This story is by Vuyo Ngcakani and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“That’s it! You’re not participating in any athletics anymore,” Mom yelled, waving my C and D filled report card.
“You heard me. Clearly you can’t run and study at the same time. Your grades have to improve, young man. We didn’t immigrate to Canada so you could waste your life away.”
“Just because you wasted your life away doesn’t mean I’m going to.”
I knew it would hurt her but I said it anyway. When pain filled her eyes, I turned and went to my room. I didn’t want her to see me tear up.
It was just her and me. A single mom and an only child. I never knew my dad. In Kenya my mom worked as a domestic and she did her best to raise me right. But I wasn’t happy. I wished that I had a dad. The closest that I had was my cross-country coach, Mr. Keino.
Because of him I fell in love with running. When I ran, I escaped my life. I missed running in Kenya where the blasting heat, the feel of the dusty path under my bare feet or the sound of mud squelching between my toes, or the din of hens scattering as I ran between them made for a fun and exciting event. In Canada, running took some getting used to, especially exchanging my soles for Reeboks. No longer would I feel God’s earth beneath my feet; the air was cooler, and nature’s sounds and smells gave way to engines and sulfur.
Mom hated that I loved running because she did not like Mr. Keino. She had to fend off his many advances and he kept me from spending time with her. She hoped that our move to Canada would change that. It didn’t.
The following morning I replayed that statement in my mind as I filled my lungs with the cool, Canadian air. Am I wasting my life? I was only 18 years old with plenty of time to figure things out. Right now all I want to do is run. My watch read Sunday April 5 2020 5:47am.
The air was still. The trees were quiet. No bird sang and no bee buzzed. I dispensed with the air buds, not wanting Drake or Bieber or anyone else invading my head. Just me and the road.
I turned left off my street and onto Weber Street and had a sense of foreboding hit me. Not a person, nor a vehicle were in sight. It was so eerie that I almost returned home. This covid-19 really had people spooked.
I continued down Weber Street. My plan was to run to the town of Waterloo and back a distance of about 50km. It was a two lane road with two steep climbs which challenged even an experienced runner like myself. On either side of the road was brush that was coming to life, waking up from the winter rest. In a couple of months it would remind me of some of the trails I ran back home. I was running eastward so I observed the sun as it peeked in the distance. It rose slowly as if not wanting to be my companion.
I was just about to begin the second climb. I didn’t hear the car until it started skidding. The tire squeal sounded like a thousand fighting cats and sent me flying into the bush. The car continued passed me, did a 540 that would make Kurt Browning proud, and jerked to a stop just 20 feet away.
I stared at the car and approached it when I heard a moaning. A lady in distress was in the driver’s seat.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Please, my baby,” she muttered.
There was no baby is the back seat. Oh my god! Did the baby fly out of the car?
“No,” said the lady, seeing that I was looking around. “I’m pregnant.”
Then she passed out.
Shit! I never run with my phone, preferring the isolation and to be one with nature. I rummaged through her purse and didn’t find hers. Looking around the car, under the seats revealed nothing. Was she on her phone and it flew out of the car? There was no way I could find it in all this vegetation. Maybe it’s in her trunk. Some people leave it there so they don’t get tempted to use it.
It wasn’t there. Surprisingly, there was a wheel chair. I didn’t notice a handicapped permit during my search. The woman started to groan unintelligibly. Sweat start to bead on my forehead. What should I do? There were no cars coming in both directions and none where likely to come according to past experience. I looked at the wheelchair.
I must be losing my mind.
The closest hospital was halfway down the other side of the ascent. I knew that it took me 20 minutes to the summit and 20 minutes to the hospital. Those were run markers for me. I setup the wheelchair and thankful that she was about 120 lbs. carried her to the chair and strapped her in, took a drink of water, and started up the hill.
It was a slow jog. Thank god the road was smooth, decreasing the chances of the woman being jostled around. It was halfway up that I started to feel the stress on my muscles and my lungs being taxed. I had to keep going. I pressed forward not breaking stride and controlling my breathing, as I had been taught by Mr. Keino. At 20 minutes I was three-quarters up.
It wasn’t easy but I wasn’t going to fail. This woman and her baby needed me. They were not going to die under my watch. I wasn’t going to give Mom something else to hang over me. I deepened my breathing a little bit to get more oxygen to my muscles.
She didn’t respond. There was still no car in sight. Is there no one around, damn it! It had to be close to 7am now. Usually one or two cars had passed by now. I reached the top of the hill in 35 minutes. I wanted to stop but I dare not. I slowed to take another drink of water.
The sun was higher now. I squint at it finding it hard to believe that this was the same sun that shines on my motherland. It looks the same but its effect is weak. At least in April it is. For now I am grateful for that. All I need is a light breeze but Mother Nature wouldn’t oblige me. Instead she woke up the woman. Her scream broke through my thoughts.
The descent was harder as I was fighting gravity and exhaustion. I had to lean the chair back using two wheels so she didn’t fall out. Now I had her to contend with.
“Miss, what’s your name?”
“What are you doing? Where are you taking me? What am I doing here?”
You got to be kidding me.
“You were in a car accident. I’m taking you to the hospital. What’s your name?”
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh!” The scream was followed by the breathing pattern you hear pregnant woman do when they’re about to give birth.
“Stop! The baby is coming!”
I picked up speed. “We can make it. We’re almost there. Ten more minutes.”
Her scream intensified. “Please stop. You hurting the baby. This is happening right now. Please! Stop!”
I complied. She breathed Lamaze-style.
“Get me out and place me in the grass,” she said in between contractions.
I complied. Then I folded the wheelchair, laid it down and placed it under her. With one push the baby’s head popped out. I started Lamaze breathing myself to keep from fainting. She pushed again and I instinctively reached out to keep the baby from the brush. One last push and I held in my arms a newborn baby.
“It’s a boy.”
Tearing with joy, she reached for her son.
“Let’s get you to the hospital”
In five minutes they were being wheeled into a hospital room to be checked out. I didn’t wait around. I needed to get home to take a shower. A few days later there was a knock on the door. The lady dropped by with her husband and their son, Drew, to thank me. That was the first time my mom heard the story.
“Why didn’t you tell me,” Mom asked after they left.
I shrugged. “It was no big deal.”
She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Your running came in handy, didn’t it?
“I was just at the right place at the right time.”
“You probably saved two lives last Sunday. You should be very proud. I certainly am.”
I made something of my life, didn’t I Mom?