FORTITUDE

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“Keep going  Laolu, you can make it!”

Yes. I can. I can do this. My muscles strain and then get replaced with fire as I make the final lap. I can see Steven in his annoying yellow shorts just a little distance ahead. No way I’d allow that silly idiot in yellow win me. No way. I pour even more energy into my legs as I run harder…

Then it happens. I must have miscalculated or something. My left foot hits my right ankle and I stumble. As though in slow motion, I see the ground rushing up to greet me. At the last minute, I force my hands in front of me in an instinctual protective gesture. I hit the ground and hit it hard, rolling a bit till I eventually slow to a stop.

My brain faithfully reports the creation and presence of several brand new cuts and bruises. Footsteps that sound like thunder pass me by. I pull myself to my feet. I can’t make it anymore. Checking around I see that I am now the second to the last in the race. No way to win now. I drag myself off the field.

Days pass. The next race comes up. My house master comes to meet me.
“Laolu. There’s another race. I want you to run for us. We can win this one.”
“I’m sorry sir. I won’t run again.”
“You have to. You’re one of our best!”
“I’m sorry sir. I won’t run.”

My mind is made. There’s no way I’m going to run again. Not after that embarrassing fall. I can’t risk it again. Bit I love to run. I will come to watch.

INTER-HOUSE SPORTS, 400M RACE, SENIOR BOYS AND 400M RACE,  SENIOR GIRLS.

I finally reach the field and take a seat at the edge of the stand, separate from the rest of the people. I have been training, but only because I love to run. I don’t intend to do it again. Not for anything.

The race for senior girls is first. Ore is among the runners. Ore is smallish, and obviously has no right being there. She will lose. The whistle blows. The runners run.
First, Ore takes the lead. That’s surprising,  but I guess the other racers are conserving their energy for the last burst of speed. But she is running as hard as she can. This is not fair.
With only 200M left, she stumbles. She falls. The racers pour on the speed and streak past her like lightening. First person crosses. Second. Third. Fourth. Fifth…

Race over. I turn my face away. I knew this was going to happen. Ore has lost. She should have known better. I’m about leaving when I hear the crowd chanting.
“Ore! Ore!! Ore!!!”

What is happening? They’ve all crossed the finish line! All except…
I turn and see Ore as she picks herself up. Dries her tears. Laces her boots properly. And she continues for the remaining 100M left. With every step, the crowd goes wild. Becomes louder.
I’m sure people in town can hear them now.
“ORE!!! ORE!!! ORE!!! ORE!!!”

She crosses the finish line. People run out of the stands. Most of them are from her house but I can see flashes of rival colors still in that crowd, the crowd that lifts Ore up on shoulders screaming her name to the heavens. Eventually they disperse and her coach is the only one left. He is hugging her as she cries. Together they leave the track, and take a seat directly below me.

“I had to finish sir. I’m sorry I didn’t win.”
Her coach, an elderly man with a sunny personality smiles and wipes the last stray tear away.
“Nonsense.” He replies. “You finished the race. To me, and to many others here you’re a winner.” True to his word, several pupils are waving at her and flashing thumbs up signs at her. They appreciate her determination. They lobe her nonetheless.

I don’t even know I’m crying till a tear falls on my bare foot. Someone lays a hand on my shoulder.  I know that hand.
“Sir.” My voice is shaky and small. But I know he can hear me. “Can I still run for us?”
“Of course. There’s the 400M race. If you’re interested.”

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