I knew something wasn’t quite right the moment I walked into the rice farmer’s courtyard. The broken ladder by the watchtower was suspicious. If an elephant decided to charge us, no-one would be up there to shout a warning or throw fire crackers to scare it off. Then there was the rectangle traced in the loose dirt, with six smaller rectangles inside. And what was inside the three ceramic pots hanging on the washing line?
“What are those pots for?” As usual Matthew noticed everything with his keen eyes. “Are they drying something?”
“The pots are for us.” Sujan beamed. “We will be playing blindfold piñata. The first person to break a pot, wins the chance to go stilt-fishing.”
Ominously, the chief farmer appeared with a thick black blindfold and an even thicker stick. He smiled as if he knew something we didn’t and then said something in Sinhalese to Sujan.
“Who wants to be first?” Sujan looked at us all. “Linda?”
Reluctantly, Linda stepped forward with a tense expression. The chief farmer tied the blindfold over her eyes, handed her the stick, then rotated her three hundred and sixty degrees until she faced the pots.
“No touching,” said Sujan unhelpfully. “And only one swipe with the stick.”
Nobody said anything. Linda shuffled forward, one hand outstretched, the other gripping the stick. She veered left, away from the piñatas and into the undergrowth. Then as she collided with the tree, her partner shouted directions. Finally she headed towards the washing line and piñatas, but continuing right past them, she swiped hard at the farmer’s house.
“Next,” shouted Sujan, and another woman, Clare, volunteered. She did no better than Linda, advancing so far into the bush that one of the farmers had to rescue her. Then Matthew, Simon, and Nelson all tried and failed.
Susan at least managed to connect with the middle piñata, yet not hard enough to break it. And as more people tried, the others were shouting instructions, right, left, up a bit, down a bit, the same as that antique TV programme The Golden Shot with Bob Monkhouse and Ann Aston.
So far no one had broken any of the pots. The three piñatas hung intact, Sujan’s free stilt-fishing prize unclaimed.
Then looking like she meant business, Kate stepped forward for her turn.
The chief farmer took her through the same rigmarole. Blindfold, stick, one complete rotation. Yet rather than dithering and dallying, Kate marched in a dead straight line towards the piñatas. As she came within striking distance, everyone shouted stop. And raising the stick to her left, Kate swung a stroke for the Black Caps.
The first piñata flew off at speed, crashing into pieces against the farmer’s fence. The second exploded too, entering a trajectory that took it into orbit. And the third charged like a missile into the watchtower, snapping off one of the legs.
After that, things happened very quickly. The proposed game of hopscotch was abandoned, and the lunch of cassava, coconut, chilli and onions distributed at breakneck speed. Then we all made an escape on Formula One tractors, back through the paddy fields to the bus. Now that the watchtower was missing a leg, it might collapse. If we hung around too long, not only did the English have to hold their heads in shame to the sole Kiwi, we might also be buried underneath a tonne of tree branches.
As they say in Wellington, Madrid, and Colombo, que sera sera.