It shouldn’t matter, should it, the loss of one single freshwater pearl? How much is it worth? Maybe a pound or less?
I’ve lost or had stolen many more valuable personal items, watches, special pieces of jewellery that were given as gifts. Meaningful stuff. I’ve never felt moved to write about any of those.
In the scale of things, the loss one one single freakily heart-shaped pearl shouldn’t bother me – or at least three weeks after its loss, it shouldn’t still be bothering me…. but it is. Yes, I have better things to worry about, as mumsie would say, but every time I looked at the single strand pearl bracelet on my right wrist, it reminded me that it doesn’t mean so much because that one pearl was missing.
The bracelet began as a short strand of spare pearls lying about at a little shop run by a nice young couple in Cheltenham. He’s the designer jeweller; she is the very pleasant front-of-house saleswoman. It’s the sort of place where you can find a suitable present for someone within two minutes flat.
So they put a clasp on it and it became a bracelet – and by happy chance it included one freaky pearl – unmistakeably fat and heart-shaped. It caught my attention every time I looked at the bracelet and others commented on it too, thinking it was deliberate.
So I had that bracelet for many years, wearing it constantly. Several times, it broke, several times I had it re-strung – the final time on to wire, which I thought would be more or less permanent. But the rigours of windsurfing lessons in St Lucia last year finally snapped the wire.
I noticed it during the break for lunch and panicked. Capt Sensible knew I’d been wearing it earlier because he’d come along and done some snaps of me wobbling nervously while trying to acquire some tricky new skills.
So it was somewhere at the bottom of the Caribbean. But wait, all was not yet lost, because during the morning session my board was on a leash lest I suddenly get all expert and carried away and sail south-east on a stiff breeze all the way across the wide blue bay to Castries! So there was the comparatively limited area of the sports centre bay where the bracelet must have been lost.
I was too busy doing my “off the leash” and frankly exhilarating/terrifying wind-surfing to search for it that afternoon but the following morning, detailed Capt Sensible to get his mask and snorkel on and help me do a systematic search of the sea bed. In print that looks slightly harsh but he was allowed to have breakfast first. Search and Recovery personnel need energy.
So we both started swimming up and down in as straight lines as possible in order to cover the entire area of the sports centre lagoon. It’s not easy swimming in straight lines. You have to take bearings from rocks that all look a bit similar but hey, it had to be done. Fortunately, the watersports centre activity was waterskiing that day – on the other side of the bay in the open sea although the wash from the boat kept making my search lines bendy.
Capt Sensible and I finally met in the middle, neither of us having found anything. I’d thought I found a gold ingot but it turned out to be an ice-cream wrapper. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Capt Sensible came to the conclusion that I must have lost it somewhere else and wanted to call it a day but I felt a double-check of our search areas was called for, so I carried on doing lengths across his area of water when suddenly, not far from a rock, something gleamed from the golden sandy sea floor – a pearl – and another! There they were, six or seven pearls laid out like a beautiful luminous constellation on the sea bed. It was a most wonderful sight. You can’t imagine my utter joy. Not far away, down there in the bluey depth below my feet about eight more were still on the wire, the strands of which had obviously been wrenched apart. There it was. The whole bracelet!
I took off my mask and yelled to Capt Sensible who swam over. We reckoned it was ten or eleven feet deep just there. He can’t dive. I’m hopeless at diving down as my ass is way too buoyant. Seriously, when I’m snorkelling, it’s like I have my own personal turquoise marker buoy following me along.
So I yelled to anyone who happened to be in the water sports hut and a guy called Errol appeared, dived in and swam over to us. He was a hell of a swimmer and turned out to be one hell of a diver too. I explained what had happened and the lovely blessed man did three effortless dives and recovered every single pearl that I’d seen. He was most concerned to know if any were missing but I honestly didn’t know. I’d never counted them and until they were re-strung, I wouldn’t know. But after thanking Errol profusely, I had them all back in my little hot hand and swum to shore.
Fortunately, there were two ladies with covered stalls at the back of the furthest section of beach where everyone was laid out sunbathing. They had tables out front on the sand displaying the jewellery they’d made from local shells and dried pods and beans. One of them was Helenoria, a quietly-spoken lady in her sixties with wavy grey hair, dexterous fingers and a TV in the back workroom showing a Christian channel.
When I showed her my handful of pearls and told her the story, her face creased into astonished smiles and she was happy to restring them for free. I asked her to include some local shells and beads near the clasp (it gave me the excuse to pay her properly) so I’d always be reminded of her and St Lucia.
Everything was fine until Helenoria’s nylon fishing line snapped during strenous gardening work earlier this year and the pearls – all intact – needed re-stringing again. I took the back to the jewellers in Cheltenham where they would have to be sent off to their re-stringing person.
I asked for the heart-shaped pearl to be situated in the middle of the strand again so it was put in a separate bag to the rest and then rebagged with it all plus an explanatory note.
When I picked up the finished bracelet, one look told me that the pearl wasn’t there. The shop owner saw my face and said “I wondered about that too but I’ve checked with the re-stringing woman and she assures me she included it. I couldn’t tell which one it was either.”
Yeah well, she couldn’t tell which one it was because it was no longer there. Lost, stolen, dropped, discarded. It’s gone. I told her it wasn’t there. Even though I was just a bit sad and didn’t make a fuss, the shop woman gave me a free bracelet of turquoise pearls as a kind of good-will gesture. It didn’t really make up for anything but I accepted it.
Thing is, it was impossible to know why the pearl wasn’t there. It just wasn’t.
But I did resent the re-stringing woman telling a blatant porkie and insisting that she had included it. She must have known that wasn’t true because there isn’t a pearl that’s remotely heart-shaped.
One measly pearl is just another bit of Stuff and I shouldn’t care about it this much, but I suppose the upsetting thing was the effort that diver made to get all of my pearls back – and the ease/thoughtlessness/deception by which one is now missing never to be seen again.
I didn’t have a photograph of the pearl, except from a distance on my wrist, but next time something goes for repair, I’m taking a pic of it, to ensure it all comes back! I’ve stopped wearing the bracelet anyway. The re-stringing wasn’t even a good job; I could always see a gap where my pearl should have been. Bah.