An unexpected hug

I was biking home from Home Depot one day with 50 pounds of tools in my backpack, and stopped at a red light in Bed Stuy. As I waited, four young-ish men walked across the street in front of me. I glanced at them, and three of them looked back for a moment – an interaction that happens ten thousand times a day in New York City – but the fourth stared me down and walked straight up to me. His body language dripped with rage.

My bag was too heavy and my Citibike too slow to get away quickly, and I was a little curious to see what would happen. He got a foot from my face and started yelling at me. I don’t remember his first few sentences. I never broke eye contact. Since I couldn’t leave, I knew better than to look afraid.

As he shouted, I just kept looking at him and listening, and at some point he yelled, “You ever fucking lost anyone??!”

Now that caught me by surprise. I mentioned my grandparents (I don’t have any), and he hurled back that he’d lost his little brother. Fuck. I hesitated for a second.

“Do you want a hug?”

He got even closer. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”

I repeated myself: “Do you want a hug?” I couldn’t tell if I was about to get punched, but it was the only response I could think of.

He stared at me for one more infinite moment, then burst into tears and hugged me as hard as he could. We stood there for nearly a full minute like that, me on my Citibike at the edge of a busy intersection, long after the light turned green. He eventually let go and looked at me with an unrecognizably soft face.

“I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you like that. Get home safe, man,” he whispered, and walked away.

I wonder where he is now.

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