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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Short Story: The Tic-Tic-Tic Trouble by Pavithra Sankaran

‘I know who stole the watch. I know the thief!’ she whispered fiercely. She told him everything she had figured out.

Updated: October 12, 2018 1:51:42 pm
Mira, the detective!

An antique watch is stolen…and Mira, the detective, has to get to the bottom of it!

The police! In her building! Mira was surprised and a bit afraid. The big policemen in their khaki uniforms always looked so strict, and every one of them had a paunch, exactly like PT Sir, who was very scary indeed.

Mira had never seen so many policemen in one place and most of them seemed to be standing outside HER MOTHER’S SHOP!

Someone put a hand on Mira’s shoulder. She jumped. Phew! It was only Nambi Uncle, the watchman.

‘Come with me, child,’ Nambi Uncle said.

Normally Mira would have retorted, ‘I am not a child! I am eight years old!’ But today she just followed him up the stairs to her flat.

‘Where is Amma? Why are there so many policemen?’ Mira could feel her tears gathering, but she did not cry. She set down her school bag, took off her shoes and put them neatly on the rack. She even picked her socks off the floor. She had never done this before, no matter how many times her mother yelled at her. But today she wanted to be good.

With all those policemen downstairs, it was better to be careful.

‘There was a robbery in the shop last night.’

‘Robbery! But how, Uncle? You are our watchman!’ Mira loved Nambi Uncle with his giant moustache and small, bright eyes. She thought he was the strongest man in the world.

‘We don’t know how it happened. The police will find out. I have to go now, okay? Please close the door and lock it. Don’t go anywhere till your mother comes. She told me to tell you, it is very serious.’

‘Serious’ was the word Amma used when she meant it would be dangerous to disobey.

Mira did as she was told.

She sat down on the sofa and began to think.

Mira loved her mother’s small gems and antiques shop. It had such pretty things! They shone and sparkled and twinkled and flashed. It had strange old clocks and musical instruments that no one knew how to play. It also had platinum pens, emerald-encrusted keychains, solid silver cell phones and even a diamond-edged nailcutter. Mira loved looking at them whenever she went to the shop.

But most of all, she loved the large gold watch that was locked up inside a glass case. It was not for sale, Mira knew.

It had been given to her grandfather by someone very important. It had a secret mechanism that made it run forever, without winding and without any batteries!

Mira suddenly wondered if the thief had taken it, too. That would be terrible!

‘But, the camera! The cctv camera inside the shop! It would have recorded everything. If we watch the video, we can find out who the thief is!’

Mira jumped up, shouting excitedly.

Excitement always made her shout.

So, she did not hear the door open behind her.

‘No, sweetheart, the police tried that,’ said Mira’s mother, walking into the house. ‘The thief wore a mask, went up to the camera and threw a cloth over it. We can see nothing else in the video. There is only a tic-tic-tic sound for a few minutes. Here, I have a recording on my phone.’

Tic-tic-tic went the recording. What would make a sound like that, wondered Mira. An animal? A clock? A bomb? No, not a bomb. The police had checked the shop.

‘Ma, has the thief taken everything? Even Grandpa’s watch?’ asked Mira worriedly.

‘Only the watch, darling. It was the most valuable thing we had.’

Mira’s face fell. So, it was gone.

But why did the thief take nothing else from a shop full of treasures? That was weird, thought Mira.

‘Are you sad, Ma?’

Amma smiled, but tiredly. ‘Yes, love, a little,’ she said. ‘Will you do me a favour, Mira? Will you go borrow a Crocin from Kamini Aunty? I have a headache.’

‘Sure, Amma!’ Mira said, turning towards the door.

‘Remember to say please and thank you!’ Amma called after her as she stepped out.

‘Hello, my dear,’ said a slow voice above Mira’s head.

Mira knew Kamini Aunty was a scientist but she did not look like one. She didn’t wear glasses or a white coat.

She was tall and thin, and though she always wore sneakers, she moved very slowly. Rather like a camel, Mira often thought. And she had long fingernails, painted purple.

‘Hello, Aunty,’ Mira replied. ‘Please, do you have a Crocin?

Amma has a headache and we don’t have any at home.’

‘Of course, she has a headache, your poor, poor mother. She shou-would have one, wouldn’t she?’ Kamini Aunty said in her drawling way. ‘She must be so hassled.’

Kamini Aunty went inside and came back with a pill.

As she took the pill from Kamini Aunty’s hand, Mira’s eyes opened wide in surprise. The purple nails! They were gone! Chopped raggedly down to little stubs!

Hurriedly, she said ‘thank you’, and rushed back across the corridor. She had never seen Kamini Aunty without her long, bright, purple nails. And they were so badly cut! One nail even looked as if it was broken.

Even I can cut my own nails more neatly, and I am only eight, thought Mira.

Mira was dreaming of policemen playing football with purple cabbages, when the phone rang early next morning.

She heard her mother answer it.

