Girl who ran

When I was in primary school, there was one girl who was a year older than me. She had a very small and thin body, and even though nobody explicitly explained to us, through the day-to-day school life, we all somehow understood that she had some underlying medical condition. There was a group of girls in my neighbourhood who always went to school together and I often found this girl among them. She had a very gentle and kind nature, and everybody treated her like a precious pearl.

Every spring, our school hosted a sport festival. Children played various sports and performances in the schoolyard in front of other kids and the families who came to watch us. Among the sports we all played was a 150 meter race. The race was held by grade. There were four classes in every grade, and each race was run by four people, one from each class. This 150 meter race was one of the highlights of our sport festival.

When I was in Grade 5, I took part in the organizing committee of the sport festival, and one of my tasks was to sit on the side of the race track during the 150 meter race for Grade 6 kids to make sure that everybody stayed on their track.

While I sat there on the ground, boys and girls powerfully passed by me at their full speed. The dust swirled in front of me as they came and went. From their faces, I could tell that everybody was carrying different emotions. Some were focused to win the race, some were desperate to finish the race, and yet others were smiling at the spectators.

Then before one race, teachers ran to the race track and made a special starting line for a student. As I looked in the direction, I saw that girl with a thin body nervously standing at the line. The girl had a restriction on the physical activity she was allowed, and the special starting line was designed so that she had to run less distance.

The pistol went off, and I saw the girl start running. As she came closer, I saw a focused expression on her face. Everybody was cheering her. When she passed by me, I felt her strong footsteps on the ground and felt the air pressure against my body. A dusty wind swirled behind her.

She finished the race successfully and everybody cheered.

A year later, she and her friends moved on to the junior high school, and I didn’t see her anymore. Then one early summer day, my mother got the news that the girl had passed away.

“When?” I asked her totally shocked.

“Last night,” my mother replied.

My mother and I never knew this girl personally, but we decided to join the line of people in front of the girl’s house when her family came out to carry her body to the funeral.

As I stood among other kids and their parents, I was thinking of that day of the sport festival, when the girl ran the 150 meter race, how I felt the powerful footsteps and wind against my skin and how lively she was.