What a Runner Must Do

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EXCERPT from “Padre!” by Raven Moore

The air is fresh. A gentle blue seeps through the dark sky. Here I go. My college spandex from the lone year of track I enjoyed at Georgetown still maintains. Red basketball shorts on top keep me modest and a white T-shirt covers me for the first time in a while.

I am light on the red sand beyond the porch, aiming not to leave footprints. Off to the quiet of a run —one thing I love. I step onto the main dirt road which splits right at Bogo’s house, and here turn right. In a few hundred yards, the side road disappears into the tall foliage that blocks the rest of the wide path from view. I’ll be hidden as soon as I get past this point . . . Yes! The courtyard along the side road, across from Bogo’s house, is usually full of life, movement, and children running adventurously but not now.

Fire smokes out from underneath an appatam right before the foliage seals me onto the disappearing road. Someone is awake. My heart beats fast. The blue sky lightens by the second. I time the sunrise perfectly and if I miss waking up at the right time then I do not go. Being seen, asked a question, judged, called out, said ‘good morning’ to, called ‘La Blanche,’ or any of that — hell no. As far as I know, nothing but the smoke has seen me.

A slow trot allows my eyes to adjust to the new darkness on the path that the foliage creates. Ten seconds in and I am a cheetah, or whichever animal that is with night vision. Yeh, definitely a cheetah because I can’t see shit! What in the world am I doing? Oh my God! I’m going to be attacked by a lion.
I’m going to be attacked by a lion!

After a few hundred yards more the road opens up wide. My heart breathes. Something yet formless in the dark scurries across in front of me. I do not worry about snakes because our encounters have never been negative. We’ve got a pact. Anything else that might be out here . . . let’s just hope it does not bother me as I will not bother it. I figure any path without grass growing on it is a man-made path, tended to, walked on fairly regularly, and has someone or some village on the other end of it.

Huuu Haaaaa. Huuuuu Haaaaaaaa. No air in the world like this. My capillaries open, my eyesight sharpens, my limbs loosen and swing. I hear nothing. No babies crying. No Bèté. No Jula. No French. No Senoufo. No Baoulé. No Mossi. The path widens more. The foliage shortens a little. Either that or the darkness shows the true length of the tall grass, as it appears shorter in the emerging light. Aaaaaah. A dip here and there but an adventure. The road moves straight ahead. I run enough to know how far I go just by watching the road. There are slight hills and the biggest hill has a fresh miniature pool of water waiting for me at the bottom that I cabriole over. When did it rain?

The road looks different every day. Something grows where it had not been before. Something disappears.

A man walks in my direction ahead one morning. He’s fine, too. He starts to slow down but then picks up the pace. I give him a look to say ‘I know what I’m doing here, what about you?’ If I’m going to keep running early without anyone and no one knowing, then I’ve gotta’ act like me and my bright red shorts belong. His machete drops from his shoulder, down to his side, and he keeps walking as he watches me pass. It’s not a ‘you look good girl’ watch but a ‘this is some weird shit, I’m about to cut you’ watch.

I look like a ghost to him at 5 a.m. out here this way with no machete, no bag of seeds, no jug of water, and no one accompanying me. Hallucinations must just be someone trying to do something a little different at a strange hour. His morning walks will never be the same. Yes, you have just seen a ghost.

Raven Moore is the debut author of “Padre!: A place whose rules rearrange your own”
– Now available in all stores. –

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