Ah! Finally the sun shines. The household is chirpier than usual. Having Happy around is quite an entertainment. Today, however, his enthusiasm is extraordinary. The kettle is doing its job well. Sophie is humming, one of the loud Punjabi tunes. All under the influence of this boisterous fellow, Happy.
“Hey, Happy! You sure checked the visa status?” Sophie hollers across the hallway.
“Oh yes! I did. The page flashed the message ‘under review’,” an equally raucous voice rattles back.
What has happened to the soft-spoken angel-voiced Sophie? Transformed into a crude, impolite woman with all mannerisms melting away like the early snowflakes.
How I shudder at the thought of seeing what the final version of her will look like. The thought just makes me shift places, get uneasy on my rather precious bottom. I have been quite a companion to Sophie in my own way. The feeling isn’t mutual though.
The years may corrode the humans. But I am a class by myself. Specially minted at the royal mint with a layer of gold to commemorate the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952. An heirloom in Sophie’s family, passed down the generations. I’m a TREASURE for God’s sake, forced to mingle with the commoners in Sophie’s bag. Sophie’s Mom bequeathed me to her when she died. I feel awful, in the company of the pence and shillings, rubbing their lowly sides with me. My prayers for Sophie to realise that my rightful place is inside the jewellery safe will continue.
But sometimes I do adjust. Last weekend she and Happy decided to enjoy the sun on a boat ride. I was thrilled. It fit well with my penchant for eavesdropping. I jingled-jangled with the rest of the coins, cramped and ill at ease. Yet, it was the only way to stay updated on the conversation between the love birds.
“You often talk about family heirlooms, Sophie. I’m curious,” Happy asked.
“Ah, yes! From my great ancestors who amassed some valuables during their travels and escapades,” Sophie laughed it off.
Happy persevered, “Wow! Jewels and Money!”
Sophie soaked up the sun, oblivious to his nudging.
“So, do you have anything up here in London? Like money? I heard people have maps leading to hidden treasures. Especially since your folks spent some time in India too. Hehehehe!”
Brushing the windswept hair off the face, Sophie replied, “C’mon Happy! Enjoy the ride. Why this sudden interest in heirlooms?”
I never let my guard down. Sophie’s misadventures are dime a dozen. They aren’t ending anytime soon. This young woman has a special affliction for the commoners. Unlike me. She ends up falling in love with this rather ostentatious bloke with a name as weird as Happy Singh. Happy? Seriously? Absolute mediocrity, I say!
Being the family heirloom doesn’t just give you a cushy place amongst the family jewels, but it comes with a sense of responsibility. Come what may, you just can’t ditch the family member you have been entrusted to.
The sudden collective jingling shook me up. Oh! It seems the boat ride was over. Pushed into a dark corner of the handbag was often the reason important news gets overlooked. I huddled along with the ordinary, earnestly wishing to catch up on the reason for the hustle.
“Sophie! You will need some Indian wear for the trip,” Happy exclaimed, in what seemed like an attempt to steer the conversation elsewhere.
Sophies responded with a chuckle, “Wow! How I love to dress in vibrant colours and jewels. It is just so invigorating. Time to shop”
“Can’t wait for you to meet my folks,” I heard Happy’s cheeky response.
I am jolted back to the present. What is he up to? I wonder and worry at the same time. He keeps bringing up the discussion on heirlooms and treasures in a rather creepy way. And then just drops the conversation. I have been suspicious ever since their discreet engagement last month. Now this trip to India to meet his folks. Am I going to lose her?
Despite my best efforts to develop some kind of fondness for the imp, it isn’t easy to accept him. A lean and lanky fellow with a wobbly gait who has swept Sophie off her feet. A closer look at the lightly bearded face shows off the magnetic wide-toothed smile. Naïve, yet guarded, his smile lends a twinkle to his eyes. Sophie is always flamboyant in her appreciation of Happy’s features.
