Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Barbara Bumm
The mahogany box sat in the tree bark like a forcefully fitted puzzle piece. It reminded Adirai of a similar box lying in her mother’s dressing wardrobe. Mother had disagreed with Adirai’s pleas to open the box and that was all it took for her to make the new mahogany box hers.
There were intricate designs carved onto the lid of the box, flowers and leaves and stems, and a single ruby sat in the centre. A gentle clasp held the lid and the body together, which, when lifted off, revealed emptiness inside save for a crimson velvet sheath.
After taking the box out from the tree bark, she took it home and placed it safely inside her wardrobe beneath her gowns and shawls. She left the door of the wardrobe open, walked a few steps back and scrutinised the place where she hid it. No one would realise. Satisfied with her results, she shut the door and hopped to the dining room.
Over dinner, Mum and Dad spoke about stocks, shares, surges and other words she didn’t understand the meaning of but could recognise. She didn’t mind much because she got to eat her favourite chapatis and egg curry. Mum seemed to be in a great mood that day as she brought in some ice cream for dessert.
“—box,” she heard father say when she bit onto the cherry and froze.
Mother and father continued their conversation about whatever it was that elders speak about but father had mentioned a box. She dropped her ice cream onto the table, pushed her chair backwards, and stood.
“Finish your ice cream!” shouted Father.
“I’m not hungry,” she announced and sprinted to her room.
She opened her wardrobe door and recoiled when the wood hit the cement walls, earning Father’s scream of apprehension from the dining room. After pushing away the gowns and shawls, she viewed the mahogany box. She let out a breath at its undisturbed presence and buried the box back into the wardrobe along with her worry
About an hour later, when she was done changing into her nightclothes and climbed onto bed, mother shrieked loudly. There was the constant thudding of feet and Mother’s constant complaints of my Uncle gifted that to me, he was so poor back then but he still gifted it to me, he struggled so hard to gift that to me, Oh my dear Uncle, and everything else along those lines. Adirai wasn’t bothered and fell asleep to those sounds as her lullaby. Father barged open the door and demanded if she’d seen the necklace anywhere. Mother followed a while later and wanted to hear for herself that Adirai had not seen it. They both returned then, shoulders slumped and tucked themselves in the blanket of the night.
The next morning, Mother and Father kept getting irritated at even the smallest sounds, like her chair screeching, or the clanging of her spoons. They mirrored dark bags beneath their eyes and knit their brows.. She couldn’t think of anything that they would both be vexed over and, instead, busied herself by drawing leaves with the liquid on her plate.
After they both left for work, Adirai took this time to look at the mahogany box. She could contemplate what to put into it without having to fear anybody’s questions freely with Aunt Selvi, the caretaker, busy cleaning the house.
She threw aside the large gowns covering the mahogany box and picked it up. The metal of the clasp and the clicking-clacking sounds it made were her favourite part of ownership. She decided to open and close—and open and close—over and over again until a jingle and a shimmer inside caught her eye.
She unlocked the box again as though it would break if she was hasty. Inside, as she feared, was a necklace. White diamonds or platinum, she couldn’t care much about which one, glittered in the sunlight. She didn’t remember seeing any necklace inside the box yesterday.
Adirai felt her stomach plummet and it wholly came crashing down on her. The box wasn’t her own, to begin with. And currently had a necklace inside it. Maybe someone had placed the box with the expensive necklace inside the tree bark for safekeeping. And she had gone about and foolishly stolen it.
Her heart hurt and so did her entire body, so she decided to drop the box back into the tree bark. After mumbling an excuse to Aunt Selvi, Adirai ran to the tree from where she had taken the box. The box hit her ribs hard at every step she took but she didn’t slacken her pace. Standing on her tiptoes, she settled the box back in the tree bark. Some serrated edges scratched the rear end of her palm and her ribs still hurt from where the box struck her, but she relaxed. She hadn’t stolen anything. And even if she had, she had returned it. It was no longer her fault.
That evening, when Adirai was painting the wheel of her wooden toy, Mother squealed.
“I’ve found it!” she shouted. “I’ve found the necklace. It’s over here in my mahogany box!”