Chapters 15-17

After Pigeon

Lunch, Timmy thought, was a great success. After the meal, the girls insisted that they do the dishes. So he had a moment by himself in the living room. He looked all around him, at the timeless family treasures adorning the shelving and wall space—elaborate hand fired ceramics, personalised wall hangings, wood and metal sculptures, hand blown glass vases, elegant candle holders, photos of family and friends. He could tell from the spread that the Lanes showed a keen interest in the arts and valued travel to near and distant lands. It was also obvious they cherished the memories of their time spent together.

Timmy walked over to the hearthside to look at the photo frames on the mantel. There was one of Cambria sitting in the bedroom, a cello snug between her thighs. A shard of morning sunshine had cut through the bedroom window, casting bold slants of shadows across the floor. Head tilted to the left, her long silky hair rested on one side of her face. She was lost in a soulful sway.

Timmy was spellbound.

The photo next to it featured Cambria with very short hair, tears running down her cheeks. The light in the photo was so drab you could barely tell it was a colour picture.

“That was me when I was 11.”

Cambria’s voice reached to the other side of the room like church bells across the valley. Timmy met her with his eyes, delighted.

Like the colours of autumn, her voice took on many hues; sure and thoughtful most of the time, coarse in a whisper, but otherwise, velvety. Amidst close company; warm and embracing. And in the still silence; celestial, like the note of a chime that hangs in the air. He loved every manifestation of her voice and wished there was some way to bottle it.

Timmy learned from Cambria, that at 11, she had to have her hair cut short due to lice. Scarred by that episode, she had since kept her hair long, in the same exact style; straight, black, ending at her bra strap. Timmy looked at other photos. Unlike Cambria, Lenka had experimented with bobs, weaves, nests and frizzes, and her hair had seen more colours than a piñata shop. She even went shiny once, to protest government legislation against stem cell research for cancer.

Timmy proceeded further along the living room wall and stopped to look at some of the paintings.

“All the ones on the left are mine, the rest are Lenka’s.”

Timmy noticed that their styles were very different. Lenka’s work was uplifting and playful, and she experimented with an ambitious and iridescent colour palette; whereas most of Cambria’s pieces were dark and heavy, with less contrasting colour pairings.

Timmy found himself drawn to a painting Lenka had done. It featured a pink elephant with a filigree of blue and green vines within. Cambria explained what Lenka was trying to convey. Their mother always complained of varicose veins on her feet, a result of standing in the kitchen for too long. Lenka reckoned that elephants, themselves standing for long periods, would be plagued by the same problem. But weighing what they weighed, Lenka imagined their varicose veins to be severe enough to spread to their entire body.

Lenka’s art was simple. She would discover an interesting fact about a thing, and convey it through a colourful and over-imaginative lens. But of the twins, Timmy could tell that Cambria was the more accomplished artist, her work more sophisticated, both technically and in its subject matter. The piece of hers which stole his attention was painted in sombre tones; stark greys, rich browns, black, and brilliant white.

Cambria detected Timmy’s interest, and allayed his curiosity, “It is called Mo Cion Daonnan. It’s Gaelic for My Love Eternal.”

Timmy’s eyes widened with surprise when he matched the title to what he saw on the canvas. It was one of the grimmest paintings he had ever seen, and he started to question her notion of love.

“A most arresting piece, this one,” he commented.

She conveyed the meaning behind her work.

“The naked man in the foreground, the one attempting to run, was reckless with girl’s heart many years back. He regrets what he did.”

She paused.

“The gnarled leafless tree atop the hill, and the snowflake-covered ground, tells you he is going through winter, perhaps the coldest of his time.”

“Is that the Vergina Sun behind the clouds?” Timmy enquired. “It’s a Macedonian symbol right?”

“Very perceptive.”

She was impressed he spotted that.

“Actually, I painted this when I was 16, and the 16 points in the star represent that.”

“I see.”

“Actually, it appears as if the sun is crouched behind a cloud, but it is not. The sun is actually turning into cloud. When I painted this, Macedonia had just removed the Vergina Star from their flag. Greece, for many years, had maintained that the Vergina Star was their symbol, and that Macedonia had stolen it. After much dispute between the countries, Macedonia conceded. And the sun faded from existence.”


“In this piece, the star represents something that once existed, but doesn’t anymore. After the sun fully dissolves, the man in the picture will be stuck forever in the cold.”


Cambria pointed, and squinted, to draw focus to a small detail on the painting. “If you look closely, within the tears flowing from his petrified eyes, you can see the image of the girl whose heart he broke.”

