Today I was riding the number seven bus to my grandparents’. I was watching a pair of friends, older ladies. (People-watching on the bus is among my number one favourite activities.) They were an older white woman with slightly odd, long grey-blonde hair, and a younger black woman who had a calm smile and seemed as if she would be a patient person. They were sitting apart, and then someone got off the bus and the younger woman moved to sit with her friend. They started talking. I couldn’t overhear it, but their conversation looked like one that might be had between people who had previously worked together and liked each other, but hadn’t seen one another in a while. As I continued to watch them, I decided that there was something off about the no-longer-blonde woman. She was too engaged. Her face reacted too much, her eyes stared too eagerly. Her end of the conversation was too animated, held at a level of enthusiasm a few floors above that of her companion. And then, just as I was trying to figure out what it was about this lady, the hug happened. The object of my fascination threw her arms out like great pterodactyl wings, enveloping the younger woman in an expression of unmeditated affection. The friends embraced. Then the younger pulled away, and the older was left flailing, grappling with the other’s hood, with the air, and with the empty pocket of hug left sitting between them. She tried to recover by turning and leaving one arm across her friend’s shoulders, but there was a definite moment of awkwardness. It’s not that the one woman was repulsed and fled from the hug; she let it go on for a normal span of moments and then exited. It was that the other had put her soul into that hug, and probably could have let it go on for the rest of the bus ride.
I have this urge towards stoic characters. I’m drawn to Frodos, whose stubborn courage negates their potential shortcomings, or Eliza Bennets, willful and quick. I’m working on a story about a girl who gets into a fight, subsequently alienates the entire population of her high school, and doesn’t give a shit about any of it. Also her mother is evil – she gives some shits about that, but not as many as should be given to that type of situation.
But the spied-upon hug reminded me of recurring moments in my own experience. There are those times when the other person’s eyes move away before yours do, or your laughter is still running wild with your breath when theirs fades. When you feel that you should reach for someone’s hand, or squeeze them really tightly, but you don’t. Or you do and immediately feel that it was a mistake. The tiny incidents that objectively should have been pleasant, but leave you feeling empty and a little broken.
Maybe I’ve been looking for characters in the wrong places. It could be that the best stories don’t lie in the staunch, in the stand-aparts. They might belong to the too-muches, the ones who give too much and want too much, whose eyes plead a little too much for comfort, who expect embraces between friends to last much too long. Maybe truth is hiding in the failing fingers of someone stranded in one half of a hug.