She’s getting away, Luke desperately thought as he pursued the athletic woman down the bustling street.
His lungs ached from the effort he had been putting in to the chase. His target was fast – much faster than any he’d seen before. He worried that he might not catch up with her and what that would mean. He decided to put that to the back of his mind and focus on telling his legs to propel him forwards as fast as they could manage.
The street was busy and the woman running away from Luke was about a hundred meters away. Luke had already barged awkwardly past many strangers without having the required breath to whisper an apology. Ahead of him he spotted half a dozen other potential hazards and to his great surprise, managed to form a half decently helpful list in a matter of seconds. His exact thoughts went something like this:
1. Woman being pulled across my path by a large dog (breed unknown to me, I’m not a dog person), which has spotted the obviously familiar butcher’s shop and is keen to be admired by the butcher (who is a dog person) to the point of receiving a free slice of something. Dogs. Some people would do anything for them based solely on their cute, smiling faces and excited, wagging tails. Me, I can’t imagine being okay with having to walk them and pick up their poo multiple times a day.
2. Man doing that stupid thing that people do; waving goodbye to his friend on the other side of the street and walking backwards as he does so. Why do people do that? Have they forgotten that they can’t see behind them? Do they expect everyone else to just move out of their way? Are they… Okay, okay, no time for this. Move on.
3. Bus pulling in to a bus stop just a few meters ahead. It will open its doors and an unknown number of people will step off and flood the streets with even more people. Some of them will do that annoying thing that people do when they get off the bus. You know, they’ll walk a few steps ahead and then stop in the middle of the street looking up and down as if they’re trying to remember where it is they are supposed to be going. People do that at the top/bottom of escalators too, like they can’t comprehend that there might be a load of people behind them who CAN’T STOP to allow them a few seconds of standing there deciding where it is they’re going. I mean – oh, yeah, the rest of the list. Focus, Luke!
4. Painter with paint pot balanced unnervingly close to the end of a scaffolding tower. This one’s a bit of a long shot, but you never know. One wrong move from the painter and that pot will go hurtling towards the ground, and aside from being embarrassingly covered in paint (a kind of lime green, in case you were wondering), the pot could still be heavy enough to do some real damage if it fell on me.
5. Two men carefully carrying a large sheet of glass into a store that needs a new window. Just kidding! How cliché in this situation! FOCUS, LUKE!!
Real number 5. The woman I’m chasing is approaching a road in front of us and the green man is still on but flashing, indicating that the dastardly red man will arrive very soon and the road between me and her will fill with traffic. It would be slightly humiliating if I sprint towards that road and have to stop and wait patiently for the green man to come back before galloping off again. I could maybe do that running on the spot thing that joggers do at roads they’re waiting to cross, but being dressed in trousers and a shirt and jumper I may look slightly odd.
6. A grand piano being lifted up to a high flat via a worryingly thin piece of rope which looks very frayed. STOP IT, LUKE!!
Real number 6. A small child, female, possibly around three years old. She’s holding her father’s hand but she’s spotted number one – the dog – and she’s thinking about stopping not very far in front of me to watch it as it pulls its owner eagerly towards that butcher shop. Why do all kids act like they’ve never seen a dog before? I’ve not counted but I can almost guarantee that I’ve seen at least ten of them just today. People are dog mad, I don’t get it.
Pleased with his list, and keeping the woman within his sights, Luke decided now that he would have to come up with an action plan. Actually, action wasn’t quite the right word for it and it also got a stupid song stuck in his head. Aaaction plan, the greatest hero of them alll! He pondered for a moment when the last time that advert would have been on TV, metaphorically slapped his wrist for rhyming man with plan, then concluded that “contingency plan” was a better phrase to use for this situation.
His contingency plan went like this:
1. The woman with the dog is already moving fast enough to be out of my way by the time I reach her. Even if the dog wasn’t pulling hard, she’d be at the doorstep of the butcher shop in two seconds. If I could turn back time and remove this from my original hazard list (“Hazard list”… I didn’t actually call it that but that’s a good name), I would.
2. Man walking backwards. What’s that thing that runners shout when they’re on the track and they’re passing another runner? I’ll shout that. Slight problem, I don’t remember what the word is. Also, this guy might not be a track runner, and would have no clue why I’m shouting whatever it is I’m shouting. Easy solution – I’ll shout “On your left!” like that scene in Captain America because everyone’s seen the Marvel movies, right?
3. Bus about to unload a tonne of passengers. I’ve already brushed past a fair few pedestrians and getting lightly knocked into doesn’t seem to be a problem with most of them. However, if I knock a little too harshly into someone they might get a bit upset, and they might chase me. But this is to my advantage, as it will only make me run faster. I don’t think there’s an issue here any more.
4. If that pot of paint falls I’m almost certain I can catch it by the handle and fling it back up towards the painter who will catch it easily and give me an encouraging thumbs up as I run towards my target. Easy. Move on.
5. Green man moving to a red man. I estimate that I can either get to that road just in time for the green man to be allowing the last of the pedestrians across, or I’ll miss it by the skin of my teeth. Skin of the teeth – what does that even mean? To the best of my knowledge, teeth don’t have skin. I accept I could be wrong about that (Biology wasn’t my best subject at school), but I really don’t think I am. Anyway… green man situation! The worst case scenario would be that I arrive there just as a car is beginning to drive again after waiting at the red light – that means the fastest the car could be driving would be something like ten miles an hour. Fifteen at most. I think that’s a safe enough speed to pull off that thing they do in action movies all the time, you know, when they slide along the bonnet of the car. They might blast their horn at me but I’ll never see them again (probably) so it’s worth the few seconds of embarrassment.
