It was quarter to twelve soon, it would be midnight. It had been raining heavily outside since morning and I could not comprehend what to do.
Mine was a small house in the hilly region of Darjeeling. It was on the outskirts of the main town towards the north and was a little elevated from the main road that goes straight to the famous mall. The house was probably the last one on the northern side of Darjeeling. From here, the dense forests spread across a few kilometers to another higher range in the valley. From here, the road went towards West Sikkim through the hills and forests.
My family included my 8-year-old adopted daughter apart from me. Her mother had passed away a few years back on a similar rainy night when my two-wheeler had collided with a car, killing my wife and severely injuring me. When I had regained my consciousness on the bed of the hospital, I had come to know that the driver of the car had also succumbed to his injuries. Somehow, his baby daughter could be saved and I had returned from the hospital having lost my wife but had been blessed with a daughter. Since then, little Mithili had lived with me. She had forgotten everything about her past life as there had been only me for her. All that was left from that fateful night was a black raincoat that had remained unscathed in the battered car.
I had been working in a small tea garden as a supervisor for the past ten years, which was now closed because of the pandemic like most of the other such installations. Whatever I used to earn had been sufficient for my small family, but now whatever savings I had were almost over.
Since afternoon, Mithili has been unwell with fever, headache and an acute loss of appetite. I had administered some common medicines I had at home but the condition kept getting worse.
“Whom should I call? The nearest neighbour is about 20 minutes from here by foot. And in this stormy night, will anybody come to my house, when everyone knows about my penniless condition?” I mused to myself.
She had been lying in a state of semi-consciousness as I kept trying my best to reduce her temperature by putting a wet cloth on her forehead and by changing it frequently. Since evening she had not eaten anything. In the morning I had cooked rice and vegetables and kept them for her as I had to go to the town in search of work. I thought, if I got some money, I could buy some eggs and vegetables for a few days. The whole day I went from shop to shop, hotel to hotel, in every corner of the town.
“Who would give me a job where everything is on a shutdown mode with no tourists, no visitors, no customers in this post lockdown period of COVID-19!! There is not a single ray of hope for me.” I had cried under my breath.
“Is there anybody to help me out? Oh, God! What is your will, may I know? Why do I have to suffer so much? Please have mercy on my daughter and me.” I prayed.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. “Who can it be, now it’s midnight?” I thought as I checked the watch on my wrist. It was an old watch from my father. I thought of selling it off today to get some money, but alas, all my efforts were in vain.
I rushed to the door and opened it without a second thought. After all, there was nothing to lose at present. A person was standing in front of me, drenched in the rain. He was wearing a pullover over his trousers and had mud stains all over his shirt. His face was not visible in the dim illumination of the room. In his hand, there was a small suitcase. He asked, "May I get shelter here for tonight? My car has broken down and no mechanic can be found at this time of the night. I had started walking towards the town and saw your house first. The rain and the slush have made a mess of my clothes too.”
"Yes, please. It's my pleasure to help you, but my daughter is unwell from the afternoon. So please excuse me if I am l unable to provide you with the best of hospitalities." I replied.
"What’s wrong with her?" he asked.
“She has a high fever and is also not responding to the medicines I have administered to her.” I moaned haplessly.
“Please take me to her. Let me see if I can help you or not,” his voice was resolute and serious.
“That would be a great help to me if you could save my daughter. I only have her with me in this entire world. You can keep your shoes there at the corner and be comfortable.” I pointed out at the empty place in front of the entrance.
“You can change your wet clothes too. I think my clothes will fit you.” I offered.
“I am fine. Thank you.” Declined the person. In my anxious state, I overlooked the factor that the man himself would get sick if he spent the night in wet clothes.
My house was not huge. There were two rooms, one near the door and the other at the back with a small kitchen and a toilet. But as it was on the hilly platform, there were a few stairs leading up to them.
The gentleman followed me up the stairs. He kept his shoes at the threshold and put on the extra pair of slippers kept there and looked quite at ease even in his uncomfortable attire. Though the electricity was there, but the low voltage rendered the rooms to remain dimly lit.
“Is he a doctor? Can I ask him about his profession now? I had opened the door for him without knowing him and now I am taking him to my bedroom! What if he took out a gun and shot my daughter and me! No, No! Why am I thinking so? My inner instinct prompted me that he was harmless. God, I am leaving everything in your hands.” Rumblings from my mind kept growing louder.
He asked me for a dry piece of cloth to wipe his wet hands. After that, he took the stool near the bed and sat there to examine my daughter. He checked her pulse and body temperature.
“Did she eat anything?” he asked.
“No, Sir, probably not.” I replied. “ For the whole day I was not present here, but in the evening when I had returned, I found the cooked food lying on the table which I kept for her,” I replied.
He opened his small black suitcase and took some medicines and asked me to bring a small container to grind them. I handed over a small stainless steel bowl kept near the bed and a spoon. Then he made a liquid paste of the medicine and, taking my help, made my daughter drink it.
“Please bring some liquid food for her.” He said.
“Apart from some rice and vegetables, I have nothing at home,” I answered.
“Can you prepare tea and have you some biscuits at home?” he asked.
“Sure” I replied.
“Then, that will be enough for the time being. Please do so.” Finally, he sat beside my daughter’s head and caressed her forehead.
“Don’t worry. God is not so merciless that he will let you suffer all the time. Have faith in him. Everything will be fine in a few days. Believe me.” He consoled me after helping my daughter to the tea.
“Are you a doctor? How come you got stuck here on this lonely road? People rarely take this way as it is dangerous and lengthy too.” I enquired.
“I am not a doctor, but a quack. But by God’s grace, my medicines help people a lot.” He replied but part of my question remained unanswered.
“Thank you for your help, Sir. You don’t know what great mercy God has shown us by sending you to me tonight. I am grateful to you and will remain obliged to you forever.” I Said.
“Please don’t say that. Always be grateful to God. I am no one.” He replied in the similae resolute tone.
I don't know how and when the whole scary night passed with me deeply worried about my daughter's health. The gentleman sat through the entire night beside my daughter, taking care of her. I sat on the other side of the bed looking at my daughter’s condition while monitoring the gentleman too. I had dozed off when a sudden nudge broke my drowsiness. I felt someone put his hand over my shoulder. It was so cold.
“I have to leave now, friend. The sun is going to rise within a few minutes.” It was the same resolute voice.
“I am extremely sorry, Sir I could not offer you anything. May I bring some tea for you?” I asked the gentleman. “You were with my daughter the whole night and might be feeling tired now.”
“I feel she is well now. She is out of danger. She will be alright in the morning. Now I have to leave,” he said while getting up and swiftly moved to the door.
I got up gingrerly but Mithili was holding on to my hand.
“You were asking me, why I was here.” He said as he put on his shoes. “I have been driving in these roads since my brakes had failed me five years ago.”
The lightening outside had got intense. One such sliver revealed the man to me. He had a wrecked face,. It appeared as if his face had been smashed out of proportions. The second glow of lightening revealed the stains in his clothes as the stains of blood.
Before I could get to the door, the stranger was gone. I could see Maithili, sit up and look into the open briefcase. There were some bundles of currency notes visible inside the briefcase and some clothes of a girl of the age of Maithili probably.
I stood dumbstruck at the door as I noticed that the black raincoat was not to be seen.