A tall, dark gentleman in a tweed coat and matching hat got down from the swanky, black car. He looked right and then left then walked briskly into the building across the street.
Behind the cluttered desk of the garish office sat a balding man in a bright suit.
He gripped the gentleman’s hand in a sweaty handshake and croaked, “Hello, Mr. X. I’m Ranjan. We had spoken. Nice to meet you. When did you arrive? ” as he reached for the AC remote control. “Please sit down. Would you like tea, coffee, coke?”
The other man grunted as he sat on the plush recliner opposite. X shook his head, “Let’s get down to it.”
“Not much of a talker are we?” Ranjan whined. The other man shrugged.
“Ok then. What’s your budget? What are your requirements?” asked the red-faced realtor.
“What do you have on offer? Give me your best.” demanded the deep official voice.
“Do you live alone? Are you a businessman? What’s your business type?”
“Yes and No. None of your business.” Mr X replied tersely.
A trifle irritated Ranjan retorted, “Listen Mister, this isn’t your city. The rules here are different and the landlord wants to know everything about their tenants”.
“I’m a trader…a merchant of sorts.” X’s tone softened a tad.
“Then, I have just the place for you in the heart of the city.” Ranjan enthusiastically announced.
“When can we see it?” asked Mr X with an urgency in his voice.
“Do you have a car? If yes, we can do it right now. Let’s go!” Without another word Mr X rose from the chair and headed for the door.
Ranjan hesitated. “Right now? Oh..OK. But…” he faltered as he got up from behind the desk.
“But what?” Mr X did not break his stride as he walked out of the office towards his car.
“Since you seem like a no-nonsense guy let me give you the facts straight.” Ranjan muttered.
The dark stranger stopped in his tracks and turned to look at the realtor. “Spit it out.”
“The house belonged to an AIDS patient and his family.” Ranjan’s voice was almost a whisper.
“What happened to them?” asked a matter of fact voice.
“He died.” Ranjan said sheepishly. His ruddy complexion had turned darker.
“Slow down. You mean the whole family contracted AIDS? And did they all die?” exclaimed Mr X as he opened the door of the spacious car.
“NO! the son was. Around a decade ago.” The realtor answered.
“You can fill me in, on the way to the house.” Mr X said as he fired the ignition.
“Are you serious?” There was amazement as well as a hint of amusement in the realtor’s voice. He just nodded his agreement while the car negotiated the parking lot.
“This is indeed my lucky day. I’ve been trying to find a tenant for that wretched house and I can’t believe I’m actually looking at one.” Ranjan chuckled and leaned back on the plush seat.
“Which century are you in? AIDS is not contagious!” groaned the incredulous voice.
“This is a small city mister and we are talking about decades ago.” Ranjan replied indignantly. “Well, this was the bungalow of an affluent, elegant couple with 3 children. The only son was pampered and spoiled as much as an only boy child among 2 daughters in a typical Indian family. And boy was he a spoilt brat! That’s what the neighbours say. He was neither bright or good looking like his sisters and it’s rumoured that he got AIDS during one of his escapades,” ranted Ranjan. “Mind you, no one knew about this until he died. But there are rumours that the family saw the signs and thought that wedlock would cure their wayward son of his philandering ways.”
“Not much luck there eh?!” smirked Mr X.
“Are you kidding me? He died a tragic death.” X’s sarcasm failed the realtor.
“What’s so tragic about his death?” he turned slightly to look at the excited man.
“He had married before he had known about his condition and of course there was a baby…” Pause. “The baby was diagnosed with HIV at birth and died soon after. The distraught mother then lost her husband the following year.”
“Is the wife in rehab?” questioned the driver.
“Well, despite the tragedy that befell her the moment she walked into that miserable house, she did get some compensation later.”
“She died.” Mr X said coldly.
“You don’t mince words do you?” It was Ranjan’s turn to be frosty.
“Yes, she was given an awful deal after her husband’s death. As is the norm, she was blamed for their deaths and accused of being the carrier.” Ranjan’s voice had risen a little towards the end of the sentence.
“Yeah, wouldn’t expect otherwise”. The sarcasm dripped.
“You must realize about 10 years ago, leprosy was considered contagious.” whined Ranjan.
“Tell me about it.” muttered Mr X as he stepped on the pedal.
“So, they threw her out and packed her off to a remote village with only the clothes on her back. And of course she barely survived, the poor thing. No doubt she was a village belle but she had grit. She fought her cause for years and ultimately the government and the local authorities took up her cause.” Ranjan said proudly.
He added. “She had nothing to lose eh!?”
“No and you know what? The in-laws were so ashamed that they were compelled to migrate elsewhere. The sisters tried but couldn’t stake a claim to the house.” Ranjan smiled. He said it like it was a personal triumph.
“And she got it?!” Mr. X was incredulous.
“Well, there was a legal battle but she won in the end.”
“And no one’s rented that godforsaken house have they?” X sounded a trifle anxious.
“No, you will be my first, if it’s still my lucky day.” Ranjan almost hugged the man then hesitated.
The car stopped in front of a sprawling bungalow, almost in ruins and surrounded by a wrought iron fence and rows of eucalyptus and cedar trees.
It was love at first sight and Mr X spoke without hesitation, “I will take it.”
This time it was the realtor’s turn to be incredulous. “Don’t you want to check the interiors? There’s still some cleaning and painting to be done. I will waiver a month’s security if you give me a year’s post-dated cheques.”
“Done, now will you open the door? By the way, where’s the landlady? I’d like to meet her”. Ranjan sensed a quiver in the drawl.
“Oh, I thought I’d told you before, hadn’t I? She died last year” whispered Ranjan.
After the deal was signed and stamped and the realtor was well into his second peg of whisky; Mr X was in the elevator of the 5 star-hotel in the sprawling city of the North-East. He took out the envelope from his coat pocket and read it again.
The letters ‘HIV Stage 3’ blazed on the white paper of the medical report.
GAYATRI DAS is an Assamese in Hong Kong (SAR) who travels extensively, blogs about her sojourns in FERNWEH https://sojourntraveldiaries.wordpress.com and Vlogs her experiences on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/DasGayatri when she gets time off from her primary passion; teaching English.
She’s combined her love for both in an Ebook titled ‘Travel. Love. Eat & Repeat’ available on Kindle.