Shawkat Hossain Masum was still caught up in the haze of Covid-19 battle fatigue when a mystery text message beeped on his mobile phone.
"I am the additional police super of CID. I want to talk to you," the message read.
Shawkat, a senior journalist from the Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo, could not recall any such police officer.
But then he was tired, both physically and mentally, after his 12-day crucible at Mugda General Hospital.
Replying to an anonymous message sender was the last thing he could be bothered with. So, the message remained unanswered.
His mind was still in the surreal world of the coronavirus ward, where a thin string separated him from life and death.
The painful shots in the abdomen. The uphill struggle to just lift his aching body to pour himself a glass of hot water. Shawkat's life was wrapped around the hour hands of the clock on the wall. Eighteen medicines to be taken at various times.
The constant thoughts of what would happen to his son, daughter and his wife if that thin string had snapped, bringing the curtains down on his 50-plus years of life.
For 12 days, these thoughts consumed Shawkat as he lay first in a ward and then in a non-descript cabin. On the twelfth day, the doctors said he could now go home as two consecutive tests had come negative.
As he stepped out of the hospital and caught the first whiff of fresh air on his face, he still could not believe he had actually made it from the ICU bed.
He was still not sure if it was not a dream and that he was not actually lying beside that corpse the whole day from morning until 7 in the evening. He could still make out the contour of the dead man draped in a white bed sheet. He wanted not to look at that dreadful sight and yet his eyes were magnetically drawn towards it.
Shawkat walked into the waiting car sent by his office, in a stupor. Dhaka city looked unreal too. Empty roads. And emptier looking men and women sitting by the roadside, bereft. He could not think straight and so closed his eyes.
As he entered through the front door of his apartment, it dawned on him for the first time that he had escaped death for sure.
His wife was standing there, at the other corner of the balcony, crying silently, tears coursing down her cheeks. His daughter and son were standing there. Silently. As if they are witnessing a miracle. Their dad walking alive straight into their room.
But Shawkat did not embrace his children or wife as it happens in the homecoming scene of a war movie. He just said "How are you doing" and walked straight to an isolation room, as the doctors had said he had to stay quarantined for another 14 days.
But now five days into his isolation, this strange message came. Why should a police super want to talk to him? What wrong has he done? Who is this guy? How does he know him?
He found out that the same person had called him before, but he let his phone ring.
Curious, Shawkat tentatively picked his phone and dialled the number. A tired voice answered. The police officer said he had something to discuss with Shawkat and if he could call back at 3 pm?
Then, on the dot at 3, the call came. The voice at the other end sounded much better now, with the tiredness gone. It was apparent that the officer worked all night and only went to sleep in the morning.
"Do you know anything about plasma treatment for coronavirus?" the officer asked.
"Not much. But read some news," Shawkat said.
"Ok. I want to send you some materials. Some news, some research articles. Please read them through if you find them interesting," the officer said.
Over the next few days, hordes of materials on plasma treatment were streaming in, and Shawkat went through them all, with interest. With each new material, he was drawn more and more into this experimental treatment for Covid-19.
The treatment's concept is simple and is based on the premise that the blood of a patient who has recovered from Covid-19 contains antibodies -- proteins the body uses to fight off infections -- to the disease in their blood.
The theory is that the recovered patient's antibodies, once ingested into somebody under treatment, will begin targeting and fighting the novel virus in the second patient.
A few days later, the mysterious caller phoned again.
"I hope you have read the materials I have sent you. You understand that it is a new line of treatment for coronavirus patients. If you have any interest to help our patients, please let me know," the line went off.
For the first time since he was struck down by this virus, Shawkat had a chance to think about death other than his own.
By now, the death tally was trotting up. 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24. Every day was a new record. And then zeroes were being added behind the total numbers. Zeroes that sounded like laments. Infections were spreading fast. And faster were the added zeroes behind the numbers. Hauntingly.
It was then Shawkat had the time to think beyond the abstraction of numbers, the real people and events behind the numbers. And he could as well be one of them, he shivered to think.
He made up his mind. All the foggy thoughts about his own health, or the prospect of coming out of the cocoon of isolation to a world from where he had one day unknowingly picked up the virus no longer mattered now.
So, he took up his phone and messaged the mystery officer: "I am now on a 14-day isolation. Let the period pass over and then I will see."
The reply came instantly. It bore the number of a doctor at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital.
"If you make your mind, contact this doctor," it said.
Shawkat sent a text message to the doctor. But no response came from the other end.
In the course of the next few days, more documents on convalescent plasma therapy poured in from the mysterious police officer.
Shawkat informed him about the lack of response from the doctor, and the police officer gave him the number of another doctor of the same hospital.
Meantime, the first doctor responded to Shawkat's message and sought a convenient time to call.
Shawkat did not respond though. Suddenly, his mind was foggy again. Would his health allow him to donate plasma? What if he got the virus again?
But he buried those thoughts and the day before Eid, he finally picked up his phone and called the doctor back.
"I want to donate plasma. I am B+," Shawkat said.
The doctor listened and then said he has to come over to the Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical.
"But I need a car," Shawkat said. "I don't want to drive."
"Don't worry. A car will come to you in 40 minutes."
As he cut off the call, his phone rang again. A male voice said his relative is in the hospital and needs plasma.
The car arrived and Shawkat got into it to find another young boy in his teens in it. That boy is coming from Savar to donate plasma as well.
Together they went to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, where they were taken to the blood centre on the eighth floor.
The doctors noted down Shawkat's weight, height and age, and inferred that he could donate not more than 400ml of plasma, which is enough for two patients.
They sat him on a chair fixed to the plasma machine. They checked the veins of his hands.
"Your right arm veins are stronger," the doctor said. "We will drain blood from that hand."
The blood started flowing from his veins. The promise for a cure and new life. The machine whirred, drawing out plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, with centrifugal force.
As the process was over, a doctor came and said Shawkat's blood is O+ and not B+ as he said earlier.
"Oh really, then my plasma will come to no use," said a disappointed Shawkat.
"Don't worry. There is a long queue outside for plasma," the doctor said. "Attendants of two patients have been waiting for days for O+ plasma. Your donation will not go to waste."
Shawkat saw the doctors packed his plasma and handed them over to the attendants.
As he came out of the hospital and got into the car, a strange feeling of fulfilment took over.
He knew it was his obligation to the people who did everything possible to save his life. If his plasma could save even one life that would be his greatest reward. That would be his greatest offer to life.
Until today, Shawkat does not know if the patients who received his plasma survived. But deep inside his heart, he believes they did. They had gone back home, just like he has, reunited with their families.