He remembered a time when he and the road was his friend. A time when the sound of his shoes against the pavement was the backbeat to his favourite song; when the wind and the cars and the sounds of the city combined into the white noise background of a novel he was writing in his head.
Those days were gone; disappeared into the vortex of youth and “time served”.
Now the road was a bully that taunted him. He slapped it, and it slapped back twice as hard. He looked for the end and saw only an oily, menacing scar that stretched past the horizon. And still, he ran.
He ran because it was the shortcut to self-esteem. He ran because despite the fear and the pain, he knew when he found the finish line, he would feel better. He ran because he felt like he was losing everything else – his wife, his friends, his cat, his family, himself.
So when he passed the woman at the 5 km mark, he had no idea how her words would affect him. He had no idea that two simple words would lift him up and remind him he was on the right path and heading in the right direction.
“Good job,” she said.
It wasn’t patronizing or exaggerated. It wasn’t overt encouragement or sarcasm. It was just acknowledgement of his effort.
“Thanks,” he said with a mixture of exhaustion and gratitude.
His posture changed imperceptibly and his pace increased slightly; not because she was attractive and he was vain. She was and he was – but it was something else. He thought about it for a moment and then he realized that for months now, he’d been carrying the burden of questionable health and pharmaceutical side-effects on his own. He’d been walking or skating or running with a lead-weighted belt of pills and uncertainty wrapped around his waist and it had slowed him down to a standstill.
And yet, this stranger on Union St. had temporarily lifted the weight and revealed a truth. He wasn’t alone. He had chosen to deal with things on his own but even people he’d never met could help if he let them in. Maybe his fear of the road and his weakness of will had made him more open to suggestion. Maybe the warmth of a spring morning had exposed him to a different mindset. Or maybe just a kind word from a passing citizen was enough. Whatever the reason, he finished his run with a smile; much lighter than when he’d started.
“Note to self,” he thought, “stay open to kindness and it’s much more likely to find you.”
Maybe he could renew that friendship with the road afterall.