The bus would stop at the top of the road, pulling over onto the strip of orange dust between the macadam and a grassy verge bordering the gutter. The gutter, like all of the gutters in Colombo in the late 1950s, held a slow flowing sludge of equal parts household washing water, the slops from shops, the refuse from pedestrians and commuters, urine and faeces from the same or from the many shacks that lined the road. Rain flushed the gutter from time to time, but left in its wake new streams of fresh garbage pouring out of yards and shops.
On the verge between the road and the gutter the acharu woman sat on a jute sack, an earthen pot in front of her, a pile of green mangoes to one side, spilling onto the road and the grass. Both this pot and the pot of water at her side had battered tin lids, formerly plates, that didn’t quite fit. There was a bottle of vinegar, a small plastic bag of chilli powder, another of salt and one of sugar. All day she sat there making acharu. She would take a mango, wash it in the water, then take her only knife, peel it and cut slices of the firm pale yellow flesh, dropping them into the pot in front of her. In that pot were more slices of mango, sloshing around in a mix of vinegar, the spices and sugar. On very humid days, she would from time to time scrape the sweat off her with her knife and give it a wipe on a rag at her side. This remarkable rag was also her handkerchief in which she wiped her fingers after blowing her nose when the need arose, also her napkin with which she wiped her chin when she dribbled betel nut tinged spit, and was also waved every now and then at the flies that settled on the lid of the acharu pot.