I have been running for as long as I can remember.
From being a fickle, what could be called unfortunate, child with nervous limbs and stubborn thighs which seemed so contrary to the rest of the little girls – I have been running. The hot physical thud of footfall on concrete seemed at the time, and still does now, the only kind of confirmation needed. I run metaphorical too. My hands run across sheet after sheet of paper, drawing, writing, making at least some kind of impression to be remembered by. I do not know whether I want to die. When the running becomes hard and the heart hits the back of your throat like a closed fist – it feels pretty comfortably close, and I tell myself I like that.
There was a pain too, which I thought the compact heat and strain of running would melt down to nothing. I am only a young woman now and yet I still feel it beneath my ribs – a gnawing, exhausting ache as if a balloon has been painfully, slowly inflated in a tight vein. It is the worst at night, and thus consequently, that is when I run the most.
Even at 5 am, you may see me running. There is something mildly comforting of running through the early morning which flickers in front the face like a kind of perforated black crepe, and I – the lone funeral marcher following the greasy coffin of existence. Because even then – everything starts to move. I watch foxes dart into the undergrowth as the consonant stream of cars begins to accumulate, shuttling unfortunate individuals to some despised flavour of monotony. The steely neutrality of routine often scares me, and when it does, I let my footfalls fall uneven on the floor as I run – I become the disjointed pulse on the pavement next to the efflorescent tarmac artery.
But it has no effect. Day after day – cars still shuttling just the same. Starched-looking secretaries perched in front of steering wheels they never seem to make much use of – just hot sharp movements, every so often. I attempt to follow a certain car sometimes, as if warped red of its rear lights offers some kind of solace. But it course it moves away – everything moving.
It may be about 8am and I could still be running – the time when sweat starts to anoint the limbs like a kind of mesh, the tongue crawling to any moisture in the palette like a desperate mollusc. The Thump, thump, thump on the road. The vague echo of the heart. The occasional stare of someone at the wheel – a quick flush of blood. And when the respiratory system begins to protest, blood thumping in the ears – endurance is often out.
At this time, it is usually the case for some car driver or another. There is usually some sense of carcass to run past – the flaming end of some vehicle with human bodies emerging like bloody little fireworks. The only time the cars slow voluntary – their strange behaviour, like observing wild animals. The maniacal stares of those still alive, newly-driven by the vision that they can contribute some story to the office, if they get there. No one looks at the foliage beside the road, no one observes that there may be far greater miracles in nature than the human detritus of a car torn in two.
It is often the case that journalists materialise, attracted to the nearest available chaos.
‘Did you see what happened?’
‘Gee, the whole thing’s on its side!’
‘You fancy giving us a few words love?’
I have no words to give. I always ignore them, evade their greasy clot of taboo and tobacco with a swing of the shoulder and onto the grass verge. If it is anything near 9 am, my pace will have increased.
I continue running, even after this. Sometimes I feel I could reach a point no longer quite human, the springs of the body worn down to their original metal, folding into a form of empty androgyny. I would not have to think. I would not have to go home and take pills and food and advice and whatever other addition to life people would recommend to me. For there is nothing really to drive me forwards or backwards. The cars continue in their concentric circles, and I run, a thump, thump, thump on the tarmac, a sound which almost overcomes the human heart.
That is all – I am truly nothing more. It must be every day I pass the houses of people who believe they have something. If it is the evening – lights linger confidentially below the blinds, inviting perhaps only the imagination in longing – for there will sit families talking excitedly over dinner, couples cradling each other as if regressed to children, people talking and talking into the night. My arms envelop only the endless air as I run and run. Exhaustion is not even a sensation – it is a kind of company, a company which prevents the smell of fear condensing over the skin. Sometimes I run as if my life depends on it – hunted. Sometimes I run as if I have no life to give.
At 11pm you may see me running – life rolls on. Girls spilling out of dresses sprawl over the arms of young men in the public walkways, boisterous and filled with beer. But no one ever questions the person running. I pass by like an object of indifference, the missile which will never hit, the lapsed athlete. Even when tears are running, the only time the runner is noticed is when they stop; when the body finally unfurls that white flag seen in the stressed flesh and wild eyes of exhaustion. But that is not often.
I wonder occasionally if I will ever be the centre of the flare – if people will stop to look at me for any other reason. Whether they will look at the girl who attempts to shift the frozen blood through her limbs in a desperate gesture of continued movement – pounding feet, calves, thighs, the nausea embedded deep in the gut. Sometimes another runner runs past fleetingly, like an endangered species – and we wonder, if we too, will be part of that orgiastic light which suspends human attention thick in the iris.
It is true we run much slower when we are dragging lives behind us.
I do not know. I keep running, and even though I reach home and the pain still continues, I will keep running.
Sometimes I turn and see myself behind, screaming. And that is why I cannot return, for there is nothing.