I’m Running Still

Thirteen years ago, a circus came to town, and that was how I became the joke of the town. He followed it―him and his coarse hair, dirty and with filthy clothes.  He saved me when I’d stumbled in the midst of a show. Everyone had laughed but he never smiled after all. I took him in that evening. I took him in not because I wanted to help him but it was because I needed him to help me instead. I believed he had nothing valuable to offer me. Seeing his miserable presence each day made me feel a lot better about myself. I even smiled at times when I reflected on my life through his life.

There was an undeniable connection between us. It wasn’t the good kind―pain and bitter days connection our grieving souls. We understood each other beyond spoken words. Our heart beat together and sang together in one troubled harmony. Even his dark eyes matched mine. At night, when his stomach growled, I fed him bread and sometimes tea because it was winter.  He never forgot to thank me, and I never forgot to feel superior over him.  I wanted him to see me as his savior even though he was the one saving me from loneliness.

One night, they came again―men with nothing but lust in their eyes. They came for me like they always did ever since that night in the alley. Seven of them, they were heavily drunk and completely out of their minds because it was New Year’s Eve. I don’t blame them. I should have never been out that night. I should have never gone out to celebrate because it seemed liked I’d sold that one night of happiness for a hundred years in mourn of my whole being. The nightmares, I was now a prisoner to them and the men, my captors.

But when they came for me that night, ready to attack, there he was; flat chested, tall, and with nothing but fury in his eyes. I’d never seen a man like him before. His size was nothing compared to the men in my head. All he had was pure, red and hot fury running through his veins. And when he drew me close to him, the men, they disappeared. I could not let go of him now even though the string of pride around my neck surpassed a hundred yards.

Five days passed. We never spoke of that night. I kept feeding him bread and tea because that was all I had. I was too ashamed to go into town for something else. He never complained. Maybe he was scared I would ask him where on earth he stumbled from. He was right, but I was too scared to ask who he was because I had no answers to give if asked the same. I have never met my father and neither have I met my mother. I didn’t know whose fearful eyes stared back at me every day in the mirror.

He muttered something under his breath one morning when I served him his breakfast. He said, “Why are you this way?” I asked him what way, and he replied, “Like me.” The question I’d been dreading since he found me was here and I was either going to confront it or fight it. Somehow I found the strength to fight. I asked him who he was but he refused to answer. He said I couldn’t ask until I knew who I was. Well to hell with that! I rather not find out. Then he said, “I know who you are.” He wore a dreamy expression on his face at this point…or was I mistaking? I’ve never had a man look at me in that manner.  His eye held many possibilities of happiness. They said I could grow old surrounded by love. They drew me a picture of a warm home, enticing me to give in. They even gave me a bow and an arrow and dared me to shoot.

Then they twitched. His once dreamy face was now replaced with a pained expression, forcing me to listen to him and face reality. My heart was racing in my chest. I wanted to tell him to stop but I was too late. He was already halfway through the life I was living. “… A girl of only 29 but you’re living like you’re 99, as if by next year you’ll finally have an excuse to say goodbye to the world who has never been kind to you. You have no dreams…you had them but you lost them with that other thing…virtue, you see, can be regained. You’ve been waiting patiently to regain yours but you’ve been waiting the wrong way. What’s stopping you from setting this house on fire and running away?”

I answered, “Like you did?” with my anger already heated up like the pit of hell. “Do you call this running?” I laughed sarcastically, moving far away from him. “You ran away from one trouble and then into another and ended up here. Do you call this running?” He swallowed his pride and looked away from me. I told him that I came this way; I was going to go back this way. I wasn’t going to change that. The next day he went missing. I panicked. He was never my prisoner. He was free to leave whenever he wanted, whenever he had his life sort out. He was free to leave me. But I panicked all the same. I wondered if it was because of the things I’d said, but his words had been just as foul as mine.

Then fear kicked in. The men would come, I was sure. There would be no one to fight them off. I locked my door and prepared for the worst. I gathered myself in my arms and with my back against the cold wall, I waited.

A few hours passed, not one person came. Oh how badly I wanted to shut my tired eyes but would they come just then? I shook the thought out and opened my eyes wider than before. I decided to stop running from myself. We lived together; we shared one heart, one spirit, same thoughts, same fight, and the same body. It was of no use trying to escape from her. It was then that I heard a soft knock on my door. And a mighty voice followed. It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It made my heart leap and my feet followed. I was stumbling through fear, pain, agony, and running to him.

“I’m here, it’s okay. It’s okay. I came back.” It was Hope speaking. He said, “I have a boat waiting to take you far away from this house. All I need you to do is take nothing with you when you step out of that room. You don’t belong here anymore.” That room had become my cell and my sanctuary since that night. Even though the walls had not been strong enough to protect me from the voices and the men inside my head, it’d been my best friend once upon a time. Late at night, I would tell them―the walls, how I felt, how I no longer wanted to live, and how that one night had changed me. They would whisper back sweet calming words, reminding me of the girl I was before.

And yet he told me to leave―to run. To come away with him on a journey, and to fly a boat…how possible was that?

10 thoughts on “I’m Running Still” by Ufuoma Otebele (@ufuomaotebele)

  1. screamingviola (@screamingviola)

    A good somewhat complex stOry o…in my opinion…I sorta understood wat u were trying to say…I like the complexity…I think it was intended

    1. Ufuoma Otebele (@ufuomaotebele)

      Hey @screamingviola I sincerely hope that after a while, you’ll fully understand. Give it time and ask the question that comes to mind. Thanks for reading! :-)

  2. namdi (@namdi)

    Quite complex. I guess I understood it a bit–her fights are real, but the battle field is within; hope urges her on, to free herself from a prison she ran into after an episode which occurred while she was a teenager . . . but, no, she’s still running. (Sorry if I got it all wrong).

    Nice one, really nice.

    1. Ufuoma Otebele (@ufuomaotebele)

      Ah! I was hoping it’ll take half a century before anyone could crack this nut… of course am not going to actually tell you if you’re right or wrong though. I think from now on, I’ll just let the readers hold dearly to their own belief of what this short piece means. Thank you Nnamdi. It feels good to have you comment on my work.

  3. Her battles weren’t imaginary, she had hope and it propelled her forward. Lovely piece!

  4. Real or imagined, a certain section of your story touches me.Great work,Ufuoma.

  5. nneoma13 (@nneoma13)

    suspense filled
    scared me

  6. Ufuoma Otebele (@ufuomaotebele)

    @nneoma13 @gereochuko @gabriel

    Thanks for stopping by! Merry Christmas in advance.

  7. TheWhisperer (@Mayree)

    I could feel the deep sitted meanings of those words. Life they say is like a haunted house u just need the courage to walk through it. Nice piece. @ufuomaotebele

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