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  1. The Ring

She wasn’t very young, maybe mid thirties, but she looked so worried she seemed to have developed a permanent crease on her forehead. If she was not frowning and did not have that harried look in her eyes she could have been quite attractive. Soft brown hair framed an oval face that looked rather gaunt and pale but was saved from being plain by a pair of large expressive eyes. She appeared to be very nervous and her movements jittery with a touch of desperation.

She approached the old man sitting behind the counter of the ‘Lost and Found” with such desperate hope in her eyes that he really hoped she would find what she was looking for.

“Can I help you Ma’am?” said the old man.

“I hope so” She had a soft, hesitant voice, melodious but with a slight tremor that showed how nervous she was.

“ I was here a couple of nights ago with a party and I lost something, would it be turned in to you if found?”

“Yes of course, what did you lose?” he asked her gently.

She looked as though she was on the verge of tears she was holding her bag so tightly in both hands her knuckles turned white.

She started to answer but her voice was lost. She cleared her throat and started again. “A ring”. Once she said it, it seemed to open the floodgates for she could not stop. “My wedding ring” her voice was shaking but she continued. “It is not an expensive ring but it is valuable to me. I mean it is not a diamond or anything, but it is very important to me. You see my husband gave it to me and he would be very, very angry if he found out that I lost that one too.”

“Too?” he asked, “Did you lose one before?” She started shaking and so did her voice when she replied in a small voice “Yes. This is the second ring” and a sob escaped from trembling lips.

The man felt a strong emotion shake him, pity, tinged with a strong urge to protect. He smiled reassuringly at her and asked her to describe it. He just wanted her to calm down so that he could tell her that there were no rings found, but not in her current state.

She started to describe it but he was not listening, he was furiously thinking how to make her talk more about the man who gave her the ring than about the ring itself. Why was she so nervous? She sounded scared to death. Was she afraid of her husband? Bit by bit he started leading her to talk about her life and her husband.

Her story started to unfold slowly, and then, as she lost her nervousness, it was very clear. She had married very young, her husband was much older and was a very important man in their little town. She had had it drummed into her head that she was very lucky to have made such a match and must be worthy of it. Not only were her in-laws of that opinion, but so was her family. She had believed it implicitly. But with time, with his treatment of her, she had started to see that it was not such an ideal marriage after all. He never raised his voice or his hand, but his very tone reduced her to a nervous wreck. His criticism was couched in the loftiest of terms, but its meaning was searing in its effect. He always made her feel so small, so unworthy. She did not fear for her physical well being, she feared for the shriveling of her soul.

Once she had said all that she looked so surprised, she just stood there, completely still for a long moment. Then right before his eyes she was transformed. Her slouching, defeated stance disappeared. Unconsciously she straightened her back, her head went up and a beautiful expression of confidence transformed her haggard features into a lovely young woman. The worm was transformed into a butterfly right before his eyes.

She took a steadying deep breath, looked him directly in the eye and said, “You don’t have the ring.” It was a statement not a question. He nodded. She smiled. “Good”. She paused then said, “I am glad”. She smiled a wider smile and a radiant light shone from her beautiful eyes. “Yes, it is lost and now I am found”. She thanked him sincerely and with a determined step, head held high, turned to deal with her future.

 

  1. The Book

The young man was defiant in his attitude, as though he wanted to impress upon the older man that the loss did not matter, that he was just looking because it was the thing to do.

“And what is it that you lost my son?” asked the keeper of the “Lost and Found”.

“Oh, just a book” he said carelessly “It doesn’t really matter, but just out of curiosity, has anyone turned one in?”

The man looked sharply at him and saw that the answer was important to the young man. There were several books that had been turned in over the past week. So the man asked him to describe it.

“It is my sister’s you understand” he seemed at pains to explain it away, to try to disclaim any association with the book. “It is a silly romance I think, but she hadn’t finished it and asked me to look if she forgot it here”.

“Ah, a romance, yes we have a few of those. You wouldn’t happen to know the title would you?”

“No I cannot remember it but if I see it I will know it” he looked hopefully at the older man, waiting nervously. The older man turned around and started rummaging through the boxes behind him till he came to a fairly large box, which was quite heavy. He started trying to move it bit by bit, but the young man was too impatient to wait. He said, “Here, let me help you” and swung over the counter and easily lifted the box off the shelf and on to the counter. He eagerly opened the lid and looked at the rather largish pile of books inside. He thought with his luck, if the book he was looking for were in there, it would be at the bottom of the pile.

