Free Hugs

I am irritated and intrigued. I had imagined he was a 12-step superstar, a mafia don or a lion king. I feel a trickling doubt that this guy is for real, and have an increasingly urgent need to know why people hug him and who the freak he is.

burns the fire

When the short, old, white guy in a blue jacket drops by the café where I write, like clockwork, a couple of beefy regulars shout, jumping out of their seats, and one-by-one, heave their hulking bodies into his arms for a hug.

Joe holds the tender brutes to his ordinary chest, everyone laughs and the room heats up. I can’t hold back anymore. I’ve been eyeing this hugger for months, so I wait my turn in line and put in my request: what’s up with all the hugs?

The all-knowing owner of the café, smiles and brings us tea.

I look at Joe, searching. He looks through me.

It is, he says.

Is what? I squint.

What is, is, the owner speaks for his friend. He has hugged Joe for years.

Joe’s eyes shine. It’s spontaneous. It’s not their bodies, it’s their souls touching mine.

I am irritated and intrigued. I had imagined he…

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