Shrimp Curry and
A Side Story
by Dilina Janadith X ChatGPT
“Do you know any stories?” The question seemed like a simple and innocent one to ask, one that anyone from a child to a grandparent would be able to answer yes to. We all have at least one story to tell, whether it’s a bedtime story, a personal experience, or a folk tale passed down through generations. At that time, not only did I know stories, but I also had a deep-seated desire to write one of my own. However, when Sandun asked me this question six years ago, I was momentarily speechless. Not because I was ashamed of my three unfinished stories saved on my computer, but because of the timing of his question. He had just promised to prepare dinner for us and then he asked this question, as if he was asking if I had bread to go with the curry or a dessert to complement the meal. He asked “I could prepare you dinner, but do you know any stories?” I couldn’t quite understand the connection between the stories and the dinner he promised to prepare. so, I was speechless.
Sandun was the caretaker of Villa Nil Menik, situated a little bit away from the southern coastal road, between Galle and Matara. My then-wife Radhika and I stumbled upon his villa one night during a spontaneous road trip.
We had not initially planned to dine at the Villa Nil Menik for dinner, as Radhika had a craving for hoppers and was determined to go out and get them. Her stubbornness when it came to food was well known to me, as we had been married for some time. She was extremely picky and wouldn’t settle for anything less than the exact dish she desired. Our plan was to freshen up with a shower and then take a quick ride back to the main road to fulfill her craving. But after a long day of traveling, the shower not only refreshed us but also made us feel rejuvenated and ready for bed. To my surprise, Radhika’s strong craving for hoppers seemed to have disappeared with the shower. The thought of having to dress up again and go out for a ride did not appeal to us. Although we both wanted to sleep, we hesitated to go to bed without having dinner. So, we decided to check with Sandun, and see if he could prepare something for us, as he was our last hope for dinner before going to sleep on an empty stomach.
“Sandun, could you make us something to eat?” I asked, as I approached him in the courtyard where he was sitting on a bench, watching a teledrama on YouTube on his phone with loud noise.
He was a tall and thin man in his early to mid-30s, with a kind face and gentle demeanor. He was dressed in formal attire, but with the addition of slippers instead of shoes – a typical look for a villa caretaker.
Sandun paused the video before responding. “I’m sorry, sir, but unfortunately I’m just the caretaker,” he said while standing. “Our chef is not here today. You know, this is the off-season, and hardly anyone comes here. The kitchen doesn’t have much in stock.”
His tired eyes were offset by a wide smile, creating an expression that was hard to read. Throughout our stay at the villa, Sandun’s expression remained mostly unchanged.
If I had agreed with Sandun and decided to go without dinner, this story would have been different. But I didn’t, I reminded myself of what Radhika had said before I left the room.
“Something simple is enough” I repeated her request to Sandun, hoping he might be able to make something for us despite the kitchen being closed.
Before he said anything “She’s just a little hungry,” I added, gesturing towards the room where she was waiting.
Sandun gave a helpless expression, conveying both his inability to provide food and his apology.
“Shall I go to the town and buy something? I have my bicycle with me,” he proposed, tucking his phone into his shirt pocket.
“Oh no its fine” I did not want him to go out for us. I walked towards the room.
As I made my way towards the door of our room, I heard Sandun call out to me. It appeared that he had followed me all the way from the courtyard to the living room.
“Well, sir,” Sandun began, looking like he had something more to say. “I have some shrimp curry that I prepared for myself. I’ve already had my dinner, but I can share it with you two. I can boil some rice as well, if that’s enough. I’m sorry, it’s not much.”
His voice was hesitant and shaky, as if he was unsure if I would accept his offer.
I was pleasantly surprised by the offer of shrimp curry. “That sounds great, more than enough Sandun” I replied. But before I could say anything else, there exactly Sandun asked his strange question.
“But sir, do you know any stories?”
I was momentarily speechless. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, any story at all. A bedtime story, a short story, a folk tale, anything,” he explained. “Like, for example, the story of the race between the rabbit and the turtle.”
Even though I still didn’t understand the connection between shrimp curry and stories, I decided to answer his last question as he had elaborated on it.
