Read the story that won the third place prize in the 2020 Writerwerx ‘Slight Short Story’ Contest!
“So, What Happened Next?” by Kavita Srinivasan of South San Francisco, California
The sun shone bright, and the wind caressed soft that autumn morning in 2010. Water danced in the canals of the river Kaveri. Birds chattered in the wilderness next door. And the bullock-carts tip-tapped through the bright green fields all around.
I was on India’s oldest and toughest marathon trail for the first time — to support my partner in his debut 26-mile run. A few minutes after the whistle blew, he disappeared in the huddle. I had never been to a marathon before. So I lingered around the start line for sometime. Then, clueless about what to do, I strolled into the trail.
Everyone there was either a runner, pacer, or a volunteer. I was a visitor. So that Nikon D50 around my neck helped answer unasked questions. Techies of India’s silicon valley had common likes and dislikes. Most of them enjoyed photography and running, and showed a disregard for high fashion.
I was in a semi-sports attire that day, had a camera on me, and wore glasses like what Moss wore in The IT Crowd. I looked the part. Runners waved and smiled at me. And almost as an instinct, I held up the camera to click pictures.
The pseudo-cult of the technologists of the world fascinated me as an outsider.
What’s the deal with techies and running? Why do they all sign up to jog for forty kilometers? Why would you go the distance for anything less than the Olympics?
My mind sparked with questions, right when my heart began to take in the beauty all around. The lush green fields and endless blue skies painted the backdrop. The singing streams and the whistling teals formed the chorus. And the performance band of the day, filled with an army of runners, marched in and out in its own rhythm. Soaked in nature’s symphony, hours flew by.
It’s when I saw people run the other way, toward me, that I realized the race was in its final moments. The scene was different now. Heavy breaths quietened the youthful vitality at the start of the race. Slow and immobile steps took over the rhythmic march. And confident roars had faded out into painful cries. The support crew motorbikes rumbled out of the woods, one after another. In their backseat, each carried a runner who had either dropped out or passed out on the trail.
“Where, where is he?”
As my eyes searched for my partner, I noticed someone on the narrow bridge in front.
They were by the railing on the left, their blood-red tshirt drenched in sweat. Their limp hands rested over the fence, their head hung loose between the arms. And their knees wobbled inside the flesh of the legs, as they struggled to stand upright.
“Almost there, almost there!”
“Good job, keep going” “Come on!”
The runners cheered as they passed, to little avail.
Worried, I walked toward the bridge. As I approached the panting runner, someone in a green shirt ran in front of me.
They stopped on the bridge, bent down, put an arm around the frail body, and brought the runner up. At the railing, I lined up about two feet away from the duo. The two looked out into the water and like friends on a scenic outing, began to talk.
“I love this trail so much man,” The green shirt guy said. “Did I tell you I decided to marry my wife here?” “Wha..wha..t?” The red shirt guy said.
Out of breath, his voice was feeble.
“Yeah! I was about to sign up for a full marathon. And I had never run more than two miles in my life.”
The red shirt guy straightened up a bit.
“My girlfriend, she begged me to do the half marathon instead.”
“I was like, ‘woman! Are you questioning what I can do?’ Somehow she convinced me, and I was so glad she did. Because even at the start line, I was like ‘13 miles, ha, this is going to be a cakewalk.”
The other person raised his eyebrows.
“And..and I was on fire at first. Seconds after we started together, I left my girlfriend and many others far behind. I was like, yeah baby, I’m gonna crush the miles. Until something hit me at the fifth mile — an invisible force. I could neither move nor stop….” “Aah, I know that feeling, man,” The man in red said.
His voice was clearer now.
“People swooshed past me, crushing my ego. I felt frustrated, angry, confused, helpless
— all at once. And then, she found me.”
As he spoke, the man stretched his arms, exercised his hips, and jogged in place. And like a reflection, the other guy followed every move.
“She jogged next to me, told me I was doing well, and asked me to go slow, as I took baby steps,”
As he said that, the green shirt guy turned around, and hopped out of the bridge. The man in the red shirt swerved.
“Hey, but did you finish the race?” The other guy looked back and waved.
“I’ll tell you, come!”
Almost a corpse a few moments ago, the man in red picked up his steps and ran. It was like they had never stopped. I went the other way into the trail, to look for my partner.
He, my partner, may or may not finish the race, I thought. Yet that broken, battered guy in red will make it to the finish line.
He had a story to chase. He had a storyteller to follow.