I don’t know how long I’ve been running.
I didn’t even want to enter this race. My parents kind of pushed me into it without asking. It feels like I have been running on this rough, steep road forever. But at least I’ve seen some beautiful views along the way. I remember once I was on top of a mountain, my head touching the clouds, I peeked out in wonder for miles across green valleys lush with flowers and crystal blue lakes through the branches of trees in the shade. I admired life then but I gazed on it too long and got left behind. I tried to catch up but the road descended so abruptly I fell and hurt myself.
I look around at all the faces now — the young and the old — everybody seems to be in pain (you can see it in their eyes), it’s just that some manage it better than others. I admire those who can run along with a smile, it’s something I’ve never been able to do. The road gets steep and I start to cry again. But my tears are lost in the rain.
We pass by a factory. Plumes of smoke cover the sun and turn the rain black. The workers stream out for brief moments to watch us. A girl stands by the side casting rose petals to the wind. But it’s raining too hard. The black rain drags the flowers down where they are trampled into the mud. The rain hurts as I run faster into it. Everything smell of dead leaves and dirt.
I should confess something, I don’t actually know where I’m going or what I’m running for anymore. Everybody just seems to follow everybody else in this race. Some people are even following me! I feel guilty for leading them. They seem so lost and place so much faith in me and yet I don’t have the heart to tell them that I’m also lost.
I just hope the one at the front knows where they’re going.
‘No pain, no gain’ they say. If you’re not hurting, you’re not doing it right. In order to grow and heal we need to tear ourselves apart. And on this road, for many years, I have done nothing but passionately tear myself apart and yet I’m still waiting for the healing to come.
Once I met the love of my life here, she picked me up near some foothills where I had fallen and helped me to the top. With her the race slowed down and became a joy. For once I was happy to walk and let the crazy world rush by. But then a crowd came along and she ran off with another man.
I quicken my pace and curse the one in front for leading us on.
I think mom and dad tried to run this race once and lost their dreams somewhere on the road. I imagine them sometimes at the roadside telling me to keep pushing on and not give up. I think they want me to find their dreams for them. But I’ve been doing this for so long I’ve forgotten mine.
I slow to a limp and burn as we arrive near a park. Its large white gates are locked and towers into the clouds. Drunks lay in the gutters and face the sky. I think they’re waiting for the park to open. I hurt so much I feel like giving up and joining their sweet oblivion. But then I think, what if the park doesn’t open for me? What if I’m not allowed in? I’ll be stuck forever staring insensibly at the stars. This thought frightens me. I find hidden strength and run.
Next we reach a hospital. This is where the ones who’ve hurt themselves in the race come to heal. A few people in gowns gather for a smoke and watch. They have cigarettes lodged between each finger and inhale them frantically one after the other as if desperately making up for lost time. If living is a cancer, then these people were now breathing it all in without regret.
I didn’t notice but the road has become steeper again. I find myself in the middle of some deep woods where the road ascends into darkness. I look back but the darkness below seems more terrifying. I sit down on some rocks too tired to continue. But I’m too far along now to give up. If I quit, nobody will find me in this darkness.
I don’t know how long I’ve been running.
The road suddenly flattens out and things become easier. I look at all the people looking back at me. We smile at each other. There is a sense of achievement and camaraderie now we’ve made it to the peak. Laughter echoes into the valley below.
But as I look out from the shade my jubilation ends. My heart sinks into the valleys and lakes below as I realise I’ve seen this view before. But because I know what lies ahead — what I must face again — the view seems to mock me now. It is as though beauty is an obstacle in a race that never ends. And if this race has no end then who, I wonder, is following whom? I look around and wonder if the one in front is with us now.
But I am caught ruminating too long as usual and many continue to race ahead. My limbs feel renewed but my spirits burn. As I follow them, I look back to ensure the others are following me.