The young girl sat in her Grandmother's lap watching her as the old woman went through the contents of a small wooden box that she held very carefully in her small, wrinkled hands.
Outside the noise from the city drifted in through the lattice window above their heads. Occasionally there came the sound of a car horn, a dog barking and the indistinct chatter of neighbours. Shanghai was a busy city no matter what time of year.
Cooing softly in her native Shanghai-nese she proffered the delicate object in the direction of the young girl. She reached out her tiny hands and very carefully clasped the box, feeling it's rough edges against the skin of her fingers.
"Xiǎoxīn" (Be careful) the Grandmother said as she momentarily juggled with it before bringing it into the relative safety of her lap.
Until this moment her Grandmother had always kept the box hidden away below the floorboards of their small house in the suburbs of Shanghai. This being the time of Mao's Cultural Revolution, any sign of wealth or extravagance was frowned upon and could result in the family in possession of such trinkets being ostracized & cast down as traitors to the cause.
At 5 years old she was still too young to understand such things but in her own small way she knew that this moment, the act of sharing something so personal with her only Granddaughter held something very special for her Grandmother.
She ran her tiny fingers over the intricate carving of the dragon that ran the full length of the lid. An important symbol in the Chinese culture and one of supernatural power that was intended to protect the contents of the box.
The Grandmother put her arm around her and pulled her close. She whispered in her ear "Dǎkāi tā" (open it) and so with a nervous giggle she carefully prised open the lid and let it gently fall back on its hinges.
There before her encased in a lining of purple velvet lay a shining jumble of the most beautiful things the young girl had seen so far her my short life. Pearls that she would eventually learn were the freshwater kind lay entwined in their forms of necklace & bracelet along with several rings & earrings that did their best to hide from her view.
She scooped one out from it's hiding place and after holding it up to the light for a few seconds slid it carefully onto one of her tiny fingers. Being far too big she had to hold it in place with her other hand but even so she was dazzled by the beauty of the small piece of jewellery in front of her.
As she stared in wonder at the pearl in front of her she felt her Grandmother squeeze her even more tightly and say...
"Zhè shì nǐ de wèilái wǒ de háizi...This is your future my child.
London - 12/2020