‘Gloves?’ she heard her say. ‘I see. Okay, I will come to the station right away.’

Mira suddenly remembered the theft. She sat up, just as Amma came into the room.

‘Good morning, sweetheart. I have to go to the police station, so Nambi Uncle will come and be here for a while. I won’t be long. Okay? I’ve kept your milk on the table. Don’t forget to drink it.’

After her mother left, Mira switched on the tv. She was not supposed to do that, but Nambi Uncle was too busy with the newspaper to notice.

A while later, Nambi Uncle looked up. ‘Your mother said the police have found a clue. They found one torn glove lying on the street. And there was a bit of a fingernail stuck to it.’

‘Oh, the wicked thief!’ cried Mira.

‘He wore gloves so that he would not leave fingerprints!’ She knew all about fingerprints and how the police used them to catch criminals, from a story she had read in school.

After two tv shows, Mira suddenly realised Amma would be back soon. She had better brush her teeth and drink the milk, or Amma would be very mad!

She switched off the tv and was turning to go when Nambi Uncle said, ‘Mirakutty, do you have a nailcutter?’

‘Yes, I’ll bring it,’ said Mira. She gave the nailcutter to Nambi Uncle and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

And just as she was squeezing toothpaste onto the brush, she heard it.

Tic-tic-tic.

The sound she had heard on Amma’s phone, recorded from the cctv!

Mira’s heart pounded in fear. Her hand shook so much that the paste dropped off the toothbrush. She stumbled out of the bathroom and suddenly knew what the sound was. The nailcutter! It was going tic-tic-tic as Nambi Uncle cut his nails!

All at once, she was very afraid of him.

She stepped back and bolted herself into the bathroom.

Trying her best to make no noise, Mira leaned against the bathroom wall and wished dearly that her mother would come back. She could still hear the nailcutter.

She closed her eyes. Nails, nails.

Where had she seen nails recently? She could hear the tic-tic-tic as the nailcutter did its job. Cut nails … chopped nails … purple nails!

Mira opened her eyes wide.

She knew what the sound on the cctv had been! It wasn’t Nambi Uncle at all! She had to tell Amma. She had to tell the police. Even if the policemen looked like PT Sir, she would have to be brave and tell them.

She rushed out of the bathroom. ‘Nambi Uncle! We have to go to Amma! Let us go to the police station!’ she shouted.

‘What happened?’ Nambi Uncle jumped up.

Mira stopped and took a deep breath. She was shaking with fear and excitement.

‘I know who stole the watch. I know the thief!’ she whispered fiercely. She told him everything she had figured out.

Nambi Uncle lifted Mira up in one scoop, banged the door shut and leaped down the stairs. They zoomed off to the police station on his motorcycle.

At the police station, Mira ran to her mother.

‘Mira! What are you doing here?’ her mother exclaimed. ‘What happened, Nambi?’

‘Purple! It must have been a purple nail!’ Mira shouted excitedly.

‘What?’ asked her mother.

‘Was it? Was it? Was it purple? The bit of nail stuck in the glove?’ asked Mira.

‘It was, yes, but what … how did you know?’

‘I knew it! Kamini Aunty cut her nails in the shop, Amma! That was the tic-tic-tic sound! Her purple nails are gone, Amma! She cut them hurriedly in the shop that’s why they are so raggedy!

She wore gloves to cover her fingerprints and, and her nails, they tore the gloves!’ Mira burst out.

‘I have no idea what you are talking about. Why don’t you sit down and tell me everything from the beginning?’ said Mira’s mother.

And so Mira did.

‘If what you are saying is right, little girl, we must speak to Dr Kamini immediately,’ said the police inspector.

Amma and Mira rode in a jeep, with the inspector and two other policemen, back to their building.

Amma and Mira went home, while the policemen marched up and knocked on Dr Kamini’s door.

‘You were perfectly right, little girl,’ said the inspector.

Mira wished he would not call her a ‘little girl’. In just five months she would be nine!

‘Dr Kamini has confessed. Just as you said, her long nails tore her gloves. She had a second pair, but she was afraid they would also tear, so she used the diamond-edged nailcutter in the shop to cut off her nails! When she was sneaking out of the shop, she dropped one of the gloves.’

‘But why did she take only the watch? There are so many other pretty things in the shop.’

‘Ah, the minds of scientists! She was only interested in the watch because of the secret mechanism that makes it run without stopping. She didn’t want anything else. She wanted to find out what makes it tick.’

‘She asked me for the watch once,’ Mira’s mother added. ‘But I refused to let anyone open it and take it apart. It’s too precious.’

The policeman nodded.

‘So, she decided to steal it. Anyway, Miss Mira, we must thank you very much for helping us.’ He shook her hand and then saluted smartly.

Mira’s mother smiled in pride.

As Mira shut the door behind the policemen, she heard her mother.

‘You haven’t drunk your milk, Mira! Come here and finish it right now!’

(Excerpted with permission from Mira the Detective by Pavithra Sankaran, published by Duckbill Books.)

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