I was in the produce aisle, headed towards some peaches and I look up at the woman whose parked cart is blocking my way and she's beaming at me. I smiled back briefly and expected her to to move but she didn't. She kept smiling intently like she was waiting for something. I thought that perhaps I knew her; that she might be a friend of the family that I just didn't recognize immediately. I inspected her face quizzically for any signs of familiarity, but nothing was ringing a bell and she didn't offer up any clues. She just kept staring and smiling. I wondered if perhaps I looked funny, if I had something on my shirt. It wasn't worth waiting for it to be pointed out to me so I said, "excuse me" and clumsily attempted to lift my basket over her un-budging cart. She extended her hand and said, "hi." "I'm sorry, do I know you?" as I took her hand, guilty for not remembering someone. Her husband, off picking out green beans, turned and answered for her, "no, she just likes saying 'hi'." He had a kind, slightly apologetic face that seemed to thank me in advance for humoring a wife that had slipped off the rocker. He kept an eye on us as she shook my hand emphatically, telling me her name. I told her it was good to meet her. Then she opened her arms and we hugged. We held each other for a long time. Her lipstick, her cropped haircut, her embroidered denim shirt didn't reveal how frail her body felt. Like an old woman. or a bird. We released each other then embraced again. I held her as strong as I could. She seemed so small that it made my 5'2" body feel like Hercules curled around a robin's egg. She said, " I love you" and I said, "I love you, too." For a few moments, everything stopped--the people pushing shopping carts stopped, the buzz of the refrigerator cases stopped, peaches, pears, grapes stopped. and all that hurt that builds up in us over time was eclipsed by this hug with no barriers and no questions. I knew that for whatever had gone haywire in her brain, this contact is what she needed. and then I thought that this is exactly what I needed today, too. the two of us, strangers hugging like reunited friends next to the potatoes and bananas, telling each other in some way that everything was going to be OK.
Her husband called her away, I put my hand on her shoulder to say goodbye. She was still beaming. then I stuffed some zucchini into my basket with trembling hands and burst into tears.