“How much do you think it is worth?”
I told him confidently: “Rest assured that it is genuine and one of a kind.”
Many considered Mr Armitage to be a frugal man, but I just thought he was a Scrooge.
He said he paid an honest day’s wage but I think he paid just safe on the side of minimum wage.
Mr Armitage had his hands in several businesses, all of which did well.
He was also a reliable paymaster who paid his dues on time, so nobody had any desire to jeopardise any business dealings with him.
Dad didn’t always take well to him but he couldn’t deny his reliability.
When he called me and asked for my help, his request had been a strange one.
He wanted me to take photographs of jade bracelets and bangles from all around town and give them to him.
I was also supposed to tell him where I had taken the photographs. No pawnshops allowed, only legitimate dealers.
He told me: “I am thinking of going into the precious stones business. Good money to be made.”
I thought this was strange but I knew better than to ask Mr Armitage. He was a private man and he would tell you his stories at his own time and in his own way.
There was no sense in rushing him, unless you wanted to end a great business relationship.
I probed further, but Moses would have had a better time getting water out of a rock than I would have had with getting Mr Armitage to talk.
I asked Cecilia, his secretary, about his request but all she said was that it “was a secret” and she couldn’t say any more.
“My lips are sealed,” she told me.
Then one night changed everything.
I occasionally helped do Mr Armitage’s accounts (for free of course), and that night, he suddenly called me into his office and gave me my fee for my jade photography adventures.
He shouldn’t have left that file open on his table then.
One thing several years in the military taught me was how to read documents upside down.
I consider that to be a special trait of mine.
I saw an open brown manila folder and little else, other than the name Jade Lu.
My mother’s name.
I hardly knew my mother because she died inn a car accident when I was one.
My grief-stricken father would only tell me that she was a wealthy man’s daughter and her father wanted nothing to do with the middle-class tailor family my dad and uncle came from.
He told me: “She was a strong woman. She gave up everything to marry me and start our family. She turned her back on her parents and the rest of her kin.”
But it was one photograph that stood out on that file. A broken piece of a yellow-green jade bracelet.
It looked familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it then.
Why did Mr Armitage want to know about my family?
We lived in different parts of town, with our own supermarkets, stores, and all the other necessities of life.
As I walked home, I thought deeply about the photograph and my mother.
The next day, Cecilia asked if I wanted to join her for lunch at the new Italian restaurant in town.
I have no problem saying yes to free food.
She was sweet but careful with her secrets, but that day, she was different.
“Mr Armitage was in love before, you know. After his father died, he had to leave school and do odd jobs to support his family. He met and fell in love with a beautiful woman, but her father wouldn’t agree to their relationship because he was poor.”
Cecilia said they made plans to elope and headed west.
“They got married, and he gave the woman a jade bracelet as a symbol of their love. They had a lovely daughter and it seemed as if their happiness was complete.
“But one day, while Mr Armitage was out of town on a business trip, the woman’s family found her and they took her away with the baby. He never saw them again. Sometimes, he still calls out the woman’s name, Jade.”
I asked her: “What happened to the baby and her mother?”
Cecilia said the baby grew up and married into a middle-class family but knew little more.
A light suddenly went off in my head.
I remembered that my father told me that my mother had given him a jade bracelet, which she said was from her mother.
When I asked him to show the bracelet to me, it looked exactly like the one I saw in the photograph on Mr Armitage’s table.
The next day, I told Cecilia that I had something for Mr Armitage.
“Another jade bracelet,” I told her.
I walked into his office but the man sitting in the armchair was not in the mood for pleasantries.
“Just show me the photographs and I’ll pay you what it is worth.”
I moved up to his table and put the bracelet under his table lamp.
I told him: “I thought you might prefer to see the real thing this time.”
When he walked over to see the bracelet, I thought he might get a heart attack.
I casually said: “You should be careful what you leave on your table. Jade Lu was my mother and she gave my father this bracelet. She died in a road accident soon after my first birthday.”
I showed him a faded photograph, taken when I was still in her arms.
Mr Armitage’s frame straightened slowly and his eyebrows arched upwards as he looked closely at my face.
He took another photograph from his drawer and showed that to me.
His Jade. My grandmother was almost a dead ringer for my mother.
“I think I should call you Grandpa from now on,” I told him.