Anjana felt weak in her knees. She could not keep standing any longer and just dropped to her knees in front of the stranger. Or was this man really a stranger?
The face seemed ghastly, yet oddly familiar. The structure of the face was definitely that of Sameer. Yet, so much was different. His hair had turned long and were smokey-grey, his eyes were fatigued, his beard had grown like Moses, his skin seemed faded and creased, the clothes he was wearing were tatty and ragged. Anjana looked down and took the man’s hands into her own. Even his fingers looked hoary and gnarled. Yet, even beyond all these layers of mishap, the man inside was definitely Sameer, who did not move an inch as Anjana kept staring at him from head to toe.
Sameer just kept looking at Anjana with a blank stare in his eyes and no expression on his face. The disgusting odor from Sameer was about to make Anjana puke, but what she did instead was hug him real tight. She dug her face onto his lap and did not want to let go. With shivering hands, Anjana cupped Sameer’s face as tears kept rolling down her eyes. She had finally found her pen pal.
After a while, Anjana got up and slowly tugged Sameer to get up with her. There was no retaliation from the man. Anjana hailed a taxi and they both got in.
“Columbia Asia hospital.” Anjana informed the driver. The driver gave a disgusted look at Sameer but did not dare to do so a second time after getting a threatening stare from Anjana in return. He turned on the ignition and the car zoomed off. All along the way, Anjana just hugged Sameer and rested her head on his shoulder.
On reaching the hospital, Sameer was immediately admitted. Once all formalities were completed, the hospital took care of informing the police while Anjana decided to finally make the call to Sameer’s parents.
She dialed the number and the same old, husky voice responded after a couple of rings. “Hullo?”
“Hello… Am I speaking to Sameer Bhatia’s father?” Anjana replied with much confidence this time.
“Yes… Who is this?” replied the man.
“Hello uncle. I am Sameer’s friend. Anjana. I know that Sameer has been missing for a while now, but I have found him in Kolkata.” replied Anjana.
There was pin-drop silence on the other end of the line for almost ten seconds.
“Hullo…???” Anjana checked.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” the man replied.
“No uncle. I am serious. I found Sameer on the streets in Kolkata. He is fine. As in, he didn’t seem physically injured. But he has been through a lot. So I have admitted him at Columbia Asia hospital. Would you folks come down tomorrow?” Anjana said in an assuring tone.
“Are you kidding me?” Anjana could almost see the old man jump up with joy as his voice started shivering with the unexpected burst of sudden happiness. “Sameer’s mother and I are starting for Kolkata at this very minute. We should be there by nightfall.”
The day passed swiftly enough as Anjana ensured that the treatment had begun and the necessary monetary deposits were made. After nearly a month, she had a proper lunch at the hospital cafeteria.