I met R at an alumni meet of my institute. She must have been 8 to 10 years my senior. For some reason she was unable to get guesthouse accommodation for the first part of the day and so somehow landed up at our home. Her train had been late, had stopped away from the station, she had got down and walked to the station and was tired. For someone with an IIT education, work experience at another IIT and research at a national institute, she appeared to be in a terrible financial state. My husband G, was quite impressed by her (she was so utterly impractical, quite like him) and somehow strongly connected with her. I was intrigued with her personality and worried about her too.
Several years later, while having coffee in the open veranda of another institute I saw an unusual sight. A beggar with a plastic bag in hand was entering the institute guesthouse, what was weird was the beggar had the sense to wipe his footwear on the mat before entering. A while later as I was entering the institute I came face to face with the beggar, it was R. That is the one and only time in my life that I have felt faint. She must have noticed my face going white. She asked me why was I so affected. We chatted, I was wondering if she was mentally stable. She appeared to be sharper than an average person. She was penniless and was living at the railway station for several months. All those years later, she still remembered my field of research and my supervisor’s name. She asked intelligent questions and made intelligent comments (Had I been living penniless on the railway station, I am sure I would have forgotten even my mother’s face). She refused money (“someone will sure steal it”) and refused the offer to stay with me for a few days and see if we could do something. I offered to support her for a few months, till she found a job, she said, she will think about it. Meanwhile some well-meaning (?) people got her admitted to an institution and I lost touch with her.
Much later after several other weird interactions with her (most of the time I met her, she would remember the tiny amount I had given her and promise to return it), I heard that my friend and junior S had managed to support her in some way. She was employed, though unhappily. Today reading the story of a drifter reminded me of her. I hope she is better off now.
Life is such a complex place.