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When I returned home, Mother was waiting. ‘So here you are,’ she said. ‘I’ve told you often enough not to go gallivanting with the boys.’

‘They’re my friends,’ I said.

‘They are young men and you are coming of age, and should start behaving as a proper maiden.’

‘I’m a child. You’ve said it many times.’

‘Not anymore. Go to your father now as he has things he wishes to say to you.’

I heard a throat clearing and saw my father’s figure fill the doorway. With a wide smile, I ran and hugged him around the waist.

‘Father!’

‘How are you, my diamond?’

He led me by the hand to his swing. I waited with eager anticipation and, as expected, Father scooped me up and settled me beside him. My happy legs hung loose, and I kicked my feet as if playing in water.

‘What is this, my gold, wet clothes?’ Father looked surprised. He pretended.

‘She was by the river, with the boys again,’ said Mother. I made a face at her and she said, ‘See her naughtiness. It is all your fault.’

I twisted my face even more and, with a huff, crossed my arms high on my chest.

Father laughed and said, ‘Come, come, my emerald, be polite.’

‘Okay, Father.’ I unfolded my arms and, with a fake smile, said, ‘Sorry, Mother.’

‘See how she dramas. Look at her!’ Mother sighed. ‘You and your father, do as you wish, I don’t care.’ So grumbling, Mother disappeared into her vast kitchen, and left me feeling sorry for the poor servants.

‘Did you see any crocodiles by the river?’

‘No, Father, but the boat sailed well.’

‘You mean the boat I purchased for your birthday and hid in my secret place?’

‘Oops!’ I covered my mouth.

Father laughed and, in a gentle voice, he said, ‘I’m aware, my little ruby, that you’ve discovered all my hiding places.’ Then, leaning in, he whispered. ‘But your mother does not know, so let it be our secret.’ I rewarded him with several conspiratorial bops of my head.

‘Where is the boat?’ asked Father.

‘Oh, the boys teased, so I rose to their challenge and sailed the boat in the river. Perhaps that was why the crocodiles kept away. You know, it was a wooden boat and crocodiles don’t like to eat wood.’

‘Ah, yes, of course, my blue sapphire, crocodiles detest wood.’

‘Oh, you know too? You’re a clever Father.’ Seeing my father’s pleased look, I brought my courage to full play and puckered to look pitiful.

‘But the rocks had no such qualms,’ I said, ‘and they smashed my boat and it broke.’

‘Oh dear, my emerald, some rocks can be so inconsiderate.’

I paused and wondered whether Father was teasing me. I had to put him to the test, and so I whined.

‘But it was not my fault, and Anandan forced me to sail it.’

I tried to force out tears, but it did not work. And I had forgotten to bring along my chilli—the green one. Not the red, because I was not silly anymore. After the Old Watchman incident, I resorted to the milder green ones.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Song of the Ankle Rings, an adaptation of Silappatikaram

Continued on Monday: Broken Precious