Am I getting carried away? No, absolutely not! I have to be critical. This is just his persona. It can’t be sufficient to guarantee a happy life. Born in a country miles away, he can’t be taken at face value. A halo of uncomfortable inquisitiveness shadows him. Regular disappearances and weird late-night calls make me uneasy. Sophie’s unassuming faith in Happy limits her ability to look beyond his physical attractiveness. I fear my suspicions coming true.
Sophie, on the other hand, is a thorough English bred, leading a contented life. Growing up in the English countryside made sure she never lost the extra tint of red on her cheeks. An eagerness to explore a bigger city brought her to London years ago, while her family stayed back. The family that still showers incessant love on Sophie. The family that is still unaware of who her boyfriend is. Sophie’s petite frame complemented by the lilac soft skin warrants definite attention. The midnight black hair cascading down her shoulders is sure to stand out in a crowd. No wonder Happy cast his eyes on her and then they were entwined, hopefully not for eternity.
The stupendous day melts into a frigid, breezy evening. The light gives way to a gloomy darkness. And Happy does it again! His phone lights up. It’s an incoming call. The phone keeps vibrating. Realising that the caller is not going to give up, he strides out of the door and disappears, as the wind whips through the solitary street.
Meanwhile, Sophie, unsuspecting of the happenings downstairs, is humming as she undresses. Everything is returned to its resting place for the night. Her tresses are loosened from the hair fastener, as she plunges into the warmth of the woollen bed covers. Suddenly, the covers are thrown over. Ah! a realisation! Maybe she decides on cancelling the trip. All I can see is her rummaging through the wardrobe.
“It was right here. Where could I have kept it? Dad would be so annoyed. It is precious,” she continues mumbling. A little while later, she heaves a sigh of relief. A pale, tattered, huge paper with abstract drawings emerges.
“Found the map!” Sophie squeals. Opening the fold with care, her nimble fingers gently caress the creases. Folding it carefully she places it on the table. Dipping her hand into the faux leather bag, she brings me out and places me next to the map.
It’s a chance for me to develop new acquaintances.
I whisper to the map, “Psst! Wake up, oldie!”
Nothing stirs. Not the one to give up easily, I continue.
Finally, I hear him. “What’s with you, chap?”
Chap? Hmmm. Must be English.
Enthused to the core, I say, “Care to introduce yourself?”
“I am a family heirloom,” comes the prompt answer.
“Really? Never heard of you. I too am a family heirloom, passed on to Sophie. A specially minted rare coin. What’s your history?” I ask, basking in my glory.
“Bloke! Without me, you are nothing. You might be specially minted. But do you know you are part of a larger treasure Sophie’s great-great grandpa left in India. Owing to increasing cases of looting and robbery on the sea routes, he left behind a substantial treasure. I, my dear, am a map to that. Patiently hand drawn.”
“Her fiancé, Happy, has been prying about coins and maps. Could he know?”
“Why do I care? I’m just too glad to be out of the confines of the wardrobe.”
“How can we possibly let Sophie know about Happy’s intentions?”
“Oh well! We aren’t humans. Let time take its course. Now stay out of my way!”
The cold night takes over. I wait for the next ray of light.
Another sunny day dawns. Warm hues scatter like fresh lava from a volcano. The sunrays dance in shades of amber and tangerine. The bag that houses me hangs low on the hook, and the warmth touches us high-bred and commoners alike. However my poetic fantasy is cut short by Happy’s irksome shrill voice.
“Sophie!” he squeals. “The visas are here.” His excitement is evident from his prancing around. “Everything is going as planned. The tickets are booked, and soon we will be flying out.”
“That is wonderful news,” Sophie chimes in.
“Let me call my folks. This news is worth celebrating.” Happy is ecstatic.
Sophie’s face turns glum suddenly.
“Is something the matter, love?” Happy asks, extending his hand affectionately towards Sophie.
She nervously rubs her face, ruffling through the silken tresses, yet smiling.
