I hate running though. Everything rushes past you when you run. I am the kind of person who loves to take it all in, to enjoy every second of the exercise; so I walk instead. I walk long and hard. I only run when life gets too much and I am trying to escape it. Those times are fewer and farther between these days, thank God!
I loved writing this one. Can you tell?
Running was what Aiyedun did when she didn’t know what else to do. One foot in front of the other, life blowing past her, the wind caressing her body, faster and faster till she forgot why she started running in the first place.
Goke called her running a ‘defense mechanism’.
‘You run and run till there is no more fight left in you.’
‘So how is it a defense mechanism then when I never unsheath my sword?’
‘You never put away the sword either.’
‘Wise-ass,’ she called him.
‘Don’t you just love it when I am?’ He asked as he pulled her sweaty body closer to kiss away all the things she had been running from.
‘Go away; I stink. You can kiss me when I no longer stink,’ she said as she pulled away from his kisses, his comfort; as she let her knight in shining armor rust along with her unsheathed sword.
To Goke, running was her way of never having to fight the things she feared. To her, it was running, something she did when she didn’t know what else to do.
She couldn’t remember exactly when she started running but it felt like a long time ago. Some nights when she couldn’t sleep, she would bring out all the running shoes she had ever had and let the memories wash all over her.
There was Hector, her first pair. He had seen her through her first heart break and helped her escape the evil thoughts she had in her head of murdering her English professor at Columbia. Hector was white because back then she had been naïve enough to believe that goodness was what everyone strived for and that purity was a trait she would always have.
Then there was Mutiu. He was pure black and Nikes. He had been expensive but she had just gotten her first job and was finally able to afford nice things for herself. She usually liked a bit of color in her clothing but Mutiu was purchased during a period in her life when she wore the dark places of her heart on her sleeve. And feet.
Akpan had come next. He was cute with his orange stripes and blue laces. Together they had attempted the New York Marathon. Emphasis on the verb ‘attempted’. She started out with the crowd of New Yorkers hungry for glory but after four miles, she had quit and taken the first taxi she could find home. She never tried another marathon.
Her current pair, she had named Alistair. She was going through a period of crushes on everything English and Alistair was the most English name she had ever heard.
‘I guess it could have been worse. You could have called him Hugh or William,’ Goke said, mimicking an English accent that made him sound like a dying cat.
She had found Goke as she and Alistair did warm-ups at the tiny place near her apartment that the newly elected Governor of the state had pretentiously titled a ‘park’. Aiyedun had just moved back to Lagos after ten years of being lost in New York. Five of those ten years, she had spent living across from Central Park so she knew that when you called something a park, it was meant to be a wide open space where people could hide away from life and not this tiny enclosure with two benches and a rock that looked like it didn’t even want to be there, not this place where life could find you whenever it wanted.
Aiyedun had been in Lagos for all of five months yet it didn’t feel like home. Lagosians were too noisy, yelling deafeningly at each other at the market, in stuffy bars, on the streets and now even in a place was meant to be peaceful. It was this that was going through her mind as she watched Goke walk around the park, yelling at someone on the phone he was brandishing like a weapon.
Maybe it was the look on her face that got Goke to end the call and say hello to her.
‘That and the fact that I had never seen anything more beautiful.’
‘You had never seen anything more beautiful than my scowling face or Alistair?’ She asked.
‘The latter of course.’
‘I thought so.’
Alistair had led her to Goke and soon Lagos began to feel like home. Goke learned to stop yelling on the phone, or at least he pretended to when he was around her. As for Aiyedun, she ran less frequently, preferring to pant in the arms of a man that loved her rather than to the jeers of Okada riders that acted like they had never seen a woman running before.
And then tonight, Goke had asked her to marry him. They had been dating for five months, 2 weeks and a day exactly
‘What are you doing?’ She asked him as he started to kneel before her in front of all their friends who had made it to their place to celebrate her birthday.
‘What does it look like?’ He retorted.
She said yes of course but Goke had seen the ‘No’ in her eyes as she smiled and let everyone ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the diamond ring with a tiny amethyst stone in the center.
He waited till the party was over and they were cleaning up.
‘Was it too soon?’ He asked.
‘I think so,’ she said as she fiddled with the ring that felt like a cuff.
‘Hmmm…’ he said. ‘Well, let me know what you want to do. I am going to bed.’
She watched him walk away and cursed the Governor. Why was the park closed at 5pm every day? It was a park for heaven’s sake, not some museum. She needed somewhere to run to, somewhere where life couldn’t find her…
Nonetheless she found Alistair. He was dusty but glad to see her. She would just run within the estate they lived in, she decided. Then she started running and forgot that plan and everything else.
She forgot the ring she left behind on the dining table. She forgot that her scalp hurt from the way the silly girl at the salon had handled it in the name of Ghana weaving. She forgot the way it felt when her parents got a divorce and used her as a bargaining chip for who got the most regrets out of their marriage,. She forgot the way it felt when Musa chose his parents’ wishes in form of a beautiful Fulani woman over her. She even forgot the way the pieces of her heart still ached every time she saw Hector because it was Musa that had introduced her to running and helped her pick Hector out of the rows of running shoes at the department store. She lost all of Musa as she ran; he of the long limbs that she could wrap herself with and there would still be some left, he of the wide smile that could swallow every fear she ever had and still have enough for the ones she didn’t know she had.
Aiyedun ran until her legs hurt and her heart learned to stop aching. She ran and ran and then she stopped and looked at the Lagos night sky. It was so different from New York with its bright lights and people that never ever went home.
The stars winked at her, amethysts in the sky, and she winked back. What was she thinking? Goke was not Musa. He wasn’t her father either and she wasn’t her mother. He was Goke and when he smiled, all Aiyedun could do was pray against little babies with his gap toothed smile because she knew her heart wouldn’t survive another human being with that exact smile.
There was nothing to run from anymore and everything to run to and Alistair creaked every step of the way back. She loved Alistair but it was time for new running shoes.
The apartment was silent when she walked in and she smiled. It meant Goke was wide awake. When Goke slept, even the angels wore ear muffs.
She took off Alistair and found the ring Goke had given her. She needed a bath but if they were to be married he might as well get used to the smell of her fears.
She walked in noiselessly into their bedroom.
‘Bobo,’ she said
‘Hi,’ he answered
‘It isn’t a defense mechanism.’
‘Tomahto, tomato!’ He said and she knew he was smiling.
‘Wise – ass.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’
She sat beside him and turned on the lamp.
‘Because diamonds are common and you aren’t.’
‘Or you are just a cheapo!’
‘I hate rings.’
‘You should have got me new running shoes instead.’
‘I already did. They are downstairs, among the birthday presents you never opened.’
‘What color?’ She asked excitedly.
‘Purple. Fit for a queen. Fit for my queen.’
‘I love you.’
‘I am afraid.’
‘Will you run with me?’
‘I bought running shoes for myself too. Red Nikes. So yes, I will run with you. To the ends of the earth if you want,’ he said
She kissed him then and took off her clothes and fears.
‘Will you marry me?’ She asked before guiding him inside her.
‘Yes,’ he said but she didn’t hear him because she was already running. He caught up easily enough and together they found the ends of the earth were only a beginning.
Song of the day: U2: Ordinary Love