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In memory of Leo

  • 24 March 2015

A Death in Winter In Memory of Leo Seemanpillai   1. Let me, first, take my bearings by speaking of weather, the season. A spell of summer in late autumn has lasted until this first day of winter, will last beyond it.   I step outside, tilt my face up to receive the sun.         Inside the cave of my closed eyes a cloudy webbed white is set against lava-red;   as in a lit cavern there are many flashpoints of mica, each a single flare then gone. Soon my eyes will hold the image of a burning man. On this day, at 9.15 a.m. Leo Seemanpillai died in a Melbourne Hospital after an act of self-immolation. 2. I read the newspapers, learn of Leo's life: of how, when he was six, his family fled from Sri Lanka to a camp for refugees in India. Returning as a young man to Sri Lanka he was tortured by the military; beaten by police and left to die. Back in India, more persecution. Then the journey to Australia – en route, detention in Sumatra, grave abuse and cruelty there. In sum, a tidal wave of suffering has broken over Leo Seemanpillai and left him on an unlit shore. Once here in Australia he responds to others in need with generosity, kindness, turns his suffering into hope, sows hope in others. When, two days before his death, a loved gift, a turquoise tile painted with a butterfly, breaks, he laughs it off. 3. Leo Seemanpillai arrived in Darwin from India on January 9, 2013, and was held in detention before being granted a bridging visa with work rights in June of that year. When he settles in Geelong Leo, who knows English well, may have seen the bumper stickers – They came. They saw. They sank. But here he will find friendship, enter the life of his community. In the week after Leo's death a workmate will speak of his keenness to do his job – one day a week cleaning trucks, mowing the lawn; of how he'd lay out his uniform with care, finish his lunch break five minutes early to return to work. 4. 'Anyone who may have come from Sri Lanka should know that they will go back to Sri Lanka.'