Running the race of the main story

I was completely out of breath. The lungs shrank as if a piece of cloth in the hand. The skull pulsed as if it was every second thrashed with a whip. The legs seemed to be a mechanism that hadn’t been oiled for a long time, and because of this they rattled and were ready to fall apart at any moment by screws, bolts and other details. Spittle appeared at the corners of the lips and turned into a thick film like in a fit of delirium tremens. The face reddened and glittered, it’s normal, it’s always like that with me when I can’t see the sunlight because of fervour and excitement. Several painful callouses popped out on the feet and I am sure that during the massage in a Turkish Bath or amid the Garden of Eden I will remember them clearly and with a wince. And, it seemed, some of these watery bubbles managed to burst. At least, the sneakers started to chomp. Or, probably, I was even in shoes. In tight and inconspicuously holed shoes which I didn’t like from the first day when my parents bought them. I don’t remember whether on that day at school I took with me a change of footwear.

Anyway, I ran the first! At the last meters, I was scarcely caught up by a sturdy classmate Sania. Fancy that only after several years of this race of a dozen of twelve-year boys, in the last years of high school, Sania began to shoot up and it was a bit creepy to shake his swollen hand. But this is a different story. On that day due to him, I forced myself to the finishing spurt.

Thus, after this very race, it turned out that at my school, at least among the six-graders, I was the best at the middle-distance running. The school educational system didn’t foresee long-distance running that’s why I failed to find at least one more of my talents. I failed because of the shortcomings of the school system! Let me think this way!

I remember how after this race a two-meter-high PE teacher couldn’t believe in my so great results. A few days later, he came to our classroom and said that he had specially checked the results of this standard race over the past few years in other schools of Lutsk and hadn’t found better than mine. Also, it seemed to me that this teacher, obviously, a former basketball player, due to his height was slightly slow in conversation. To hurry up, he simply shortened the words. For example, “come here!” he often said like “c’ h’re!”. And we came there. Fortunately, he didn’t say “f’ you”.

So I ran that distance – 1,4 kilometres – for 5:34. Now, being adult with longer legs, bigger lung capacity, with occasional system training I can’t make this distance with a former result, no matter how hard I try. Even if I dug somewhere those damn shoes and tried to shuffle in them across the stadium, I’m not sure that I would reach that Olympic peak speed.

Because for quite a while already, at some imperceptibly missed stage of life, my inner Usain Bolt and Mo Farah have run out of me for the hills. And probably they are still running away from such a host as I. Rather from my inner awkwardness and laidbackness. Oops, I won’t blame myself aloud otherwise my inner Bill Gates will squeeze out through my skull. However, fair enough, I won’t become a ballet dancer either. I’d better go and reconcile with this panicking.

And such a good result was made possible since before this race, before the first quarter of my studies, I had scampered the whole summer, as if bitten by a mad dog, in my mother’s, my grandmother’s and grandfather’s villages. I ran wherever possible – along a huge green meadow over camomiles and thistles, along sprawling yellow fields over the groin holes and spiny stubble, along the grey roads over the puddles and rubbles. I always ran barefooted, it was carefree and comfortable. Once, I ran to drive the herd of rural cows from Sinozhata to Tsyhan and suddenly stepped on a bee with bare feet and the fact that she stang me I found out twenty minutes later. The feet were thick that’s why the sting didn’t swell. But this is a different story.

Later, after I entered university in Kyiv I put my running skills, this feeling of natural speed, this serotonin outbreak which gushed forth in the brain like internal Gamma rays on ice for long ten years. Long ten years of self-destruction, treatments, promiscuity, internal recklessness but at the same time – years of lightness, openness and poetry. But these are completely different stories.

Well. Where does this very story, not the branch of it, go? It sprints to my grandfather Yosyp, father’s father. Because this story is not about running but about my granddad.

I resumed running shortly before thirty years. After my granddad had a heart attack. More precisely, the first heart attack.

After granddad’s sudden disease I came from Kyiv to Lutsk as soon as possible to visit him. My parents, brother, uncle’s family with whom he lived and I came to him. The doctors said he had low chances. But he was lively even though bed-ridden. He was partially paralyzed. I remember it was the beginning of September, it was still hot, we lifted my granddad up and bathed his body so that he was fresh.

Also, granddad tried to read to me in Polish. He knew Polish since childhood because he was born in the Chełm Land, which is now the territory of Lublin Voivodeship. This is that granddad from whom I inherited the surname Korobchuk. By the way, in that village, there was one more Korobchuk family, one of whom in times of The World War II brought Chełm Icon of Mother of God to Lutsk – one of the greatest holies of Rus. And another became a martyr – he died from the hands of the Poles. Are those Korobchuks relatives to my Korobchuks? I studied this question in-depth but now I lack only one father’s name to prove this. But this is also a completely different story. Not about running at all.

Later, after this bitter and touching meeting with granddad, my brother and I went back home past the stadium. We went silently. Everything shrank inside as if a piece of cloth in the hand. This boiling dull energy of helplessness in front of granddad’s disease and its depressing perspectives should have been channelled somewhere. I asked my brother to wait but and I myself went up to the stadium treadmill – and ran.

Just ran. I didn’t know how long would it take. I didn’t know how much energy would I have. But my body knew that right then it was sufficient! And I couldn’t stop. My legs carried me, bolts and screws fell out from them. I was carried by sheer air, I couldn’t stop breathing. Running, not to cry over the granddad, running to steer away from the thoughts, running to extinguish sorrow from the seen to calm down. But I couldn’t calm down that’s why I picked up speed to exhaust myself. I ran for thirty minutes. Brother was bored rigid waiting for me at the stadium. But I didn’t stop… I knew that the body would prompt when the indicators on the devices began to get boiled and turn down.

The thoughts exhausted from running weather over the course of the time. Thanks to running, all additional thoughts sift out like additional stories in this text. Only the most important remain – the distance before you and the task to reduce it. Only the core of the story remains. It becomes easier.

And I stopped at some moment. Totally destroyed by this scamper. But quite calm for my granddad.

I am still running. A reason is simple – the memory of grandad Yosyp. In honour of the dead, we sometimes do more than for our loved ones who are alive. And this helps us, alive.

After a while, granddad had a second heart attack, a graver one. And the third shortly after.

The last words he said to my cousin Serhiy, “Don’t turn the cutter on the other side!”

And died. In the same room in which we bathed him.

Several years later Serhiy went to the war and returned. Safe and sound. But after the war, in Lutsk, he lost his thumb at the sawmill. It was a cutter.

Wise grandad Yosyp knew what he said. He himself didn’t have two fingers. But I will tell you this story another time. Like all the others mentioned here. And all of them will be told to honour him.

Pavlo Korobchuk

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