Seema and Reema were highly excited. Their uncle was coming today, from Mumbai. It wasn’t the actual arrival that excited them, it was the thought of the gifts he would bring for them. There would certainly be gifts, of that they were sure. No self respecting uncle would arrive at a brother’s house without gifts for his eight year old and nine year old nieces. But there was nothing they could do but wait.

So they waited. Their father had gone to the station to pick him up. They awaited his return eagerly. The train was expected to arrive at 10:00 p.m. But it was well past 11 now and there was no sign of their father’s return. They called up the station (again), only to be informed (again) that the train was delayed. Their patience wore thin. They were very cross with Indian Railways. Then suddenly in the depths of their despair they heard the honk of a car. It was their car! They had come! He had arrived at last!

The Gifts [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The Gifts [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

Seema — the younger one — rushed to the door and opened it. Her uncle came in followed by her father, carrying his suitcase. Seema allowed a squeal of delight to escape her mouth. She hugged him tightly. Reema was not to be outdone. She screamed in joy and ran up to him and kissed him on his cheek. Both were eager to let their uncle know how glad they were to see him. They hoped he had brought some good gifts. Hopefully it was not a book. For some unknown reason grown-ups seemed to think that the ideal gift for a young girl was a book.

Their uncle returned their greetings and laughed loudly. “Hello Seema, Hello Reema” he said, happy to see them. He made the usual almost obligatory comment on how tall they had both grown. He then sat down on the sofa. All of them settled down in the drawing room and started chatting. Their mother inquired about his health and his work and so on. They talked about the current political situation and concluded finally that it was all the fault of the politicians.

Seema and Reema impatiently waited for the uncle to open his bag and give them the gifts. They could not show that they wanted the gifts. Oh No! They were mature girls. They had to pretend that they weren’t the least bit bothered about the gifts. So they pretended. Finally the conversation turned towards them. “Which school are you in?", He asked them.
“St. Mary’s school” said Reema. “I am in the fifth and she is in the fourth standard. "
“And have you been good girls?” He asked patronizingly. They bore this insult too. They burned with rage at being treated like little girls, but the thought of the gifts made them reply “Yes” in the sweetest voice possible.
“All right, I have a surprise for you!” He said. Ah! Now he was talking business! He would give them the gifts and their mother would say, “You shouldn’t have! " and they would thank him sweetly and rush to their room.

But then, their mother interrupted.

“It is very late now. Why don’t you two children go to bed. You can talk to him later. After all, he is going to be with us for quite some time. You can talk to him tomorrow. He must be very tired now.” She turned to the uncle. “You must be very tired after the long train journey. See, you are yawning. Go to sleep and wake up bright and early tomorrow. “. The girls could not believe it! They were shocked. So near and yet so far! They were helpless now. They had to go to bed. Reluctantly they went to their room, very angry at the brilliant maneuver their mother had pulled off. They would have to wait till tomorrow for the gifts. They got into their nightclothes and onto their beds.

Seema wondered what he had got for her. She longed to know. What could it be?, she wondered. She could not sleep. The excitement was too much for her! It was so unfair. How could she be expected to wait till tomorrow morning? She had to know! At that moment she made a bold decision. She would look into his suitcase and see what he had brought her! The idea seemed ridiculously simple. She would sneak up to the guest room, open the suitcase and look for her gift!

She waited for some more time. Her sister slept beside her. She got up very carefully so as to not disturb her. She crept past her parents’ room silently. She could hear her father snoring. She moved towards the guest room. She opened the door. It opened, but in the process it creaked and groaned loudly like a wounded animal. It sounded like a thunderclap to Seema. Everyone would wake up now! Or so she thought. Nobody stirred. Her panic subsided. She looked inside. Her uncle was sleeping peacefully, worn out by the journey. And there was the object of her mission. The suitcase. She dragged it into a corner and laid it down on the ground with minimal sound. She opened it slowly and carefully and expectantly.

The box opened with a small click. Luckily, it was not locked. She began to search around. She was more proficient at this than any private detective. On top were the usual clothes and the shaving kit. Then she found it! There was a big plastic bag. That had to be it. She took out the bag. The first thing she found in the bag was a book. It was too dark to read the name. She was extremely disappointed. It was only books then. Nevertheless, she took out the next item too. It was a small handbag. That would be for their mother. She fished out the last article. It was a small flat box. It was soft and velvety. Realization dawned upon Seema. It was a jewelry case! She opened it hurriedly. Its contents held her mesmerized for a few moments.

