Mother always wore her wedding chain. She wore it indoors and outdoors, she even wore it in the bath. She never ever took it off. It was a gift to her from father. His eyes shone with tender love when he had brought her to his home after their marriage, and put it around her neck.
It had been made-to-order to a special design that father gave to the goldsmith. The chain had bits of twisted gold interspersed with five black beads, followed by another bit of twisted gold chain.
She loved it not only because it was so beautiful, but also because it had been given to her with so much of love. Grandmother said, “All married ladies should wear one. The black beads protected one against the evil eye”. Rahul and Ritu had seen it around their mother’s neck for as long as they could remember.
“Where’s my chain gone?” asked Mother one day. She had been combing out the tangles in her hair before making a long plait. “It isn’t around my neck.” Ritu heard her and came running. “What’s the matter, Mummy?” “I can’t find my wedding chain.”
Mother was most upset. Ritu could see tears forming in her eyes. It was a serious matter. Grown- ups rarely cried in front of children. “Wipe your tears, Mummy,” said Ritu giving her a tight hug. “Don’t worry. We’ll soon find it for you”.
She called out to Rahul. He walked in shaking a loose tooth with his fingers. “What happened?” he asked. “Ritu what have you lost now?” He was very fond of his little sister, who was just two years younger to him. She hero-worshipped her brother, followed him everywhere like a puppy dog and tried to imitate all that he did.
“Ritu, you are always losing something or the other. You don’t put things back in their place and forget where you left them. Or you get a bright idea of keeping things in a very safe place and then cannot remember the safe place when you need it the next time. What is it this time?”
“Rahul,” said Mother, “it’s not Ritu who’s lost something, this time, it’s me.”
“Must be contagious then, this habit, like the chicken-pox I brought home from school.” Rahul had still not grasped the seriousness of the situation.
“I’ve lost my wedding chain. I can’t seem to find it anywhere,” said Mother. “Will you help Ritu to hunt for it?” “Yes, of course,” said Rahul. He stopped shaking the loose tooth.
“When did you see it last?”
“I don’t remember,” said Mother. “I’ve got so used to seeing it around my neck, that I only just noticed when I came to plait my hair.” “Have you looked in the bedroom?” asked Rahul. Ritu at once dived under the bed. She looked all around the floor.
“Nothing but dust here,” she said. “The maid is not doing a very good job of sweeping under the beds.”
“That increases our chances of finding it, silly,” said Rahul.
He was imagining himself with a long overcoat and a magnifying glass, one eye like a miniature Sherlock Holmes. “Let’s hunt in the bed clothes.” To mother’s dismay, the two of them turned the pillows and bed covers upside down. They didn’t find anything.
“Follow me to the kitchen,” Rahul instructed Ritu. “Maybe mother dropped it by mistake when she was preparing breakfast.”
Ritu obediently followed Rahul to the kitchen while mother was settling the bed again. They looked into each and every nook and corner. Inspected the vessels and passed some more comments on the quality of work their maid did. The wedding chain was not in the kitchen.
They looked in the living room. Under the carpet. Behind the television and the telephone. They shook out books that were lying face down that mother was reading. They even very nearly ripped apart her knitting.
“Nothing here,” said Ritu alarmed at what Rahul was doing. “I can see it’s not in her knitting. Don’t drop any stitches, please or she’ll be mad at us.”
“Merely checking, merely checking,” said Rahul. “Must be thorough in our work. Mustn’t leave a stone unturned.” “Go turn over stones, then, but leave her knitting alone,” said his sister. Rahul thought it was good advice.
They searched every single room in the house but the wedding chain seemed to have vanished into thin air. Eventually, mother sent them out to play in the garden.
“Let’s play something new,” said Ritu.
“How about taking these broomsticks, putting them between our legs so that the brush is at the back, like this, and zooming around like in that dracula movie we saw the other day?”
Rahul decided to add his own bit to the new game.
“How about you being the only one racing around on the broomstick,” he said, “and I’ll be the one running away from you. You’ve got to catch me. You be the witch on the broomstick, and I’1l be the goblin who stole your hen which lays golden eggs”.
“A witch owning a hen which lays golden eggs? I thought that was a giant who owned the hen in Jack and the Beanstalk. Mummy’s read that story to us so many times that you can’t fool me.” Ritu tossed her head to prove her point and show just how knowledgeable she was.
“This is another story,” said Rahul determined to have his way.
“Will you tell me after we have finished playing?” asked Ritu.
“Sure, why not?” said Rahul. He knew quite well that his little sister would be so tired after running around that she’d go straight off to sleep after her lunch. Maybe even before her lunch. That would buy him time to squirm out of story telling.
“Then run, Goblin, I’m coming on my enchanted broomstick to catch you. And when I do, you be my servant and cook and clean for me.” Ritu was in the mood.
Rahul put on a burst of speed but it was of no use. Ritu was gaining on him. The end of the broomstick rammed into Rahul’s backside and sent him flying over the lawn.
When he got up, his mouth was bleeding. Ritu rushed to help him.
“I’m so sorry, Rahul. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she said. “It was all a mistake.”
Rahul nodded his head. He gave her a brave smile. “I’m going to rinse out my mouth in the bathroom,” he said. “Wait here for me.”
He went straight to the washbasin, as his loose tooth had come out. Before he could catch it, it went down the drain.
“Ritu, Ritu,” he called from the bathroom window. “Check the drain. My tooth has come down in it.”
“Yes, Rahul,” said Ritu. “Come quickly and help me.” Ritu lifted off the cover of the drain. What she saw made her gasp.
You guessed right. She not only found the tooth but also their mother’s wedding chain. It must have come loose when she was bathing. “Rahul, today is my lucky day,” she said.
“How’s that? You nearly made me lose my tooth. Then I would not have got the lucky, shining new one rupee coin from the Tooth Fairy.” Rahul was shaken that he’d nearly lost his tooth.
“Look in my left hand. Here’s your silly tooth, and guess what’s in my right hand?” Ritu’s eyes were dancing with joy.
“I give up. Show me,” said her brother.
“Mother’s chain,” Ritu was thrilled.
They ran to mother.
“What’s for lunch, mother? Can we have noodles?” asked Ritu.
“You’ll have to finish all the vegetables I put into it, then,” said Mother.
“Ugh, not carrots and beans,” said Rahul. “Can’t you put only some chicken into it?”
“Give me one good reason, and I will,” said Mother. Ritu couldn’t hide her surprise any longer.
“How’s this for a good reason?” she asked holding out her mother’s wedding chain.
“My darlings,” cried Mother, “You found it!”
“It was in the drain,” explained Ritu.
“Why were you digging in the drain?” Mother was puzzled.
“This is why,” said Rahul. He showed her the gap in his set of teeth, and the tooth in his hand. “I went to rinse out my mouth and it went down the drain.”
“What a good thing for me that boys like you believe in the Tooth Fairy,” said Mother. “I think she is watching us right now and will leave something more than a shining, new one rupee coin, tonight.”
I think so too, don’t you?