6. What was number six again? Damn it Luke, think! Ah! Of course! The piano. That’s such a cartoonish situation I must have imagined it. Nothing to worry about there.
Satisfied with his contingency plan, Luke found a new sense of confidence and urged himself forwards. His heart pounded faster yet but Luke enjoyed the sensation of it, assured that he was on his way to achieving his goal of catching the woman in front. He was gaining on her too, and he began to feel a great sense of excitement at the idea of catching up.
He soared past the woman with the dog who, as he’d predicted, was already at the doorstep of the butchers; the dog with a look of excited anticipation on its face as the woman struggled to keep it from pulling her off her feet.
Not for me, Luke thought. I really don’t get the dog thing.
The man walking backwards finished his goodbye and Luke drew a breath in to make his shout. He was cut short when the man’s friend on the other side of the street shouted ‘Oh! By the way!’, making the man with his back turned to Luke pause just long enough for him to slip behind him unnoticed and with no need for any action.
When the bus stopped and opened its doors, nobody got off. As he passed, Luke joined the queue of people at the bus stop waiting to get on as they looked in at an elderly woman shouting at the driver about braking too harshly and something about her false teeth falling out. Luke couldn’t help but allow himself a small smile of satisfaction before sprinting on.
She’s closer now. I’m gaining!
Looking upwards at the paint pot, he saw the slightest wobble before it settled back into position. Fate was with him! Nothing could stop him now! He’d overcome every obstacle placed in front of him and now the only thing for it was to…
The piano was made up to satisfy Luke’s stupid humour going on inside his head. Of course it was. But his mind had overwritten the actual problem of the little girl who had spotted the dog heading into the butcher shop (surely all that would be left to see now was an excited wagging tail? Kids!). Luke should have blocked the cartoon thoughts from his head completely and focussed on this little girl. Now his head would really have to get to work.
Alright, alright, don’t panic. Little girl. Age: three? Height: about three feet two. State: completely distracted by the cute dog that’s wondering into the butchers hoping for a lamb chop or a T bone steak or a whole turkey… whatever it is that those dog thingies get. She seems totally unaware of her other surroundings and will most definitely walk straight into my path even if her father is able to keep hold of her hand. He looks like he ought to manage that no problem; he’s about six feet tall and looks to be gripping on tightly enough to his daughter’s hand that she would have to be covered in some sort of slippy goo (which a three year old might well be) in order to break free.
There’s only one way out of this. Me, I’m five feet ten, thirteen stone, and only about sixty-seven percent fatigued by the run so far. I estimate that if I time this just right (two more steps should do it I think), I can get past this child safely and easily…
Two steps later, Luke bent his knees into position before extending and leaping as high as he could into the air. He soared above the girl like a kangaroo, the wind from his movement just enough to ruffle her hair as she kept her gaze fixed upon the cute little doggy she wanted to point out to her father. The father was among several others who looked in bewilderment and with a hint of awe towards the airborne Luke as he cleared the small child with plenty space to spare and landed sure-footedly on the pavement in front with barely a wobble before continuing his sprint onwards.
And here, finally, Luke caught up with his target. The green man had actually gone and was replaced by the red man before the woman had arrived at the road.
Gather your breath, Luke. This is it.
Trying to breathe more slowly so that his speech was something like English, Luke slowed to a walk and approached the woman he’d been chasing.
‘S’cuse me,’ he panted, and the woman turned around.
She was beautiful. Her long hair was tied elegantly behind her head to reveal a lovely shape of a face with sparkling green eyes and the warmest smile Luke thought he’d ever seen. He suddeny felt quite nervous.
Don’t act like an idiot, just tell her!
The woman stood patiently, looking at Luke with a slightly puzzled expression. Luke held up the item in his hand. ‘I think you dropped this.’
The woman looked at what Luke was holding and her face turned to one of pure gratitude.
‘Oh my god!’ she said. ‘I can’t believe I dropped it, I feel like an idiot. Thank you so much!’
Luke was holding out a phone inside a case which also looked to be holding several cards and was jingling with coins. The woman held out her hand to take it and her fingertips brushed Luke’s. He felt a pleasant shiver run down his body.
This is a brief, chance encounter with a woman who could be your soul mate. She’s beautiful and she looks kind and warm and clever. You hear stories about this sort of thing. Married couples revealing they met in the most ludicrous ways. Maybe this is it. Maybe I should ask for her number. What’s the harm? She says no and you never see her again, life moves on. She says yes and…
‘Hey, um...’ Luke started with a slightly shaky voice. ‘I’m Luke. I was wondering...’
She’d taken the phone by this point and Luke had spotted a photograph that had been inserted into the back of it. It was of her, but she wasn’t alone. Luke’s heart sank.
‘Yeah?’ the woman asked, still smiling.
‘Is that your dog? In the picture?’
She looked at the back and her smile widened. She chuckled. ‘Yeah. That’s Ollie. I’ve had him for three years now. Is… that what you wanted to ask me?’
‘Yeah,’ Luke said almost instantly. Now he just wanted to get away. ‘Well, be careful with your phone! Enjoy your run!’
Luke turned away before he could see the disappointment in the woman’s face. His dejection was so strong he felt the need to close his eyes as he walked away. If he’d only opened them he would have spotted the two men holding the large plate of glass before he bumped awkwardly into it.