Sharoda and Sri, my daughter and son-in-law, narrated the story to me over phone on the second day of January 2015, when they were vacationing in Hawaii. Sharoda was there to attend a professional conference. Sri had accompanied her for some sight-seeing before her conference.
On January 1, they had landed on the island of Kauai, also called the ‘Garden Isle’. With an area of about 560 square miles, it is the fourth largest of the main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. They had put up at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Kapa’a, which is a large town of about ten thousand inhabitants.
In their first evening in Kauai, Sri lost his wedding ring while setting up his camera to take picture of the gorgeous sunset at Ke’e beach.
The two had reached there some time before sunset. Sri was setting up his camera, just as the sun was reaching the horizon across the sea. It was then that he noticed some sand sticking to the bottom of his backpack. As he brushed it off he felt his wedding ring fly off, more instinctively than physically. He froze where he stood, realizing with alarm that if he moved he might step on the ring, and bury it in the sand. He called Sharoda over urgently. She looked and looked around him, but could not find the ring.
The ring was not only expensive but also of great emotional value. Frantic, and yet careful not to disturb the sand, Sri gingerly turned on his heels to scan the sand around where he stood. He too could not find the ring. The dry sand, trampled by umpteen tourists, was full of little dips and rises. The ring could be anywhere, lying over the sand, or buried in it. The sun had set, and the light began to fade surprisingly fast.
With the fast approaching darkness the beach had become deserted. Only a few people could be seen. Soon, it became too dark to search. The two discussed whether they should search using their phone light. But, they felt that might attract attention. Those other people still present might get curious, and come over to satisfy their curiosity. Eventually, it became obvious that the two would have to come back and look for it in daylight.
But, the spot had to be marked, and this seemed almost impossible. It was some distance from the last line of trees of the wood bordering the beach. In the dark, all the trees looked the same. Still, Sri noted the nearest tree, and walked to it heel to toe. It was thirty-seven steps. To be sure, he repeated the walk. He marked the tree by piling up some branches at its base. Then he got some dry twigs. Planting the twigs in the sand, he marked the point where he had stood and an approximate rectangle around it where the ring could lie.
Then both returned to their rental car. Sharoda suggested they get a metal detector. She called up the hotel, told about the lost ring, and asked if the hotel had a metal detector. The woman at the other end said, no, the hotel did not have a metal detector. But, she said (as if to reassure Sharoda) tourists losing ornaments on the beach was quite common. In fact, some beachcombers made a living finding such items. She suggested that Sharoda try the pawn shops on the island. They might have metal detectors. Sharoda Googled on her phone, and found some pawn shops listed on the island. But, they were already closed for the night. She then thought of Wal-Mart. She Googled and found that Wal-Mart did sell metal detectors. She located the store on the island and called it up. The person who took the call acknowledged that Wal-Mart sold metal detectors, but this store did not stock it. She suggested that Sharoda try the ‘Sports Authority’ store on the island. But, that store did not have its phone number listed. So, Sri started the car to drive to it.
On the way, Sharoda desperately thought there must be someone with a metal detector on the island, and Googled for ‘Kauai metal detection’. Finally she found http://www.kauaimetaldetecting.com. It was about the service provided by a man on the island who specialized in finding rings lost on the beach in Kauai. Sharoda called the service, and Derrick the owner responded immediately. Yes, he had a metal detector, and he could search for the ring. He would charge $120 for the search, and a premium of $150, if he found the ring. The total, though a large amount, was still acceptable. But, he said he would not be free till three PM the next day.
The couple was afraid that some beachcomber might find the ring before that. By this time, they had passed a few hardware stores. At this late (for the island) hour those too had closed down. The last place to try their luck was Sports Authority.
Luckily, the store had not closed yet. Sharoda asked the woman at the counter if they had a metal detector. No, she said, they did not. Then, on second thought, she asked another person in the store if they had metal detector. This person laboriously recalled that they might have one. He went away to look for it, and returned with a box. What explained its presence is that someone on the island had mail-ordered it just before Christmas, and then not liking it, had returned it to the nearest store, which happened to be this one. Since the box had been opened, it could be had at a discount at $40. The duo quickly bought it, along with a bucket and a small spade like the ones children play with on a beach.
They returned to the hotel. Happy to have finally got a metal detector, they still spent that night in utter anxiety. What if people on the beach who had seen them searching had probed and found the ring? What about the beachcombers? When they had left the beach, the moon had not yet risen, but it was close to full moon day, and a tide was due. What if the tide came in and swept away the markings, or the ring when receding. Should they not go back to the spot right away to search, asked Sri. Sharoda voted against it as the beach was deserted and probably unsafe at night.
They assembled the metal detector and poured over its manual, making sure they understood how to operate it. They hardly slept. Around 5:30 in the morning they got ready and left. It was still dark. When they reached the beach, daylight was barely breaking out. It took some time to locate the place. To their utter dismay they found that the tide had come in and submerged almost half of the marked rectangle, flattening the sand, and probably carrying away or burying the ring.
Still, with whatever hope that remained, they got to work. First, the metal detector had to be calibrated by sweeping over an area free from any metallic objects. Sri could only guess at finding such an area. After doing that Sri started sweeping. He was not sure of the sensitivity of the instrument – whether to first use broad sweeps to establish an approximate location, and then zero-in with fine-tooth combing; or sweep inch by inch. The detector started giving occasional disjoint beeps. Sri realized that it was picking up the metal in his wrist watch, belt buckle and shoes. He took them off. Still, there was no reassuring response from the detector. The few odd beeps gave no indication except indicating that it could sense an object only from close proximity.
In the fourth round of passing over the same area again and again, there was a faint but distinct beep that drew Sri out of the rectangle. It was in a direction he had least expected, based on which way he had flung his hand to brush the backpack when the ring had come loose. The beep grew stronger, and led him to a spot well outside the marked area. Was it then a false signal? The sand here was wet from last night’s tide. Sri started digging the sand. And then the spade hit something hard. Now, Sharoda dug in with her fingers and touched something smooth and round. They had finally found the ring! It was buried more than two inches under the sand a couple of feet outside the marked area.
While narrating the above story to me the two were so excited, they took turns to unravel, Sharoda having called me to ask, “Daddy, you are always looking for a story. Do you want to hear the most amazing story?”
The next day, I asked Sri what they planned to do with the metal detector. He had not thought about it yet, and clearly did not see any future use for it. I teased him saying they might keep it, to tell their children the story, and let them play “Find the ring”. But, to take the metal detector home he had to know whether the airlines allow a metal detector to be carried on a flight. He eventually returned to California, leaving behind Sharoda to attend her conference. He took the metal detector packed in his suitcase.
We have since repeatedly returned to the story, trying to fathom the strange coincidence of facts – losing a ring on a remote beach in one of the Hawaiian Islands, and not finding it by normal search; getting the inspiration to look for it with a metal detector; finding the only fellow who could locate the ring with a metal detector, only to learn that he would be not be available until it would probably be too late; finding the only metal detector on sale that had come to the island under the most improbable circumstances, and buying it at a discounted price; and, finally unearthing the ring buried two inches under the sand after a tide had passed over it!
It was as if the entire sequence of events had unfolded as per a pre-written script, culminating in ecstasy after all the anxious hours of utter despair.
© Mikupa / 23 January 2015