Sometimes I Run
By Warwick Jones
I run, often; whenever I can, really. I run to keep fit, to maintain my self-esteem and to look less like a potato and more like a human. I always run the same route, doubling it whenever I don’t feel like dying. You might think that this would get agonizingly boring, or that I do it because I like to keep a routine, but it isn’t, and I don’t. Every run is a new agony, and I want to stop often – but along that same 10 kilometre stretch I see new people every day. I gain insight into their lives. I see women crying into their phones as they drive past, and I invent the tragic tales behind their sorrow. I see children walking home from school and I dream of their futures, and the people they will love. Sometimes we exchange glances and I wonder if their stories, if their visions of the future, coincide with mine.
Apart from the brief exchange our eyes make, I have little contact with these human beings; our lives are our own. I like to think that I keep a little of them with me. I also like to think that if I have some power over this universe – my glace has woven their tears into new dreams, and my dreams for their future has bestowed whatever luck it can. Never have I felt them dream for me, or envision my future; save once.
Sometimes, when I run, I cross paths with an old man. He wears old clothing, colour bleached and un-ironed, moving with him like dull red armour. The lines on his face are deep and his uneven, greying beard gives him a grizzled, dirty look. In his wake is the distinctly pungent smell of cooking sherry. Every single time, his retort is the same: “The Comrades is already over”, he says with a crooked and toothy smile.
I smile back, and often giggle. I struggle to construct his past, and cannot dream of his future – so I let him go, relinquishing his story to the universe.
Yesterday, I met him at the Jesmond Road robots. The light had changed before I could cross, and I was stranded on an the island with him until it changed.
“Is it worth it?” His voiced croaked, over the noise my earphones were producing. I removed them, and was puzzled: did he mean exercise? Running? Keeping up appearances? Life? Four words from an unwashed stranger had brought me to the brink of existential crisis in seconds. He clarified himself, though, and pointed at the giant UKZN on my t-shirt.
“I hope so,” I mumbled, rather nervously, trying to swallow my breathlessness.
His gnarled finger moved to rub his chin, leaving a little smudge of dirt, before pointing at me again. “It is – take it from me. I never finished.”
He didn’t need to say any more, I knew what he meant. I felt, right then, the he had looked into his past, and envisioned it differently. I caught a glimpse of regret in his eyes; unyielding and inescapable. I felt him considering my future, perhaps dreaming for me. I wanted to ask him to tell me what he saw, as if he were some travelling gypsy with a crystal ball.
Before I could ask him anything he cackled like a mad man, and left me standing awkwardly aside the road.