A Hug

September 2009 to March 2010-9

Early summers touch places lively fingerprints on the whole countryside. The nearing sun warms the crisp morning air, and bright green creeps into every crevice of nature. I race the heavy footed drivers, as we rip down the streets feeling the glorious grip of dry pavement. The energy of a new season threads its way into my body. Who knows what the day will bring?

I zip into the Starbucks parking lot. I’m on a rare coffee run for the boss. I feel a momentary prickle of sadness, as I see my friends drab brown grandma-mobile, sitting in the employees parking area. I look to the empty spot beside her where I used to park.

I jam on my brakes taking my parking space, and looking up to notice an older fellow getting out of his car. He moves slowly, stretching as he exits his vehicle, and then rubs one knee. He must taking a break from a long drive.

I eagerly jump out of my seat, and stride across the asphalt. I’m wearing my heavy scuffed up work boots, faded jeans and a cotton Henley shirt, nothing fancy when you work in the shipping and receiving department at an oilfield supplier. I feel like a teenager, a far cry from my real age. Energy bounces in every step I take. My eagerness to see my former co-worker sets a firm smile on my face.

I enter the building grinning. I nod at a couple of the regulars, a twinge ripples through my chest. I miss my people, the ones I served for two years—the Starbuck junkies. I wait off to the side of the pastry case. There are only a few customers, and my friend Kim works the till, she hasn’t noticed me yet.

The older man from the parking lot enters the store and takes his place in line.

I watch Kim work. Her familiar focused look upon her duties, her brows drawn tightly together.

The last person walks away from the till.

“Hey Kim, you slacker!” I call out.

She lifts her head, bangs half covering one eye. She inhales a deep breath, “Debber!” A wide smile engulfs her face. She rushes me like a rugby player tackling the ball carrier.

An enthusiastic hug from a friend you haven’t seen in a while, is one of the best gifts in life.

We briefly catch up, and then a crowd walks in, our reunion is over.

I track towards the counter to get in line. The old fellow from the parking lot has his drink in hand, and he is wandering towards me. He makes eye contact.

I give him a reserved smile.

He stops, and leans in towards me, “Excuse me. I hope you don’t mind,  I just have to tell you this—“ he trails off awaiting my permission.

I tilt my head to analyze him. I use my life time of intuition, and people reading. I could see the good will in his demeanour. He is in his late fifties, maybe early sixties, with dark hair cropped close, greying at the temple. His face is lined by time but his sparkling brown eyes are ignited with life.

I nod, “Okay?” I agree, wondering what is coming next.

“I noticed you in the parking lot.” he says, “I watched you spring across the pavement to the door. I thought to myself, oh to be young again, and move with such ease.” He accented his words with hand motions. “I was thinking how nice it would be— to have a hug from someone with such youthful energy.”

Now I promise you, it wasn’t as creepy sounds. I’m certain it was far from perverse. He really was a gentle old man, far from home, looking for a hug from some young thing. Which wasn’t me. Not at forty-six anyway. Okay— Maybe a little creepy.

He continues on, “And then I see you hug the girl from behind the counter. I thought, wow! There it is. Some one got a hug from that young girl. I was just thinking, wouldn’t that be nice?”

I admit, as I’m writing this, I am considering this from a different perspective. Really? Are you sure old fella, you were standing there fantasizing about hugging someone. From everything I know, and read, fantasies usually aren’t so PG rated.

Then he comes to the point of why he stopped me, “What I really want to say, is now that I see you closer—” he gestures to my face, “I can see you’re not a young girl.”

True. He’s right, I am beginning to show the wear and tear of the years, like an apple left on the counter too long. My ego takes a hit. Okay, Mr. Senior Citizen, you started off strong, but your losing points.

“No offence he says gently, touching my shoulder.

I bob my head in agreement, “I know, I see the lines on my face too.”

“But.” He says with emphasis, “I’m shocked. You move like a young person— you should be on Oprah, you had me fooled.” He cackles, “I would have never guessed your age.”

“Thanks, but there’s no real magic, I just look after myself. You know, exercise and vitamins. I have a positive attitude, if you think you’re old, you’ll be old.”

We chatted a while longer. He was a journalist from Eastern Canada heading back home. Interesting man. I was far from a story.

Who knew? Meeting a stranger in Starbucks could stay with a person for so long. I don’t even remember his name. We were two people from two different sides of the country. We had no pretence, no expectation, just open dialogue, and an honest exchange. Ten minutes. It was a short, unexpected conversation, but it’s oddly in my memory forever.

Connecting with people, maybe that’s the only reason we are here. In the end he got his hug and I got mine. After all, we’re in this life together.

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