He had woken up with a fierce headache, breath that breached the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a nasty sense of foreboding. His brain hurt. He knew something was wrong. He knew he would have spent the better part of the previous evening trying to impress the new girl on the till at the local drugstore, and that he would have, probably, likely, definitely, have said something stupid, claimed a non-existing ability, promised something he was now committed to and would never in a month of Sundays be able to deliver. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
The phone rang. It was her. “A great evening. Thanks for that. Hope you got home okay. And so you’re going to do that for me? Run the marathon? Raise money for the cancer fund? That’s really sweet of you. I’ll pop the entry forms through your letter box this evening.”
Thirty eight years old and not in his prime. Not that he had ever had a prime or foresaw himself as having one. “Show me a minicab driver who has a prime, who can flex a muscle, who can even bloody locate a muscle,” he thought to himself. Too much time behind the wheel. Too many kebabs or hamburgers or parcels of fish and chips – snatched meals taken whenever there was a lull in the job. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly regular. Run a marathon? Could never happen.
But she was sweet. Cindy. That’s her name. Newly divorced, new in town, new at the job, new at the till. And she had treated him sweetly. Happy to go out with him, happy to sit and chat in an ordinary bar. Didn’t need to be taken to a swish club so she could spend all his money on overpriced champagne substitutes. Insisted on paying for a couple of the rounds of drinks. She knows what life is really like. She’s got a few miles under the bonnet herself and it’s made her generous, unselfish. He likes her. It seems he likes her a lot. He wants her to like him. He wants her to admire him. And so, a drink or two down the road and his head spinning with what might be, he says yes, yes to supporting the charity, yes to running the marathon, yes to doing it for her. How could he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.
He knew how many miles there are in a marathon. More than his normal minicab trips, more than he could run in a million years. But Cindy, oh Cindy, he wasn’t going to let her down, he wasn’t going to say no. The forms arrived, the forms went off, and he worked on his training strategy, his tactics, his battle plan. He would get the medal, get the respect and get the girl.
He pored over the route of the race, he studied the town map, he marked up all the rat runs, hidden alleyways, and illegal short cuts that he had learnt when he was doing the Knowledge and he reckoned that if he turned up at the start, he could cross the finish line in about four and a half hours with having run only five miles. He knew he could do it. The downside was the five miles, but for Cindy he could do it. And so for the next few weeks before his shift, he walked, then jogged, then cantered, then galloped until he knew that the five miles (and hopefully Cindy) were in the bag.
It all went smoothly. He crossed the line with hundreds of others with a time of just under four and a half hours.
“My best time ever,” he said to the official handing out the medals.
“Respect,” said one of the policemen helping with crowd control.
“Oh, thank you,” said Cindy, kissing him full on the mouth. “Let’s meet up later.”
By the time he had fought the crowds back to his home, washed and shaved and put on his second best casual gear (he would save the best for another time) the list of runners who hadn’t passed through all the check points and were consequently automatically disqualified, had been published and tweeted and retweeted and his name was third on the list.
No medal, no respect, and no girl.
Early morning. The phone rings. It’s her. “You owe me five miles of sponsorship and I like the way you kiss. Can we meet up again tonight?”
How can he refuse her? Sweet Cindy.