Timmy leaned forward, and narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. I see her.”

“The man is hoping that crying will bring her back, and that his tears will melt his winter. But instead, his tears freeze his feet to the ground, along with the image of her. He can’t go back, and he can’t come back.”

“Can’t go back, can’t come back? What do you mean?”

“You can’t smoke a cigarette twice. He can’t go back in time to correct his mistakes.”

“The mistakes that drove the girl away?”

“Yes. And till today, she has not forgiven him.”

“Oh, so she won’t let him come back to her, and he can’t go back to fix the past,”


My love eternal. Timmy now saw the significance of the title. It was of a person who squandered his chance at love, and now had to pay for his mistake. Forever.

He turned and looked at Cambria. “Brutal,” he muttered, his tone so serious she knew he wasn’t serious.

Cambria eased into a controlled grin, and Timmy smiled with her. Quickly, she pulled a stern seriousness back onto her face, and in a lecturing tone cautioned, “Yeah, so you better be more careful with the next girl whose heart you hold in your hands.”

Timmy caught some semblance of a smile as she spoke those words, and wondered if the heart she was referring to was her own.

They moved to the next painting, and the next. Timmy was baffled by the amount of thought that went into her work, and he could tell that she had shed her naiveté at a very early age. He saw from the bold and fluid striations of her brush, that she painted with purpose, passion and great confidence.


Mid afternoon, Greg took Timmy to the back of the house, into the converted barn that was now his personal hideout slash work area. Inside, it had all that you’d expect to find in a woodshop; sturdy hardwood benches, lumber storage racks, a floor drill press, a table saw, hand tools, chisels, planes, hand saws and marking instruments. At the far corner from the entrance, there was a couch and a TV, and beside that, a fridge full of beer and dip. This was where Greg took the guys to hang out. And Timmy felt honoured to be shown it.

The smell of the woodshop was familiar, and triggered a wave of nostalgia for his summers on Laeso. The full bodied musk of hardwoods, the sweet fragrance of cedar, the revitalising scent of pine, the camphorous fumes of resin gum and lacquer.

Timmy recalled the times he used to assist his grandpa with the repairs. One summer, he spent a couple weeks helping his granddad re-thatch their roof, and another summer building and replacing a windmill blade. When Timmy was 15, he helped reconstruct the hull of their uncle’s fishing boat which had run aground. That was the last project Timmy completed with his gramps, before a stroke took him in the winter.

With a curious eye, Timmy browsed Greg’s workspace as if he were on a museum school trip. He noticed that Greg owned many tools from far off times, and he got excited each time he came across a rare something he was familiar with. Even more excited when he found something he knew nothing about. He asked Greg a lot of questions, and Greg was all too happy to nourish his curiosity. Two hours passed in a blink.


A dull knock rattled the door frame. Before either could answer, Cambria poked her head in. She had come to invite Timmy out for a run, just as she had promised him she would. Before Timmy left with her, he made Greg promise one thing, that they would continue their discussion on the wabble saw.

Greg winked.

The sky was starting to take on the hues of evening, so Timmy wasted no time getting changed. When he emerged from the house, he found Cambria jogging lightly on one spot. She was wearing a loose white T-shirt rolled up at the sleeves, and underneath that, a black tank top. Her pair of tight-hugging three quarter Lycras caught every curve of her lower body; and this was accentuated further as she went through her warm up routine of forward lunges, back stretches and knee lifts. There was an instance when her oversized T-shirt slid to one side, exposing her shoulder, elegant and smooth like ivory. Timmy, like a schoolboy discovering his pubescence, got excited at the reveal.

Timmy reckoned that their run that evening was going to be part trail, part road, and he was impressed by Cambria’s shoe choice, a Saucony ProGrid Xodus. It had a really durable outsole, which was ideal for rougher terrain, and a light, cushiony midsole, that also made it good for the road.

To stretch out her quads, Cambria folded her leg backwards and held her heels to her buttocks. This allowed Timmy a glimpse of her shoe bottom. He noticed wear on the inner side of the sole, which suggested she was an overpronator.

Maybe that’s why her heels clank when she walks down the basement stairs. Overpronators are normally flat footed. Her low heel arch doesn’t afford her sufficient bend. Yes, that must be it. Because she can’t bend, she can’t press her shoe insoles close to the bottom of her feet. Hence the clanking.

Timmy was smug that he had solved the mystery of her signature walk. But he also felt like such a running nerd for arriving at that conclusion.

