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I dashed out the door and raced down the carriage track to the impressive iron-gate where Old Watchman, in frayed uniform—he had saved his good set of clothes for auspicious days—gave me a toothless grin. He was sweet and quite useless but I adored him—and he never told on me.

When Father wanted to retire Old Watchman, who was already a hundred years old, I melted into one of my temper tantrums and broke into tears. But my father was not moved. He was sure it was all a ruse.

When my tears ran dry, I smeared chilli in my eyes. This time I bawled so hard and heaved for breath, even Father panicked and gave in. Poor father. Poorer me, because my crying did not let up. I did not know chilli could smart so badly.

Father blanched with anxiety and immediately sent for the physician.

While my parents hovered in the background, looking over the couch where I lay prone, Grandfather Physician—he too was a hundred years old and toothless, and convinced me never to grow old because I did not wish to be toothless—checked my pulse and eyes. He gave a secret wink and, fussing more than usual, dabbed my eyes with water.

Satisfied from working his magic of medicine, Grandfather Physician declared I had experienced a mild shock but was on the road to full recovery. With a wag of his finger, he cautioned my father not to cause me further distress. After which, Grandfather Physician gave me another wink and departed, leaving poor Father admonished.

Whatever disappointment Father harboured about not having a son had disappeared many years ago, and his love for me was as fierce as only fathers can love their daughters.

Father continued to fuss over me and Mother tried hard to control her mirth. It was only in my later years that I realised mothers have a knack for seeing through all their children’s antics—all the more when it comes to daughters. Mother did love me in her own way but she had her limitations, and not all of her own doing. Poor Mother was an adult, and age can be an affliction too. The only good thing about growing old: no one will tell you when to go to bed, and when to rise.

Regarding Old Watchman, I got my wish. He kept his job for another hundred years, and I stayed away from chillies—in particular the small red ones.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Song of the Ankle Rings, an adaptation of Silappatikaram

Continued on Monday: My Friends – Soft and Mean