The soles of my worn running shoes slap the pavement and my eyes water, absorbing the dust and smoke encircling Main Street. I try to meet the downcast eyes of the men and women walking past me, pushing up the treacherous hill. Some are hypnotized in transition: solely seeking home, a warm meal, and a bed in which to rest their heads. I speed down the curved decline, watching them carry grocery bags up -- sauntering from where the taxis have dropped them, up to the bus stop at the top of the hill. They pass where the dirt turns to concrete, where the sidewalk cracks in sharp slabs and trips me up.
The things I love and hate.
A dark figure is in the distance. He isn’t walking straight. When I get to him I don’t know if he will sway in to me, if he will speak ill to me, or if he will grin with all his teeth. “Nice legs.”
So I will say hello to everyone; the ones who match me with a kind smile recall my humility. But it is a warped game. At the root of my friendliness is fear. Because maybe if I make eye contact with this man I’m not sure I can trust, he won’t mug me.
The energy from the evening traffic is like a shot of adrenaline. The anxiety from the honking cars, speeding taxis, propels me forward. I cough on the fumes, resenting how they restrict my breath. I imagine the people driving by and wonder how they laugh at my struggle.
Later, another man races down the concrete hill on a side street, coming toward me. He’s wearing jeans and a dark zip-up top. When he gets to me he fiddles with the headphones that are falling out of his ears. I can’t help but wonder if he is running from a crime scene, or just going for a jog in normal clothes. I exhale hard, resenting myself for such skepticism.
But even the thieves look like businessmen here, with nice cars whose doors they leave open so they can make a getaway on a busy street and disappear into traffic.
My knees pound against the dirt, my arches curving to adjust to the protruding rocks. I lift my knees higher and push the balls of my feet into the ground. The ache verges on unbearable. I watch each face. And somehow, through my physical pain, hope to grasp each hardship.
But they just stare at me with equally watery eyes.
I glide down the final hill, over the dirt, over the concrete, over the broken glass, and feel like I am flying. I barely notice the homeless man sleeping between two trees covered in a blanket, surrounded by his only belongings. When I soar past him, I momentarily loathe myself for having the freedom to run, for having the strength. And, most of all, for not stopping.