“Yes, I know that story,” I replied with a touch of irony in my voice to mask my confusion. “The rabbit is overconfident and thinks he can beat the turtle easily, but the turtle wins because he is smart and patient.”
“Exactly,” Sandun said, waving his index finger to show that I had understood correctly. He paused for a moment, his face serious. “I’m not sure, but I think it might be useful after dinner.
I wasn’t exactly confused by his question, but I was still trying to make a connection between his question and the dinner. I wanted to continue the conversation and see where it would lead. But before I had a chance to ask more questions, Sandun disappeared into the back of the house to prepare the dinner. I returned to the room to tell Radhika about the lucky shrimp curry and Sandun’s strange request. She was delighted about the food and didn’t seem to care much about the question.
After a few minutes, Sandun called us for dinner. He served us a hot shrimp curry with perfectly boiled rice bowl. I was initially hesitant to eat, but the tantalizing smell of the food convinced me to join Radhika at the table. As soon as I took my first bite, Radhika exclaimed, “Yummy! Eh ?” and I had to agree. I couldn’t tell if it was just because I was tired, or if the shrimp curry was truly that good, but either way, I found myself complimenting Sandun on his cooking skills.
“You don’t need a chef here, you could be the chef yourself,” I told him.
Sandun just smiled, his tired, serious eyes hidden behind his undying grin. He stood in the corner of the dining area, close enough to attend to us but not too close to disturb us. I noticed him glancing at his phone every so often as we ate.
After we finished eating, Radhika got up from the table and left the room. In that moment, Sandun approached the table. I thought he was just going to clear the table, but instead he whispered his strange question again, making sure Radhika was out of earshot.
“Do you remember that story I asked you about earlier?” he asked.
Because last time Sandun left without continuing the conversation, this time I decided to add more to my answer. “Yes, I remember, know the story of the rabbit and the turtle, and the story of the three little pigs, and the story of the gingerbread man. Will those work? “
“I dont know these stories sir but I guess those are all good stories. Then I don’t have to worry tonight ” he said while stacking the plates.
I waited for Sandun to continue his story, but he seemed to have done talking, “That’s it ? you had a good beginning Sandun but failed to build the narrative.” I left the room, muttering to myself,
Back in the bedroom, Radhika was already snuggled under the blankets, and I joined her after turning off the light. “Thanks to Sandun, we won’t wake up hungry tomorrow,” she said, cuddling close to me.
Worried that Radhika might suggest waking up early to catch the sunrise or some other activity, I tentatively suggested, “Maybe we can sleep in a bit later?”
To my surprise, Radhika immediately agreed and saying, “Yeah, probably.”
This was unusual for Radhika, who was usually quite stubborn and strong-willed. I was used to at least a couple rounds of negotiation whenever we discussed, even a small thing. We were like a customer and vendor at a street market who both know that their starting prices wouldn’t be the final price. But today was a surprise – she agreed to my suggestion without hesitation.
I was happy that she had agreed to my suggestion, and we could sleep in a bit later. It would be nice to start the day on a relaxed and rested note, rather than rushing to get ready in the morning.
Radhika snuggled up close to me, resting her head on my shoulder. I tenderly ran my fingers over her exposed naked skin on her back, beneath her t-shirt.
When I paused my finger, she spoke up.
“Please continue,” she said, her voice almost like a child.
“It feels so good.” she said while slightly adjusting her position to a comfortable one.
I smiled and continued to run my fingers on her skin, enjoying the intimate moment.
“Do you know how it feels?” she softly asked.
“No, how does it feel?” I replied, hoping for a romantic answer that would lead to more intimacy between us.
But instead of a cliche romantic answer, she surprised me with her answer “It feels like white pearls,” she said, a dreamy look in her eyes. “I mean, your fingertips are white pearls.”
I chuckled at her answer. “That’s a new one,” I said, amused.
But she was not satisfied with my response. “No, it’s true,” she insisted.
“Wait, maybe not.” She paused for a moment, as if she was seeing my fingers through her own skin.
“Ya, they’re not white, it turned into pink. Shiny pink pearls.”
“What happened to the white pearls?” I asked.
“You slowed your fingers, so of course now they are pink.” she said, as if I asked a question with an obvious answer.
