Recently I thought about my first hug. The hug I vividly remember and intensely feel each time I think about it. What that hug did to me is not as important as what that hug did for me.
The geographical location was Chicago, at a high school located in the Hyde Park neighbourhood. I had just relocated to the city from Ghana and Chicago was where my feet landed after the long travel days.
I do not recall how my first plane ride felt like, but I do remember how cold and angry I was to be in Chicago. In fact, I still feel the residue of anger when I think about the long freezing Chicago winters. I still cannot understand why a place can be this cold, and yet I find myself back in Chicago in the coldest days ever recorded in history – colder than Antarctica is what some reports said.
So here I am in a dominated African American high school as an African, a Ghanaian. I was what most Black folks called "fresh off the boat". I was new to everything American but knew I was in a new kind of ease I did not have in Ghana. I was now with my mother and finally under her care and presence after nearly a decade apart. I did not remember her hugs, but I remembered her smiles.
The hallways of high school were my least favourite time of the day. It meant anything could happen and no one would care. You hoped to make it to the next class on time while trying to survive the rush. I usually rushed from class to locker to class. What saved me many times was the fact that I was African and different, and anything different is to be avoided. But not everything thought so.
Hamza was his name. He was in my grade. He was tall, fair skinned and a bit on the heavy side. He usually wore baggy clothes with a hoodie no matter the weather.
Hamza was one of two students who spoke to me and acknowledged me when I first started at the high school. He did not tease or shun me like the other kids. He had no bitterness towards me because I was African, unlike some. He was just Hamza. Hamza who was also bullied like me. And although I cannot remember half of what he said for three years, I remember what he did that day in the hallway.
I was standing at my locker. I could not remember the lock combination after many months of having it. I was rushing to beat the bell which gave me more anxiety than the reminder it is intended to be. When I finally got into the locker things began to fall out from the unorganized section of the girl I shared the locker with.
I scrambled to get them back inside while picking out the books I needed. It was a mess. I was overwhelmed, sad and alone.
Everyone looked at me struggle and I looked at myself fall apart. Tears began to form inside me, but I could never let them fall. Not because of my pride but because if they did, no one would care.
When I was done picking my life up, so to speak, I closed my locker turned to left and saw Hamza looking at me. He had this apologetic look mixed with sympathy on his face. And he did something I can never forget. He opened his long arms and said, “come here.”
I hesitated before I went in for the much needed hug because I was not sure if he would say “syke”, an urban slang for “just kidding or I didn't mean it”. That would have shattered me. I hurriedly went for the hug because a part of me may have thought the offer would not last long; but the other part simply really needed to be held.
I hugged him. Head flat on his chest and his arms around my shoulder. I took the deepest breath I had taken since I got off the plane. I took rest in his arms for a few seconds. He felt my weariness and I felt seen.
This is a short story of how a hug of a few seconds healed a part of me. It is simple, it was little and to him it was probably nothing. Yet, after over a decade, when I think back to my high school days, the main thing I remember is that hug.
Give a hug or two or three to someone. Don’t choose who gets a hug. Just offer it and receive one. The ones you leave out may be ones who are a hug away from a breakdown, a bad decision or even giving up altogether.
And if you are a secret cuddler and hugger like me, don’t be afraid to let it out. Stop hiding and stop apologizing for it. Keep hugging! ^_^