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‘And Kovalan, did he force you too?’ asked Father.

I did not wish to blame Kovalan but also could not bring myself to lie, and so, I nodded and tried harder to cry. I made all the right noises, but no tears flowed.

‘There, there, don’t cry, my hessonite, but do you think Kovalan might want to sail your boat again?’ Father stroked my hair and planted a light kiss on my head.

‘I told you, it’s broken!’

‘And yet he encouraged you.’

‘But I did not want to, Father.’

‘Of course, my pearl, I know.’ Looking me in the eye, he said, ‘Young men behave so. Once your precious breaks, they will not want it anymore.’

‘But Kovalan said he will make good the repairs, Father.’

‘Some things cannot be repaired, my cat’s eye.’

‘What things, Father?’

He called my mother, his voice tinged with irritation.

‘Where is her lunch?’

‘What’s the hurry, it’s not as if your precious duckling is starving.’

Mother brought rice cooked with nuts and raisins, and fruits and milk. Placing it on a low table, she shrugged a shoulder at me and walked away, and I made a face at her.

I drank the milk with relish and chose my favourite fruit—sliced mango. As usual, Father watched as I put on a show for him. I ate and wiped the juice on my chin with the back of my hand, and my antics gave Father much pleasure.

‘You remember Uncle and Chinnamma; how would you like to visit them in Madurai?’

‘Are we all going to visit Chinnamma?’ I could not hide my excitement.

‘Yes, as a family.’

I threw up my hands and shouted with joy.

‘You can stay there until a year.’

‘And we can all picnic and enjoy ourselves.’ Again I threw up my hands with glee.

‘Yes, but Father has much work to attend to here and Mother too, and we will visit until a month before returning. But you can stay and enjoy yourself.’ He leaned close and said, ‘Without Mother picking on you.’

I nodded and gave him a mischievous smile. Then the joy bled off, leaving me empty. I looked forward to the adventure of a new place but not without Father and Mother. More puckering, and my lips pushed out, seeking sympathy.

‘I’ll miss you,’ I said.

‘I’ve told you stories about Uncle and Chinnamma’s farm, their cows and goats, and deer and rabbits.’

‘Horses and bullock carts?’ I asked.

‘Yes, bullock carts, my red coral, and you can learn to drive them.’

‘Can I ride the horses?’

‘No, maidens don’t ride horses, but you can learn to drive horse carts.’

‘But why can I not ride horses?’

‘Chaste maidens don’t ride horses. Moreover, horse riding is dangerous and you have the more comfortable and safer horse carts.’

‘Why-why-why?’ In playful tantrum I hit my thighs.

‘I’ve just now told you, my yellow sapphire, and Chinnamma will answer all your questions and teach you many wonderful things.’

‘But you answer all my questions and already taught me everything there is to know. Is Chinnamma smarter than you?’

Father threw his head back and laughed. He said, ‘There are some things best left to Chinnamma.’

‘What things, Father?’

‘Things a young maiden, one such as yourself, might wish to know, ought to know.’

I was getting bored with talk regarding my forthcoming maidenhood. And I did not want to grow up and lose my teeth or turn bald. So, having finished the first mango, I went for my next favourite—the second mango.

‘You’ll also study the Vedas and Puranas, my platinum, and learn prayers expected of and befitting a future mistress of a household.’

‘But Mother is mistress of the household and quite enjoys haranguing the servants.’

Father laughed again, and I joined in his laughter. I loved him very much and gave him a great big hug. After finishing my second mango, I reached for my next favourite fruit—the third mango.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Song of the Ankle Rings, an adaptation of Silappatikaram

Continued on Friday: Adult Conspiracy