He pulls Sophie towards the couch. Her ears turn red and I notice a light quiver of the fingers. Strange!
Looking up through the curtain of tears, Sophie remarks, “Happy! Your family knows about me. The fact that we are together and now engaged.” A tense pause follows. “I’m worried about my family! They aren’t even aware that I live with you, leave alone the fact that you aren’t British. They have to know and accept you too,” Sophie sighs.
Now it is Happy’s turn to feel the heat. Ah! I really enjoy such moments. Through the thick leathery layers of the bag, I can sense that everything isn’t as we British would say Hunky Dory!
“Look, Sophie. We have gone over this innumerable times. You have been the one to concede that my acceptance in your family would not be easy.”
Sophie is unresponsive as she straightens up on the couch. “Yes I did. I’m still apprehensive. My family will be cavilling on many aspects of our relationship. But then they are still my family! I want them involved.”
Happy turns pensive. Biting his lips vigorously, he paces around. Utterly hushed. No smiles and none of his loud ranting.
“Good Heavens, Happy!” Sophie’s voice pierces through the silence. “Can you tear yourself away from your smutty deliberations?”
Does he really love this girl, I wonder for the umpteenth time?
“You decide how you want to do this. Tell them now, or after we are back from India. No…No, wait! That would be too late. It has to happen now.’ Sophie is unswerving.
“I hope you remember that I’m Indian and unemployed. It isn’t quite the gobsmacking combination one would look for in a future son-in-law,” Happy sounds indecisive.
“I know. Love surpasses everything else. It isn’t like you aren’t trying to get somewhere,” Sophie turns sympathetic suddenly.
“We are driving down tomorrow then,” she says in an authoritative tone and exits the room.
This is sheer music to my ears. Ok, I admit my senses are different from you humans! I am now certain that Happy is on the last leg of his romance with Sophie. Her old man is going to scrutinise him from head to toe.
Happy gives in. Sophie has narrated tales of her father’s valour to him many times. Her family has roots in India as one of her uncles had married an Indian. A North Indian, that too. Happy looks nervous. Is there more to his fears?
The phone lights up again, vibrating vigorously. He knows who it is.
Steadying the shaky hands, he accepts the call and blurts, “I am landing in India this weekend.”
“Why the delay?” a heavy voice roars back. Happy’s hands quiver as he steadies the phone.
“Some unexpected hindrances cropped up, but it is under control. I’m still looking for the map.”
“Get your act together, else you know what follows!” How loud some people are. I can hear them from the other end of the mobile. Sweat beads trickle down the nape of Happy’s neck leaving him drenched, as he snaps the phone shut.
Swaying slightly, he steadies himself. These clandestine calls always leave him jittery. He mumbles something like ‘my family’ and ‘I love my Sophie’. But it doesn’t make any sense to me. Is he a good bloke? I am not sure.
“Where has Happy disappeared? We have got to pack and leave early tomorrow,” Sophie is vexed.
Grabbing the handbag, her hands scramble down to the bottom. She peers, reaches out for me, and voila, I land on the bedside table. She caresses my glistening body. And then she clears out the contents of the bag. Obviously she wants to look perfect while heading home with an announcement as big as her engagement.
I sit enjoying the spotlight under the lace trimmed table lamp when the map is back next to me, along with a few of Sophie’s pictures. Suddenly the room door opens with a thud. Happy Singh is back.
Seemingly preoccupied, he approaches the bed. His gaze is fixated on me (no one can miss my regal presence), the ragged map, and above all, Sophie’s pictures. But why is he pursing his lips?
“A picture of the two of us would have made more sense,” he mumbles. Ah! I get it. He is morose to see Sophie’s solo photos.
The unconsciously clenched fist tightens. “Is she planning to ditch me?” His doubts continue until he hears the sound of the shower turning off.
Happy blurts out, “What’s this?’ He points to the bedside table.
“Excuse me!” Sophie is taken aback by the accusing tone. “What do you mean?”
