There was a jewellery box among the marigolds, an intricately carved wooden piece with ivory flowers and a curved lid. Nestled among the flowers, it blended with the string of lights hanging all over the house, and aunties with dholaks butchering wedding melodies.
Watching from the window above, the bride saw the box and gasped. She knew it was customary to display jewellery cases at weddings. A lot rested on the gold handed from the bride’s side – respect in her new home and eventually her marital happiness. But she also knew the box was empty.
If opened, the groom would return without his bride, the makeup lady would still demand her money and the empty box would be filled with humiliation.
Suddenly, fireworks splattered across the sky. “They are here,” someone shouted. Everyone rushed to welcome the wedding party, except the bride. Picking up her lehenga, she smoothly stepped into the courtyard and dug out the box. While the le jayenge le jayenge song played out in the front, the bride slipped into the side street where she had conveniently parked her TVS scooty, the night before.
This antiquated neighbourhood was used to runaway brides, this was the third in eight months. These modern girls were a disappointment. They no longer needed boyfriends to elope with, denying the joy of juicy speculation to narrow minds and restless tongues. But this time, the missing box got the gossip fires burning. It started when someone from the family said it contained an heirloom going back to the pre-independence era while another relative claimed it was a set of earrings and necklace studded with precious stones. As news travelled, its contents and value changed with each version. It kept the gossip fires burning throughout the winter months.
First published in the 2022 Flash Fiction Festival Anthology.