Yes, when this story gets to where it’s going, I end up in Arthur C. Clarke’s armchair. I promise.
I started this morning with a strong cup of coffee, an egg hopper doused in fish curry, and the sci-fi classic Childhood’s End. And then a thought occurred to me: Didn’t Arthur C. Clarke live here once?
We’re in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and it’s the last day of our trip. It’s our last week in Asia. It’s actually, in a way, the end of AsiaObscura. We move back to America on Saturday.
So I did some quick searches, and not only did he live in Sri Lanka, but he lived just a few blocks away.
Every now and then, this happens. In Nevers this summer, while reading a Simenon novel, I wondered if the prolific Belgian author had ever lived in Nevers. He’s my favorite author, and he loved canals, one of which ran through the town. Turned out he had lived there, and — while his house was hidden behind a massive gate — standing outside the gate was magical.
All the moreso because the current inhabitant is, like Simenon, a gynecologist. Well, in a way.
But I’m not in Nevers, reading Simenon. This morning I was in Colombo, reading Clarke. And I knew this was a message. I needed to find it. Although it would probably be hidden behind a massive wall.
Sure enough, it was.
“Private,” said a security guard, rushing over. He gestured to the barricade that blocked the private road.
“Did Arthur C Clarke live here,” I asked, and while he nodded, he spoke almost no English. We stood on our tiptoes, and took another picture of the rooftop.
“Private house,” he said again.
But when we turned to leave, he stopped us. He grabbed us. He wouldn’t let us leave. He pushed us down the alleyway, rang the doorbell, and guided us inside what was called “Leslie’s House.”
And it turns out, to get inside, all it takes is a small
bribe tip. And Arthur C. Clarke’s house hasn’t been touched since he died five years ago.
There was no mistaking who lived here. His entranceway will haunt my dreams forever. Cracking moonscape wallpaper was pasted up behind garish Doris Day-ekko cushions on wicker chairs.
This wasn’t my teenage fantasy bedroom — it was Arthur C. Clarke’s foyer!
Old Kaypro, NASA, HAL (!!!) stickers…
Notes scrawled on windows (by him? by an employee? by who?)…
I felt like we were intruding on Mr C. As if we’d interrupt him at work on a new manuscript. The housekeeper spoke not a word of English, but led us into his office….
…and then left. Michelle and I were there, alone. This was no museum. This was no shrine. This was Arthur C. Fucking Clarke’s office.
His office with everything.
I felt strange, a little breathless, and a lot excited.
Family photos (?) and pictures of him with astronauts and celebrities. Stacks of knick-knacks…
Dusty old awards…
Two dinosaurs stand guard over a bookshelf.
Oh, the bookshelves.
You know the way you might study the bookshelf of a girl you’ve just met? Sure, he’s five years dead, but I started doing that with Clarke.
Sagan, Dawkins, Gregory Benford, Buckminster Fuller…
Several shelves of 2001: A Space Odyssey…
His DVDs and videos ran from the sci-fi — Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner, The Right Stuff — to the awesome — a 3-VHS set of Back to the Future, and The Naked Civil Servant — and the incredibly mundane: Catch Me If You Can.
A yellow typewritten label on a tape showed it was filled with space awesomeness, and wind generat
The case for an Ali G collection on VHS was cracked open, and another tape, Fame, sat beside the TV. Were these the last two tapes he watched?
What on earth did Arthur C. Clarke make of Ali G?
An old photo of a handsome young Sri Lankan, a dapper gent, hung on one wall.
Was this man important? Was he a lover? Was I intruding on a dead man’s space? Yes, I was. And it was wonderful.
As a good interloper, I left nothing (but a
bribe tip), and I took nothing (but so many photos). But on my way out, I had to do one thing. I sat down in one of the two wicker chairs, and smiled.
A few blocks away, in the old Borella General Cemetery, a gravedigger showed us the way to where Clarke is now.
He pulled fallen branches away, tossing them onto another grave, and dusted the headstone off.
“He never grew up,” it reads, “but he never stopped growing.”
It’s a shared spot. At Clarke’s side lies a young man, who’d died decades before. He was the same young man from the photo on the wall. His name, Leslie Ekanayake, as in “Leslie’s House.” Clarke’s house was named for this man.
How terribly romantic.