He ran and I walked. That should have been enough for me to know that it would never work out between us.
“Look at my feet,” he said to me one day. “It’s athletes and dancers whose feet are so curved.”
We were nestled in my dark blue bean bag when he decided to teach me about feet. He liked to tell me about things I didn’t know. Very often, things I didn’t want to know. I listened anyway.
I looked at his feet and then stretched mine out.
“I have flat feet,” I said “I did physiotherapy for a year when I was ten. They made me walk tip-toed on a straight line for twenty minutes every day.”
“Sounds like training to become a ballerina,” he guffawed.
“Well, it didn’t work out anyway. I still have flat feet and I’m not supposed to wear any kind of high heels.”
“You don’t need to. You’re tall.”
I was, and still am, 5 feet and 5 inches. Not a very impressive length, in my opinion.
“You’re tall enough for me.”
I think he leaned in and kissed me after that. The details are a bit hazy, but the moment seemed to be one of those which would warrant a gentle kiss.
. . . .
“Happy birthday, my love.”
It was 12 am on the dot. I was lying under my covers peering at my phone as it blinked back at me.
“Thank you,” came the swift response. “I want to see you before I see anyone else tomorrow.”
“But how is that possible? You will see a hundred people on your way to school before we get to meet.”
“I’ll get a cab and come to school by the second hour. I’ll wait for you by the stairs near your classroom. Come see me before I head to class.”
“Alright. See you tomorrow!” I texted.
Ah, he was a beautiful boy.
Things took an unexpected turn the next day. It was the annual inter-school athletic meet and I had to leave to the stadium a couple of hours earlier than I expected. He was bitterly disappointed in me, it had barely been a month since we began dating.
“I went through all that trouble of getting to school late so that you could be the first one to wish me in person as well,” he said. “I can’t believe you just left!”
It became one of those arguments that cropped up every time we argued, about anything.
But there is something he never knew. I’m not an athlete and I didn’t actually attend the meet to run. I went to give water to athletes when they were exhausted and to cheer them on when they needed support. The reason I signed up for my water-giving-cheer-making duties was only because I thought he would be running. You see, he was the Sports Minister the year before. He was a fantastic athlete. He had curved feet. I had flat feet. I couldn’t run to save my life.
Unfortunately, he was in his final year of high school and they weren’t allowing seniors to take part in the meet that year. But I had signed up before either of us knew that, to be there, to support him. But I wasn’t there. And it was his birthday.
. . . .
“Where are you guys?” I asked. I wasn’t used to large malls. And telling me directions like ‘near the fountain’ really did not help.
“Stay where you are,” said my best friend, the birthday girl. “I will send your boyfriend to come get you.”
I have no idea how this is going to turn out, I thought. We had just had an argument an hour ago and I was quite certain he did not want to help me find my way through a mall. People were supposed to know their way around malls, right? But I didn’t get out that much. And I also happen to be directionally challenged, somewhat.
He blew in as agile as he always was. He could have been a dancer, those curved feet I tell you! By the time I could catch my breath he transposed from before me to beside me and then gestured to me to follow him with a quick movement of his head.
Gosh, he was handsome, had it really been a year since we began dating? I was still so terribly in love with him. I really wish that we hadn’t had that argument.
He glided across the marble floor like a ballerina. And I ran behind him, the runner that I was not, trying to keep up. I was a little exhausted when we reached the rest of the gang.
“Happy birthday!” I said as I stretched out the chocolate brown polka dotted paper bag in my hand. “This is from the both of us.”
“Thank you!” beamed my friend.
“And thank YOU,” she said, turning to him.
“That’s a pretty gift,” he whispered, leaning in closer to me. I liked how he smelt
. . . .
“I like the way you smell,” I said.
“Everything here smells better than me,” he said, looking around at the unworn nylon and cotton around us.
“But it doesn’t smell like a human being. And it doesn’t smell like you.”
He looked at me curiously.
“I’m lucky you like how I smell. My mother tells me that I need to use more deodorant.”
I smiled, indulgently. How did three years just sweep by us?
“You don’t need deodorant.”
“But I’m always sweating.”
It was probably because he didn’t know how to pause, I thought. He was always so quick paced. To me, it seemed like he was always running.
“You smell perfect to me.”
. . . .
It was a full moon, chilly night. I didn’t know where we were going. I was just tailing him. We ran a little, then he pranced along the zebra crossing, and finally darted two floors up an old souk.
“Why are we here?” I asked him.
“I need to get my friend a gift. It’s her birthday,” he said.
I wasn’t sure why exactly he planned the little shopping spree to collide with our meeting. This was supposed to be our farewell, our last chance to say goodbye to the four years we spent loving each other.
We sprinted across the place and then hit the exit, he didn’t buy anything. We went to a mall after that. Yes, the same mall.
“So are you with Gerda now?” I asked.
“She asked me to come meet you and see how it feels.”
“I need to meet some of my friends for a while. Do you want to come along?”
“I will be back in thirty minutes,” he said and vanished. I think he had just gotten quicker.
We rode back in a cab that night, with his friend in the front seat. He was lost in conversation but I knew that he could feel me next to him, just as I could sense his heart pounding through his hands. I looked at our hands, inches away from each other, and was tempted to reach out and touch him. But that day I learned that some distances were created to preserve your heart when you held it in the palm of your hand.
As I walked away that night, I didn’t dare look back. I didn’t want to see him not looking at me. For somewhere within I knew that he had already turned on his heels and ran away with his perfectly curved feet. I looked up at the full moon instead. It always eventually drew itself into a complete circle. Even though there were nights when it was nothing but a perfectly curved, thin silver gleam of hope from above.
. . . .
It was strange, I remember our relationship in bits and pieces. But everything I remember was rich with a sense of longing, a want that was never satisfied. I guess that is what happens when you pair a dream-eyed, flat-footed woman with an athlete whose slowest form of movement was a trot.
“So what are you doing now?” I asked. It had been two years since the fateful farewell.
“I am studying to become a physiotherapist.”
So he was going to make a living out of creating a curve in people’s feet.
And I, out of telling our stories.
. . . .