Lost and Found

SHORT STORY

Pritha cleaned the blackboard, while Nidhi swept the classroom. It was their turn that evening to do the end-of-day chores.

“Latch the windows and doors, while I empty the waste-bin,” called Nidhi as she went out. Together they checked the door once more, heaved their bags up and turned homewards. It was while crossing the quadrangle that it caught Pritha’s eye. There was something glistening in the slanting rays of the evening sun. It was a bracelet, small and exquisite. Made of silver, it was encrusted with beads and colourful stones. How pretty and stylish it was!

‘‘Oh dear,” cried Nidhi, “Now we will have to go back and turn it in at the ‘Lost Articles Room’!”

Pritha shrugged her shoulders as she clamped the bracelet on to her wrist. Holding out her hand, she exclaimed, “It looks great, doesn’t it? I am not giving it in. Finders, keepers.”

Nidhi stared at her. “Do you think that’s right? You might get into trouble, you know.”
“Well, not if we both keep it a secret,” said Pritha.

Nothing more was said until they reached the spot where they parted ways.
“Bye,” said Nidhi as she turned off. Then stopping she added, “If I were you, I wouldn’t keep it. Whoever lost it must be miserable.”

“Are you calling me a thief, Nidhi? Stop making such a big fuss. Whoever lost it was careless and, as they say, losers, weepers.”

“Okay, have it your way then. See you tomorrow.”

Pritha stared after her. A storm of feelings was raging within her. She hadn’t filched it, had she? She loved the little trinket, its delicate design and its softly glowing stones. It seemed to be made just for her. You could call it an absolute steal. A steal? That’s what the others would call it too, but in the baser sense of the term. This included her friends, teachers and parents. Wasn’t that why she wanted to keep the whole thing a secret?

But if she let it go, she would regret it. All said and done, it had come to her fortuitously. She certainly hadn’t stolen it, merely found it. By keeping it hidden and out of sight, all feelings of guilt she was sure would eventually disappear.

Her mother had made her favourite pakoras, but Pritha ate them listlessly.

“What’s the matter? You seem very quiet,” said her mother.

“Oh it’s nothing. I’ve a Math test tomorrow. Got to revise,” answered Pritha and hurried to her room.

Sleep did not come quickly that night. Pritha tossed and turned and at long last drifted into an uneasy sleep. She woke up feeling tired and out of sorts. She wasn’t hungry, did not want any breakfast, but would have to eat something to please her mother. Father was already at the table, reading the newspaper. With a sigh he folded it and said, “Nothing but bad news. Scams and more scams. There’s no honesty left these days.

Then there are the accidents and crimes to complete the picture. The only thing that can cheer you up is hot coffee.” He picked up his cup and drank deeply.
Mother smiled. The remarks were nothing new.

“Seems so, isn’t it? Yet there are those who are honest. Yesterday I read of an auto-driver who took pains to return a laptop left behind by a passenger. He had to be persuaded to accept a small reward. Quite a hero, for honesty doesn’t come easy. It’s certainly not for the weak.”

Father merely nodded, but Pritha bent her head over her plate. Her cheeks burned with shame. The words went like an arrow into her heart. She had so much more and yet she had given in to temptation. Her first stop at school would be the ‘Lost Articles Room’.
She entered the school to find Shoba and Hema of Class 4 scouring the ground. Shoba was red-eyed and crying.

“What’s the matter?” asked Pritha.

“I lost my bracelet yesterday,” she managed to say between sobs. “It was a farewell gift from my best friend and now I have gone and lost it. I miss her so much!”
“Is it this one?” asked Pritha dangling it before her.

“Yes,” she shouted, the tears giving way to a big smile. “Thank you, thank you so much!”
“Thank you too,” said Pritha silently, grateful that something more precious than the bracelet had been almost lost but fortunately found – her honesty.

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