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Close Encounters: The Kenyan way

Had I followed my first impulse to smash the pesky alarm clock to smithereens and snuggle back to sleep, I would have never experienced the misdeeds that was to follow that morning.Reluctantly, I heaved myself off the bed and headed for the washroom with the dire warning of my cricket coach reverberating in my brain repeatedly like a scratched CD.“Get your self into shape or be dropped down to the B-team!” he had screamed into my ears. I examined myself in the mirror as I shoved the toothbrush in my mouth and concluded that a person of my good looks was certainly not meant for the B-team. The A-side had many perks like free travel, top accommodation, and terrific lunches during matches, not to mention small monetary gratuities. And of course there was the other small motivation of having a bevy of admiring cricket-mad girls who were ever willing to perk up those lonely Saturday nights.“The things one has to do to be a self-respecting teenager!” I sighed as I put on my joggers and headed for the door. I skipped down the stairs to my bicycle which was chained to the iron stair rail and was just about to pull it out when a sudden movement from under the stairs made me jump in fright. My patter down the stairs must have woken up our over-imaginative watchman. He had laid in ambush under the stairs hoping to catch a thief and had just sprung his trap only to be disappointed.In his excitement, the idiot nearly burst my artery. I wheeled my bike to the gate mumbling obscenities. I didn’t fancy my chances with a baton wielding watchman who, I suspected, had something stronger then tea to keep him awake and paddled off into the night.It was a city clock at a roundabout that made my heart jump a second time that morning. It read 3 am whereas it should have read 5. I glanced at my watch to confirm and was shocked when, it too betrayed me.I cursed the alarm clock as I debated whether to go back or carry on with my workout. With so many questionable characters around at such an unholy hour it was suicidal to be out so early but against my better judgment, I decided to complete my run. It was just as I turned right on the Close Encounters: The Kenyan way sports club round-about that I spotted them. It was quite dark but I could make out a silhouette of the three muscular men walking menacingly in the direction I was about to take. I quickened my pace as my heart thudded hoping that they hadn’t seen me in the darkness but to my dismay, I heard them mumble something and suddenly break into a run in my pursuit.I did have to be a smart to realise my situation and so I hit the pedals furiously. Initially I didn’t panic too much because I figured that a racing-bike could manage over 15Kph while an average human could do a maximum of 8Kph over longer distances. Also, a bicycle would require less endurance to maintain high speeds then a human being over a distance so as long as I kept a decent space between us, they would give up after a kilometre of so. I paddled furiously as I imagined the worst case scenario. As a rule, I never carry more then five hundred shillings in my pocket and that made me breathe easier until I remembered the forty odd thousand my Dad had entrusted me with to pay the School the previous night. I realized with dismay that I had shoved it into my shorts pocket and forgotten to stash it away before I left home this morning. The thought that my Dad would personally ensure that I would never see the dawn of my seventeenth birthday gave fresh impetus to my legs as I vigorously pumped away. I glanced behind and was ruffled to see that they had actually managed to shorten the gap between us to around twenty meters. I was a bit perplexed that my theory of human anatomical limits was being shattered by these guys. My hopes increased as I hit an incline leading up to the T-junction to the main Avenue. Gravity, if nothing would surely slow them down while I would have the advantage of a gearchange on my bike. I quickly changed the gears and immediate sensed the relief to my calf muscles as the gears slipped into its climbing mode. I focused on the upcoming junction and prayed for lack of traffic to enable me to go through without slowing or stopping. Lady luck was on my side I shot through the junction unscathed and turned right heading for the Mama Ngina Drive.The manoeuvre would have surely deterred my chasers but I glanced over my shoulder only to be disheartened. They had not only just turned in the same direction were hot on my heels.For the first time that morning, I felt the icy hand of fear clutch my heart. What had seemed to be a cinch was clearly becoming a matter of life and death. It seemed that the entire population of Mombasa town had gone AWOL just when I needed it. There was simply not a soul to be found around. The desire to at least make it to the legal age spurred me as I frantically searched for help. We had now gone over 8 kilometres and these guys still looked like they were just warming up.I glanced over my shoulder and was spooked to see one of them actually grinning in glee. Maybe these guys were not humans but the famed dinis of Mombasa. Alternatively, they were on steroids.I suddenly spotted colourful lights and my heart soared as I recognised the colours of Florida Casino. Surely there would be revellers around. My heart soared as I raced towards the lights with fresh vigour and glanced over my shoulder with a gleeful grin and a rude gesture of my own. I was about to raise my hand in triumph when I realised that the club was as deserted as the moon. I was completely puzzled until it struck me that today was Tuesday morning and the Casino remained shut on Monday nights.I was beginning to despair because it looked inevitable that this was not going to be my day. The image of my face being remodelled to look like that of a sucked-out Mango, specially after the rude gesture I had just made, was the only motivation I had to keep pumping otherwise I had reached a point where I did not really care about the money. Maybe I would just run away from home to escape my Dad, but at least I would be alive. I hit another hilly incline as I neared the Golf Club and suddenly realised that I was near the Provincial Police Headquarters. The gate was always manned by three armed policemen. The thought gave me hope to pump faster. My tongue felt as parched as the hottest midday in the Kalahari Desert because my nostrils were not wide enough to let the massive amounts of oxygen my lungs needed hence I had to use my mouth as well. With my lungs screaming for help, I put my head down and used all my mental and physical strength into the final two hundred odd meters to salvation and judging the fading sounds behind me, I was sure I would make it.That was until a mongrel suddenly decided to come to their assistance by leaping across my path. It is at this point that my instincts took over from my brains and commanded me to brake hard. I toppled over and landed heavily in a shrub near the side of the road. I quickly turned over only to see my three tormentors starring menacingly down at me. That is the first time in my life I realised what the word “raw fear” actually meant. “Here, take the money but please, please don’t hurt me!” I squealed The trio stared grimly at me for a minute then suddenly burst out in hysterical laughter. I was completely thrown off by this sudden change of demeanour until one of them stopped (or at least tried his best to stop) laughing and explained.“Kid, we are not muggers but the Kenyan Marathon team, training for the London Olympics. We were out on our morning training run but were not feeling particularly motivated until we saw you on your bike. We decided to play catch with you only to realise that you mistook our intentions. We decided to play along because your fear would give us a real fast workout and thanks to you we have really had a very good one today! I am Martin Langat; this is Martin Malatit, and David Lagat.” They helped me up and apologised and insisted in walking me home. We chatted and laughed like old friends on the way and as we neared my home, they asked me if I could assist them with their training by doing the same every morning. My chest swelled with pride as I readily accepted and that is how I ended up helping these three world-class athletes with their workouts. On the day of the Olympic Marathon, I was up and glued to the television long before the sun had The Marathon kicked off with a great fanfare with some of the greatest runners fin the world striving for gold. I had only eyes for my three friends and my heart leaped with joy when all the three broke away to create a huge lead up front, leaving the rest of the world gasping. They romped home a clear seven minutes before the chasing pack and thereby smashing the old world record by 2.33 minutes. That day they also created history when Kenya swept all the three medals for the first time in the Olympic Marathon. I was jumping with joy on the sofa as my three best friends took the podium to receive their medals. After the ceremony they stood proudly as photographers went berserk. It is then they did something that left the entire world television audience puzzled. The all looked squarely into the television camera and mimed riding a bicycle. I was humbled and thrilled by their tribute to a friend! My chest swelled with pride as I saw the wildly fluttering Kenyan flag in the background and felt grateful to have had a chance to play a role, albeit silent one, in the history of this most wonderful nation.

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