As Timmy shook out his legs and proceeded with his warm ups alongside Cambria, he realised his body felt less limber than usual. His infatuation with Cambria had frayed the reins he once had on his life, and caused him to break from his usual running routine. Plagued by sleepless nights, it had been weeks since he had run at sun up. He still made it a point to run over lunch though. He needed the stress relief. Each morning, despite his body crying for more sleep, he took special effort to be at work earlier than usual, to catch that first glimpse of Cambria as she descended down the stairs. The tumultuous weeks had taken a toll on him.

“Cambria,” a voice called out from behind them.

The pair looked over their shoulders. Lenka had stepped out of the house for a smoke. She frowned as she lit up, but in the twinkling of an eye, untwisted her face into a smile. Cambria tensed up when she caught the glimpse of mischief across her sister’s face.

“You were right about his shorts,” Lenka laughed. “It leaves very little to the imagination.”

Cambria very nearly had a coronary. “Lenkaaaaa?” she yelled, fists on her hips.

Timmy was quick with his response.

“I picked my smallest pair in hopes that your sister would take my lead, and attire herself in something of equal reveal.”

Lenka burst out laughing. “I told her earlier to lose her T-shirt and just wear her tank top.”

“Lenkaa,” Cambria warned her sister in a low, reprimanding, you-better- not- go-there tone.

Lenka proceeded anyway with her salacious remark. “But she was afraid that her nipples would show.”

“Lenkaaaa!!!” A mortified Cambria shrieked, her face red and warm in embarrassment.

Timmy could not shake his big grin. He had never before seen Cambria lose it quite like this. Before this trip, the most he had witnessed of her frustration was a low growl under the breath.

Impartial to his amusement, she ushered him on with a ghost of a smile, “Come on silly. We ought to be getting along before it gets dark.”

The love birds pushed off, down the gravel path leading away from the house, and onto the main road. Timmy ran slower than his usual, but Cambria surged forward little by little, until they arrived at a pace he was more accustomed to.

Cambria conveyed immaculate running form. Impressed, he asked, “You run competitively?”

“Why do you ask?”

“You’ve got exquisite technique. Smooth and pendulum-like. Arms nicely tucked in. Well abbreviated breathing. Feather light footfall... like a spider threading across a pond.”

She smiled. “I used to run 10Ks. Back when I was in school.”

“Oh!” Timmy was surprised. “You still run?”

“Yes, I run occasionally on weekends,” Cambria lied, hopeful that Timmy would ask her out for a run one day.

“If you’re up to it, we should get together on weekends to run. I’ve been looking for a worthy running partner for some time now.”

An even bigger lie from Timmy. He hated running with a partner. Conversation was an inevitability when running in tandem. And it threw him off his pace.

Cambria was delighted that she was going to see more of Timmy on weekends.

“You always wear that?” Cambria asked.

“What? My heart rate monitor?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yes, I wear it all the time.”


Timmy told Cambria about the time he died. And how since, to not tempt providence and suffer another heart arrest, he ran with a heart monitor strapped to his wrist. He told her about the game he played with himself, to guess his own heart rate. She tested him. He guessed 55. His wrist showed 55. She was impressed. And then amazed.

“55? That is ridiculously low. What’s your resting heart rate?”


“Absurd!” she remarked.

“MHR is about 188.”

“Alright, now you’re boasting.”

Timmy flashed a guilty grin.

“So your Heart Rate Reserve is 156. That is off the trolley.” She knew her terminology. Timmy was blown away.

Cambria took Timmy through Lechlade’s high street and past St Lawrence, her primary school. From there she led him out of the town centre. They went off the main road onto supple terrain, down into a meadow that led to the brook that she used to sit by. She went there when she wanted to be alone, and Zen-ed out by its mossy banks, under a shady overhanging tree. For hours, she listened to the gurgling water and the rustle of long grass swaying in the breeze.

From the brook they progressed up a hill, to the highest point around Lechlade, a spot that offered a view of the town. Timmy was struck by how the light fell on the valley below. The sun was starting to set, and from the hill, they could see lights starting to be turned on. Atop the hill was a lone tree, under which Cambria received her first kiss, from a boy two years her senior, a boy by the name of Jacob. It was the same tree that Cambria featured in her painting, Mo Cion Daonnan.

Cambria did not, at any time, stop at any of the points of interest. She merely explained the significance of the landmarks to Timmy as they passed them. He was impressed that she was able to comfortably hold a conversation while running at that pace.

“From here, it’s about a mile to the house. Care to race?”

Timmy was surprised at the challenge Cambria threw at him. It seemed a little out of character.

“You bet. Are we wagering on anything?”

