Tina’s hand curled into a tight ball around the necklace. It stung her palm and she bit her lips, determined not to cry before the other children at Riya Gupta’s place.

Riya had turned 5 today. The party to celebrate her birthday was now in full swing with the children, except 8-year-old Tina, running happily around the place. Gupta Auntie, Riya’s mother, had just handed return gifts to the little guests. There were excited voices and laughter as the children opened the colorful parcels – toy cars and trucks for boys, bead necklaces and hairclips for girls.

Tina opened the packet that Auntie had picked for her and recoiled with horror and dismay as the necklace slithered out of it.

A string of transparent beads with a flat piece of plain metal for a pendant!

The colourless globules looked as if all life had been sucked out of them and the metal shone in a revolting way. Tina stood rooted to the spot while the other girls pranced around with bright blue, pink or green beads sparkling round their necks.

Tina felt humiliated, much like she often did at Gupta Auntie’s place. By word or gesture, Auntie always made it clear that Tina was undeserving of any attention or praise. It wasn’t any different today. Auntie had put aside Tina’s gift for Riya without a second glance and had quickly turned away her face. ‘Hello my lovelies, how beautiful you look,’ she had said to Leela and Natasha standing there and had tellingly held them one more time in a warm embrace.

The beads were beginning to burn into Tina’s hand. She went out of the room and into the garden, away from the children’s innocent chatter and Auntie’s sharp gaze. Still clutching the offending necklace in her hand, she strayed towards the adjoining plot of land and walked up to the edge of the pit dug up for construction work that had started some days ago. After two days of heavy rain, the sides that sloped into the deep cavity were slippery with slush and the bottom was invisible under a sheet of water that was deceptively opaque.

Tina wondered what lay within its dark depths, opened her fist and flung the necklace into the gaping hole. It left her hand but settled near the edge of the water, temptingly visible yet teasingly far away.

‘Didi, what are you doing?’ a voice suddenly said. Riya had followed Tina outside and was peering into the hollow, mesmerized by the cheap glitter of the pendant lying below.

She was still at the pit, bending over the edge with her hand outstretched, trying in vain to reach the elusive string of beads, as Tina turned to hide her tears and walk away.

***

‘Why are you outside?’ It was Auntie.

‘Have you seen Riya? And why aren’t you wearing the necklace; hope you liked it, it was your type anyway?’ she belted out without pausing for a reply.

‘Th….’ There she is, Tina began to say. Her hand rose to point towards the pit, but dropped back abruptly and the words died on her lips.

There was no one at the pit’s edge any more.

She shivered; for some unknown reason the day had turned suddenly cold.

‘Th…Th… Thank you, I liked it very much.’ was all Tina could say.

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