The man trudged up the red mud lane carrying a rucksack on his back and a tin trunk in one hand. He mounted the three steps from the lane and stepped over a metal stile flanked by gateposts. An elderly woman sat on the concrete platform in front of the big white house; she seemed to be waiting for him.
“Bayool Maami?” the man asked, joining his palms in formal greeting while introducing himself, “Shyam Kulkarni.”
“I was expecting you two hours ago, Painter Saheb,” Bayool said, rising slowly from the cement platform and hobbling into the sitting room, “Come, come. Sit,” gesturing to the sling back armchair.
Bayool was an elderly woman who wore dentures. Shyam noticed that when she smiled there were gaps in her dentures that made her teeth look natural.
“The bus broke down,” he said simply. “Bayool Maami, please call me Shyam.”
He sat in the armchair and looked around. Through the floor-to-ceiling bars that made up one wall of the sitting room, he observed a cottage nearby.
“You will live there,” Bayool said, pointing to the cottage.
The property adjoining Bayool’s seemed impenetrable with trees, briars and tangled creepers, but Shyam saw outlines of a roof and walls and broken down windows of a house through those trees.
“Does anyone live out there?” he asked.
Bayool followed his gaze, “That is the Thief’s house,” she said. “At one time it used to be known as Old Man Timanna’s house.”
Faint sounds of a girl singing came out from the kitchen, “My heart’s a-panting, panting and longs for you here …”
“Myna,” Bayool said sharply, “bring water.”
Shyam heard footsteps running and then a girl of fourteen in a flowered print skirt and faded white blouse emerged bearing a brass vessel of water, cut-up pineapple and a glass of lemonade. She went back in and came out with plates and a bowl of upma. Myna was one of the village schoolmaster’s seven children who lived across the lane and helped out when Bayool had guests.
“Please,” Bayool said to Shyam, “Come wash your hands and feet and eat. You must be famished.”
By the time Shyam entered his cottage, light was fading and he needed a lantern to see inside. The cottage consisted of two rooms. One would function as his studio. The other with a cot would serve as his bedroom. Overhead in the cottage there were drying racks. He opened his trunk and hung his clothes on a peg. Shyam’s wardrobe was small; he only owned two pairs of everything. He stacked his canvases and paints against the wall. The small open air bathhouse in the backyard and the tiny kitchen were both unnecessary in his opinion. Meals were included in the rent, and he preferred to bathe at the well.
It had been a tiring day. He had traveled fourteen hours by train to reach Dharwad and then seventy-four miles to this village in a State Transport bus that kept breaking down. Despite being exhausted, he had trouble falling asleep. It was so quiet in spite of the sounds of cicadas and tree frogs outside. He lay on the cot with his hands interlocked behind his head.
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