“How about if you win, I take off the shirt shielding my tank top?”

Timmy was stunned, shocked that she would bet on something of that nature. He let out a clap of laughter, realising that his punishment for losing would probably be far worse than what she was putting out.

“And what happens if I lose?”

“You’ll have to...” A mischievous grin formed on her face. “Ah, this is a good one. Wear your running shorts to dinner.”

The dare was not even close to what Timmy had feared. “You’re on.”

Cambria quickened her step but Timmy matched her speed and reeled her back in. Accustomed to running much further than they had done that evening, Timmy had ample left in the tank, so he went full throttle and pulled ahead of her. To his dismay, she segued effortlessly into a higher gear and drew even with him, her feet falling with his.

Sensing that Timmy had pledged everything and was at peak velocity, Cambria was almost certain that victory was hers. With half a mile to go, she broke into full stride. All Timmy could do was watch helplessly as she surged past him, her elbows slicing air as she ran. Overwhelmed by her speed, his legs became prematurely heavy, as if tendrils had emerged from the earth and curled around his ankles. He knew that unless she tired at the last minute—or tripped—that she was going to reach the house first, and that he’d be wearing his skimpies to dinner that night.

Cambria was still reclaiming her breath when a discomfited Timmy arrived at the doorstep.

“Alright hombre,” she huffed. “Better be prepared to show your sexy legs tonight.”

“No worries. I’ll keep my end,” Timmy assured.

“Oh, by the way,” Cambria mentioned between breaths, “I forgot to tell you.” She laid a reaffirming hand on Timmy’s shoulder. “We’re having dinner at my aunt’s. You’ll get to meet everyone.”

Timmy was completely amused and taken by her playful deceitfulness. He wanted so badly to wrestle her to the ground and mash his lips against hers. He shook his head and smiled.

Ch 16: An Evening Gathering

The night was cold, just like the day before. To stay warm, Cora and Greg stood by the fireplace while the rest got ready. Timmy was the first to come out of his room. Sporting a really smart turtleneck and a paltry pair of running shorts, he joined his hosts by the hearthside and waited for the girls.

Timmy was deeply amused that Greg and Cora wanted to make a comment about his attire, but were too polite to do so. From the brevity of their knowing him, they weren’t sure if it was a fashion signature of his they were unaware of, especially with him being a running freak and all.

Dressed the way he was, Timmy tried his best to look dignified. Just to make conversation, he made some comment about the weather. Sensing Timmy’s unease, Cora started to query him about the work he did, which fell well within his comfort zone of topics to be discussed.

Cambria and Lenka emerged from their room looking vibrant, dressed for an evening out. Standing there in his lean pair of shorts, Timmy felt more naked than before.

Lenka wore the eccentricity of her usual Bohemian self, dressed in a chiffon top the colour of dark plum, and a long black skirt that teased the ground she walked on. She glimmered with every sway, this because of the mirror sequins in her skirt. As Timmy had come to expect of her, she bore a well orchestrated percussion of costume jewellery that melded seamlessly with her persona. Bangles, anklets, earrings, necklaces and a shimmy belt. It was musical just to hear her jangle down the hallway.

Timmy turned his focus away from Lenka, and was seized by a moment of breathlessness as his eyes fell upon Cambria. In a black strapless one piece, her hair pulled back into a pony tail, Cambria’s shoulders were fully exposed, and begged to be feathered with kisses. A faint shadow of cleavage vied for attention. Finding harbour within the slender curve of her neck, diamonds of light danced on a vine of silver earrings, casting a candescence on her already naturally radiant face. Timmy’s gaze progressed downwards, from her face, down her neck, past her breasts, through her thighs. Her dress concluded three fingers above her knee, and showed ample of her take-no-prisoners legs. He consciously had to retract his slumping jaw.

As Cambria approached Timmy, her sultry gaze turned into a broad smile when she caught on to his bare legs. Stopping a foot short of him, she remarked, “Hey, sexy.”

Timmy unravelled a smile, as if nothing were amiss, “Hey.”

“You know you really didn’t have to, right?”

“No, I insist,” he replied smugly.

Over to the side, Lenka informed Cora and Greg of the bet between Cambria and Timmy. Cora tried to contain her smile, but a flicker of amusement escaped her conceal.

“You better get changed,” Greg called out to Timmy. “If you step out of the house in that, son, you’re going to freeze your Easter eggs off,” he remarked jokingly.

Laughter lifted into the air.

Lenka chimed in, “And besides, I don’t think your date would be seen with you dressed in that,” using her eyes to make reference to Cambria.