Inside the case she found an exotic diamond necklace! The beauty was stunning. Even in the feeble light it sparkled like fresh water from a spring. There is something that makes shiny objects attractive to females of all species. Seema being no exception to the rule(despite her tender age), loved it. She realized that it was fake, of course. Their uncle could not afford real diamonds. And who would buy diamonds for little children? But nevertheless it was so fantastically beautiful! And to think it could be for her. Her own beautiful necklace! It was the perfect gift. She simply adored it. How her friends would go green with envy! They would all think it was real! It was a masterpiece! The thrill made her want to cry out in exuberance, but she stifled it. She shut the case and put it back in its position. She began to tiptoe back.

Suddenly she heard footsteps! She darted behind the curtain in panic. Who could that be? A short stealthy shadow entered the room…

At this point, a brief narration of Reema’s movements is appropriate. Reema, like her sister could not sleep. She had tossed and turned in bed. Suddenly she had found her sister missing. She got out of bed and went in search of her. She was not in the toilet. Reema proceeded towards the drawing room. There she saw the guest room door open. Great minds think alike, and so the same idea that had struck her sister, struck her now. So she made her way into the room. It was at this moment, that Seema ducked behind the curtain.

The shadow made its way to the suitcase. It opened the suitcase carefully. Reema too rifled through the contents. She too found the plastic bag and the book and the handbag and the diamond necklace. Her feelings were exactly similar to those of her sister. She walked out of the room and into her bed, her mind wandering on happy thoughts of envious friends and admiring looks and adulation. Meanwhile Seema — who had comprehended that the shadow was her sister and also realised that her sister too had indulged in nefarious activities such as rifling through the contents of Uncle’s bags — too returned to her room.

“Reema, Are you awake”, she hissed at her sister. “No” came the reply. “Reeeema” she whispered again.
“What??” Reema finally said.
“You saw the necklace? Beeyoootiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it will look very good on me. " replied Reema.
Seema felt as if she was struck by lightning. The thought had never occurred to her that the necklace could be a gift to Reema. She had assumed that it would be hers. Now her mind had to acknowledge that it was a possibility.
“What makes you think it is for you? " She asked angrily.
“I am older” replied Reema.
“So?” .
“So I am old enough and mature enough to get a necklace.”
“How do you know it is not for Amma?”
“The handbag is for Amma.”
“How do you know the necklace is not for me? It is for me. I am younger”
“I am younger, so I will get it. "
“Haa ha!"(in a very sarcastic tone)
“Haa Haa ha”( in an even more sarcastic tone)
“Haa Haa Haa ha”(even more sarcastically)

And so it ended in an impasse. Nothing was resolved. Both of them would not hear of sharing it. The idea was preposterous. No, it would only go to one girl. The next day, one would be happy and the other heartbroken. Both of them went to sleep, dreaming of diamond necklaces and suitcases and benevolent uncles.

The next morning arrived pretty soon. Both the girls were up and ready surprisingly early. They waited impatiently for their uncle to awaken. They did not speak to each other that morning. The tension was unbearable.
“I will get the necklace” Seema thought to herself.

Reema’s thoughts were the same. Finally the Uncle awoke.

To prolong the agony, he too took his time to get dressed. He ate his breakfast very slowly. And to top it all off, he was going for a shave now. “Reema, will you fetch my suitcase please? I need my shaving kit. “, He asked. Reema brought it, scowling inwardly but smiling sweetly outwardly. She put the case on the floor. “Thanks” said the Uncle. “Oh, since I am opening the suitcase anyway, why don’t I give you the surprise I promised you yesterday.” He sat down upon the sofa and put the case on his lap.

This was the proverbial it. This was the final showdown. It would either be Seema or Reema now. Both waited anxiously as he opened the case. He looked through it. In a few moments one of them would be queen and the other subjected to utter humiliation. Why did he not get on with it? The suspense was intolerable.

But a strange puzzled expression came over their Uncle’s face. He closed the suitcase again and looked at the initials. “Just as I thought” he exclaimed, “It isn’t my suitcase. See, the initials are some V.R. Not mine.” He looked at it again. “No, definitely not mine. This is not my shaving kit. It must have got exchanged with that other man when I was getting down from the train!". “He looked at his nieces. A pathetic expression came over them. They fought hard to keep back the tears. “Don’t worry,” he told them reassuringly,” I had bought you two lovely books, but I will buy others. " He picked up the case. “I had better give this to the police. I hope they find my suitcase.” So saying he walked out leaving two very dejected nieces who felt very foolish indeed!!

1996 words | 20 minutes
Readability: Grade 4 (9-10 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: stories
Tags: #trains, #fresh water, #gifts

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