NON FICTION: Just Leave Me The Hell Alone

running kid

Photo: Joan Sorolla

So I woke up one day with this ache that ran from my neck to my hand. The pain was a solid six (on a scale of ten), and it was constant enough to interfere with my day-to-day.

Googling wasn’t the best of ideas, since the symptoms matched that of a heart attack. Two doctor appointments and one Chinese masseuse (not a sitcom) later, I’m still perplexed as to what it was.

Weeks have passed, and I’ve forgotten the comforts of a painless day. Only lying down seemed to alleviate the torment, and I spent most of my time suffering in silence at my office desk and while stuck in traffic.

As my asshole body would have it, the only other time the pain goes away is during exercise. Worried that I’d exacerbate the problem, I stuck to lower-body workouts, one of which was running.

So I put on my running shoes and went out for a jog. I had originally planned to run for half an hour, but since it had been a while since my last run, I was already dead before ten minutes had passed.

Going home wasn’t an option, because I had already taken the trouble to dress up and shit, so I figured I’d drag myself across the thirty minute mark.

Besides — and I’m sure a few runners can relate — once you set a time, it’s hard to convince yourself that anything sooner was considered a workout. During the torture, I checked my watch every few minutes, each time realising that only twenty seconds had passed.

The only thing that kept me running at that point was the sound of footsteps behind me. My tail had kept steady pace with me, and I was thankful for the motivation, until footsteps started drawing closer.

The sound of rubber hitting pavement just grew increasingly louder, until it was drowned out by a voice: “Hi there.”

Well fuck.

“How many rounds do you have left?”

I shrugged. I was running for time. I didn’t know how that translated to rounds, especially when there wasn’t any oxygen left in my brain left for arithmetics.

“You don’t measure your runs? How can?”

Through my peripheral, the offender bobbed into view. A skinny, bald, and possibly retired man.

“My name’s Tom.”

“Sthuhuart,” I wheezed.

“Wazzat?”

Now I’m already averse to social interaction as it is, but having my personal time intruded on is another level. Still, I played the role of a friendly stranger and tried to time my answer to my stride.

“Shtu. Art.”

“Oh. You tired? You’re lifting your legs up too high. Tighten your steps. I’ll follow you and show you how, all right?”

I have zero affinity in telling people to fuck off, even when that’s my main desire, so I just nodded while Tom bestowed me with his sage running advice.

Imagine this.  A mysterious pain prevented me from turning my head, and to my right was somebody trying to make conversation. So there I was, answering ahead instead of looking at him, like some sort of asshole.

I thought of feigning injury, but I wasn’t so sure I could pull it off (I’m bad at acting and would feel even more embarrassed with a bad display of theatrics), so I did the next best thing — I tried to outrun him. Within a few minutes, I had drained whatever energy I had left, and still couldn’t shake him.

In fact, that fucker welcomed the quicker pace, and started running zigzags around me.

“I’ll run my pace, and you run yours,” he said. “This way, you can keep up with me.”

He went on to tell me about how he enjoyed the fresh air here, and how hard it was to breathe when he went for runs in Dubai. He also managed to squeeze in a paragraph or two about proper breathing methods.

Tom brought me to the brink of transcendence, and I was about to enter the fourth dimension, when Lady Luck herself chose to grace me. His laces came untied.

“Oops,” he said. “Gonna tie my shoes. You go on ahead and I’ll catch up.”

I went on, took a right, and ran straight for the alleyway that led home.

I might’ve heard a call of protest over my heavy breathing, but I never looked back to find out.

In some ways, I pitied the guy. He just wanted to make friends; it was probably his nature to do so. Still, you can’t just impose that shit on total strangers. That day, I learned how much I valued my personal space, both physically and mentally.

Maybe that’s why I ended up picking climbing, running, and martial arts — because if I can’t run fast enough, or climb far enough away from those quicker than me, then I’ll fight you so that you’ll leave me the hell alone.

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