Cambria chided her twin with an angry gaze.

Cora interjected, to everyone’s surprise. “Actually, I think you will find Lenka on your arm most of the night if you insist on wearing that.”

“Yes, I think Lenka will have you,” Cambria supplemented, offering a feather-like pat of reassurance on Timmy’s shoulder.

Lenka grew aware of the alliance that was starting to form against her. “Hey, how did I emerge as the desperate social outcast, left with but the pick of the crumbs,” she laughingly shot back at her sister and mum.

“The crumbs?” Timmy rose in defence.

“Actually,” Timmy looked at Greg as he spoke. “I figured that with these two lovely dames by my side, I would need all the cooling this pair of shorts afford me.”

Greg let out a light chuckle.

“But it appears that I’m not on the side of the majority, so I should probably change into something more constricting.”

Following his display of quick wit and flattery, what Cambria regarded as Classic Timmy, she smiled and she shook her head, the words My Timmy forming in her mind. As Timmy made his way back to his room, the Lane’s looked at each other amusedly.

“Where’d you find this fella anyway?” Greg asked jokingly.


The house was frothing with conversation when they arrived. It was the same each year.

After taking Timmy for a quick round of introductions, Cambria ducked into the kitchen to help with the food, leaving him in the care of her dad. As Cambria had come to expect, when she came out of the kitchen a mere 10 minutes later, Timmy was already holding court, laughter erupting around him. With the ease and candidness he shared with the group, one would have made the easy mistake of assuming he were born into the pack.

Throughout the night, Cambria was teased with Timmy. At first, she found herself tongue-tied for a response. Growing up, such teasing triggered knee jerk responses like “Never in a million years.” But with Timmy by her side, she was careful not to say anything that would deter any advances from him. As the night wore on, she became more adept at parrying jokes of their couplehood, and countered with replies like “Oh, I’m sure Timmy has better taste” and “Don’t scare the poor fella off.” Much later, after the ale leant her some daring, she ventured into responses like “if I should be so lucky” and “if he would have me, I don’t see why not.”


Cambria was a different person amongst her family than when around her work colleagues; full of life, a jokester, a charmer, goofy. As Timmy watched her in her element, he caught himself making comparisons between her and Monica, the vivacious goddess from work.

He noticed that like Monica, Cambria had the gift to hold an audience in silent fixation, but more with her eloquence than Monica had done with her beauty. As with the goddess, Cambria carried herself with great confidence, candour and charm. But absent, was Monica’s prowess, which Timmy felt was a good thing. In his Eden, Cambria emerged more and more Eve-like; Monica, more serpentine.

The party crackled healthily throughout the night, and looked like it would go into the wee hours. But at the stroke of midnight, Greg’s brother Joe, excused himself and his family from the get-together; his two boys had to sing in the early mass the next morning. Those who remained did not remain for long.

Timmy found it interesting how parties always met an abrupt end after the first group of people peeled away; a real pity when the party was good, and a blessing for the ones that were a drag. Timmy had a great time that evening, and found it refreshing talking to farm belt folk. They were a simple people with close to nothing in common with him. And that led to some interesting conversation. Throughout the night, many of Cambria’s relatives were compelled to share stories about her she did not want told, and Timmy was all too happy to be afforded this glimpse into her past, to be acquainted with the environment she grew up in, and with the people she grew up with.

Perfect as the evening was, Timmy was troubled by but one thing. His sunset race with Cambria hung over his head. Like a general scrutinising a defeat, he dissected the run over and over to derive all the things he could have done differently to produce a more favourable outcome. He knew in his mind, that if it were a real race, he would have emerged victorious for sure. He would have set a much quicker pace in the initial stages to wear her down, leaving her with insufficient fuel to burst to the finish the way she did. Distance running was all about proper fuel management, and he was denied that opportunity to plot the race.


It was a long day, and although his body was tired, his mind bounced all over, like Styrofoam balls in a wind tunnel. As he lay in bed, and blinked at the ceiling, snippets of conversations from the party played back in his head. He thought he connected well with the people he met, and he wondered if he would ever see them again. Beyond his control, his mind naturally fell on Cambria, these words stencilled on his mind: If he will have me, I don’t see why not.

Was she serious? Did she mean it? For a long time he pondered... and tossed... till he was drawn into a deep slumber.


Rapture wrapped her warm arms around Cambria. As she lay in bed, she wondered how it was that she was dreaming before sleep had even arrived. Her final reflection of the night was of her run with Timmy, a route that took them through town, past Willow’s Brook and over Samsden’s Hill, 10.2 kilometres in all. In her opinion, she would have beaten him by a much greater margin if she had kept her fitness up.

