The alarm clock let out its shrill noise at exactly 4:37 AM. He immediately shut it down. He had been waiting for the alarm to ring, waiting for it so he could get up. He hadn’t slept for the last 3 hours. He looked around. The house was still dark. The world still slept but the city was already waking up.
He put on his running shoes and got ready for his morning jog. It had been the last two months since he started jogging. The distance between his house and the creek, his destination was 5 kilometers. He could easily do half now. When he had started, he took more than 7 halts. He would get tired so easily. He now wanted to cover the five kilometers non-stop. But the task was difficult if not impossible. He had been increasing his distance slowly and now he was sure he could run the distance if he kept a steady phase. Putting on his running shoes, he came out on the road
The roads were wet and full of puddles. The rain had lashed all night. The air was a little cold but the rain had stopped. He looked around. The morning newspaper vendors and milk men would start their business in a few minutes. Currently the road was empty.
He took a deep breath. If he made his mind he could do it. He could make it to the complete five kilometers without break. The streetlight reflected the wet roads and gave it a strange eerie feeling. He loosened his body and repeated to himself
“5 Kilometers. I can do it”
He did a small warm-up by stretching his leg. He didn’t know if it helped but he had seen people doing it. The road was straight, lined with building at both side. During the day, it was packed with cars, buses, trucks, rickshaw, cycles and people, all the purpose it was made for.
He looked up in the sky and only darkness. He was not sure if it would rain again. He had to do it today, run the whole five kilometers. He had to be tough and not care about tiring down or the pain in his legs. He had to be tough
“What are you crying about?” His father had asked him when he laid there on the ground with tears in his eyes at the age of 7 years
“Get up! If you keep crying at small things like these, how will you grow up?” He was scolding him
He expected his dad to help him get up but the next moment he found himself being roughly pulled up.
“Come on! You need to be tough! That’s what boys are. Not cry babies like you!” His father shouted “Get up! its just a scratch”
He looked at his scratched knees with blood oozing out of the wounds. The wounds hurt. He wiped his tears and walked away.
He needed to be tough!
He ran past the 2nd bus stop. That was 1/4 th of the distance. He was not tired yet. He hadn’t taken a single break yet. His running was slow but with a consistent speed. The idea was to maintain a slow and steady speed. It was not a competition or maybe it was. A competition with self.
He kept running. He was nearing the half way point, where he takes his break but today, he was determined, not to stop. Not today
He had walked in early from work when he had heard his mother talking with the next door neighbor. He was never early from office but that day it was different
“I am worried about the younger one! I don’t know how he will manage” His mother was telling the neighbor “I am not worried about the elder. My elder one is tough. He will manage on his own.”
He stopped at the door. The elder one will manage? He is tough? What did she think he was?
He looked at the termination letter in his bag. He can’t let his mother down. He walked out of the house and returned at the normal time. Some days were difficult but he made it. He got a new job and his mother was happy that he got a better paying job. He was happy himself. He had not let her down. He hadn’t come running to mommy when he lost the job. He handled the crisis himself.
He was tough!
He had almost made past 3/4th of the distance. He was almost there. His feet were paining. His lungs filled up air as he struggled to keep his breathing steady. He was almost there. He had to be tough. He couldn’t let normal obstacles like fatigue hamper his goals.
“Hi darling” He had called her in her hometown
“Hi” There was no excitement in her voice.
“Hey! What happened? Missing me?” He asked trying to keep the conversation upbeat. She was missing him the last time they had talked but it was a month back.
There was silence at the other end.
“Hey! Its just a matter of days. We will meet in 2-3 weeks” He was still trying to cheer her up
“I am not coming back” She said.
“I am sorry about not calling you but things were a little hectic here and the new house is coming quite well you know” He was trying to cheer her up.
“No! Listen! I am serious” Her voice quivered “I got married. Remember the boy I told you about, the one who loved me from a long time”
“You are joking” He was still trying to come in terms with the situation “You said you didn’t love him”
“He cannot handle me going away from him. He needs me. He was very depressed when I came here. I cannot see him that way”
“And me? What about me?”
“You can handle. I know it. You are tough and mature to handle it” She tried to reason with him “He is not that strong like you”
He kept the phone down. He didn’t even remember if he said goodbye. He walked out of the STD booth to meet his friends waiting for him. He did not tell them. There wasn’t any need to tell them.
Its already been 6 months after that call, the emotional turmoil and many days later he decided to take control of his life or whatever was left of it. He was working more now, trying to be busy as possible.
He could see the creek at a distance, the sparse crowd who were doing their morning jog. Another kilometer and he would have ran all the distance without a break. He was tough, just as she had said
Tough! He started running faster as rain started falling from the heavens again.
Tough! Tough! Tough! The word was more or a taunt rather than a compliment.
His legs started hurting and his lungs struggled to supply oxygen to his body. He was almost there. The rain was falling relentlessly and that was making it more difficult. He just wanted to get it over it, finish it once and for all. He could feel the pain in his stomach and it was making it more difficult to breathe.
His destination was less than 100 meters away but his body was failing him. His muscles ached. He wanted to stop and catch his breath but then his mind screamed. He could never let himself down. He was tough and just like that he broke into a sprint. With all the remaining strength and with all the courage, He sprinted the final 100 meters. He had to make it! Had to!
His final sprint was like the last run of a desperate man, a man who wanted to prove, to himself. He reached the creek and collapsed on his usual bench. He was still struggling with his breathing as his lungs tried to take in more air. Rain lashed on him but he didn’t care. He had ran 5 Kms at a stretch without stopping. Just like everyone said, he was tough. He had proved it to himself.
As rain drenched him from above, he felt his warm tears on his cheeks and he knew;
He was still a loser!
Note: The story is loosely based on a true incident that happened many years back. Could not think of a better ending