When a forty something year old man invites you for a morning run, you chuckle and say to yourself that this will be a walk around the hood. In fact, the night before you go to bed a little past midnight and you ask to do to your Lakwan the things you had promised before, she asks you, but you have a run at six in the morning, you should rest.
Aaaaai, he is like what? 42? Surely how far can he really run? She laughs at your logic and you laugh at hers because kwani how weak does she think you are? In fact, to prove her wrong you do bad manners with otada because you are the cock here. It doesn’t matter to you that this old man has been running in the morning for the past ten years.
The next day you meet him at the starting point in Lavington, at 6 sharp. You find him stretching and you just simply shake off the morning cold, ready to go. Three ladies join you. It is actually a running group, this one. You look at the girls and you say to yourself, Even if this man defeats me, at least I will have the pleasure of these ladies’ company.
You think you are invincible, but in actual sense, you are high on a toxic cocktail of ageism and patriarchy. You are roaring to go. You listen to them map out the route of the run, and you tell yourself it is really nothing to you. You will be done before the sun comes up.
The first light of that Friday morning is just beginning to glow when the group sets out, jogging against the sparse incoming traffic. The girls are the first to take an early lead. Look at these ones now, you say to yourself, give them 200m and they will be panting their lungs out. This is a marathon bwana, not a sprint.
However, since they are the ones who know the route of the run, you decide to accelerate kidogo so that you can at least spot them. Them with their colourful running gear, fitted in proper Decathlon wear, thinking themselves champions trying to set an INEOS record. You on the other hand, have basketball gear. Tights, t-shirt, shorts and Under Armour shoes.
But you are not a bad workman who picks quarrels with his tools. You jog, trailing them. Once in a while you glance back to see how far behind your 42 year old friend is, and for a moment there you feel sorry for him. Him and this other dude who is also part of the team.
So long as you can see the pink and white figures ahead of you, you should be fine.
You pace your breathing to match your jog. In-in, out-out. In-in, out-out. You remind yourself to breathe from your nose, and not your mouth. The cold morning air rushes into your nostrils and stings the beginning of your throat. It is hard to breathe as you approach the Cotton Road roundabout. You cannot maintain that in-in, out-out rhythm. As you climb that hilly section of the highway next to that new carwash as you approach Cotton Road roundabout, you break your first sweat. You look ahead and the girls are way ahead. They have already crossed and are fast descending past that bridge that floods whenever it rains.
That distance has increased, and it’s unacceptable! You add speed. Luckily once you pass the roundabout, it is a mteremko. Hapo you do not even need to run fast, you will be pulled by gravity. You put your gears on free. But the moment the mteremko ends, another hill begins headed towards the Dennis Pritt junction.
Now, there is this movie you once watched on Showmax. It was about a high school cross-country athlete who was being coached by a blind father. He had prerecorded a guide for her, and in it he tells her that when you are running and you come to a hill, the temptation is to slow down. But that is not the trick. The trick is apparently to attack the hill. Pump your feet. Show that hill who is boss.
And on that Friday morning, who was boss? You or Cotton Road? Heh! You show that hill that you are the son of Karuoth. You are the descendant of a man who went to fight smallpox in the afterlife and won. You attack that hill like it had winked at your girlfriend.
Turns out movies lie. Who would have thought?
By the time you get to the top of that hill, and left branch into Dennis Pritt, your fuel tank sign is on. You are sweating like an addict on withdrawal. Panting through your mouth, swallowing up all the oxygen around you with the greed of a government official. You wish those mamas who sell groceries next to the carpenters around there had opened so that you grab yourself an orange. Your body is begging for electrolytes. You feel a slight tinge on your left knee and right hip, but you think nothing of them.
Ahead of you, the girls are disappearing. The run through that hill like bullet through a slice of bread. Behind you, the 40 something year old is closing in with his buddy. You say to yourself there is no way. You keep going. The end must be close now, you imagine. Very soon, we will be making a turn and heading back to Lavington.
You pick up again. This time, your pace is labored, just like the pace of this article. There are other joggers on the road now, but none of them looks like they are suffering. Some guy runs past you – this one is not in any running gear, neither is he running to keep fit. He is in baggy khakis, a heavy jacket, a shirt and leather shoes, with a backpack bouncing off his shoulders and he trots past you.
