I don’t know about you, but when I exercise, I do it convincing myself that one day, it will come in handy. For me, there isn’t a lot of correlation between working out and looking like I work out. I always look the same; all I have at the end is the knowledge that if I had to run ten miles for an unspecified reason or do a hundred sit-ups, I could.
When I get into a comfortable exercise regimen, my walk changes a little. I widen my shoulders, puff out my chest, as if to say, “Where the danger at?” Like I wish someone would step to me and start some shit, but instead of fighting they agree that the winner is the person who does the highest number of push-ups.
This hasn’t happened yet. People just want to swing fists. I don’t get it.
So one evening, I was coming out of the supermarket with a nylon bag of my purchases. On the road, three children were playing. One of them was crouched with his head bent, and the other two darted in and out touching his head and then running away.
The crouched child hopped up and bolted after one of his friends. In his surprise, the chased boy turned to escape, he turned, stumbled over his own foot and tumbled into an open gutter.
The whole thing took less than five seconds. The yelp he made as he fell alerted all the passers-by. I ran to the gutter, dropping my nylon and reached into it to pull the boy out.
In my head, I thought, this is it, this is what all my training has led to. Heightened reflexes, leg speed for the dash to the gutter, upper body strength for the lifting.
In every superhero story, there is the moment where the hero gets his powers by lightning bolt, insect bite, radiation, etc. But more important than that moment is the scene where the hero, who has practised in secret before now, is pressed into service by an emergency.
That action (or inaction in some cases) and the subsequent reaction of the people is the turning point of the entire story. It determines the arc of the hero’s career. Will he be driven by justice or a sense of guilt? Will he be reviled or praised, will he continue to live in hiding, or even become a villain?
And leaning over that gutter with my arm stretched out, I felt all of that. I felt the change in my destiny weighing heavy upon me. I had been unmasked, but biceps straining, triceps supporting, I lifted the boy.
I noticed, then that he, like the rest of his friends, was wearing torn clothes and barefooted. I also realised that the gutter was empty except for soft mud at the bottom. He wasn’t in danger of drowning or getting swept away by torrential waters.
I placed the boy down and the crowd descended on him and started to beat him. The security guard of the supermarket and two street traders kicked at him. “How many, how many times have I told you not to play in front of this place?” The boy was laughing. He dodged, dodged, then ran away with his street friends cackling down the road.
Seven of us stood in a circle around the spot the boy had been standing. I was panting from the rescue but no one was starting the slow clap. The security guard pointed at the ground and said, “You wan pick ya thing?”
We all looked down where the nylon bag had spilled open and a pack of condoms had rolled out. The box was squashed by a muddy footprint.
Everyone looked back up, at me. I shook my head, I shrugged, I clicked my tongue, I said, “No be me get am.”