He is sitting on a bench outside of the offices of an organization that works with people with mental health issues. I am walking past to a meeting further down the avenue.
He sees me. Stares. Gives me a little smile.
I smile back.
He says, “Hi! How are you?”
I stop in front of him, give him my attention. “I’m great. How are you? I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
He pauses before replaying. As if trying to remember, or place me, or see if he actually knows me. He remembers. “At least two years,” he says. “I can’t remember your name. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I forget yours too. I’m Louise.”
“Oh right. I remember. I’m Jack.” (not his real name)
“Nice to see you Jack. It has been awhile. How are you doing?”
He shrugs his shoulders, takes a puff on the cigarette he’s been holding in one hand. He’s tall and gangly. Mid-forties. He sits with his body entangled, one leg over the other, the foot bouncing in constant motion. His body doesn’t move as much as it vibrates in a constant hum of nervous energy flowing.
“You still work there?”
I know him from the shelter where I used to work. I tell him I’ve been gone for almost two years.
He laughs. “Me too. And I’ll never go back. I’m on a life bar. Stupid really. I couldn’t control myself. Someone got fed up with me. Now I’m gone.”
“That’s too bad,” I say.
“No it’s not,” he replies. “I’ve got my own place now. It’s hard. But I’m managing. I got support and I don’t want to go back. But it’s hard.”
“How is it hard?” I ask him.
His body stills for a moment and his eyes focus on me intently.
“I remember. You were always interested in what was really going on. You cared.”
I’m not sure what to say. I sit down beside him and ask again. “How is it hard?”
“The living day-to-day,” he says. “The remembering to do what I gotta do. I come here,” and he waves his cigarette at the building behind us, “because they get me. They help.”
“I’m glad they’re here for you.” I tell him.
“It’s been nice chatting with you,” he says.
He is dismissing me. “It’s been nice chatting with you too. Can I give you a hug?” I ask as I stand up.
He looks surprised. Nervous. Scared.
“Well, I’d like to but only if you want one,” I tell him.
He laughs. “People don’t hug me,” he says. “I scare them.”
I smile. “Would you like a hug?”
His leg that is crossed over the other bounces up and down and then stops. He unwinds his body and stands up. Leans over to put his arms around my shoulders. Lightly, like a willow tree folding over so its branches can kiss the earth. It is a quick hug. A squeeze. His arms are gone as quickly as they touch my shoulders.
“I liked that. Thanks. I gotta go now.” And he carefully butts out his cigarette, tucking the saved bit into the palm of his hand. He waves one hand and returns into the building behind us.
I continue on my way to my meeting, smiling as I walk.
A chance encounter. A brief moment of conversation. A smile. A hug. Two people standing heart to heart. A human connection.
I like that. I carry it with me throughout my day.