Rudramma was half worried and half angry. It was almost midnight and she was up unusually late. Sitting near the window of her tiny living room, she was examining a pair of golden earrings in the light of the street lamp.
They were shaped like a flower with a gleaming red crystal in the centre. They were gorgeous–probably not made of real gold–she couldn’t tell for sure, but expensive-looking all the same. Rudramma had found the earrings in her daughter Lakshmi’s school bag.
Brows furrowed, she sat down on her mat and took a sip of water from the chombu. Her mind was racing. Where could Lakshmi have gotten the earrings? She attended a government school in the neighbouring village. She didn’t have friends who could afford gifts of this kind. Neither was she given so much money to buy them for herself.
Rudramma’s heart sank. Had her daughter perhaps stolen it from someone? Or shoplifted? Was any of this Rudramma’s fault? Had she gone wrong as a parent? She didn’t know. Anxiety clouded her mind, obstructing rational thought.
But Rudramma had raised her daughter with good values and a sense of good and bad. Since the passing of her husband, she had pretty much been on her own. For Lakshmi, she had been the ‘hero’ at home. With immense courage and effort, Rudramma had picked herself up after the unfortunate loss. She had taken up multiple jobs to make sure her daughter stayed in school. She put the earrings back where she had found them, decided to talk to her daughter in the morning and went to sleep.
A gentle kiss on her forehead woke her up with a start. Lakshmi was kneeling next to her, a wide grin lighting up her face. “Good morning, amma,” she said.
Rubbing her eyes, Rudramma woke up. “Did I oversleep? What time is it?”
Without warning, Lakshmi embraced Rudramma in a tight hug and said, “Happy birthday, amma!”
“What–oh!” Rudramma said. She hadn’t kept track of her birthday in years.
“This is for you,” said Lakshmi, as she held a pair of golden earrings in her outstretched hand.
A pained half-smile appeared on Rudramma’s face as she said, “But darling, where did you get these?”
“I bought them with the prize money I won at school,” Lakshmi shrugged, adding “Now, are you excited to see your birthday gift?”
“What? The earrings weren’t the gift?”
Lakshmi grinned once more and handed her a certificate. It read: Proficiency Award for the Best Student.