Like a tuk-tuk losing power and stalling, the day puttered to an end. At Flag Rock, hundreds of people snapped the sunset, while at sea a fishing boat appeared to be on fire.
As always in the tropics, dusk fell quickly. Streets that an hour before had been packed full of traffic, were suddenly deserted. No longer fearful of being knocked down, we strolled from one restaurant light to the next looking for somewhere to eat. Galle at night is haunting. A place of long shadows and eerie walls, of buildings that weren’t there in the day, and alleyways that lead into darkness.
“We can go to Hoppa,” said Simon. “It’s in Pedlar Street and you can sit outside.”
But Hoppa was full, too popular for its own good. Anyway, Pippa and John, the couple that Simon had befriended, wanted vegetarian and Yorkshire respectively.
“I don’t think you’re going to get too many pies or puddings around here.” Simon was pragmatic. “You might have to wait until you get home.”
“How about Fort Printers?” I pointed at a clean white building opposite. “They’re doing a Christmas special.”
But after looking at the menu, Kate wasn’t too impressed. “It’s fifty US dollars for three courses. That’s way too expensive, even if we were at home.”
“I’m not sure I want to pay in the same currency used by the world’s most disliked man.” John was adamant too. “Besides we don’t have any dollars, only rupees, and pounds.”
“How about we go back to the Bungalow,” I said, naming the place where we’d eaten with Matthew the night before. The red fish curry had been excellent. Spicy, yet you could still taste the fish.
“I know the way!” said Kate, and confidently she strode ahead. Yet as the street lights grew fainter and the rain started to spot, she slowed and looked back with a puzzled face. “Except this can’t be right. We’re heading up to the main gate.”
There wouldn’t be any restaurants outside the fort, at least not the sort we wanted. Turning around, we blundered up another alleyway, before stopping as we realised we were lost. Around us the darkness grew darker, and the silence so quiet we might have been standing in a tomb. No longer were the shadows photogenic, but ominous.
“There’s a place down there.” John pointed at a light shining towards us. “Maybe it’s a fish and chip shop?”
The light increased, almost blinding us. Yet it was no restaurant, but that couple again, still posing, being pursued by their photographers.
We all sighed out of frustration.
Then Simon gave a shout and excitedly pointed at his phone. “Look Nelson’s just sent a message on What’s App.”
We all craned around, thinking it might be a map, or the coordinates of a brightly lit restaurant. It was a photo of his Christmas lunch – in England.