I enjoyed this new version of Radhika, For some reason, I had never seen her whimsical side before.
“I feel like I’m a yellow tuna fish, swimming through a sea, and you are caressing me with your shiny pink pearl hands. ” She continued, adding more vivid details to her imagination.
“Ew, tuna?” I laughed
“No! I’m not a tuna of flesh, I’m a knitted tuna, an old grandma is knitting all the fish and the sea, so I’m too knitted” she attempted to correct my misunderstanding.
I imagined an old lady sitting in her armchair by the seaside, her hands nimbly working the needles as she knit the rainbow colored wool into the shapes of various sea creatures. She was focused and determined; her glasses perched on her nose as she worked tirelessly. On her lap lay two more needles attached to a ball of blue wool, which she used to create the waves of the sea. She would alternate between knitting sea creatures and weaving in the waves, the sound of the crashing waves and the gentle clicking of her needles filling the air.
“Could you please tell me a story?” she suddenly looked at me and asked without leaving any time to continue my imagination about the old lady.
Her eyes sparkled in the darkness.
“Did you team up with Sandun?” I asked, assuming that she was playing along with the same question that Sandun had asked earlier.
Radhika looked at me with a pout on her face. “No! Please, can you just tell me a story… A short one? she begged, her voice taking on a pleading tone.
Although I wasn’t in the mood to tell a story, I knew I wouldn’t be able to come up with something as imaginative as her knitted sea creatures. So, I decided to encourage her to continue her whimsical tale.
“Alright, tell me more about this lady who knits the sea,” I prompted, intrigued by the idea.
But Radhika was persistent.
“No! I need a story from you
I need a story!
I need a story!
I need a story!
The tuna fish needs a story!” she protested, rhythmically chanting her demand while tapping on my chest.
“Alright, I’ll try my best,” I said. “Once upon a time, there was a yellow knitted tuna fish who swam through a knitted sea, being caressed by shiny pink pearl hands.”
Radhika giggled at my effort. “No, that’s who I am now,” she said, “I need a good story from you.” emphasizing the word “good” as she added
“This little girl needs a good night’s sleep right now,” I said, trying to keep the mood light and avoid telling her a story.
Randhika pouted, her eyes narrowing in stubbornness. “Please, just a short one” she begged, her voice taking on a pleading tone.
I remained silent.
“Please, I need a story,” she continued to plead, her voice shaking.
I remained silent and stopped running my fingers. I took away my arm away from her body as a subtle annoyance started grow in me.
I expected her to get angry and storm off to the other end of the bed, as she usually didn’t like to beg. Instead, she raised her voice and started crying.
“I just want a small story, a children’s story if you can’t think of anything. Or you can look it up on the internet,” she said, her voice taking on a whine.
I sighed, feeling a mix of annoyance and amusement at her childish behavior.
She started to search her mobile in the dark, but she failed to find it. She made an angry noise.
“Can’t you just tell me a short one please” She was raising her voice each time she demanded. I reluctantly agreed to Radhika’s request for a story, sensing that she was no longer playing around.
“Okay” I said.
She nodded eagerly, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Yey !”
I searched my mind for a short story and eventually settled on a fairytale that I used to read as a child. “Once upon a time, there was a bird who lived in a tree near the royal park,” I began. “The bird was known for its beautiful singing voice, and the king often invited it to sing at his banquets in exchange for food. The bird happily accepted these invitations, singing for the king and his guests in return for delicious meals.”
Radhika hold me tighter as the story unfold.
“But one day, the bird received an invitation to sing at a banquet on a special occasion”
She seemed completely absorbed in the tale, sniffling and wiping away tears as she smiled like a child, fully immersed in my story. Despite the strange behavior, in that moment she was just a child, fully enjoying the story.
As I continued to tell the story, I noticed that Radhika’s breathing had slowed. It seemed like she was on the verge of falling asleep. Despite her earlier excitement, enthusiasm and strangeness, it appeared that my story has finally putting an end to the drama.
She fall asleep before the end of the story. I watched Radhika sleep for a moment before getting up and heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.
Once I left the bedroom, I noticed Sandun standing outside our door.