When she was fifteen, she owned the 10K race in the district, and was the clear favourite to win the nationals in her age category, until a calf injury ruled her out of competition. Plagued by the same injury for two years, she gave up running altogether, and this became a sore subject in her life. She tried to blot out her past by stowing away her trophies, certificates, wall photos, news articles. Anything that reminded her of the promise that never became. Her family shared in the pain of her extinguished hopes, and the topic of running, for years, lost mention in all conversation.

Rather than hang up her running shoes, Cambria decided to burn them, using the remaining kerosene her mother dabbed on her hair when she was 11—to kill off her head lice. In her mind, she was incinerating two painful memories with one light of the match.

The cremation took place in Greg’s woodshop, and the fire from her burning shoes caught on some rope that hung from the ceiling. No one was injured and they were able to salvage the building. But Cambria never heard the end of it from Greg. After the incident, her shadow never again darkened the floor of her father’s shed, until 10 years later, when she walked in to invite a boy out for an evening run.

Ch 17: Post Easter

God, it is cold. What were you thinking Cammy? Sitting out here like this. I should have brought ma’s shawl with me. The one she just knitted for me. What good is it sitting on the desk at work? Oh no. Was that rain? Or a drop of dew? It’s too deep into the day for dew. Oh misery. It must be rain.

Just a couple minutes more. Please, just a couple minutes.

God. I need to tinkle. It’s freezing today. Isn’t it supposed to be spring already?

Was that another drop? Heaven help me. Where is he?

Ah, there he is, like clockwork. My Timmy. My running angel. My favourite 3 seconds. Grace unfurled. Cottony footfalls. Floating on a low cloud. Coasting like a peregrine eagle. Those legs, how I love thee, O sleek intertwine of silky muscle, the day I shall impose thee on thy fulcrum. I’m yours to be trespassed, Timothy Malcolm Smith, to be, ahem.. pollinated. [naughty giggle]

Well, at least he had the cow sense to wear a hat and gloves. Oh no, it’s starting to rain for real. And..... aiyaiyai need to peeeee! Just a few more seconds. And he’ll be off. On his way.

Oh misery. I think he’s seen me. Oh, no. He’s coming this way. What do I do? Bugger. What do I do?

Don’t look. Just melt into your book. Pretend you didn’t see him. Breathe.

Look calm. Just be lost in your book. Oh no it’s getting heavy. It’s starting to pour.

Breathe. Act surprised. Just be calm.

“Oh hi Timmy!”

He must think I’m such a numb nut. A dorky bookworm dork. Reading out here in the pouring rain.

Hmmmm, I think he’s going to ask. I better think of an excuse. Why I’m out here, reading in the rain, like a weird weirdo.

I’ll just tell him I was at a really gripping part of the book. And didn’t even notice the rain. No, that’s dumb. Urrrmmmm!

Rats, he really did ask. What should I say?

“Oh, I was at a really gripping part of the book. I didn’t even notice the rain.”

Oh, that just sounded so daft. Well, what was I going to say? That I walk all the way to this park every lunch break to stalk him? Oh, I so need to tinkle.

He wants to know what book I’m reading. Stall.

“Oh the book I’m reading? You want to know the title?”

Golly, what book am I reading?

“This book is...”

Just look at the cover dummy. No wait, don’t. Look at the top of the page. It should be there.

“... the Change of Times. By urmmm, Shelly Wilson. One of my favourite authors.”

Phew. That went pretty smooth. Boy, I’m freezing. The wind seems to have picked up.

Oh heck, he wants to know if I come here all the time.

“No, I don’t come to this park all the time.”


“Yes, I know. I really should get out of the rain. I’d love to join you for coffee. Where’d you reckon we go?”

Oh, please suggest some place near. I really, really, really have to tinkle. Oh look at that. The wind has blown a leaf onto his crotch. And it’s stuck on his wet shorts. This is too funny. He looks like Adam. The leaf is flitting. Don’t laugh, or you’ll spring a leak. Don’t laugh.

Oh bugger. He wants to know what I’m laughing at? Oh, should I tell him?

Just look at your shorts dummy. I’ll tell him once I catch my breath. Oh this is too funny.

