As a child in Sri Lanka, I spent a lot of time playing outdoors - as it should be. The only indoor options were re-reading a book or watching a very poor copy of a movie. Outside was much more fun: scaling the drainpipes or the mango tree, peering over our neighbours' walls or sitting on their roofs, or playing with a ball up and down the long, dusty driveway.
At one point, I had a beautiful, adorable, baby star tortoise, Aquila (a present from my astronomy-mad friend, Catherine who had managed to breed them - no easy task), who was no bigger than a golf ball. After school, I'd take him out in the front garden to wander around while I read a book nearby. I couldn't leave him alone or he might be snatched by a crow or stolen by someone wandering by - a baby star tortoise would fetch at least 50 rupees at the market (a sizeable amount in those days) and spend the rest of its days in a glass aquarium. Catherine had five or six big ones that roamed her garden freely but Aquila was too small for that yet.
As soon as I put him down, he'd march off with enthusiasm but if I took my eyes off him for a moment, he'd disappear into the grass, perfectly camouflaged. Dusk would invariably find me on my hands and knees gently patting every inch of grass, trying to find him again, usually fast asleep in a crevice of rock.
Some evenings, playing outside, we'd hear the roti man making his rounds through the neighbourhood, banging a metal stick against the side of his stovetop. It clanked loudly like a goat's bell. He rode a bicycle with an aluminum gas stove in front. If Mum gave us a few rupees, we could wave him down and he'd cook us a fresh, hot roti, plain or with an onion sambol, or, best of all and for a couple more rupees, a cracked egg.
It's hard to find a photo of the roti man these days but this is a larger version of what it looked like
He'd ladle a spoon of oil onto the flat, shiny surface and then flip the dough round expertly until it was as thin and stretchy as a balloon skin. It cooked quickly as he flicked the edges over like an omelette, spooning the filling in last. Delicious.
A plain and an egg roti with chicken curry. Makes me hungry just looking at it
I don't know if the roti man exists in Sri Lanka these days. Probably not. The last time I visited my old neighbourhood in Colombo, so many of the big old houses were gone, replaced with boring, crowded apartment buildings. But Colombo still exists in my mind as it was 20 years ago.
And with that thought, I'm making curry tonight!