“Sandun,” I called out, my voice filled with disgust and anger. His strange behavior and the fact that he had been standing outside our bedroom door made me feel uneasy.
Sandun turned to me, a look of guilt on his face. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, his voice filled with remorse and fear. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”
“And what, you thought you could help by eavesdropping on our conversation?” I asked, my anger rising.
“No, sir,” he said, shaking his head. “I had a story prepared just in case you didn’t know any. I didn’t want to intrude, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”
He held out a crumpled piece of paper from a children’s book. “But you were a good storyteller, sir, just like you said,” he added, his voice shaking.
I glared at him, still feeling angry and disturbed by his behavior. “Just stay away from our room,” I said, my voice cold.
Sandun nodded, his eyes downcast. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, before turning and walking away.
I took a deep breath, trying to calm my racing thoughts.
As I returned to the living room from getting a drink of water, I saw that Sandun was still seated at the dining table.
“I was a professional chef once, working at a good restaurant in Dubai,” he said, “but I guess you could say I was cursed.”
Before I could react, he added, “Sir, you told madam such a wonderful story. I envy your skills.”
I chuckled, secretly pleased with my storytelling abilities. But my curiosity was piqued, and I asked, “What happened?”
“The same thing that happened to madam,” Sandun replied, his expression was serious.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“to Ava,” he replied, pausing once again.
“What Ava?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
“Ava means ‘voice’ in Persian,” Sandun explained. “One day, she cried like the madam, begging me to tell a story. It was after eating a dish prepared by me.”
“So, you’re telling me that Radhika cried and acted like a child because of your food?” I asked instantly.
“Yes, that’s why I asked if you knew any stories,” Sandun said, “And anyway, I thought it was over. It’s been almost eight years or so., thats why i served you the shrimp” and he continued.
“Is that story you told madam a famous one?” he asked, his curiosity clear on his face.
“It’s not famous, but I…” I began to answer, but Sandun interrupted me.
“I’m not saying that I didn’t know any stories that day. I mean, come on. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t know at least one story by heart, dont you think? ” He said.
He paused, looking at me as if he was waiting for my answer. But before I could speak, he again continued. “My seafood dishes were really famous among expats, Filipinos, Indians. Trust me, they were even better than what I prepared for you today.”
“So tell me what happened?” I asked, trying to get him to focus on his story.
” Sir , I guess, In a way I was afraid that I would ended up like my father , thanks god he lived a good life but still …”
“What happened to your father”
“I failed to tell a story. She begged, cried, and screamed. I couldn’t, and I didn’t want to,” he replied.
“So I assume now you are talking about Ava not your father ?” I asked.
“I could have easily make money with this thing as same as they did” again he did not answered my question, instead started to talk about something different.
“Make money? who are they?” I attempted to tame his though flow.
“She was more aggressive than madam and mean too. I think she was the meanest and most stubborn out of who ate my dishes. anyway I was a bad storyteller as well “ he continued to .
“Yeah, I guess you’re proving it again,” I said, my patience wearing thin with his constant talking without making sense.
Sandun chuckled, seeming unoffended by my sarcastic remark. “Well, I hope you’ll give me a chance to redeem, unlike Ava“
I knew there was a story in his jumbled and all-over-the-place talking, even though I was still a bit frazzled. After the drama with Radhika, I was also curious to know more about his story. So, I took a seat at the table and started listening to his intriguing puzzle. It seemed it was going to be a long night.
Eight years ago, Sandun met Ava, a Syrian woman living in Dubai. Despite not being the ethnic beauty you might expect from the region, Sandun was strongly attracted to her. At the time, she was working as a copywriter at an advertising agency. Sandun hoped that their relationship was more than just a “Dubai love” – a common and often short-lived reciprocal arrangement between two expats in the city.
During their six months of dating, Ava would often visit Sandun’s apartment on weekends and cook for him. As a chef, it was rare for Sandun to get a chance to taste other people’s cooking, especially from those in his circle. Even if someone decided to cook for him, they would often lose their confidence, either avoiding his gaze while cooking or seeking approval for every step of the process. But from the start of their relationship, Ava was different. She seemed to almost ignore or forget that Sandun was a chef, cooking for him without hesitation and allowing him to watch her in the kitchen.