The old man looked at him with amusement and nodded “Go ahead take them out and look” That was all the encouragement he needed. He started moving them out of the box and just glancing at each cover to make sure it is not his book before placing it on the counter and turning to the next. In a few minutes he was through with the box. Nothing. He looked so disappointed the old man felt a wrench. Then with a start he said “Hold on, I had not looked at the last batch that came in, let me see if there are any books there” The young man looked so hopeful it made the older one curious.

He went into the back and brought out the last batch of returned items. There were two books, and the young man snatched them out of his hand and with an exclamation of joy clutched one of them. It was a very old, worn book, one that was read many times and was barely held together. It was not an expensive book, nor was it a famous one and this intrigued the old man more so he said “Wait, give it to me, you have to give me more information that it is your book before you can take it. Is there something specific that is unique to this book that you know which would identify it?” The young man held it possessively clutched to his chest and nodded vigorously. “Yes it has a written inscription inside, but wait, there is something even more important, I have to check if it is still there”

Suddenly he took the book and upended it, letting the pages loosen and out fell a picture on to the counter. It was a very old, faded picture in black and white of a young woman dressed in the fashion of four decades ago. The boy snatched it up with such joy, his eyes shining with tears of joy and grinning at the man he said, “Yes, this is the right book, this is my Mom’s picture as a girl. It is the only picture we have left after the fire. All the other pictures were lost”. The old man nodded and smiled and started putting the other books back into the box, while the young man started walking away, gazing with love at the picture he thought he had lost, but had now found.

 

  1. The Attaché Case

When the little boy turned it in at mid afternoon the previous day, the old man was curious. It was a very expensive attaché case but it was locked. A combination lock. That would make it easy to identify the owner; he would have to have the combination. But still, it was made of real leather and the handle and locks looked quite expensive. It sat there among the lost items looking sleek and rich. It was totally out of place among the shabby umbrellas, some shoes, a torn shirt and some books.

The old man started speculating about the owner, probably an important businessman. But how did he forget it there? It looked quite expensive and was not too small an item to be overlooked. In his line of work he might never know the story behind it, for it might never be claimed. He would have to be satisfied with what his imagination would provide as a story behind this one.

Just before he was about to close his counter and lock up the items left in his keeping, a man approached the “Lost and Found” booth and pointed at the attaché case and said, “Hey old man, gi’me that case it’s mine”.

The old man could not believe it. The man was dressed in cheap clothes, his speech was uneducated and he looked quite rough. So the old man said, “Yes sir, I need your identification and I need you to give me the code so that I know it belongs to you”.

If looks could kill the old man would have been dead in an instant. With an effort the man held on to his temper. He finally produced a driver’s license and the old man scrutinized it, though neither the name nor the photo was familiar. But the old man had a very strong instinct that something was wrong with the whole situation. He could see the man itching to snatch the case, so he kept it out of his reach, and though he was getting nervous now because it was quite late and there were very few people around, he still felt it his duty to verify that he really was the owner. After all it was a very expensive looking case.

“What is the combination please sir?” he asked politely.

Through gritted teeth the man gave him the combination. The old man, just to be contrary and playing for time deliberately took his time about putting in the combination, pausing half way through to ask for a confirmation of the numbers. He felt that the man was about to lash out violently, but still he held on now sure that something was terribly wrong. He just did not know what it was and what to do about it.

Finally the combination was put in and he tried the locks, both clicked open. Immediately the man put his hand on the lid so that the old man does not open it. “Satisfied? Now give me that bloody case, NOW”. The old man was frightened and quite taken aback by the violence he could see in the face of the other man. He reluctantly handed over the case, as he could do nothing else.

The moment the man took possession of the case all hell broke loose. Floodlights were turned on, men in uniform came out from every corner and filled the little space in front of the “Lost and Found” booth, a loud voice over a speaker was blaring “Put your hands up, you are surrounded. Put the case down or we will shoot”. The old man froze. The scene before his quickly changed and the man was dragged to the ground and handcuffed. He was read his rights and silently led away to the police car at the curb.

An officer approached the old man who looked questioningly at him. He was too shaken to form the questions running through his mind. “We have been following him all day waiting for him to get his hands on that case and claim it as his. It has the ransom money that the gang requested for the little boy who was abducted a couple of days ago. Once he identified the case and gave the combination we had him. The boy is now back safe with his family” He thanked the old man and in a few minutes all was quiet again.

With shaking hands the old man locked up the “Lost and Found” booth. It had been quite a day.

11 Oct. 2014

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