The stadium was all but dark, with a solitary lamp post in one corner. It was six thirty in the evening, the perfect time of day for a run. The stadium bore a deserted look except for the lone runner whose silhouette could be seen in the misty distance. The only other company that P had were the dragonflies. The dragonflies that flew head-on into the bright light of the solitary lamp post as if to achieve immortality by immolating themselves in the brilliant tungsten flame.
It was R who turned P onto running at this hour, an hour he described as sacred. “The stadium is my temple and running is how I worship,” he often used to say. Maybe it was the naive mysticism R attached to it that lured P to the stadium the first time, but it was certainly something else that brought him back again and again. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but it was powerful enough to pull the usually lazy P out of his stupor and onto the six lane running track.
As he worked up a rhythm in his breathing pattern (inhale-hold-exhale-hold-inhale-hold-exhale-hold) his mind began to clear. The only thing that mattered was the metronome in his head against which he timed his breathing rhythm. All his earthly misery seemed to fade into the distance, left behind as he picked up pace. “Run towards the light ,” R used to say with his usual penchant for the metaphysical. It always amused P, but it was good advice. It was a goal. A simple goal. Run towards the light. It was a target to be achieved in an otherwise largely aimless life.
One of the reasons P liked running was that there was no competition. There was no score to beat , no scale to be compared against. You just ran until you couldn’t any longer. In a life that was a constant race, a race for recognition, for accolades , for what society described as success, it was ironic that the only escape that P found was running. He found meaning in his pointless perambulations.
On reaching his full pace, he closed the gap between himself and the other runner on the track. As he passed him by, he recognized the face. It was K, a classmate of his. “Hey K!” He called out as he ran past, leaving K squinting in the semi-darkness, struggling to identify his accoster. Why did K run at this lonesome hour? Was he too in search of some kind of solace, or were his reasons merely calisthenic?
Now at the end of his stay in college, P was prone to spending long hours in introspection (since he had not much else to do). He reflected back on his four years wondering where they all went ( his sense of worthlessness amplified by the events of the recent past). Was this the education he was looking for? Had he done anything worthwhile? Was it necessary for everyone to do something worthwhile? Do they also serve who stand and wait? Silly sophomoric philosophical rambling his friends used to say, but maybe silly questions needed to be asked, maybe the past had to be analysed. P always thought of the present as being on the peak of a tall mountain, with the vast vista of one’s past visible in varying degrees on the plains below. Events that happened long ago faded into the horizon, while the recent past was clearly visible. Every twist in the road, every wrong path taken there for one to see.His years in college flashed past his mind’s eye as he lay down on the slightly wet grass, panting.
As he lay there staring at the sky, he heard K approach and sit down beside him. “So, it was you,” he said, “I didn’t recognize you back there at first,” he said. P smiled in response. After stretching a bit, K too lay down beside him gazing at the sky. “You know, it reminded me of some lines from a story we had in school – Dusk, I think it was called .” P sat up at once, he had read the story in school too, and lines were familiar, though he didn’t remember the exact words. He suddenly felt as if he had found an answer. The reason behind the pull of the stadium. Taking his leave of K, P made his way back to his room. Once there, he dug out his old high school literature anthology and turned to a dogeared page. Dusk, by Saki. He read aloud to himself the lines :
Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognized.
P.S: Apologies for the piece of fiction. I win back Rs.100 from Pota as a result.