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Friday, 22 June 2012

A Simple Thing.





My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace. 
            From ‘The Hug’ by Thom Gunn


It is two days after my 30th birthday party. We are standing on a platform at St. Pancras Station, waiting for the train that will take mum to the airport, and back home. My heart is full and heavy, as it always is when she leaves, or when I leave her. I am wearing my favourite coat, a silky blue-green patchwork affair that I hesitated to splash-out on, but have never once regretted. The ticket inspector let me though ticketless, knowing that she will recognise me on my way back out, alone.

A train has just departed and the platform is almost empty, but to our right are a group of six-or-so middle-aged men with small suitcases. They are sober but jolly, and I guess that they are going on a stag-do. As a voice announces the next train I slide my arms around mum and abandon myself to a hug. We hold each other hard, properly, and let the seconds tick away. When we finally pull apart, both smiling, one of the stag-do detaches himself from his group and jokes: “me next!”  Mum laughs, but the man has kind eyes, and I am so full of thankfulness for the wonderful weekend I have just experienced, that – without thinking for even a second – I step towards him with open arms. For the first time in my life, I am hugging a total stranger. We do not hold back and the hug is perfect. Not to long or too short. Not too firm or too weak. A simple, spontaneous act of comfort and mutual kindness. It ends at precisely the second that it should, a few moments before the train pulls into the station.

Mum boards the train and I run down the platform waving as it pulls slowly away again. I make the other people in the carriage laugh as I flutter my tissue at her. I don’t notice where the stag-do got on, I don’t see them again, but I wonder if they spot me, a flash of blue and green as the train picks up speed.

I carry that hug home with me, as I carry all the hugs I shared with mum over the weekend, and with all the wonderful friends and family who came to celebrate my birthday. I feel, for a little while, like the richest, luckiest girl in the world. I don’t remember anything about my hugger's  appearance, apart from that he had a small, neat beard. Perhaps he remembers my curly hair, or more likely my coat. But I feel absolutely sure that he will remember me to the day he dies, and keep our hug somewhere, as I will, in a little corner of his heart. A simple, precious thing.

Three down, twenty seven to go…