To Run Away or to Run Toward the Erratic Destiny

“Appa Mom, I also run,” I told my mother, known as “Appa” to us children, as she wanted to know the exciting activities I was involved in.

“Just run? No ball, no one chasing you, nothing like that? Just walk really fast?” she asked.

“Yeah, pretty much, you can think of it like that,” I replied, expecting more questions.

“But, what are you running away from?” My mother curiously asked as sweat dropped from her forehead in the midst of unbearably hot July day.

With a confused look, I said, “ha?”

“Why is there such an urge to get to where you want to get? The desire to finish everything in a matter of a second is the work of Shaitan, the devil,” she motherly advised.

“There is nothing to run away from, Appa Jan”, I responded with a long sigh. My thoughts carried me away to a few years earlier, when I would have responded the same way as my Mom.

Bang, bang, bang, the main entrance door was slammed. Another uninvited guest crew interrupted our conversation. For the first time, I was actually happy to see the bright smiles on the faces of eight gate-crashers. This was a chance for me to sit and think about what I was running away from. Am I actually, unconsciously, running away from something or anything? Why even run? It is not like soccer, or lacrosse where the ball is being chased?

As all these questions lined up in my head in a matter of a few seconds, my mother pinched me in the side, which was a sign to get up and greet the guests. It actually hurt. I wrapped my scarf around my head and with only one shoe on, I ran toward the guests and kissed every woman three times in the midst of a hot, sweaty summer day.

……

“Now that the guests are gone for a while, do you want to explain to me this running thing of yours?” my mom asked out of nowhere as she ran water over soaped plates.

Oh, I should have given it more thoughts, just swing it. You honestly can’t… where do I even start … pull the losing weight card - hold on, that is not the reason you are running, Zahra!" I was lost in my thoughts.

“Zahra?” My mother’s voice got my attention.

“Ha Appa, yes, Mom,” I responded.

“How does running feel?” she asked.

My mother spent her childhood and her youth in a big farm in a rural village of a landlocked country somewhere in Central Asia with the moo-ing of cows and whooshing of the river with a backyard facing the mountains. As the oldest sister, she soon learned to repeat the stories passed on to her from her grandma about the days before her village was filled with Russian tanks and blood, and when education was not a luxury but rather the norm.

My mom never got tired of these stories; she still repeated the same stories with the same starting lines. They always started with Once upon a time, and had fairytale endings. But unlike the fairytale stories from the Disney World, the stories were not about a couple living together happily ever after. Rather, they were about my grandmother going to school, learning how to write her name, and even travelling to the capital. Sadness could be heard in my mother’s voice and envy was visible on her face. Yet, she still passed on those stories.

At the age of 46, my mom learned to sign her name. Ever since that moment, I have printed two copies of every parental form that I have ever had to take home. There is tangible excitement in her eyes every time she signs a form.

My mother grew up in survival mode: she left everything she had worked for when Russians invaded her village. By the time she had had me, she had learned to run away from tanks, cross many borders illegally, and she has always, literally and figuratively, been running toward a better future. She still navigates her way in the busy streets of my hometown to avoid being harassed, and has always been running away from or for something. Wandering around, running, or walking aimlessly are new to her dictionary. Knowing all this, I found it hard to explain the running concept to my mom.

“Appa, there is something liberating in waking up, putting on running shoes, wearing athletic clothes, and running up and down a lacrosse field, basketball court, or even running without chasing a ball. Except encountering some people’s look, there is no street harassment, barely any catcalling. I wish you could experience it for once,” I paused to look at my mom.

“Are you running away from something? Are you running to get something?” My mother asked as tears of happiness filled her eyes.

“Yes, Appa. I am running away, but not to survive a war, not to avoid encountering another street harassment, or not to ….... I run away from the voices that told me I was weak for the past 17 years of my life, I run away from memories of war, street harassment, bomb blasts that still haunt me regardless of the location of the moon, day or night, I run away from the past that conflicted with the confidence that I earned from my family.” I felt every single word of those sentences. Tears ran down my cheeks.

As I took my eyes off of my feet to look at my mom, she was wiping her tears with the corner of her red scarf.

My mother has nothing to compare what I told her so without asking any other question, she said ,“ it must be nice to have an escape from all these things even if it is only for an hour a day.”

“Yes, it is.” I said it wishing I could go get out of my house right now and just run with my mom. Before I was too deep into this thought, my mom called my name.

“Zahra, let’s finish washing the dishes before another guest knocks on the door.”

“Oh, yeah dishes, I will take these plates inside then,” I said. As I moved my sleepy legs, they hurt.

Perhaps my running stories are the fairytale stories that my mom always hoped I would somehow find to share with my daughters. Perhaps, the happy endings of my fairytale stories are just about my races.

We all run away from something, or toward something. Run toward the person you strive to be in the next month, year, or decade.

To my Appa: Thank you for helping me to realize my reasons to run and still listening to my running stories. I strive to be half as good as you are in telling stories.


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