“What’s with the coins, the strange looking map ,and above all, the solo photo?”
“Seriously, Happy? These questions make me tremble”. She rubs the gold ring on her finger. “This hand drawn map and the gold-plated coin are family heirlooms, left behind by ancestors.” The photos are from my college days. I found them when clearing my bag.”
Happy plonks into the couch. The silence is long.
“Happy, is something wrong? You have been behaving so awkward since we last spoke of meeting my parents,” Sophie asks.
“No, it’s nothing. Just a bit under the weather.” Abruptly ending the sentence he dashes out of the room.
Twitching her fingers nervously she swivels around the room. The clicking of the wall clock seems unusually loud. Straightening her pyjamas, she notices the sweaty hands.
“What’s with me? Chilling weather and sweaty hands!” she wonders.
I haven’t taken my eyes off her in the last fifteen minutes. I’m concerned. Her relationship with Happy is turning onerous and she is unaware. She appears different at this moment. Having accepted Happy as the rabble rouser, she has steered the course cheerfully. Today, however, there is a mysterious air around her. My dissection is thwarted by Happy’s clamorous entry.
Sophie, by now is comfortable between the fuzzy covers.
“You are still awake!” he asks, catching his breath.
“Almost asleep. Where were YOU?” Sophie demands to know.
“Nothing that should worry you. Getting some matters sorted for the trip home. Oh! It’s all handled now,” Happy responds with a hug.
Eyeing the map, he pushes Sophie away. Running his fingers across the tattered lines, he asks curiously, “Hey! Sophie, this map has abbreviated names of places. As if it were a code? Don’t you find that strange?”
“Maybe! It’s an old piece,” Sophie responds with a yawn.
Happy’s eyes are fixed on the map as he peers closer. “Look! Look! Sophie……a drawing similar to the one on your coin.” He rushes to spread the map onto the study table. Squinting into the various drawings, Happy shrieks, “Sophie! C’mon here. Look. The drawing of the coin indicates a treasure.”
Sophie doesn’t seem alarmed.
Observing her preoccupied expressions, Happy quips, “Did you know this?”
“Of course not! How could I have known? The map was down in the dungeons…..I mean the wardrobe drawers that I rarely access.” The caution in her voice is evident.
My doubts are firming up. There is definitely something Sophie has been aware of. Her reaction to the treasure map is doubtfully calm.
“I’m sure your father will be of help here. Tomorrow isn’t far!” The touch of sarcasm in Happy’s voice is evident. He isn’t giving up either.
“Sure!” Sophie answers while returning to the bed. “Goodnight Happy!”
The lights are out but I continue the vigil.
As we near dawn, I notice a movement. A shadow creeping around the unlit room. It has to be the buffoon, Happy!
Now that he is anticipating a treasure somewhere, he must be ready for the next act. KIDNAPPING SOPHIE!!!!!!! Oh No! What can I do? With limited abilities and dim witted companions, nothing much should be expected from me. All I can do is pray!!
Suddenly something sweeps me away from the table and into darkness. Well! Familiar darkness. It is Sophie’s bag. So the shadow is Sophie! But why does she need to move stealthily? I’m going crazy asking myself questions. Somebody, somewhere give answers please.
The pendulum movements of the bag tell me that we are on the move. The sudden hustle of stuff around me tells me that the bag is shoved into……THE CAR!! Is Sophie running away?
And like a flash of lightening, all the answers are crystal clear.
The car whirrs up as she flips open the phone. “Dad! I’m leaving. Expect me home soon. He will never reach the treasure……….because it is coming along with me,” Sophie sputters.
The emotional searing within her is evident on the flaming red face. Hot tears flowing down incessantly are proof enough of disappointment and pain.
Me…….I’m relieved. The Tides have turned. Happy’s happiness has outsmarted him.
Your MC returns from a break to find a map, some coins & a photo of their fiancé on their desk.
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