The girl and boy made of smoke

She rests in her cottony, cloudy sheets and uncurls her toes lazily, with great pleasure. She considers her one-hundred-percentedness.

Her uncle lied to his wife and met an old lover on a holiday away. He told his children his secret plan, how hard his life had been with their mother and they believed him, too young to see how his untruths would twist the way they saw relationships for years to come. Too sweet to see how his inability to own his story would creep into their choices until they become old enough to recognise the fetid knots that had been tied. Oh, the time it would take to undo them all.

Her father whispers that she has grown larger, and jokes at the dinner table about her weight. It’s a jab meant in fun, not intended to hurt, but she knows that if she were a mother, she would teach her children the value of self-worth and good health, and cannot align with his limited way of thinking.

She sees her aunt roll in the guilt of past mistakes, unable to comprehend the value of acceptance and self-forgiveness. She is worn from being pulled towards the looping centre where this woman evaluates and disseminates what was long over many years ago.

Where did this endless parade of unwisdom come from? Golden calamity rained from the sky and their empty floats rumbled forwards beneath them. Their elders, who were charged with bestowing confidence, calm and self-knowledge, were nowhere to be found.

Her mother smiles supportively and tells her to keep busy until the right man and child and 9 to 5 come along. There is no glory in a plush, empty one-bedroom with a dark green Zanzibar and life of peace before 30.

When did the right rules escape these adults? And how can they ask this girl to bear fruit when they cast quiet thorns around their periphery? Was it her grandparents’ fault – her stony Archie who cast hard stares at home and her stoic Seeya who battled job after job to keep their little family afloat? Were words like “mental health” and “self-love” too embarrassing to say out loud and too foreign to take root in the dark, clotted soil of Sri Lanka? Were they concepts born too far away to be considered in her old island home, so lush with tea and curly coral?

For the love of her future children, she will not have any. She understands her limitations too well and imagines the grave weight of a parent too vividly to spare her babies too much further thought. Sometimes, though, as she pulls her dinner out of the oven, she sees her kitchen stretch into a sunny backyard with blue and orange shadows playing amongst the tall grass and lavender. On the streets, her girl made of smoke rushes ahead in a glitter tulle skirt and mismatched socks, while her son revels in his victory – he has managed to leave the house in his ninja turtle pyjamas and is having a ball. She knows she owes her future children 100% or nothing at all.


*Archie: ‘Grandmother’ in Sinhala (a language spoken in Sri Lanka)

Seeya: ‘Grandfather’ in Sinhala


Ava Senaratne is an Art Director from Melbourne (and Sri Lanka and Dubai). When she’s not in front of a Mac waving her magic wand tool around, she edits and writes for her journal TCK TOWN, which celebrates and explores multiculturalism. You can read more of her work at


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