The 40 year old catches up with you as you abandon President Uhuru’s house to the left and into Woodland Grove. The girls are long gone by now. The daughters of Eve who were meant to be our compass, have now disappeared.
What happens next is what the inventors of this language tried to call abandonment. At first you and your mzee friend will do a couple of meters together. You will take a turn that heads towards State House Road together, and you will try to make conversation to take your mind off the pain on your upper right hip and left knee. You will tell him, Look at that sunrise, isn’t it beautiful? The sky will be orange and then soon, it will start to bleach away. You will wonder why you spent a beautiful morning making yourself feel otherwise.
You will talk about your recent trips. He will bring up that one picture you took shirtless by the pool in Lamu and you two will share a laugh about the reactions it got you. You will tell him social media is smokes and mirrors. It was a lucky picture; taken when you were sucking in your kitambi. You do not always look like that. And the number of ladies whose small clothes were bothered by it are non-existent; or if they do live and breathe, then they must be somewhere else, not your DMs.
What you will not know is that conversations are not friends with jogging. Soon you will be out of breath and you will slow down to a walking pace. Surprisingly, he will keep going. You will tell yourself, Ah there he is I will catch up in the swish of a duck’s tail.
Only that you won’t. You will grind to a halt. Your body will be done like an overcooked steak. An elderly white man with a strap on his right knee will catch up with you, and pass you. You will tell yourself, Surely I can be that bad; I cannot be outrun by a man held together by strings. This man is easily thrice your age, with a limp and of the softer race. You will pick yourself up from this mental self-flagellation and start jogging towards this Chad, but Chad will surprise you.
As it turns out ageism, racism and ableism do not come with extra oxygen. Right now, you can be outrun by even a tilapia.
At the beginning of this morning run, you had said that you were going to finish first. Then when the girls disappeared, you had said to yourself at least you will have finished ahead of your 42 year old friend. Then when even he dissolved into the dawn, you were OK finishing last, but not with an embarrassing margin. Just by a few meters. But now you are like fuck this shit, ata haikua competition.
The whole thing reminds you of childhood. Back when you were asked about what you wanted to be and you would say big sounding professions like Brain Surgeon. Then after KCPE, you were OK with being a General Practitioner. Then after high school you could settle for Lab Technician. And now, in adulthood, you will take any hustle that your ancestors will give you – so long as it pays in Kenya Shillings. You no longer dream of a profession, you dream of a job.
You drag yourself onwards. You imagine to yourself there is no shame in quitting. You can as well just stop here, take a bodaboda and head back home. Only problem is that you left your car in Lavington; where the run began. And even though you had accepted defeat, you still will not be seen finishing last on a bodaboda. It is about pride now.
The last ounce left in you anyway.
It is this kidogo pride that sees you through this run. You run a little, but most of the time, you walk. Lakini when you come round that turn that brings you to where everyone is waiting for you, you increase pace. Not because you are motivated to go out in a blaze of glory, but because you want to give an illusion that you had been running all along nonstop.
When you get to where they are, you are breathing out of your mouth. Tongue wagging like a tail. You are seeing things two-two. You had sweated, but now your sweat has dried up, and you have started sweating afresh. You imagine that everyone else must be feeling like shit as well, but no. These Eliud Kipchoges and Vivian Cheruyiots are talking about feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Ati they are now ready to go forth and carpe the goddamn diem.
It is around 8am. They are ready to start their days, while you are ready for yours to end. You are ready for tomorrow. Everyone walks into Java for breakfast. One of them is buying. You say sawa, because you have never refused free food.
When they had said you guys were going to do 10km, in your head it had not registered exactly how far 10km is. Now it feels like you are just from a trip round the sun. Your forty year old friend comes asks you how it was. Ideally, you would have lied and said it was great, but you do not have the energy to remember lies.
You say, Terrible.
He tells you, The secret is to come back next time.
You do not respond, even though you are dying to tell him to learn to keep his secrets. Snitches give others stiches.
That morning when you get back home, your Lakwan is still in bed when you return. When you open the bedroom door, she looks up, sees the look on your face and knows, immediately, that she will need to get the Deepheat, coconut oil and Maramoja tablets.
Where does it hurt? She whispers, as your body drops onto her laps.
Everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere.
(shame on you if you don’t get that reference)