Oh misery, it’s coming. Squeeze it in Cammy. Squeeze it in. Oh bugger. Too late. It’s out the gates. Forget it, it’s too late. No point fighting it now. Might as well just let it all out. Mmmm, it feels warm. Oooh, that feels so much better. Rats, I hope he doesn’t smell it. Check for smell. Inhale. Oh, please, let there not be any. Phew, I think the rain has masked it. Oh misery, we’ll be going to the cafe. What now smarty pants? More like smelly pants. Ha, ha. I’ll just wash in the ladies. I’m all drenched anyway. He won’t see a difference. Good thinking Cambria. You know, you’re pretty smart sometimes. Man, I’m freezing.

“Look at your shorts silly!” Cambria pointed.

Timmy looked down, and they both laughed. He peeled the leaf off his shorts and asked her if she wanted to keep it, as a bookmark. She took it from him, and they adjourned out of the rain, into a toasty delicatessen a short distance from the park.


A bond of familiarity formed between Timmy and Cambria following their Easter weekend together, and to Timmy’s relief, he regained some normalcy in his life: the butterflies made their way back into their cocoons, his heart regained some of its buoyancy and he rediscovered the friendly spontaneity he enjoyed with her before. The ritual of asking her out for coffee also lost its awkwardness, and their conversations and dalliances grew more intimate. Single-knuckle punches to the arm and shoulder-to-shoulder nudges became common between them. And Cambria sometimes walked up to his side and pendulumed her hip against his, as a way of saying, “Hi, I’m here.”

Despite the developments in their friendship, Timmy’s sleepless nights did not completely leave him, his pent-up feelings for Cambria keeping him awake most nights. He was comfortable with the rate at which their relationship was progressing, and he sensed an eventuality to their union. He was just waiting for the right time to tell her.

They started to go on runs together; during lunch, and sometimes over the weekend. Cambria gave Timmy another shot at beating her at the 10K and let him pick the route. They met early one Saturday morning at Birdcage Walk, and took an anti-Clockwise route along the Thames, sliding past Cleopatra’s Needle, up Queen Victoria Street, looping back through Fenchurch, Leadenhall Market, Puddle Dock and back to where they started. The gloves came off this time round. For someone who was not used to run that distance, Timmy put in a dazzling performance. He clocked a time of 30 minutes and 14 seconds, a showing worthy of a top 20 spot at most world competitions. To his chagrin, Cambria beat him again, this time more convincingly than she had done through the uneven terrain around Lechlade. Finishing a whole 10 seconds ahead of him, it wasn’t much of a contest.

Cambria made her move 7 kilometres into their race. As she had done previously, she unleashed a straining burst of speed towards the end, and outstrode Timmy to the finish. Timmy had the wind worked out of him trying to keep up with her, and it took him several minutes to reclaim his breath after he crossed. He asked her for her time, and she told him. It took a while to set in. One of the world’s fastest female runners in the 10K had just come out of retirement. And he was madly in love with her.


That morning, right after Cambria’s landmark performance, they stepped into Shelley’s by St James’ Park, a modest dinette that served breakfast for most of the day before fading into a charming candlelit dining establishment in the evening. They both ordered a hearty breakfast to replenish what they had expended on their run.

An omelette, a hasbrown and half a banger into their meal, Cambria revealed her painful past to Timmy, of how she lost her place in running history when she was 15, and how she almost burned down her Dad’s converted barn two years later. Timmy, who before wondered how Greg worked dark swirls into the wood, got his answer. After learning of Cambria’s past, Timmy felt a little better with himself, now knowing that he had conceded to a once professional competitor, and not some complete novice whose weekly workout consisted of time on a stationary bike and an hour in step class.

Timmy spent every Saturday being beaten by Cambria in the 10K, each time progressively worse, always to her devastating final burst. Each time they proceeded to Shelley’s afterwards. They chatted endlessly, like lovers reunited after a war, and their breakfast dates often turned into lunch, lunch into tea. Their weeklies never progressed into dinner, this a result of them feeling a bit underdressed as the formal evening crowd arrived at the dinette. To not cheapen the place, they always called for the cheque. The restaurant owner appreciated the courtesy.

Sunday afternoons, Cambria started to join Timmy and Kim at the movies. Kim was initially not too happy with the intrusion. But it did not take long before he grew to like her, and the three eventually became inseparable, both at work and on the weekends.

The thing that Kim liked the most about Cambria was that there was nothing to dislike about her. No annoying habits, no over fidgetiness, no limiting phobias, not a finicky eater, nor nitpicky over toilet conditions. No annoying laugh, no irritating overuse of words like ‘like’ or a compulsion to end every sentence with ‘you know’. No feminist agenda, no OCD, no anger issues, no bossiness.

