“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.” The Captain’s words echo in my head, from the first moment I heard them as he issued his challenge at school. This time, there are no rules.
I sneak into his library because this is where I will find the answer. My eyes are adjusting to the darkness of the room but my ears are still deaf, not only from the pounding of my heart but also by the ticking of the Captain’s damned clock.
The Captain brought this cursed noise demon from one of his travels and we have not had a day’s peace in the house since. How I would love to drown it in the deepest ocean, especially at night when the annoying rhythm penetrates the walls and into my pillows and blankets.
I turn towards the book shelf that is leaning against the wall behind the Captain’s large desk. This is where he stores collections of Chinese artifacts and relics that he in turn sells to foreigners. There are scrolls of paintings, calligraphy, art, ancient book sets, porcelain, carvings, bones, archaeological finds, and more.
I am looking for a rectangular box that the Captain uses for smaller collectibles that he keeps for himself. It is made of a darker red jade that is about 3 inches deep by 4 inches wide by 6 inches long. Its lid is intricately carved into a raised two-headed snake. He carries his newest acquisition in his pockets and returns them here before he turns in for the night.
I scan each shelf from left to right, starting at eye level and then move upwards, but I can’t find it. I calm myself and start again. This time I begin two rows above my head, left to right, and then the next shelf below, and the next. I still can’t find it.
Suddenly, I can hear voices from the outside drifting nearer. Should I hide under the desk? If the Captain comes in and decides to sit at his desk, I will be stuck. There’s a vase painted with blue blossoms that is perched atop a red mahogany stand that together is about my frame. I can stand behind it. No, my legs will be exposed. I look into the inner room and notice a little round table sitting partially in the shadows. I crawl under it.
Light spills in as the door opens. The Captain leaves his manservant at the door and enters the library alone. He walks beside his desk and bends down to pick something up from the shelf. The Captain moves out of my line of vision for a little while and then leaves the room.
I crawl out from under the table and walk back into the outer room to stand where the Captain was standing and as I look down my eye catches the red tinge of the snake’s forked tongue. Carefully, I lift the lid. I have seen almost every single one of these items because the Captain loves to tell us stories of how he acquired each. We cannot help but be entranced, making for a most satisfying audience.
Here it is: a golden pendant with a chain in the palm of my hands. My thumb traces its dainty etchings. Similar to a coin, this pendant is much larger in diameter and thicker in depth. I flip the pendant over to expose a smooth, shiny underside. I am mesmerized!
Afterwards, sleep was an exercise in futility, further aggravated by the steady hammering of that wretched clock. By the afternoon of the next day, I was half mad from waiting.
Eventually, the man of the hour arrived. “Raise your hands if you would venture a guess,” he called out, and I listened to some of the guesses. Then I raised my hand and waited for him to point to me.
Speaking just loud enough, I said, “It is a gold pendant with a chain. It is round like a coin but bigger!” The Captain smiled at me and handed me my prize. “Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a pocket watch.” When I began to feel it pulsate in my hand, I wondered why I had not felt it the night before.