This is the twelfth story following the life of Alexis and her ancestors, telling the story of how their family’s heirloom pearl necklace has impacted their lives. To catch up on the previous stories, click here.
Alexis takes a second look at the box standing in front of her mirror. It’s a wooden box with patterns carved out all over. Every time she opens it, there is a faint whiff of something exotic. It came with today’s letter from grandma, for her birthday. It’s a perfect fit for all the letters she’s been saving, and even has a compartment for the string of heirloom pearls that she received on her 16th birthday.
As she opened yet another of grandma’s weathered envelopes, she could feel the now familiar excitement bubbling inside. What story will it be this year? She wondered.
Time to meet Indira, our spice mistress ancestor. This time, the story is not so much about Indira, but rather about the meaning that a string of pearls, passed on through generations of women, can have in one’s life.
Unlike many before her, Indira lived a good life on the Malabar Coast of India, where she collected spices and brewed teas for the local townspeople. Indira’s great-great-grandmother Rin had spent years saving, until one day she decided she wanted to count memories, not coins, and set sail. When she reached the shore of the Malabar coast, she not only fell in love with the tropical waters but also a local medicine man. Indira had inherited the best from her ancestors: she managed her money like Rin and she had a knack for spices, herbs, and teas. But most of all, she had a good listening ear. And that’s how she landed herself in the middle of most of the townspeople’s problems.
If there was a dispute, they ran to Indira. If there was a mystery, they ran to her too. And if there was a problem, nothing was so big that a cup of Indira’s spicy tea couldn’t solve it. When she was unsure about something, she held the pearls and thought of the people who came before her and all they had accomplished and knew that with patience, she would find the answer.
She was mixing one of these special blends one morning when an unknown young gentleman showed up at her door. He was looking for something to make him strong, he said. Indira had just the thing.
“All I need to know is whether it’s for emotional strength or physical,” she said, smiling, her hand paused above a jar of dark brown leaves.
“Emotional,” he said. And burst into tears!
Indira patted his shoulder. “There-there. Perhaps you first need a cup of this,” she said, pouring from a warm pot of tea that she had been drinking from. “It calms the nerves.”
He drank deeply, and then he explained. “I have come to town to marry the girl that was promised to me. But she wants nothing to do with me. What must I tell my parents? I can’t go back without a bride! She must think I’m a weakling. My parents already think so!”
Indira sighed. He seemed to be a particularly serious type of man. Quite handsome, though. And respectful, which said a lot.
“Well, you will indeed need emotional strength,” she said and got up to put some leaves from different bottles together. As a last touch, she sprinkled some fragrant jasmine in too. Sometimes a bit of uplifting flower perfume was enough to strengthen the weakest of souls. In her pocket lay the string of heirloom pearls to give her the wisdom she needed, inherited from her great-great-grandmother Rin.
Next came Dharma, one of the town elders. Indira bowed to show her respect.
“No bowing today, Indira. We have work to do. Did you see that young man? My granddaughter is promised to him and she wants nothing to do with him! I need a love potion.”
“Dharma, I don’t make those.”
Dharma snorted. “Don’t give me that! Put in some of that pink flower tea you make for the weak-hearted. And add some jasmine!”
Indira frowned. She did not take well to instructions, but out of respect, she started a mix that would soothe the heart in times of turmoil.
“Thank you,” said Dharma, stomping out.
But Indira barely had time to return to her own cup of tea when the doorbell jangled again.
“Indira you must help me! My grandmother was here to get me a love potion, wasn’t she? I won’t drink it, I won’t!” Aditi, Dharma’s gorgeous granddaughter, was standing in the doorway, her black hair flying in all directions, as though she had run here.
“Be calm, Aditi. I gave your grandmother exactly what she needed, and no love potion. What is wrong?”
“I won’t marry him! How can my parents give me to someone I’ve never met? Give me a tea for strength, so I can run away.”
Indira touched her forehead. All this drama and it was only 9 am.
“Drink this,” she said and pushed another cup of her own pot across the counter.
She sipped with Aditi in silence. This was going to be a problem for the pearls to solve. But she would need a bit of time. Wisdom is, after all, acquired over time, the way a pearl forms in an oyster.
“Aditi, I have an idea. Bring your grandmother and come to my house at about noon tomorrow.”
Aditi nodded her agreement, downed the last of her tea and stormed out in the same way her grandmother did. “I’m sorry but I’ve got to be back at the market stall!” she yelled behind her as the door slammed.
Shaking her head, Indira stepped out. Luckily the distraught young man had told her where he was staying.
The next day when Dharma and Aditi showed up, the young man – she’d found out his name was Arjun – was waiting.
Aditi’s face broke into a frown. She folded her arms. Dharma sighed. Arjun dropped his head and looked at his toes. Indira smiled. “I thought we could all sit around my table and get to know one another a little bit.” She had her pots of tea ready: self-confidence for Arjun, wisdom for Dharma and an openness of spirit for Aditi. And around Indira’s neck, the string of pearls.
At first, the conversation went slowly. Indira had to poke and prod. “Where do you come from, Arjun?” she asked. And then to Dharma: How are their families acquainted? Slowly but surely, Aditi seemed to relax. Indira made more tea. The afternoon shadows became longer until the sky turned purple through the window.
“Friends, I’m afraid I’ll have to send you on your way, as I am expecting some guests for dinner. But perhaps we can repeat this tomorrow?” Indira asked. She caught Aditi sneaking a look at Arjun. Then, looking up, she nodded. “That would be nice.”
Dharma beamed. Arjun gave a shy smile. Indira nodded. My job here is done, she thought, touching her pearls. Thank you, dear pearls.
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