She didn’t seem to care about impressing him with her cooking skills. So while preparing their meals, Sandun and Ava would discuss various topics. Sandun would usually do most of the talking, with Ava nodding and agreeing to his words.
On this particular day, Sandun decided to share something he had been thinking about for a while. Not for any reason, but as a random occurrence in their conversation.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to write a novel someday,” he said.
Ava’s typical reaction to this statement would be to pause her actions, look at him in the eyes, and say “Wow, that’s cool. You should,” before continuing her cooking. With this reaction or with a nod, Sandun would then continue move on to another topic.
However, Ava didn’t respond to Sandun’s revelation in the usual way. She stopped what she was doing and dropped her knife on the board, looking away for a moment before asking,
“Why don’t you cook today?”
Sandun was taken aback by Ava’s sudden request. “Why suddenly?” he asked. “I just feel like I’m ready to taste the chef’s dishes,” Ava replied with a sly smile.
This was the first time she had asked him to cook for her. More than that, Up until then, they had had very few conflicts over things like sharing tasks or splitting bills, or deciding where to eat. The almost six months of conflict-free smooth sailing made Sandun willing to oblige, and he began to cook. Ava had already prepared the ingredients, including peeled shrimp, and chopped garlic, so he knew it would be a shrimp dish. There was an awkward silence first but in just a few minutes, the tension between them seemed to go away. and they fell back into their usual routine of chatting and laughing while he cooked. After they finished their meal, they retired to bed as usual, where Ava would spend some time with him before leaving.
It was then Ava, just like Radhika, begged for a story.
However, unlike Radhika, as Sandun explained, Ava was more aggressive and demanding in her behavior. Sandun described her as an arrogant teenager, constantly pushing him to tell her a story.
“Sandun, you expect me to believe you could write a novel? You can’t even tell a simple story,” Ava spat, her voice dripping with an desire to hurt him with her words
“Ava, please. Can we talk about this calmly? What’s going on?” Sandun tried to calm her down., his face probably had the same confusing expression he gave.
“Calmly? You want me to listen to more of your rambling, jumping from one topic to the next without a meaning?” Ava exclaimed, dramatically clutching at her head as if it were about to burst from the overload of Sandun’s babbling.
“Tell Me a good story! J…ust one story with a beginning, middle, and end. Then I’ll stop,” Ava demanded, drawing the three lines in the air with her hands.
“Or else what?” Sandun asked, growing more frustrated.
Sandun was confused and overwhelmed by Ava’s sudden outburst. He didn’t understand what had caused her to behave this way, and he didn’t know how to react. He stood frozen, watching as Ava stormed out of the room and out of his apartment.
As the door slammed shut behind, Sandun was hurt and confused by Ava’s words, and wasn’t sure what to do next.
He wanted to chase after her, but his body felt heavy and unmovable. He couldn’t even bring himself to take a step.
As moments passed, Sandun’s emotions began to swirl inside of him. He felt a mixture of shock, sadness, and anger. He couldn’t believe that Ava had stormed out like that, leaving him standing there alone.
“What do you mean she disappeared after that day?” I asked, trying to make sense of Sandun’s story.
“We didn’t meet after that incident. I tried to contact her, but she didn’t reply to my messages or pick up my calls, and apparently resigned from her job too” Sandun said, looking down at his hands.
Sandun gave me some pieces of his confusing story, and it was starting to come together. I believed him, but I wanted to hear more and gently encourage him to keep talking.
So I asked “And you’re telling me that today’s incident was connected to that?”.
“Not just this incident, but many that happened afterwards,” he said, his voice heavy with sadness.
“You told Madam a beautiful story and managed to smooth things over, but it was not always that easy for everyone, sir. I mean, not everyone who ate my dishes. You should have seen the dining area of the hotel the next day after the incident. It was a mess. People were crying to their partners, begging for stories, confused partners who were helpless without knowing what to do. There were very few who managed to tell a story, sir,” he explained.
“Wow, so everyone who ate your dishes turned into a story-thirsty child?” I asked and He nodded.
I imagined a chaotic scene in a fancy Dubai restaurant. The place was filled with people from different countries, all crying and shouting for stories. They were from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Cameroon, and locals from Dubai. All of them were crying at their tables, begging for stories.
