It had been a lucky trend for Raju’s family that their relations with the landlords had always been friendly and healthy. Since Raju’s father, the head of the family, had a transferable job they had to move from towns to towns every two or three years, and as usual, his father looked for a rented house ideally suited for his family and that the landlord was also to his liking. Most of his selections served their purpose-locations often in central places, close to the market and to the schools/colleges/libraries, and almost in all cases the landlord’s family and even their relatives had become very close to Raju’s family.
This story is set in the mid-seventies when Raju’s father got a repeat transfer to a small town where they still entertained fond memories of the previous stay in a most friendly neighbourhood. This time though, they could not settle for the same rented house so loved by Raju and his siblings and had to fix a small house in the market area. A narrow gravel lane branched out from the main road leading to a brick-wall sealing the next commercial campus on the left side, the landlord’s spacious bungalow on the right and farther inside, at the end of the lane, there existed a rather cramped house that Raju’s father rented.
The landlord was a gentlemanly and a very busy contractor and was hardly seen around; Raju saw his father talking to him in a most cordial manner only once or twice in their two-year stay. The landlord’s family did not interact with Raju’s family and almost never paid family visits. Raju hardly knew who the members of the landlord’s family were, particularly the children, as he rarely encountered any of them. Only occasionally, going and coming in from the main road, he beheld a boy most probably junior to him and a younger daughter. As a socially active boy just joining junior college Raju wanted to befriend them, but there was no opportunity for that.
Raju had to attend college everyday with the family bicycle his father once used for his tours regularly, and attending the classes wearing sandals was a strict no-no in the college; therefore, Raju needed a good pair of shoes as his old pair had been bursting at the seams. Finally, in the beginning of a summer month, he got the go-ahead from his father. Raju had already been in search and he found that one shoe shop was giving good discounts on various types of shoes.
So, with the formally sanctioned money handed over to him by his mother, Raju set off around noon one day for the nearby shoe shop. After devoting a satisfactorily good enough time for the selection along with the range of discounts available Raju finally bought a pair of black leather shoes, managing to save a few bucks of the sanctioned amount which was not compulsory to return.
Raju entered the lane in a victoriously joyous mood. He only took a few steps when the boy of the landlord suddenly emerged on the front veranda and came briskly toward him without any attempt at accosting him or even giving him a courtesy smile. Raju stopped in his tracks, not knowing how to react-smile or say hello or anything; he just stood there rather feeling foolish with the shoe box in his hands, holding on to the box rather apologetically of which he failed to understand the reason why. The box suddenly became heavier too.
The boy came up to him now, and asked, “Have you bought something?”
“Ye… yes! Just a… ” Raju stammered, and before he could complete the boy took the box away from his hands, opened it and held one of the shoes up in the air, examining it from all possible angles.
“Looks good! Where did you buy it from?” the boy murmured, still examining.
“At the Bata shop around the corner of the main road. They were… ” Raju tried to be natural-sounding.
“Must have cost you a lot!” the boy said finally putting the shoe in the box and returning it to Raju.
“Not much. They were giving a good discount… !”
“Oh!” with that the boy returned to his house as suddenly as he appeared and vanished inside as if nothing was the matter, leaving Raju shell-shocked-a junior school boy whom he never had the opportunity to know or even talk to, chose that unorthodox moment to interact. As he walked slowly toward his house Raju felt a bit relaxed after earning the most unexpected approval.
Raju narrated the experience to his mother and to his amused siblings. His mother considered all the possibilities of a natural curiosity of a typical neighbour or a subtle act of spying, and finally agreed on the general perception of a landlord’s rightful duty of keeping a watch on the activities of their tenants even if there was no social mixing, and perhaps the boy was assigned that holy duty. They ended the conversation with a good laugh over an appetising lunch. Of course, the matter was never reported to Raju’s father lest it should strain his relationship with the gentlemanly landlord.