Hugs from Strangers

I enjoy my walk to Whipps Cross Hospital. I often spot magpies, jays and foxes in the graveyard beside Vinegar Lane. But like my hospital visits, it’s not all good. One day a local gentleman treated me to a view of his bottom as he crouched to crap in the long grass amongst the tombstones. Today was a sunny day, I was aware that I was being followed. A young woman was walking behind me. I’d say she was around 17 years old. She was casually dressed, maybe a little scruffy. I was aware that she was observing me and it was beginning to make me nervous. My head was a bit hot beneath my scarf and I had pulled it up at the edges to scratch my bare scalp. The path just before the hospital entrance disappears into trees. At this point she called out: “Excuse me lady, excuse me”.

I grabbed my handbag a little more tightly, slightly nervous that I was about to be robbed. The woman walked up to me. “Are you ill or something?” she enquired. “Well I am on my way to a hospital appointment, so yes I guess so.”

“Are you bald, under your scarf, it looks like you don’t have no hair”

I was a little taken aback and wasn’t too sure what to say. I was beginning to wonder if she was a bit high, on drugs or something, making her way to Hollow Ponds to trip out on some logs. I guess that’s the kind of thing youngsters at a loose end do when they live near the ponds. In my day, I’m told it was more usual to drink cheap cider and hang out by some swings. But I digress.

“No I don’t have any hair.”

“So have you got cancer then?”

“Yes I’m being treated for cancer.”

This encounter was decidedly odd. Was she about to rob me and I’d make the local papers “Cancer patient robbed outside Hospital”, “Cancer Survivor speaks out against Local Youth”. Possibly I was about to be entrusted with her own cancer story, maybe of a Mother or a sister and their personal “battle” or “journey”.

“May I give you a hug” she asked.

“Well I suppose so” I shrugged.

I’m not big into public displays of affection, in fact I struggle with most forms of affection unless I’m about to have sex. But that’s a whole other story which I’ll save for another time. I figured I had read her wrong, this was just a woman who felt the urge to show some sympathy, support or solidarity through a hug. Lighten up, enjoy it I thought. But then again, I am in Walthamstow. We are out of sight amongst trees. So I surrendered myself up for a hug from a stranger but nevertheless kept a firm hold on my handbag.

As she hugged me she whispered in my ear. “You should try cannabis. Forget that hospital shit. Cannabis will heal the pain”.

I expected she might then make an offer and name her price. But she released me, smiled and said “Take a look online”. She then walked on and left me to carry on to my hospital appointment while she presumably got high and loafed around on a log by Hollow Ponds.

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