They screamed “I need a story” in different languages, The Indians and Pakistanis shouted “Mujhe ek kahaani ki jarurat hai”, the Filipinos shouted in “Kailangan ko ng istorya”, the locals shouted in Arabic “Ana behyeb sout” and the Cameroonians shouted in French “J’ai besoin d’une histoire”. The waitresses were running around trying to attend to the customers, but they couldn’t understand what was happening. The managers were trying to keep calm, but the restaurant was in complete chaos, tables were overturned, plates were broken, people were crying and shouting. It was utter pandemonium, with people frantically crying and shouting for stories, as if they couldn’t get enough of them.
“At first, the hotel management thought it was a case of food poisoning and the authorities shut down our operations temporarily while they came to check our kitchen. When everything was cleared, they had no choice but to give permission to reopen.” he continued to tell his story.
“And it was always the women who begged for stories?” I asked, trying to clarify a doubt.
“No it could be anyone, mostly women and then there were also incidents where men cried for them as well, sometimes the entire family or the couple ” he said.
“Once our management realized there was no legal issue behind the behavior, they saw an opportunity to make money. They change their restaurant name and created a new job role called ‘restaurant storyteller’. Beautiful girls from different countries filled that position to tell stories from the Arabian Nights. Each dish came with a complementary side story. it cost a fortune to dine there. You should check their menu on the internet – they’re selling it very nicely.” he pointed towards his mobile phone on the table suggesting to check it.
The moment I started to believe that I was about to finish his puzzle he gave me a new piece.
“But you don’t always cook and now, if you’re not there, how is the magic still happening?” I asked, trying to understand how the restaurant was still able to produce this effect on its customers.
“Well, you see, the magic was there even without me because I had prepared some things in advance, like sauces and marinade pastes. These were used in other shifts and helped to establish the magic in those first few months. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining it. Anyone who came in with doubts left feeling like they had witnessed a miracle. Word spread quickly and now these rich expats and locals, desperate to witness their own miracle, keep the magic alive. They come in hopelessly waiting to shed tears when the dish arrives, and some even start crying before they even enter the restaurant. And these storytellers are fascinating. They know the art of telling a story. If a customer doesn’t seem satisfied with just one story, like the Princess from Arabian Nights, the storyteller will cleverly switch to another story to keep their attention.”
On that night, I stood up from the dining table of ‘villa nil menik’ feeling confident that I had gathered all the essential pieces of Sandun’s story. While feeling sorry about the fate of Sandun, I was secretly thrilled at the full story that had unfolded before me. There were probably a few missing pieces that left some room for imagination, but I felt that I had everything I needed to write a compelling story. I carefully brought the pieces of the story back with me, even sharing it with Radhika on the drive home. She was no longer under the influence of the shrimp curry, but it seemed that she still didn’t fully believe either Sandun’s or my account of the story.
Once I returned to Colombo, I opened my fourth word document and began to type. I even deleted the previous three, realizing that they were useless compared to what I had just pieced together. For two straight nights, I worked on the story, piecing together all the details that Sandun had shared with me. It was the first time I had ever come so close to completing a full story, and I was thrilled to see it all coming together. The words flowed easily, and I knew that with just a few more dialogues and a strong closing paragraph, the story would be complete. It was like the final brush stroke on a canvas – those last few words were right in front of me, just waiting to be typed. However, on the third morning, I had to stop. I had to go back to my real job, which I had called sick from for the past two days. I knew that I could come back to the story later, with fresh eyes, and add the final touches to make it truly complete. Despite my enthusiasm, I had to take a break
As I sat down at my desk, staring at the screen in front of me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. Despite all my efforts, I just couldn’t seem to find those final few words that would bring my story to a close. Every night after dinner, I sat down with a renewed sense of determination, ready to finally put an end to this story that had been plaguing my mind for weeks. But no matter how hard I tried, the words just wouldn’t come. It was as if they were floating just out of reach, teasing me with their presence before disappearing again. Frustration mounted within me as I struggled to find a way to wrap things up, but it seemed like the harder I tried, the more elusive those final lines became.
