Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hill, Hair, Hat, Her

My soccer team mates schedule Monday evenings to sprint up and down a steep slope of tarmac road. Repeat until failure.

This rigorous regime enhances strength, stamina and explosiveness, which are good things for soccer players. That being said, the uphill dash inflames the leg muscles with hot pain and bakes the lungs alive. Often it feels like there will never be enough oxygen in the world for catching one's breath with. (That is just three minutes into pulling on sneakers.) The routine involves chasing cars and motorbikes uphill, with a resolute intent of beating them to the top. (A few drivers glance at their rear-view, take us for some bungling carjackers and floor the gas pedal.) (Most Chinese motorbikes can easily be overtaken while sprinting uphill. Their riders absolutely HATE it.)

At the end of "loading" (we call it that), your speech and heartbeat echo discordantly within your own skull, so you avoid talking until you're sufficiently rehydrated. And you are supposed to walk home. The journey home is fraught with impromptu muscle pulls, the inevitable consequence of repeatedly charging to the top of an indifferent hill.

***

On my way home one dark Monday dusk, I met one of my friends on the sidewalk. She announced her presence by grabbing my hat off my absent-minded head. I spun to the challenge, half expecting to have to chase a street kid down the middle of the road, only to come face to face with her laughing visage.

"Anita"

"I saved your seat and you didn't show," she said pulling my hat on her head. I always fancied it to be a hat for the artistic types; and it blended nicely with her soft feminine features, but it clashed irreparably with her formal skirt-suit. She'd been working all day. I felt like a relative bum, especially considering what time I woke up.

Meanwhile, I also felt naked, my unkempt hair being on display in the middle of town for all the world to see. My fingers were itching to grab the hat off her head but she was smiling and holding my stare while she awaited my excuses with a cynical smile.

"I went to church somewhere else." My ear drums rang with internal echo. Dehydration. Talking was too much work. I wasn't even sure I didn't smell sweaty and soccer-socksy. RT if you know the smell. "Can I have my hat back?"

"No!" she giggled, shaking her head. "I bet you didn't go to church at all."

"I'd gone to Nairobi. My hat? Before someone I know sees me." Spasms of soreness glowed like coals embedded into my skeletal frame. My lower back felt like something was broken in there.

"It's mine now." Her smile crept wider. Her eyes said she was serious. My heart sank.

A steady stream of pedestrians walked past us, around us, back and forth. Touts called out destinations from matatus passing on the nearby road. I could grab the hat and run...
A fortuitous breeze cooled my head. I breathed the fresh air. "Can we sit down somewhere and discuss it?"

"Good idea! I'm starving."

Minutes later, as she was having fries and I was draining my third bottle of water, the flow of conversation ceased abruptly. A muscle pull erupted deep in the core of my right hamstring.

Spontaneous hard words escaped my lips.

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