Her hands were wrinkled, but the skin was smooth and shiny. She cut the silver wire with a sharp tool, the kind my parents forbade me from touching. Turning one end of the wire into a loop, she slid a sparkling blue bead through the other end. The bead ran smooth on the small segment of the wire and sat fat on the fine loop at the bottom.
“How is the custard?” she asked, without looking up.
“Yummy,” I said, digging my spoon into the caramel custard, “the best till now.”
Every Saturday she used to treat me to dessert, a new dessert each time. She used to live next door. My parents had told me she was a scientist with a company that made medicines. Because of the entry in the picture dictionary I’d had the impression that scientists wore white jackets and had funny hair. But she wore saris and very pretty, colorful earrings and her silver hair was always neatly tied in a bun. So I’d realized that the pictures in the dictionary were not true.
She never had any visitors apart from the maids. I could have never lived alone like her, with nobody to talk to. She did not even have an X box. Whenever I’d go to her place, I’d find her sitting in the big wooden chair, her eyes scanning heaps of printed paper, her glasses resting on the tip of her nose. Sometimes she would leave the papers and talk to me; others she would keep looking at her papers and still talk to me. I did not go very often, once or twice a week apart from Saturdays. On Saturdays she would sit on the couch with me and we would talk about my school and the very funny people who worked at her office.
She slid a green bead.
“What are you making?”
“A pair of earrings,” she said.
“No. For this girl who used to work under me. She’s going to the U.S. for her PhD.”
“What’s a PhD?”
“Higher studies,” she said.
“Did you do a PhD?”
“Why, yes,” she said, looking up. “That’s why I’m Dr. Amrita Das.”
“Yeah, but that’s because you make medicines. You are a doctor because you make medicines.”
“Oh no, that’s a different doctor. When you do a PhD, you are just called a doctor. You don’t have to be able to treat people. ”
“That’s very strange,” I said, running my tongue on the spoon, savoring the last traces of the custard.
She slid a blue bead. There were alternate green and blue beads on the small wire. She had already made five such segments, and was working on the sixth.
She got two small silver triangles with holes at the base. I moved closer to her. She put a segment each in the holes and turned the edges of the wire with pliers. At the end, there were three beaded segments of wire hanging to each triangle.
She then held out the earrings in her hands. The blue, green and silver dazzled in the strong lights of her house.
“Can I touch them?” I asked.
She smiled. She opened my small palm and placed them on it. With the fingers of my other hand I touched the shiny things. I had never seen earrings like those. I used to wear the really small silver studs that girls in my class were allowed to wear. My mother wore colorless diamonds. The earrings with the green and blue dots of light were so pretty that I wanted to wear them, but I knew I couldn’t; I shouldn’t. With a pained heart I gave them back to her, for the girl who was going to become a doctor incapable of treating people.
On one winter morning, six months later, her house was flooded with people. My parents did not let me go. I saw from the window that a body covered in a white cloth was put in the back of an ambulance- like van. I realized she’d died. It was a Saturday. I just stood at the window and shed silent tears.
The next day a man came to our house. He spoke to my parents and handed them a white box. I knew the box. It was her earrings box. She’d left me her earrings.
© Rasagya Kabra, July 23, 2011