Only three more minutes. She could do it. Of course she could.
Malini passed the woman walking her dog. Older than Malini, she was perhaps in her late fifties, and the dog, a mutt of some sort. Both had a limp. I wonder what her story is, Malini thought, trying to distract herself from the fatigue threatening to overcome her. Everyone who comes to Vancouver Island has a story, often a good one.
She had been running for seventeen minutes straight, with only a bit, a tad more, a smidgen of time to go. Malini willed her legs on. The couch to 5K app on her phone had upped her run time today. After a week of running for twenty minutes in four five-minute sections, it had decided to, brazenly, in Malini’s opinion, throw down a challenge. Twenty minutes at a stretch. She had three minutes more to go.
Come on, Mal. That’s only one hundred and eighty seconds. She was surprised she could do the math. Or think. Or do anything else besides stumble, drool and give up. She felt her legs shuffling under her. Her left knee wobbled, perfectly willing to disengage from the rest of her body and lie down right there on the trail, a conscientious objector to this madness.
Babe… She called herself Babe when things got rough. It brought a smile to her face, and it did this time too.
Come on Babe, she said to herself, this pain is nothing compared to childbirth. Don’t stop now. Granted, childbirth was nineteen years ago, but still indelible in her mind. Her midwife at Lamaze had said that she needed to train for it with the intensity of a marathon. Malini had scoffed – she had never run a marathon, but it was an exaggeration surely. But there it was. A breech position that wouldn’t turn, a missed window for an epidural, and, in the end, an emergency C-section. A difficult birth… for a difficult child.
Malini would not let herself say it. Nevertheless, in the nineteen years since Sophie’s birth, through the haze of naptimes that segued into class times that segued into graduation, Malini regularly fought off feelings of perhaps not having done enough for her daughter. For perhaps setting her off on the wrong foot. Perhaps of missing something.
“Nonsense,” her friend Dina said when Malini confessed these feelings of inadequacy one evening. They were into their third glass of Shiraz, and Malini was on the verge of phoning Sophie. “I’ve seen you with her. You’re a good mother Mal. A kind one. Sometimes too kind… There will be time to call her. But not now.” Dina paused. “Anyway, how about that idea of a book club? Do you think it’ll work?”
Yes. It would.
That was nearly two months ago. Tonight they were discussing Dina’s choice – a story about a man who becomes friends with his reflection in the mirror. “Is It Me?” was a recent release and gathering storm. It was Dina’s first time to pick, but Malini would have to miss book club. Tonight, she had a visitor.
She saw the end of the trail loop. It was farther away than she wished, but she saw it.
“COME ON BABE!”
The family walking ahead of her jumped. They were in their late twenties, maybe early thirties, walking briskly along the trail. They were lightly dressed for this early autumnal day. The woman wore a blue fleece and Malini glimpsed a tendril of a tattoo under the blond ponytail. The man next to her had a beard and wore a short-sleeved t-shirt. He was pushing a bright orange stroller. His beard, neatly trimmed, more red than brown, and his compact, workman-like build reminded her of a younger Niall. A small, grey Border terrier kept pace with them. Malini smiled at the thought of her husband. And then she smiled at the realization that she had smiled. It was a small victory. Perhaps those endorphins were kicking in after all…
“Sorry!” She panted, as she increased her pace. The terrier ran at her ankles and Malini skirted the dog with an ease that surprised her. Maybe she was fitter. Or perhaps it was long- dormant survival instincts coming into play. She had been adept, as a child, at dodging yowling strays near her apartment building in Bangalore.
“Bianca, down!” The man shouted. “She’s an idiot. But she’s actually very sweet once you get to…” Malini gave them the thumbs up as she passed. It was a good move, for she was too out-of-breath to make any cogent reply.
It was autumn, the year Malini had turned forty-nine – the same age as Malini’s mother had been when she died. Galvanized by that realization, Malini decided to start an exercise program. She found trainers in her area, and quickly discounted them once she realised that her twice-weekly visit to Roberta’s Gelato and Brownie Bar would be off limits if she signed up. There has to be a balance, she thought, although finding the right balance was challenging.
She was on the local parks and rec website when she thought of her friend Ines in Seattle. Ines, like her, was small and brown with a weakness for ice cream. She ran an online fitness camp for Latina women- Músculos Femeninos Entrenado Con Inés! It was in Spanish, of course, but Malini had a smattering, and so could manage. When she logged onto the website, she was heartened. The success stories looked like what she hoped to turn into. Muscular, but still womanly. She had signed up for a six-month course, and this was the end of week three. She had done her workout at the gym earlier and now, the trail running.
And so far, so commendable. She willed her way to the top of the scrabble path and as she reached the crest of the trail, she heard her timer chime. Sweet Jesus! That was hard. Malini stopped and took in the view. It was magnificent. The light off the bay on Eveningside Crescent was pink-crimson and the waves lapped onto shore, each a small cheer as it broke. She felt the breeze as she lifted her face to the sun in silent thanks. Below, the beach was gravelly, fallen trees forming natural bolsters against the water.
British Columbia. Probably the most beautiful place she had ever lived in, certainly more beautiful then Bangalore, which had morphed from the sleepy backwater town of her childhood to the screaming tech-centre of India; unequivocally more majestic than Bristol with its mealy-mouthed high street and traffic congestion. She noticed with some amusement that Toronto and Oxford being the honourable exceptions, she had an affinity for living in places that started with a B. Bangalore, Bristol, that stint in Buenos Aires for a year, and now B.C. Yes, British Columbia was technically a province but it still counted. Where would she go next? She wondered. Burkina Faso? Bolivia? Berlin? Berlin might be nice. She’d always wanted to visit the Brandenberg gate.
She had been unnerved at first by the lack of interesting architecture on the island. She missed Georgian and Victorian buildings. But slowly, the place had trained her eyes to look for the mountains, the beaches, the drama of the setting sun.
Her eyes swept across the vista in front of her. So much sky. She thought. One hardly noticed the sky in Bristol, except perhaps to comment on the impending rain. But here, in this corner of Eveningside Park, the sky dominated. Towering cumulonimbus clouds in shades of deep orange, pink and purple. Yes, there would be rain. She could smell the promise of it in the air. The beach looked inviting, and she checked her watch. She narrowed her eyes, wishing she had picked up her interim contact lenses from Costco’s that day. 6:18 P.M. She had just enough time to shower and head to the ferry terminal.