Close Your Eyes, Adam...

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Maia Acklins

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I watch her running. She is fast, slender, distinguished even. I love watching her running. I come to all her training sessions. Every time I do, she raises her eyes to the heavens and tells me that I don’t have to, that I probably have better things to do. And every time I catch her smiling as she warms up, when she sees me waving at her from the terraces. She has only told me once, because she doesn’t want to be a nuisance, but she runs better when I’m there.

“It’s ridiculous,” she had said, laughing. “It might even be just a feeling I get. But it’s really great to know there’s somebody there silently willing me on!”

And she really likes silence. One day she told me, in the strictest confidence, that she runs so she can hear nothing but the wind in her ears, hoping that one day she will run so fast she won’t have to listen to the pointless chatter of the people passing through her life. I can understand her in a way. Sometimes I would like to be able to get up and fly like the wind, as fast as she does, to escape the whispers I have heard around me continuously ever since the accident.

From time to time, when she has finished her training, she comes over to me with a little smile on her face and her eyes twinkling. I always know what will happen next. I can play the scene over in my head a million times, I know every detail of it, I can relive every thrill of pleasure before the plunge into the unknown.

She comes up to me, her face still flushed from her efforts, her towel over her shoulder, her water bottle in her hand, and she puts her fingers on the handles of my wheelchair.

“Close your eyes, Adam...”

I obediently do as she says, and I hear her put her things on the bench. Then she suddenly releases the brake, takes a deep breath and gives me a push. I concentrate on the noise of the wheels on the track until we reach the lawn. She trains early in the morning and I feel as if I can touch the evaporating dew rising up to tickle my fingertips.

She always takes me to places that are barely awake at this hour of the morning. I have an impression of surprising the sports grounds and gyms as they are just getting out of bed, their hair all messed up, totally dishevelled, as if they had not yet drunken their morning coffee, that motivates them to get their act together and welcome the athletes.

* * *

One day she took me into town. I thought I was going to get her killed when I heard a car go past. I had hardly set foot outside since the accident. I hated feeling people’s eyes looking at me, hearing more or less discreet whispering behind my back. I wanted to yell out that it wasn’t for ever, that soon I would be out of this chair, that I wasn’t going to be in it for my whole life, that I couldn’t be in it for my whole life.

When she saw my face she burst out laughing and got hold of the chair to push me across the road so we could sit outside a small café.

“I know you haven’t used your exit passes since you arrived at the Center. Most of the others do, though.”
“But most of the others aren’t in a wheelchair.”
“That’s true,” she admitted. “It’s tough, isn’t it? It takes time to get used to it.”

That day we talked for a long time. About pain, about people whispering, about questions. About sport. About our mad, addictive love for our respective disciplines. About how they represented freedom to us. She had described to me her recovery and her frustrations. And then her discoveries, those new feelings she now felt when she launched herself onto the track and cleared her mind, reinvented herself, putting two fingers up to fate and taking her revenge on life.

“You might think you already know everything about sport, that you know by heart that little shiver that grips your stomach when you start training, but it’s nothing like that,” she had told me. “When you get active again, you’ll discover for yourself. Every step you take will make you want to take another one.”

She had had her left leg amputated because of cancer. Back then she didn’t run but she did dance, and she had screamed, cried, and raged when she had learned she would never again go up on her points, as she had done before. All the swear words in the world, and a few new ones she had invented, passed her lips. She could remember the pain as if it was yesterday. The illness had broken her dreams.

But sport had offered her new dreams. She had tried many leg braces before finding the one that suited her best, and now nothing could stop her from coming to train on the track every day. At the Center, she had become the queen of the 800 metres.

* * *

I promised myself that day that I would go out more often, and I had more or less kept to that commitment. I still suffered going out by myself, and prefered having someone to distract me from the stares full of pity or curiosity. But I did at least go out, and that was a big change. She knew it was, and sometimes I caught in her face a look of guile and pride, a sort of tender and affectionate “I told you so!”

I watch her running today and I too have a little smile on my face. My own smile of pride. She finishes her lap, stops to check her time, drinks a mouthful of water and looks up. She is searching for me and when she spots me her face suddenly takes on an expression of surprise mingled with joy. She comes up to me; I wait for her.

“I told you I’d be on crutches before the end of March,” I say with a mischievous smile on my face.

She unhesitatingly concedes that I won, and puts her things down on the bench in a disturbingly familiar gesture. I know that movement by heart, I could draw the curve of her back leaning to one side, and that unruly lock of hair that always escapes just at that moment and that I always, always, want to put back behind her ear.

Then, suddenly, her hands are on my shoulders and I hear her whispering in my ear that phrase, that refrain, which soothed my first weeks of convalescence:

“Close your eyes, Adam...”

Translated by Wendy Cross


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