. Seeing a huge Kno tree in front of him he climbed up, dragging his weary limbs after him.

Up in the tree he thought about his situation. He couldn’t go back to the village, but the point was, did he want to go? His mother was old, and got enough pleasure out of her six other children and their children. His father was long since dead. His sisters did not need him; his brothers were too engrossed in their own affairs to think about him. So he may as well give himself up to the police officers and make an end of it. How glorious that would be! Everybody would talk about his bravery for days afterwards. Possibly weeks. But that wouldn’t mean a thing to him then. He would be dead.

It would really be much better to live. He could stay in the jungle – the police would soon lose patience. He would be alone, with no one to worry him with his chatter and complaints. He would get water from that river over there. He could live on the berries for some time till talk had died down, and then move on to another village. It would be fun and far more exciting than just dying. He would be an outlaw.

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Colombo, 8 September 1965

The Snake

 

Shirani was dreaming. She had stepped beyond the limits of her little room and was twelve feet above the ground, soaring still higher, with Devendra. No more were there the barriers of caste and religion to make them wary, to hinder them from committing themselves finally to each other. Not even the curfew set by the campus authorities at Peradeniya existed anymore.

How she exulted in this freedom! They were inexpressibly happy together, away from the restraints which in real life bound them tensely. Her lips parted and she murmured, moving luxuriously in her bed as she was kissed.

Nilanthi woke up from her dreamless sleep, and after accustoming herself to the darkness, lit quite brightly by the half-moon, looked across at her room-mate. She saw Shirani smile, and heard her again murmur. She realised at once what Shirani was dreaming of. Often she had listened quietly as Shirani had confided in her, affectionately enough, but oblivious of all but her own thoughts.

Nilanthi resented Shirani's using her as an excuse to talk about Devendra, and sometimes she would turn away to her books, at which she would stare for hours without reading. She knew she was jealous, but did not try to rationalise her feeling, or even stifle it. She was jealous of Shirani's beauty, made more beautiful by the knowledge of Devendra's love. Though she herself was pretty, she came from a life of hard work and loneliness which, with hardly any hope for a successful future as one of the innumerable Arts graduates turned out by the Ceylon universities, had sapped her face of all vitality. She even grudged Shirani the restrictions which her family placed on her, knew she would welcome any sign that her own family cared for her. She grudged Shirani her youth, too, and innocence, for while she had had to work in a factory for two years after school to collect enough money to make even the thought of university feasible, Shirani had come straight from her Colombo school with everything she needed purchased in the few weeks that the late publication of results had allowed the students.

 

As she brooded over Shirani's face, she started slightly. A snake slithered through the ventilator at the head of Shirani's bed, down the pillow, and rested awhile to listen on her neck. Nilanthi felt fear creep through her; fear, first, at the snake, a young cobra, and then a stronger fear at her own desire not to wake Shirani. She lay still, watching the snake and her own mind, her heart beating so fast as to suffocate her.

 

Shirani smiled again. She and Devendra were sitting under a tree in the darkness which smelt freshly of flowers. He put his arm round her neck and said "I think the nicest thing about being in love is holding hands", as she raised hers to his. She caressed what she felt round her neck and screamed as the snake bit her and left her.

 

Her sobs of pain - at the bite and at the loss of the dream - wrung from other sleeping girls more screams at their own nightmares, and soon the Hall was a blaze of light. Nilanthi roused herself and went across to Shirani who still lay on her bed, quivering from the shock of her painful awakening.

 

Nilanthi reached for the matchbox and lit the candle which Shirani always kept by her bed to light when she said her prayers. Trance-like, she looked for and found a blade from the desk and wiping off the lead of pencil-sharpening from it, she held it to the flame. She saw Shirani gazing at her as she turned to her and lifted her hand. There was fear in her eyes, but also tenderness and trust. Nilanthi wondered briefly if she was still seeing only herself and Devendra, but Shirani spoke now.

"Was it a snake? Will you suck out the poison for me?" and she caught her breath as she thought of the blade cutting her wrist.

"Yes, it was a snake", Nilanthi said, and slit the wrist she was holding a little viciously.

Shirani gasped, and tears filled her eyes. Nilanthi heard the warden's footsteps approaching. She sighed, and kneeling down, she sucked at the hand.

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