He went out to wait by the car. He could hear the murmur of voices as May-dum talked with the teacher, and then the shrill sounds of the children as they were put through their paces in front of their audience: spelling, geography. In Kannada and in English. And finally their mathematical tables, in English, recited in a monotone: Vun-toojh-a-too, vun-theejh-a-thee, vun-fojh-a-fo.
May-dum followed him out fifteen minutes later, her face pensive. Her voice, though, was brisk. "I have paid your daughter's school fees for the entire year," she said. "In return, the teacher should provide her with books, two sets of uniforms, pencils. Please see that she does do all of that. Let me know if she doesn't."
"She will," Raju said. "She is a good woman. A good teacher." After a pause he said awkwardly, "May-dum, thank you so much for this. It is a great kindness on your part."
"It's nothing," she said. "I am happy to do it. Now, Raju, do I get to meet your wife?"
He grinned and held the door open. "Yes, May-dum."
The visit was as he had hoped it would be. She didn't let him down. From the time the car stopped outside his house, he knew. It was written in the manner of her walk, her look of interest, her polite and gentle words to his father, who was waiting at the door. Her performance was in some oblique way a reciprocation—for all the times he had anticipated her movements and moved in concert with her expectations. Now she seemed to be doing the same for him.
He watched his father usher her into their house. She paused at the door and, respectfully, slipped off her shoes.
"May-dum, you don't have to do that!"
"That's all right," she said.
Raju was later glad that his father had seamlessly taken charge. He watched May-dum being escorted to a bench inside, where she sat down. He watched her join her palms in greeting to his mother and his wife, and then make animated, interested conversation with his parents as though they were acquaintances she might meet at the Club. He felt his cheeks burn as May-dum praised him to his family. His wife vanished into the kitchen, presumably to re-emerge with refreshments, but she never did. Raju went in after her and found her waiting there nervously, a hot tumbler of coffee prepared and a plate with the sweet and the savory ready to serve.
"Go on," he muttered to her.
"No, you do it," she whispered back, shaking her head.
"Don't be silly," he said, but he saw that she really was too shy. So, in a facsimile of the tray that Rosa, the cook, used, he picked up a metal plate, placed the food and coffee on it, and took it out.
"Oh, so much trouble!" his May-dum said. "Really, you shouldn't have."
"No, no, please eat," they murmured.
Raju's mother, with a feeling of duty done, joined her daughter-in-law in the kitchen with great relief. Raju could see them peeping at May-dum from behind the curtain that hung in front of the door. So it was Raju's father who chatted with May-dum: Yes, it was a nice little house, two rooms and a kitchen for the six of them, but the rents were too high and increasing every year. Their landlord lived next door, and had built two more houses just like this down the road. He was a lucky man, with great foresight, to have bought this land when it was cheap. Perhaps someday Raju would be able to do something similar. Already, in this one year of his employment, they had been able to acquire a radio and a black-and-white TV. They were grateful, deeply grateful. He didn't mention that the house had been painted this clean, bright pink just a week ago, or that this impromptu living room was usually cluttered with the mess of living, now shoved into the room next door. Now, in addition to two benches, it had just the pink walls, clean curtains, the puja altar, and the TV.