City on the Run
It was some years ago now, my first visit to Bomaidiwa: I clearly remember coming out of the airport with luggage in tow, and marveling at the anomaly before me. This city, a swath of sky-piercing edifices, was teeming with people; and they were all running. There were briefcase-shouldering businessmen on their way to work, women pushing babies in carriages, and even white-haired seniors, but none of them were walking – all of them running. I could not make sense of what was really happening. Was a citywide marathon under way? Or had a war just broken out? Then, in a moment of clarity, I recalled that Bomaidiwa is what’s known as a ‘running city’ where nobody walks – running is all the people know.
To fully appreciate the weighty awkwardness of being an alien in Bomaidiwa requires first-hand experience. Take yours truly, for example: Upon arrival, I sauntered towards the taxi queue while, all around me, other sojourners were whizzing to and fro. Although no one looked daggers at me, something in my gall told me I stuck out like a sore thumb, and could quite easily be labeled as ‘not from around here’. In the eyes of the civic collective I was probably just some oddity. Taking backseat in the taxi I observed the ebb and flow of scurrying sidewalkers; but my reverie was shrouded with trepidation and bewilderment. We stopped in front of the hotel and I settled the fare, then something quite curious happened: I hastily grabbed my luggage and careered towards the hotel’s revolving glass doors.
In fact it only took a couple days before I caught the local rhythm and shed my walking ways. At the restaurant, I tailed a server’s brisk trot to a table, made quick work of my order, and placed it with one of the attendees threading through neighboring tables. I went jogging in the park to take in some scenery and noticed two lovers not far off ahead. They were running hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, and gave no thought to breaking stride even for a kiss’ sake. On the subway it was like clockwork; among a sea of people I alighted, neatly filed onto the elevator, and coursed into my transfer with assembly line prompt. At the museum, in utmost quietude, myself and the other patrons enjoyed displays with rigid expedience before tiptoeing onto the next – save for the museum-goers’ shuffling feet, you could hear a pin drop.
This lightning speed city left me enamored, and I resolved to engage with some of the locals. It was not long before I discovered: Bomaidiwans are not ones for chit-chat; that would be a waste of time. One balmy afternoon, after repeated failed attempts, I finally struck up a conversation with someone in a bar who was also ducking the rain. Hatchme – the name of my interlocutor – held a pleasant countenance, and despite our limited English ability we had a rather lively conversation. Just as the ball started rolling, however, the rain suddenly stopped. Hatchme was adamant about taking immediate leave of the bar; practicing a bit of English while waiting out the rain is rational enough, but beyond that we were just exchanging hot air. He stated his sentiment in a most courteous manner, but I could not help but feel a bit put off. In order to continue our exchange I suggested we take it on the road.
As soon as we reached the road Hatchme broke into a full sprint. Following suit, I picked up my legs and hightailed it after him. When I caught up to him, running abreast, I decided to raise a more pointed question:
‘Why are Bomaidiwans always running? Why not walk like the rest of the world’s city-dwellers?’
‘When one is born they must first learn to crawl,’ he retorted, ‘and only then do they graduate to walking. Now I imagine that none of the fully matured adults in your home city have forgotten how to crawl, but why do they insist on walking instead?’
I replied, vacillating momentarily. ‘Well, because walking is faster and more efficient than crawling.’
‘Then would you not agree,’ he shot me a glance and picked up his pace, ‘that running is even faster and more efficient than walking?’
With that I felt a pang of exhaustion and slowed my stride; Hatchme steadily, unapologetically, kept running. Struggling to catch my breath I watched as his silhouette waned and eventually dispersed into a crowd of Bomaidiwans who were all running at their respective speeds, gaits, directions – a quivering mass of movement.
I was in Bomaidiwa about one week before I started to miss my home country where everyone just walks. There were times when I was running amid the hustle and bustle of Bomaidiwa’s streets that I asked myself – with a tinge of apprehension – ‘Will I ever forget how to simply walk?’ Alas, my stay in the city eventually came to an end. Sitting in the taxi on the way back to the airport I was in a state of deep ambivalence. This city had captivated me, but by no means would I consider it livable. When the taxi came to a complete stop, I dragged out my luggage and, as was my custom now, sprinted towards the airport’s main entrance. Thinking back on that moment I can see myself; in fact I am not running at all, I am escaping.
- 6 March, 2013 @ 11:39 [Current Revision] by julien.leyre
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