Have you noticed how there are always minor mysteries and puzzles to be solved in every home? How both children and adults leave a trail that others have to figure out?
Despite our father being a police officer and having had several stints in the criminal investigation department, we children found it much easier to pull the wool over his eyes than over mother’s.
Perhaps father chose to keep his presence of mind for real criminals and let us get away with minor wrongdoing in the house. Or it could be that he dealt with so much bloodshed and horror that our actions — even with the most harmful intent we were capable of — were too small and ineffective to actually be called crimes.
Mother, however, always got to the bottom of large scale infractions (read: joint efforts) and little mysteries in the house (read: single-handed lapses). She knew who had broken the vase and had then tried to balance the pieces together without the use of adhesive.
She knew who had emptied the tin of chocolate fudge and left it out on the steps to get rusty in the rain (possibly, the ruin of the tin was more serious that the ruin of our appetites before mealtime, for in those days appetites were hard to lose, while suitable storage containers were almost impossible to come by), and so on.
We thought we were master criminals and that we had covered our tracks well, especially when we raided mother’s cache of Black Magic chocolates. That was possibly one of the few unanimous decisions we ever made.
A visit from an uncle in the navy, a chance glimpse of that tell-tale black tin, a couple of whispered conferences and we were all in together as raiders of the locked larder.
Mother had no right, after all, to keep treats under lock and key and dole them out to us in direct proportion to good behaviour. Cod liver oil and licorice were one thing, but chocolates were an entirely different ball game. Chocolates were our birthright and we would have them!
Once the deed was done and the second layer of chocolates in the tin had found its way into our stomachs, we practised surprised looks and acted and re-enacted our lines (“There was no bottom layer in that tin? How terrible!”), playing out our roles as innocents with what we were convinced was real talent, but one look at our faces and mother knew what had happened.
“We have a mole in our midst,” said the two older ones, glaring at the youngest, who had a tendency to blurt out secrets. But none of us had given the game away. Mother was just a natural detective.
We didn’t know then what we discovered when we became mothers. Mothers have built-in radar to figure out what is happening without anyone saying anything. That’s how they get to know who moved the chair — or that the chair was moved at all (to be climbed onto) — and for what. A casual sweep of the room, an out-of-place vase (the newly visible dust rings being the give-away), a crooked cushion — and, boom, every misdemeanour falls in place!
This is generally not a role that is chosen voluntarily and most of us would hand over charge happily — who wants to be constantly on the trail, after all — but somehow, the burden is not lifted. Even when the children have grown and left the nest and silence reigns in the house, someone has to figure out what is being said without words!
So the minor detective work continues in each household … perhaps that is what keeps interest alive!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.