“See what I brought back.” Rita held out a finger. On it was a ring of dull brass. It was engraved with a black beetle, and inset with microscopic letters.
Rita had just returned home to Bangalore from a trip to Egypt,sponsored, by her college. After boring her family with descriptions of the pyramids, the sphinx, camel rides and a boat trip down the Nile in a sampan she made this startling gesture. She had a mysterious smile on her face.
“So what?,” said her elder brother Victor. It was his favourite expression; one which did not make him popular with the family.
“What do you know? It has secret powers.”
“Huhh” said her younger brother Jerry. It was his way of addressing the world.
“I bought it from an old woman near the pyramids. She said it once belonged to the pharaoh, Rameses The First. She pointed to the beetle.” This is a scarab, a royal insignia.”“You’ve been taken for a ride” Mr. Gomes looked amused.
“She said the ring could do anything.”
“Like what?.” Mrs. Gomes sat up. “Will it do my cooking for me?”
“Listen! There were other tourists eager to buy her stuff. She ignored them and came to me.”
Victor grinned. “She knew a sucker when she saw one.”
“That’s what you think. She recognized me as Ioni, high priestesss to the Goddess Isis. I was the one who consecrated the ring for the pharaoh. The woman was Aira, my assistant.”
“What nonsense.” Mr. Gomes shifted uneasily in his chair. “There’s no such thing as reincarnation.”
“We don’t know, dad. There was something about that woman. I felt I had always known her. Her eyes were full of fire.”
“So are yours when you get angry. That doesn’t make you a priestess. You were conned into buying a piece of junk.”
“You dare to call the emperor’s ring a piece of junk. Aira said it would bring bad luck to his enemies.
Jerry got up.
“We are not his enemies. He died thousands of years ago. What you have looks like some old curtain ring.”
“Don’t make fun of Aira. Do you know what these hieroglyphics say?’ She traced the characters with her finger. It says, “ evil befalls the mockers of the ring.”
Mrs. Gomes put her knitting down.
“Enough of this. It’s time for lunch.”
She left the room to return in a few minutes.” Something is terribly wrong. The food is ruined.”
They followed her into the kitchen. The rice bowl had been overturned. Its contents were splattered all over the floor. The air smelled of burnt milk.
“The pudding is spoiled. How could that happen? The oven light was off when I left the room. And look! There was a roast chicken on this platter. It’s gone.”
Everyone looked at the platter. It was bare.
“The chicken must have flown away,” said Jerry.
Mrs. Gomes started to cry. “I spent the whole morning getting the stuffing right. The pudding was a special recipe.”
Mrs. Gomes picked up the rice bowl. “Don’t cry Irene. We’ll go out for lunch as soon as we have cleared up this mess.”
“I told you,” screeched Rita. “The spirits have taken revenge, because you laughed at the ring.”
She held it up. It seemed to glow with a sinister light, spewing venom and hatred.
“Stop it Rita. You’re getting hysterical”. Mr. Gomes went out to empty the rice bowl. As he neared the garbage bin he saw Blacky, the street dog, wolfing down a large piece of chicken. When he saw Mr. Gomes he gave a guilty start and scampered away down the street.
“There’s your spirit force,” laughed Mr. Gomes.
“Stanley, the door was shut. You kicked it open when you went out. How could Blacky have come in? How could the pudding burn, when the oven was shut off?”
“Don’t puzzle yourself, Irene. Put on your prettiest dress and let’s get to lunch.”
Lunch at Koshy’s was a strained affair. Nobody discussed the events of the day. Even Jerry, who never missed a chance to talk abut his stamp collection or the latest cricket match, was silent.
The next morning the postman arrived with a letter sent by speed post for Rita. She opened it and jumped with joy.
“I’ve got a seat for the MBA programme in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. What’s more I am high up on the list.”
The family looked at her in astonishment. When Rita sat for the common entrance test they never thought she would get through. Rita did not appear to take the exam seriously, and spent her time chatting with her friends, or watching T.V.
“The ring did it,” said Rita. “Aira said it would bring me good fortune.”
“Fluke,” jeered Victor.
“Say what you like. It is a gift from Isis.” Rita stalked off to tell her friends of her success.
That night the family was woken up by screams coming from Victor’s room. Mr. Gomes ran in and switched on the light.
Victor was leaning backwards on his pillow. A cobra, with its hood up, was on the bed gliding towards him. Its head was raised to strike.
On hearing the noise Mr. Gomes had picked up the walking stick he kept near his cot. He brought it down upon the snake. He missed it but almost caught Victor, who had rolled off the bed in fright. The snake gave its attacker a malevolent look and slid out through the window from which it had come.
Meanwhile, the family had gathered outside the door. They looked at one another in fear. Each had an unspoken thought. ‘What next?’
The answer came early next morning. Mr. Gomes could not get up from his bed. He pressed his head with his palm and lay still. Victor got out the car and took his father to St. Martha’s Hospital. The doctor in attendance looked grave.
“You have brought him just in time. He seems to be going in for a stroke”.
Mr. Gomes was in hospital for a week. There were no major complications, but his blood pressure was high. He was advised complete rest. A pall set over the household. Even Rita was subdued.
Two days later there was a telephone call from Jerry’s school. He had fractured his ankle while doing the long jump. Victor picked him up from school, and once again went through the procedures at the hospital. This time the doctor was cheerful.
“It’s a hairline crack. He’ll be as good as new in a few weeks.”
Jerry came back with his leg in plaster. He kept company with his father playing scrabble. Mrs. Gomes was in tears. “There is a curse upon this house; and all because of that wretched ring. Who knows what witchery it can do?”
Everyone felt the same. Rita clung to her ring, and would not take it off her finger. She walked as if in a trance, with a strange light in her eyes. The family avoided her. Her brothers left the room when she entered. Her parents looked away.
Mrs. Gomes knelt before the statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on her altar. She attended mass at St. Patrick’s church. She rotated her rosary. She lit candles at the shrine of Infant Jesus in Viveknagar. There was no change. Rita behaved as if she was under a spell. Her brothers had stopped talking to her.. Pharoah's Ring - Continues here.