The shadows of autumn, cast by the lowering sun, are getting longer. It’s a warm, early September evening and I’m alive, running through the streets of Galway to the beat of music in my headphones. The music is irrelevant; all that matters is that it complements my inexorable desire to run.
It’s Saturday night and dusk is slowly descending. I run along Lough Atalia. Cars waft by me. As I pass the Harbour Hotel, painted, scantily clad women are chatting and puffing on cigarettes as I glide past them. The smell is mixed with weird smelling perfume and it offends my senses even though I used to smoke myself. They stand clumsily on high heels which I’m sure will prove an increasing impossibility as the night progresses and alcohol seeps into their brains, dampening their souls. Doubtless, some of them will end up in the arms of complete strangers for one night only, as the saying goes. One or two of them eyeball me with emotionless expressions. For some reason I think of seals lying lazily on a beach.
As blood pounds around my body, intoxicating me, the unfortunate happenstance of modern living occurs to me. Everything is fast and nothing seems to be made to last. Not cars, not household appliances, not love, not friendship, not anything. Cars are fast, relationships are fast, food is fast, and everything is gone in the blink of an eye. But the funny thing is that all this fast living doesn’t really get anyone anywhere. All it really does is slow you down and make your life go by faster than any average person would like. More speed results in less clarity, not to mention ill health.
Onward I trundle.
As I pass the docks, colourful boats bob gently in the oil slicked water. Some of them are fishing boats which conjure images in my mind of tanned, wrinkled, sinewy, weather beaten fishermen hauling nets of slippery fish and swilling a few pints of Guinness at the end of a hard day. Then there are the luxury boats, white and sleek looking, which paint images of people with too much money sipping champagne as they cruise around the bay. They’re probably dentists or lawyers or swindlers or some combination of all that and then some. I imagine they all have slender figures, perfect teeth, and Ray Ban shades. I can almost hear the chime of their champagne glasses as they celebrate their status, that they feel is well deserved. The images I have contrast strongly with the empty, ghostly fact of the boats’ present, lifeless status. The only life on them now is the limpets and green sea moss which scours them below the water line. This, at least, is one thing the boats have in common.
Towards the Spanish Arch I run. A grungy looking teenage couple are locked in embrace against the outer wall of the arch as the river Corrib gushes by, oblivious. They drink from each other’s eyes and then kiss and drink again as if the mere sight of each other’s beauty gives as much pleasure as the physical contact. If magic exists, then this is it.
Through the Spanish Arch I propel myself.
On this side there are people scattered here and there drinking various alcoholic concoctions. There is a mix of hardened drinkers, young fresh looking drinkers and everything else in between. Two teenage girls are smiling awkwardly, facing each other in a seated folded leg position on the ground as some much older and very drunk looking male is saying something to them as he sways slightly. They’re too polite, or maybe too scared, to tell him to leave them alone and yet it is clear they don’t want to speak to him.
Over the Father Griffin Road bridge I pad rhythmically, my mind exploding with a euphoria that makes me want to dance as I run. I don’t though, because people might think I’m crazy. But then, maybe I am and who cares if they think it, it really makes no difference what they think. I don’t even know who they are and it only matters what I think. That’s enough thought for anybody to be concerned with.
An irresistible urge to smile now consumes my face as I head towards the Salthill promenade. A man I know from my days as a school kid pedals past me on his bike and I salute him enthusiastically. He is infected by my smile and reflexively smiles and salutes back.
It occurs to me now that I’m an encapsulation of the sun’s energy, no better or worse than any other, but part of the same life force that fuels all. As I run, I feel a perfect harmony with the past, the present, the future, with everyone and everything that exists or ever will exist. I know it’s all temporary and will fade in an all-too-brief instant, but right now I’m just happy I have legs. Nothing and no one could make me feel any happier or more alive.
The prom is thronged with a myriad of people of all ages, sizes, and nationalities. The water has a silky calmness and reflects the fading light with bursts of yellow, pink, and orange. The tide gently tugs at the shore in an almost affectionate manner. I feel an urge to run as fast and hard as I can now, so I do.
As I increase my speed, the ecstasy in my mind multiplies. When I get to the end of the prom, I’m out of breath and sweating profusely. I stop momentarily and take a greedy gulp of water from my bottle, which forces my gasping lungs to wait while my thirst is satiated.
Towards Barna I plod, at a much slower pace. A fellow walks past me with a fag in his hand, a crooked grin on his face and eyes like saucers which regard me as if I was from outer space. “Hello,” I see he mouths as if he’s just seen E.T. “How are ya?” I reply with a smile. It seems we’re both on a high and feeling pretty good. Screw it, I think, and decide to free my mind and do some bizarre dance moves as I run. I wave my arms in the air to the rhythm that is pulsing through my soul. Perhaps I look loony, but I feel …… Good…with a capital G.
I get to Barna woods and quicken my pace a little. It’s getting quite dark now and being in such a secluded spot at night worries me a little bit. I smell burning wood on the wind and spot some hooded youths in the distance swilling cans. They must have lit a fire, I think, even though I can’t see it. I make a quick exit from the woods into Cappagh Park where I greet a middle aged woman walking with her young child of about maybe 5. I find it a little bit worrying that she would do this at such an hour.
I make a beeline through the park and emerge in Knocknacarra. I feel a bit lonely and am bored of my music, so I decide to give a friend a call. We talk a bit about audio books and all the great TV shows that are available nowadays, like Game of Thrones and True Detective. “Unfortunately there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with all the great shows,” he says. I laugh because I wholeheartedly agree. The most enjoyable conversations are those with people who share the same opinions. I guess that’s the only valid foundation for any friendship. We say our goodbyes after a spell and now I only have four miles left, which I run hard. It’s almost completely dark now and everything seems to me to have a slightly orange glow.
On the last few hundred metres of my run, at the traffic lights of the now disused premises of the Dawn Dairies milk company on the Dublin Road, I’m forced to come to a stop and wait for the lights to change. I decide to walk home from here as a cool down. Like a light changing from green to red my heart immediately begins to slow down. Even though a moment ago my legs were thrusting me forward swiftly, I now find it an effort to walk. The heat of running is leaving my body at the same time as the sun’s rays have completely vanished. The full, fluorescent moon is shining brightly in the sky now and I start to feel the cool breeze of autumn’s arrival.
I hobble in the door of my house, beautifully exhausted but rapidly starting to wilt, like a flower that was, moments previously, in full bloom.
Contented, I collapse into bed without even taking the time to remove my sweaty clothes. In an instant I slip into the surreal oblivion of sleep. Colourful dreams are on their way.
It’s good to be alive.