Werewolves of Ceylon
‚Ya hear him howlin’ around your kitchen door,
Ya better not let him in
Little old lady got mutilated late last night,
Werewolves of London again! Aaahoo…!’
Werewolves of London, Warren Zevon
Many (not only elderly) men know the problem that their hair falls out where they would like to keep it (on the head). And grows rampantly in places where they don’t like to see it: Out of their nose and ears! Poetic justice, granted by Mother Nature… While Westerners usually try to have this unwanted hair removed, many denizens of the Indian subcontinent seem to enjoy their so-called ear beards. Eccentric tastes regarding hair are not limited to the subcontinent. East Asian men usually are not particularly blessed by strong beard growth. However, sometimes I see men who have a long strand of hair growing out of something that looks like a wart to me. And they never cut it, but groom it. Strange world.
In 1985, I invited my 15 year old daughter Daniela for a trip to Sri Lanka and South India. It was to be the last time to see my beloved Nilaveli Beach for more than thirty years. At the time of our visit the Tamil Tiger insurgency was growing stronger and stronger on Sri Lanka’s east coast. I remember that near our hotel in Uppuveli one morning there were two policemen and one civil servant hanging on lamp posts on the roadside. Most of the Sinhalese population had fled to the west coast. At the Nilaveli Beach Hotel I met my old friend Stuart who had owned a thriving business in the early eighties renting out motor-boats, water scooters etc. to tourists before the whole thing went down the drain. The Tigers confiscated his vehicles and now he tried to buy them back. When the Sri Lanka army got wind of it, they had him deported immediately.
As the situation on the east coast was somewhat alarming, I decided to go back to Colombo. I had reserved two front seats on one of the red and silver Leyland or Tata public buses that roamed the island. It departed at seven in the morning and reached its destination on the west coast after dark. More than twelve hours for 250 km! The reason for this was – apart from the bad road – the fact that the driver literally stopped at every human habitation along the way. The longest stop was not far from Trincomalee near the village of Ganeshapuram where the bus driver loaded hundreds of clay pots with yoghurt onto his vehicle. Which he apparently sold in Colombo with a hefty profit. And that was exactly where a man in his sixties with a dark complexion and a frowning expression got on the bus. His fuzzy hair inevitably would have prompted my father’s comparison to Esau from the Bible. And this guy had the most gorgeous ear beard I’d ever come across. Daniela, who was apparently confronted with such extreme facial growth of hair for the first time in her life, whispered to me anxiously: “Look, that’s a werewolf! Let’s get off, I’m so scared!”.
Now, it didn’t seem to be a particularly good idea to me to get off somewhere in the middle of nowhere because of an alleged werewolf. Unless one enjoys waiting for an incalculable amount of time for the next bus. And then standing for ten hours because you surely won’t get a seat. So I tried to calm her down by telling her that werewolves transmuted only at night. The man would certainly not go very far and get out at some point long
before nightfall. The ‘werewolf’ was standing not far from our luxury seat and quickly noticed what was going on. He fixed my daughter with his black eyes: first alienated but then more and more upset, which frightened her even more. The sun rose higher and higher, we reached Kantalai and then Sigiriya. He got out at every stop and she desperately hoped that we had finally got rid of him.
But he kept coming back, taking his usual pace. We had passed Dambulla and Kurunegala and it started to get dark. He stayed and the young thing was getting increasingly nervous. Even the Sinhalese cover version of Vader Abraham’s hit ‘The Song of the Smurfs’, apparently the bus driver’s favourite song, was no longer able to soothe her. It wouldn’t take long now before he would spin his hidden belt buckle. Turn into a rampaging beast, attack all bus passengers, rip open their throats and drink their blood – or worse! The first victim, of course, would be my young companion, with her delicate white neck – a temptation that no werewolf could resist. You can’t imagine her relief when finally he disembarked in Polgahawela.