But Cambria was in no way uncontroversial. She had a mind of her own, but with a healthy dose of agreeableness and compromise. And Kim appreciated that about her. She took a strong stance in every argument, and always sided her case with solid reasoning. She was open to venture down every avenue of thought, but was careful not to beat a topic to death. And she always admitted when she was wrong, though she seldom was.

Cambria also possessed a restrained frankness. Politically correct with her political incorrectness, she always apologised before saying something that could be construed as insensitive, shallow, blunt, unladylike, or coloured. A result of her country upbringing, she was reserved and held herself well in public, but could be persuaded to abandon social etiquette for a good laugh. Her humour was well-timed, piquant and in good measure. Kim could see how some people would regard her mannerisms a little uppity, slightly high brow, but he wasn’t one of those.


Over weeks of running almost daily, Cambria exceeded her form from before and started to clock in times that made her a world class contender in 10K competition. She looked forward to the possibility of making a comeback. Her running time eventually plateaued slightly outside the world’s top five woman runners.

Technically, Timmy’s knowledge of running mechanics was far superior to what Cambria had acquired when she was a teenager. And she spent hours on end with him to discuss ways she could improve. The two were thrilled to discover this shared interest.

As the weeks passed, Cambria started feeling bad about beating Timmy every weekend. This was despite him taking each loss in the highest spirits—he always joked that her drool-inducing derriere brought about crucial fluid loss, which costs him the race.

To help Timmy regain his pride, Cambria one day suggested that they run a 26.2, which was in Timmy’s wheelhouse. Timmy suggested they run the official route of the London Marathon. They both looked forward to the day.

It was on a sleepy Sunday morning in the 3rd week of May that Cambria attempted her first marathon-length run. They set off from Blackheath, heading east through Charlton, looping back at Woolwich. Like on their other runs, they felt each other out in the early stages, and settled on a median pace. 6 miles in, as they were heading towards the Cutty Sark dry-docked at Greenwich, Timmy made a break. But he couldn’t quite shake her. To his surprise, she passed him as they entered Mudchute at the Isle of Dogs, but he stayed close on her heels and regained his lead at the halfway point, as they crossed Tower Bridge. At the 20th mile, Cambria hit a bit of a wall and started to wither away. Victory within his clutches, Timmy leaned into his stride and went on a final burn to ensure his win was safely in the books. To his shock, Cambria caught a second wind and closed in on him with renewed vigour. As they passed Blackfriars at mile 24, Cambria, holding nothing in reserve, unravelled her length and surged past Timmy. Already running as fast as his legs could carry him, Timmy felt like a compromised speedboat that was taking water. Easing her way out of view with her long ground eaters, it appeared certain that Cambria was going to take the race, easily. And she did. A whole minute ahead of Timmy.

It wasn’t as effortless as she made it looked. She was completely spent at the end of it, gagging crudely as she repaid her oxygen debt. Her heart thumped with the ferocity of a climaxing night club. Her mouth no longer conjured saliva. And her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth each time she gobbled for air. She, for a moment, a moment that felt it would not cease, thought she was going to die.

Timmy was brutally outclassed. Looking at his watch as he reached the finish line, he stared at Cambria as if he had just seen a ghost. Pale from the retching, she wasn’t too far off looking like one. Copiously covered in sweat, crystals of light dangled on every precipice of her face. Hands on his hips, Timmy walked in circles around her. In between breaths, he squeezed out.


“... you finished...”

“... a minute short...”

“... of the world...”

“... the world marathon record.”

Cambria was well aware of the record: set by Paula Radcliffe at the London Marathon, on the same exact course they had just run.

At 15, after Cambria’s running career went up in ashes, she averted her eyes whenever she came across any news of the sport. But when fellow country woman Paula Radcliffe obliterated the world record in 2003, the English press made sure to fog every mind in the country with the news. Almost a decade later, no one, not even Paula herself, had come close to beating that time.

Depleted, having embezzled every iota of energy and will from her stores, she rested her weary eyes on Timmy’s and looked at him quizzically. A minute seemed an insurmountable gap to close.

“Cambria, you don’t understand. Berlin is a much faster course than what we ran today.”

She finally got it. Berlin was tamer, easier. If she were running Berlin today, she may actually have bettered Radcliffe’s world record.

“So you’re saying, if I were running Berlin today, I would have broken Paula Radcliffe’s record. And become the fastest woman on the planet?”

“No, Cambria. The record I’m referring to is not Radcliffe’s. But Gebrselassie’s. If you were running Berlin today, you very possibly would have been the fastest person on the planet, man or woman.”  

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