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Chilli will save the day

Jagath took out a half-full chilli powder packet from the pocket, undid the rubber band, and sprinkled a generous amount on his omelette. Seeing the bright red powder dotting the blandness of the beige egg instantly made his mouth water.

“Ado, don’t you have gastritis?”, shouted Hilmi, his bar mate, from across the table. Six men—all religiously present for their wife-pardoned weekly bar banter—joined in chorus, cautioning Jagath on the dangers of chilli powder as they soaked their livers in double distilled arrack with 66% alcohol content.

Jagath dismissed them with a wave of his left hand while its right counterpart got busy attempting to cut up the chillied omelette with the fork edge. His tongue prickled alive with the burning red thrill of chilli.

“You know gastritis is a disease of doing it halfway. If you eat chilli, you’ve also got to cool your gut after with some curd. I don’t do halfways… I go all the way…” he picked up a piece of egg-tinged flaming chilli red and shook it in front of Hilmi’s face with an obnoxious smirk.

Hilmi laughed and reached over into Jagath’s pocket asking “Do you actually carry around a chilli packet?”

Jagath swatted Hilmi’s hand with his, leaving an oily chilli splatter on his skin. All the tipsy men around the table laughed like a chorus of Sunday crows.

“You laugh. But, do you know, one of our buggers saved his life and escaped slavery because he had a packet of chilli handy?” asked Jagath from the table.

“What tall story you have there?” laughed Alles.

“Tall? This is a true story, son. Straight from the news. You buggers don’t watch the news, noh? So, listen to your old Jaga now. I’ll tell you what’s happening in this world and how a packet of chilli will save you,” Jagath assured.

Hilmi, Alles, Devro, Lalith, Punchi and Ranjith all turned their heads to listen.

The only thing that Jagath loved more than chilli and arrack was telling a good story. He drank deeply from his arrack and smacked his lips in preparation for the delivery.

“So, one of our young buggers thought he was doing the right thing, flying off to Thailand for a job. But, it was a scam..and he was sold to some Myanmar terrorist group…and got put in a slave camp with some hundred-odd more prisoners where everyone was being forced to scam people online…imagine…they were given nine days to secure a target, otherwise beaten until blue…”

“This is for real?” asked Ranjith.

“Yes machan, yes. News, noh? And you know who they were forced to target? Lonely old men who chat up girls on the internet…” Jagath said, looking pointedly at Punchi (who avoided his eyes and returned to the glass of arrack).

“Yeah…,” Jagath continued; “so these buggers had to pretend to be some young girl and lure men in, and then, these scammed old men who bit the bait were passed onto the actual women in the slave camp for the second step…calls with videos…when they would ask for some thousands of dollars for a plane ticket to visit those old men…and you know the rest, noh?”

Six bloodshot eyes around the table stared transfixed at Jagath, who shook his head and devoured another piece of omelette.

“One of these old men that our local bugger had lured into the scam, lost everything to it and took his own life…tsk…damn shame… This was the turning point for our bugger, who thought he couldn't do this anymore, collecting bad karma for the benefit of terrorists, and planned to escape. But, you can’t just escape a terrorist camp, you know?”

Jagath savoured having all eyes and ears hung on him for a few seconds before continuing.

“So, the next time their location was being routinely switched—small groups of prisoners being shuffled around in a van—our bugger tried to bribe the driver…but the driver refused. So, you know what our bugger did? He reached for the packet of chilli powder that his Ma gave him when he left the country—something this poor bugger kept at hand to remind him of home—and threw it in the driver’s eyes. The prisoners got together and beat the driver up, snatched their passports and ran into the jungle. After walking for miles, they met some monk who connected them to the embassy, and this bugger came back home alive to tell the tale.”

Alles shook his head in disbelief, others drank or sighed deeply, finding themselves momentarily sobered from the story.

“And that my friends, is why you always carry a packet of chilli around, eh? It’ll save your life from slavery; whether it’s to terrorists or bland food…” Jagath chuckled at his own joke, but no one else did.

“Son, bring me a curd to appease my gut, will you?” Jagath shouted at a disgruntled waiter.

This fictional story was based on the true accounts of a Sri Lankan man who escaped the Myanmar terrorist-operated cyber crime enslavement camp, in November 2023. Read another story about Jagath from our shadow series.


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