First, I began to remember all the details that Sandun had mentioned throughout the night, details that I had initially scraped away like cobwebs from an old window. The story of his father, Sandun’s journey to become a chef, how he and Ava met, how he got fired from his job, and even that small piece of paper with a story on it, what he told me later when I accidentally bumped into him at Galle fort – all of these seemed to become integral parts of the story. The complete story that I had on the third day morning began to morph into something tangled and incomplete, demanding all these stories to be added.
Not only that, as I delved deeper into the story, I realized that my own life had become intertwined with it. The fairy tale I chose to tell Radhika that day, how I first heard about it from my sister, the three half-written stories I had at that time, Radhika’s recollections of that trip, how I later mocked her behavior from that day, how our relationship changed over time, and the small arguments and conflicts that eventually led to our separation – all of these had become concrete parts of this story, and not including them in the story left me feeling incomplete.
I felt like my life and Sandun’s story were knitted together, just like the fish and waves of the old lady from Radhika’s imagination. Both coming from wool, connected to each other. As the old lady’s hands alternately wove the waves and creatures from wool, my life and Sandun’s story continued to weave more things into this story. I feared pulling a one story out as it may unravel the whole knitted waves and creatures, leaving me without a story.
On this particular night, as I sat in front of my computer, I hoped (as same as many previous nights) that the final lines of the story would come to me. But instead, my mind was filled with the sounds of the old lady’s knitting needles, clicking gently as she sat by the sea. She had not changed much in the six years since I first imagined her, her wrinkled face still set in a peaceful expression as she focused on her work.
I asked her, “Don’t you ever get tired, angry, or bored of just knitting? Don’t you want to finish this?”
She looked at me over the frames of her glasses as her hands continued to knit. “If I get tired, I knit a low tide and a small whale. If I get angry, I knit a raging wave and maybe a shark. If I get bored, I knit a sunset. My awful, tangled knots of bad moods become seashells of the shore and my … ” She paused and took away her eyes from me.
“Look at that. It turned out to be a beautiful, knitted sunset,” she said with a satisfied smile on her wrinkled face, looking at the far horizon that she had just knitted. The mix of colors and reflections was breathtaking, with shades of orange, pink, and purple blending together in a way that was truly breathtaking. If one didn’t see it came through her needles, one would not be able to tell that it was knitted when it reaches the horizon.
She then changed her needles to knit a fish, her fingers moving quickly and deftly as she worked. “Anyway, I guess ‘just knitting’ can be boring. I never just knit. I knit and think, knit and listen, knit and watch.” she said
“By the way, these wise words are not mine, I heard that words from someone else, so I even knit and steal ideas” she laughed.
“Ah one more, I knit and laugh,” she tried to add in between fits of laughter, trying to control herself.
After taking a deep breath following her laughter. she continued knitting
As she knitted, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the way the wool flowed through her fingers and onto the needles.
She switched back to her needles, changing the color of the wool to a deep, dark blue as she knitted the night sea. It was fascinating to watch as the wool flowed through her fingers on to her lap and stretched out towards the water through the shore in front her chair, eventually turning into a stunning night sea.
I sat next to her and continued to type the story. I tried to sync my clickety clicks of the laptop keys with the tempo of her needles…
Written and composed by Dilina Janadith (email@example.com) with the help of ChatGPT chatbot by OpenAI. January 2023.
All the accompanied images are generated through DALL.E AI image generation system using keyword prompts from the text and assembled using Photoshop.
Dilina Janadith writes…
I had a story in my head with a specific theme, one that revolved around Sandun, an aspiring writer, his wife Ava, and a mysterious shrimp curry. I had tried to write it before, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way it was conveyed through my words (both in Sinhala and English). But is this the same story I had in mind? Definitely No, working with an AI helped shape the language and take it in unexpected directions. I gave it small chunks of the story and let it run with it, adding and elaborating on details. Often the AI’s creative suggestions were cliche or stereotypical (off from my theme), there I took control and domesticated it to my theme. However, sometimes it sparked new ideas and changed the direction of the story, which I happily allowed it to play with my story. I’m not going to tell you which parts were originally in my mind and which were the AI’s, because as the “Westworld ” android said, “If you can’t tell the difference, does it really matter?”