Ever since she had met him, she wanted to meet him more.
He had made the first move. He had found her amidst the chaos. She was limping with happiness written all over her face. She was hugging more than one friend at a time. He knew exactly what all this meant. He knew that he had to congratulate her.
He: Hi! You were running just a few meters ahead of me, almost like my pacer. You made me run behind like a lunatic!!
She: Hi! Ahahaha! Thanks.
He: Am Akhtar. I have been running for 2 years now. And you?
She: Am Meena…two years for me too.
He: So was this your personal best?
She: Oh yes! Even though I injured myself…good to meet you. I have to go.
He: Of course. I wanted to thank you for a fantastic run today. Great meeting you and I hope to see you on the road soon.
Meena had met hundreds of male runners every weekend for the last 2 years. She enjoyed the company of her runner friends, but she made her boundaries obvious.
But that day, after the running event, where she had met runners from all over the country, she had driven back home thinking of him, he who had found her amidst thousands of runners. His fixed gaze, his affectionate smile…..made Meena think more than once. She tried to guess his age.
The next day Meena woke up to a ‘friend request’ on Facebook from Akhtar. A few days later, they exchanged phone numbers. A series of online interactions later, they met at the same stadium to collect their bibs for an upcoming event. Akhtar brightened up seeing Meena. They both decided to get a coffee.
At a table surrounded by more than just coffee, Meena studied his nails. She looked at his long hands. She noticed how his smile changed from naughty to affectionate again and again. He talked. She laughed. The coffee lingered for three hours.
That late evening, as Meena drove back home, she wondered what Akhtar thought of her. She wondered why it mattered to her. She looked at herself in the mirror while driving. She knew that she was attractive but she didn’t make heads turn. At the traffic lights, she took a look at herself in the mirror… again. It was a cold evening. But Meena felt cozy inside her car even without switching on the heating.
On the day of the event, Meena felt ready for her run but even more ready for something that had been teasing her heart.
After the race, Meena’s eyes searched for Akhtar. She knew he was around holding his medal, talking to his runner friends, or perhaps he too was looking for her.
In a few seconds, she spotted him, even though he was far. As she walked towards him, Meena smilingly worried if people around her could see her heart pounding out of her chest at the thought of revealing her heart to Akhtar.
As she got closer to him, she realized Akhtar was holding hands with someone.
Was he, really?
Yes, he was.
But now it was too late. He had already seen her. She couldn’t turn back.
She didn’t know what to do with herself at that moment. Her steps were slow and heavy. She wanted to run away. She was now finally face to face with Akhtar…
Akhtar: I was looking for you all over. And again you made me run like there is no tomorrow.
Meena: Personal best timings?
Akhtar: Yes! Will tell you all about it later. But here I want you to meet my wife – Sim’run’. But guess what…. she doesn’t run! And today’s actually a very special day for us. It’s our anniversary. She decided to be by my side post-run. Simrun, Meena is a fantastic runner…. actually one of a kind!
Meena: Happy Anniversary to you both! I hope you enjoy the madness of a run event, Simrun.
Akhtar: I’ll see you soon, Meena! Really soon!
Meena walked away. She walked to the breakfast area, picked up a banana, and walked again. She sadly worried that people around her could see and hear her heart breaking into pieces. She felt exposed. She quickly got into her car. She switched on the heating and put her head back. She saw Akhtar walking hand in hand with his wife. His long hands held her hands, while his eyes were searching for his car at the parking.
Despite the strong heating in the car, she felt cold.
She went back to a moment …that moment when Akhtar had found her, amidst thousands of runners to come and say ‘Hi’!
She thought back on the time she spent with Akhtar. She didn’t regret a moment spent with him. She had hoped for so much more with him.
But now…at the very moment, sitting back in her car, watching him happily walk with the woman he called his wife, she knew that sometimes the only way to protect the people you love is …by staying away from them.
Everybody loves a story. Stories evoke a connect with someone we don’t know and probably may not ever even meet. And yet in a few thousand words we have imagined, sometimes even lived vicariously a different life, situation, and person. They let us live many lives. As a runner, I come across many real-life stories of my fellow runners. There are yarns of triumph, love, failure, pain, and many other emotions ready to be woven and read. I like to pick up the threads and present these stories made from what I observe and carry back home in my head and eyes. So here’s my second story. The story of Vega is the first one I wrote, back in 2017. You can read it here.
About the story you just read – the love story of Meena. She is as real as you and I. So is Akhtar. They still meet at run events and they still are friends.