I look at my phone for the hundredth time in the last hour. Five a.m! Damn. The day won’t even begin for hours yet. Restless. Alone. I can’t just sit here and wait.
I step out the hotel doors and wrap my arms across my chest. The cool Melbourne wind bites my hands and my face – the only spots of exposed skin. Tiny drops of mist leave sprinkles across my glasses. It’s cold, but I’ll be warm soon enough. I slide my hood over my head and set a slow pace as punk queen Gwen sings about running.
Travelling for work isn’t so bad. Your days are all but decided for you, but it’s the night, the early morning – when you’re brain dead or brain preparing – that’s the worst. You dine alone, you try to fill your time with shopping or walking, but most of the time, you read in bed until you fall asleep. Only to then toss in bed because you can’t quite find that right spot or if the sheets should be on or off.
The streets are quiet but not vacant at this hour. The sun isn’t quite up, and the streetlights let out a dim glow as if preparing for it to rise at any moment. I have the volume turned down on my phone and take in the sounds of my surroundings – the clatter of the trams, the buzzing of the power transformers, the chatter of people. There’s something beautiful about a city that is still sleeping.
Sleeping bags and big wooly blankets line the sidewalk in front of the shops. Some of the mounds are moving, but most remain still. Not awake, not asleep. Just existing.
I wonder at the resilience of man. That drive to keep going is certainly not unique but is inspiring all the same. This mind-wander continues until I round a corner and a man shuffles past me. His face and hands are dirty, his hair unruly. I smile at him. Smiles cost nothing, after all. He returns the smile with a big toothy grin.
“Run, run, run. You’re doing great,” he says with a raspy laugh in his voice.
I laugh with him.
He follows me, smiling and jogging alongside me for a hundred meters. I grin from ear-to-ear. I sense no malice, just joy. Maybe it’s only mine. Maybe not.
Later that day, a colleague will tell me how frightful that experience sounds, but nothing in my tone or telling of the story will show I am scared for my safety. She will go on to tell me that a woman should not go out alone in the dark. That I should protect myself – be more careful.
For now, though, I enjoy the moment; I revel in it.
He stops, and I wave at him as I cross the street to continue this forward momentum.
When the moment passes, I let the next take over and then the next.
I love every second of the run. I love the river and the way the water ripples with the light rain. I love the flat dirt track around the Botanical Gardens and the way it felt separate but still a part of this city. I love the fountain surrounded by golden leaves and a muted glow.
I lose track of time and distance, traveling 7km before I realize I need to get back to my room.
The sun rises past the buildings, and first light lands on me just as I reach the hotel. I let out a happy intonation before I walk inside and lower my hood. Contentment never diminishes from lobby to shower.
I decide later that day that I won’t go out and do it again.
Still. I regret nothing.