“No, no, no,” Allen muttered as he turned his backpack inside out. It was completely empty, and the watch was nowhere to be found. He sat on his bed, holding his disheveled mop of hair.
Under his closed eyelids, Allen could see the news headline that would scroll across the television screen that night— “Nine-year-old boy steals father’s watch. Father grounds son for life.”
An hour had passed since Allen returned from school, but it was only a few moments ago that he remembered about the watch.
“The latest in the market,” Allen’s father had said when he brought it home last week. “It’s pricey, but it can recognize my voice.”
“Can it recognize mine too?” Allen had asked.
“If we teach it to,” said his father, and that is what both of them had done.
So, that morning when Allen noticed the watch lying on the dining table, apparently unwanted, he had the brilliant idea of taking it to school. The watch called to him with a gentle chime and a ghostly glow as some alert came up in it. Allen took the watch and said, “Silence.” Then he stuck it into his backpack and went to school.
At school, Allen had been the sensation of the day. It was not a regular watch that Allen had brought to school. In addition to doing everything that a smartwatch was supposed to do, it could also project videos to any pale surface.
And thus, during lunch break, Allen pretended he was Tony Stark from Avengers on a critical mission to save the planet. Even his seniors in fifth grade were impressed.
Now, even as he sat on his bed dejected, a slight smile creased his face at this memory. But it was immediately wiped off as he realized that the watch was missing.
“Wash your face,” said his mother, appearing at his door. “Why are you looking so sulky? Did something happen at school today? You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”
He wouldn’t answer any of her questions, or there will be more questions. When he looked up, the doorway was empty. Now he could think peacefully.
When had he last seen the watch? It was safely cradled in a bundle of tissue paper at the bottom of his bag when he left his class for Physical Education. The bag itself had lain unmonitored in the corner of his classroom. Anyone could have taken the watch out of the bag. Allen’s mind immediately went to the shifty-looking boy from fifth grade who had wanted to wear the watch. Of course, Allen had refused. What if that boy had sneaked into the classroom when it was empty and stolen the watch? Even the paper in which the watch had lain was missing. This was thievery.
“Allen.” His father’s voice rang through the house. He was here. There was nowhere to run now.
Allen quickly explored the possibility of hiding under his bed until morning, when he could get to school unseen, kick the fifth-grader, and retrieve the watch. No, his parents would find him in a jiffy.
“Allen,” his father called again.
“Coming.” Allen dragged himself out of his room, down the stairs, and to the sitting room, where his father was browsing through his phone.
“How was school today?” His father asked. There was no sign that he was angry. He wouldn’t have noticed the absence of the watch yet. Why hadn’t he noticed? And then it flashed before his eyes. The watch that he had lost at school was elegantly wrapped around his father’s wrist.
“You are unusually silent,” said his father.
Allen felt the room spin around him. How was this possible? Was the shifty-looking fifth-grader a spy of his dad? Was this whole day a dream?
“Seems he lost his voice at school.” His mother appeared in the room with her steaming cup of tea.
“I didn’t lose anything,” Allen protested. “I have to submit my project on recycling tomorrow. Have a lot to draw.”
“Eat something before you start,” said his mother. “And why haven’t you washed your face yet?”
“I also have to prepare for the talent show,” said Allen, disregarding his mother. “I am going to perform a card trick.”
Maybe he already knew magic. He had been desperate to find the lost watch, and the watch has reappeared. Didn’t something like that happen to Harry Potter?
“Do you need any help?” His father asked. “I can teach you the Ace and Queen trick. It is quite simple, but you need a sharp eye.”
“Let him eat something first,” said his mother. “And you too. I have bought fresh strawberries.” All of them moved to the dining table, his father leading Allen with an arm wrapped around his shoulders.
“You can rock any card trick,” said his father. “I have complete faith in you.”
Allen felt as though something was stuck in his throat. The watch may have magically reappeared, but he felt oddly deflated.
“I lost it.” Nobody seemed to have heard him. “Your watch. I lost it at school,” Allen was unable to hold it in any longer. He then told them everything that happened from the moment the watch had called out to him in the morning.
All the time, Allen had his eyes fixed on the dining table. He threw sideways glances at his father, whose face was frozen halfway between a smile and a scowl. No, the confession shouldn’t stop now. When he ended the chronicles of the lost watch, his father let out a long breath like a dragon releasing its fire.
“What if you had really lost the watch?” His father’s voice was calm.
“I … I am sorry.”
“No harm done,” said his mother, laying a hand on his father’s shoulder. “You wouldn’t repeat anything like this, would you, Allen?”
“No.” Allen vigorously shook his head.
“Bring the strawberries from the kitchen,” said his mother.
With a fleeting glance at his father, Allen ran to the kitchen. There, on the countertop, was a basket of strawberries, Allen’s lunch box, and some crumpled tissue paper that was once the safe nest of his father’s watch! On that very spot, Allen took a pledge—to always wash his lunch box himself and to never give his mother a chance to peek into the secrets hidden in his backpack.
(Illustration – Mythili)
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