The hill before me looked rather threatening in the morning haze. The orange glow of the Mau sunrise seemed like a rising balloon in the horizon, peppering the tree line of the Mau Forest in the horizon with a warm feel, like curry powder on a spicy dish. The frost on my feet crackled against the grass as my feet became numb and my running shoes grew heavier with each step. With cow dung, dirt and sticks stuck in the treads, they had seen a difficult life.
I had woken up an hour earlier at twenty past five in the morning, with a makeshift Al-Shabaab mortar bomb in my gut, one that I had accidentally armed a few hours earlier with two doubles of vodka and beer before retiring to bed. But now, it was heating up in my tummy together with the previous evening’s dinner. Brown ugali, mutton stew and traditional herbs washed down with the mildest mursik. I jogged about 100 metres before I literally boarded the Al-Shabaab ‘technical’, replete with my mortar bomb.
Alone, none of these foodstuffs are that harmful, except maybe the beer and vodka. However, I had no time for weakness, a man I was, after all. I surged up the hill, brushing aside shrubs and bushes as I cleared radar distance off the morning mist with each ascending step. The incline was about a kilometre uphill and I struggled to gain altitude. After a yearlong hiatus, it was the most gruelling kilometre I’d endured in recent memory. Once atop the hill, I eased for the downward two kilometre drift into Bararget forest section of the Mau. I espied a number of people ridging potatoes on a farm about half a kilometre downhill. They paused with a start when I appeared atop the hill before resuming their duties, busy in the morning chill before sunshine arrived. They probably thought I was a forest guard, out to stop them from encroaching on the fertile forest land. After a brief pause, I eased forward for the descent towards the forest. It was then that the fire in my abdomen got worse.
Every runner’s enemy. The dividing line between pride and shame, victory and defeat as well as youth and advancing age. They’d started, and it was about half past six in the morning on the edges of one of the biggest and darkest forests in Kenya. Another lurch in my tummy and a rip through my shorts and I knew the end was nigh. I spot a secluded bush on the side of the mud track and I skip off the path into the knee length grass. If only I can make it to the bush on time.
Fire in my tummy. Ice on my feet.
Ignoring the farmhands on the potato farm, I hid behind the bush and ripped my off tracksuit with my left hand, clutching the saplings of the bush with my right hand as nature took its course.
An explosion never heard before in the Mau like an Iranian missile test exploding in Strait of Hormuz. Grass was flattened, early worms scampered for safety, chirping in the process. An expectant silence fell in the bush, a silence that was suddenly broken by a few giggles from the females among the farmhands. I turned partway around to look if anyone was coming towards me when another round of mortar fire went off below me. My lungs had all but shut down, and the edges of my sight were getting blurry and teary when the laughter started rolling towards me in the breeze of the Mau sunrise.
It eventually subsided after a few minutes, the events in between probably not fit content for this rusted blog. Leaves and shrub substituted tissue paper and I emerged from behind the bush a limp, broken man. Sweat soaked jumper, soiled running shoes and spirit broken, like a runaway logging tractor on the edge of the Mau forest. The women in the distant potato farm stood there looking towards me laughing, the men kept busy ridging the potatoes with understanding.
I guess some things are better left unsaid.
I had hardly stepped back onto the mud track to resume my shameful jog did I hear they yelp of a male dog and the hiss of a couple of bitches. Turning, I see about four dogs running towards me from the direction of the farm. Wasting no time I turned and ran back where I came from. Down, down the gradient towards home as all the people working the potato farm burst into loud, mirthless laughter that made the dogs turn back.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended my relationship with running.