I am walking out of the building where I work to go next door to the convenience store for a bottle of Pellegrino. A tall man walks towards me, smiles. I smile back. I don’t want to make assumptions, but I think it is possible he is homeless.
He stops and says, “Excuse me…”
I stop and turn to look at him. “Yes?”
“I don’t want money” he says immediately. “But, I’m kinda stuck here. I just got out of emergency and I’m really hungry.” And he shows me the cut on his foot. “Would you be able to help me out with lunch?”
I look at him. Consider my options and say, “I could buy you some lunch here.” And I point to the little take-out restaurant on the other side of our office doors.
“I’d rather go to Mac’s,” he says.
“I don’t have time to go to Mac’s,” I tell him. “I’ll gladly buy you lunch right here.”
He considers it for a moment, thanks me and we walk into the restaurant where he orders lunch.
As we wait for the server to tally up the bill, I ask him if he has a place to stay.
“I’m kinda couch-surfing right now,” he tells me.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Hobbema or as I call it, Hellbema.” He laughs. Shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t like it there.”
“I know a number of people from Maskwachees,” I tell him, using the Indigenous name. “They are working very hard to create positive change.”
“Yeah,” he says. “But all my people there, they just judge me. Make me feel bad about myself.”
“Do you feel bad about yourself?” I ask.
Again, a nervous laugh. A shrug of the shoulder. “Yeah. Pretty well all the time. Life’s not easy.”
“I would have to say that for your people it has been very, very hard.”
He nods his head up and down. Looks me in the eyes. “You’re a good lady.” And he leans over and gives me an awkward, sideways hug.
I return the hug.
“How come you know people from Maskwachees?”
“I’m involved in a program called Choices,” I tell him. “I’ve met them through it.”
His face lights up. “Hey! My cousin went to Choices. When he came back, all he wanted to do was hug everybody! He loved it.”
This time, he gives me a full on hug. Laughing as he does so.
Laughing, I hug him back.
The server has my bill ready. I pay. I wish him well and tell him he could check with his band about going to Choices. “It might help you feel less bad about yourself.”
“I’d have to go back. I don’t want to go back there.”
“Sometimes, going back is the only place to find the way forward,” I reply.
He nods his head, side to side as if weighing my words.
I tell him I have to go. He thanks me for lunch and as I’m about to open the door to leave he calls out, “Hey wait! Don’t forget. We gotta hug!”
And I turn and we hug and I leave. I go to the convenience store next door to buy my Pellegrino and he waits for his lunch.
And life flows onward.
And both of us move on carrying the memory of a hug where our paths intersected.