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Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Hug from a Stranger: Saturday Night in Lower Clapton

I was waiting with Sonia at the bus stop, when she saw a man across the road collapse. I went over and he didn't seem to speak English, so I waved Sonia over because he sounded Russian. He couldn't get up, so I lent him a hand, but then he was having trouble standing. I had a bunch of his clenched in my fist, as he swayed back and forth. Sonia decided to call the paramedics.

He noticed me touching his back and threw his other arm around me, leaning into a hug, I thought to keep his balance, but he lay his head on my shoulder. I told him everything would be ok, but his hot breath on my neck was more intimate than I expected. He moved his head and I thought he was going to kiss me, so I moved my head back away from him. He stood apart and then embraced me again. I kept my head away from his this time and he started to walk away, but was unsteady, so I lead him to the bench in a bus shelter.

He sat down and after a moment, started bashing his head against the back wall of the shelter, with an angry intensity. I put my hand on the back of his head and asked him to stop, but he didn't understand. After a while he gestured angrily that I should remove my hand, so I did. Three teenagers came up, waiting for a bus and told him to sleep it off. One of them said he was a rap star and would pay the man a thousand dollars if he quit bashing his head. The man listened and as soon as the kid stopped speaking, bashed his head with greater force.

A paramedic arrived on a motorcycle, which the kids ran over to flag down. The high-vis vests medics wear don't look all that different from the ones the police wear and the man became more alert and said a few words in English, but ran out of vocabulary quickly. Sonia and I left them to it, but after a few moments, the man had enough and walked away as quickly as he could. The paramedic spent the next ten minutes filling out paperwork. We watched from the bus stop back on the other side of the road as a young woman approached and put on his motorcycle helmet, and sat on his bike, asking for a ride, until one of her friends dragged her away. Sonia's bus came and I walked towards home, the feeling of the man's boozy breath still tingling uncomfortably on my neck.

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