Priya’s room in the marriage hall was a warzone. Shoes were tossed around, an avalanche of clothes barricaded the balcony door, and a minefield of open suitcases occupied every square inch of the floor. Small tiptoed in. “Have you noticed anything strange around you, Priya akka?”

Jamie’s sister didn’t respond, but carried on staring at the wall. “She’s not normally like this,” Jamie whispered. “I think she’s very sad about the wedding getting cancelled. Maybe we should come back later.” Small nodded. She asked if she could use the toilet. Small noticed how clean and free of clutter Priya’s bathroom was. She inspected the pipes and the flush. She walked up to the mirror and found half a bar of soap, a kid-sized toothbrush, and a newly opened tube of paste for sensitive teeth by the sink. She turned the tap clockwise and then counter clockwise. There was no water. She tried to flush the toilet. Nothing happened.

She pulled out her notebook and began scribbling.

• No water in the toilet

• Messy room

• Priya doesn’t want to talk to us!

“Your sister is such a messy person!” Small whispered as she and Jamie left the room. “Priya’s usually a neat freak. She’s constantly forcing me to clean my room,” Jamie replied. “How do you explain the room?”

“She lost her engagement saree just hours before the function yesterday. You should have seen her, she turned into a complete monster! Screaming her lungs out, holding her breath till she turned purple, and then she went on a rampage – tossing clothes, breaking vases, and just about destroying everything in her path.” Jamie said. “Even Amma and Appa were terrified.”

“Not so fast . . .” Small flipped through her notebook. “When did you say Priya noticed that her saree was missing?”

“Yesterday evening, a couple of hours before the engagement.”

“And when did they manage to put out the fire?”

“Yesterday afternoon,’ Jamie replied, “but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Take me to the place where the fire started.” Small grabbed Jamie by the arm.

“But Amma said it isn’t safe to go there,” Jamie protested. “And don’t grab me – my teeth hurt!” But Small wouldn’t listen. Small rummaged through the scorched ground in one corner of the garden next to the marriage hall. Using a silver kambi she found lying around, she moved the twigs, overturned leaves, and dug out just about everything she could.

“We’ve been here for hours,” Jamie whined. “Can you at least tell me what we’re looking for? Maybe we can find clues over at the ice-cream counters.”

“You’ll see when I find it.” Small ignored Jamie and continued digging. Something gold and red caught her eye.

“Jamie, what did Priya’s engagement saree look like? Was it red, with large golden orchids blooming along the borders?”

“That’s right . . . but how did you –” Jamie took a closer look at the fabric that Nisha dug out. “That’s . . . that’s . . .”

“Priya’s engagement saree,” Small muttered.

Small and Jamie sprinted across the grounds towards the church. They climbed over hedges, jumped over shrubs and inconveniently placed flower pots, and ran as fast as their legs could carry them. As they got to the church, they heard Walrus Moustache announce to the crowd, “The detective from Mumbai has found the gold thaali!”

Nisha Small: The Knot of Gold

Excerpted with permission from Nisha Small: The Knot of Gold, CG Salamander, Hole Books.