Walking Among People
I like deserted trails. I get antsy when there are too many other people on the trail; joggers coming up behind me, slow walkers blocking the path ahead, oncoming walkers and joggers two or three abreast taking up more than their side of the trail. It all brings out the grump in me.
Up ahead on the path a young woman stops running and scoops her long hair up off her back and wraps a band around it. Having reset herself, she jogs off up the hill, her pony tail swinging with the rhythm of her running. I need to reset myself.
I decide to consciously change my attitude. I smile and nod at oncoming people, step to the side if the path seems too narrow, say hello to people as they pass me.
One woman stares blankly back as me, the tell-tale wires of her earphones reaching down to her smartphone. I wonder what she is listening to. I have friends who listen to podcasts or music as they walk and run. I choose not to; I prefer the quiet of the bush, the roll and tumble of my own thoughts. Walking is a way of clearing my head; of sorting ideas that will later become sentences and paragraphs. Perhaps that is why I bristle when the path is crowded. All those thought interruptions.
I catch snatches of conversation as various pairs and small groups approach and pass, the fragments of dialogue hanging between us in a nonsensical jumble.
‘She said what? I can’t believe that.’ ‘No, really, she did! I kid you not!’
‘That’s just scary. Thank God we live here.’
‘Or course we have to go.’
‘I think I prefer the blue one.’
‘And then what happened. What did you do?’
And then silence. For ten minutes I walk alone along the path. The breeze rustles through the leaves. The ocean is a splash of cobalt through the trees. I can see Rottnest Island clearly across the water; it’s so clear I can make out the white sand of the beach and the lighthouse at the end of the island.
I hear footsteps behind me, then alongside me. A woman about my age smiles as she strides past, ‘How you going?’ she asks. ‘Not as quickly as you,’ I reply. We both laugh. She pauses. ‘I was trying to catch up to a guy who was walking in front of me earlier,’ she says. ‘Man, he was walking fast. I could not catch him!’ We laugh again. ‘My excuse is that my knee is hurting,’ I say. ‘Oh well, at least you’re out here.’ ‘I am, and it’s lovely.’ She carries on, big strides. My knee is hurting. As is my foot. Fortunately, it’s my left knee and my right foot, so in all, I feel kind of balanced. Limping on both sides is the same as not limping at all, right? I breathe in and walk on. The woman hasn’t drawn away from me as quickly as I thought she would. Perhaps I am not walking so slowly after all.
The sun is warm on my back, but not hot. The woman puts enough distance between us that I can no longer hear her footsteps. There is just the sound of my own footsteps and the cicadas chirruping in the bush. A magpie warbles somewhere off in the distance. Cockies screech as they fly past.
I crest a hill and turn a corner. The sound of a loudspeaker floats up from a nearby playing field. ‘Can we have volunteers to the shotput arena please.’ I can hear the murmurings of the crowd and then a race commentator calls out. It must be a short race; the commentary is quickly over. Then, the loudspeaker again: ‘We need volunteers at the shotput arena. If there are no volunteers, the event cannot be held.’ Ah, the forever lament of sporting carnivals. The commentator is calling another race. I drop down the slope and can’t hear any more of the sporting carnival. I wonder if the shotput is going ahead.
My boots crunch along the path. A man is walking towards me carrying a large backpack and using one walking pole. Step, step, click, step, step, click. We exchange hellos as we pass.
I keep walking. My thoughts tumble and roll.
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