Dust, hot concrete and dirt on the Bayou Trail. The smear of river sits on its bed like a sullen teenager, refusing to budge. Dog-walkers saunter along winding paths, wearing ‘Texans’ t-shirts. Couples stroll together, lethargic, eyes on phones, texting in silence.
Young women bustle by industriously, with short, purposeful strides, in branded neon Lycra and colour-coded headbands. Blonde hair scraped into little ponytails, makeup still bafflingly in place.
I consider if I should feel self-conscious about my second-hand men’s running shorts, my raggy t-shirt, already sticking to my skin, less than a mile in. I decide against it.
Shirtless men spring toward me in effortless silence, feet moving in great ellipses, like Road Runner. Sweat drips from 5 o’clock shadows. Hairless chests gleam. They vanish as quickly as they appear.
Hefty body-builders chug along laboriously, head back, necks merging into shoulders in a continuous slope, like ramps on the freeway. Ragged breath, a gasp for every step. Basketball shorts and chunky shoes, mouths open in distracted agony, dark, glistening Vs pointing down their cotton backs.
I run past a middle-aged woman in black, who strolls alone along the path. No headphones. She looks around her, serene. She wears a pair of fairy wings on her back, ringed with fake fur, black to match her practical cotton walking outfit. ‘I like your wings,’ I say, as I dodge around her. ‘Thanks’, she says. I look back. She smiles at me. ‘Happy Hallowe’en,’ I fire over my shoulder. She looks confused.
Bridge underpass. Everything gets louder. Voices, footsteps, the laborious breathing of somebody behind me. Maybe it’s me. A rhythmic dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum from the cars gliding over the concrete joints overhead.
Out again. The acoustic deadens, like a car door slamming. Tanned women in bra tops, stomachs hard and rippling with sweat, pound past, impassive. Compression socks, impossibly long strides. They dart in and out among a pod of children on bikes, who struggle up the little hill to the bridge, heads encased in brightly-coloured helmets. A swarm of exotic, wheeled insects.
Up on the road now, over the bridge, back the other side. A knot of people stands at an information board, which announces the presence of a bat colony under the bridge. Some lean out over the edge of the viewing platform. A woman wrinkles her nose, squints. A man points, looks back at his friends. Looks back in the direction of his outstretched arm, brow furrowed. His companions look dubious.
I pass the retirement home. A suited official is giving a presentation in the dining room. ‘Medicaid’, says the title. ‘Things to know.’ Grey-permed heads are arrayed in rows, like lollipops. The presenter extends an arm, the better to indicate something on the screen with his laser pointer, unaware of the redundancy of the gesture. The overhead light has a greenish tinge. One of the permed figures shifts position on a plastic chair, rubs her lower back, winces slightly. An elderly man gazes out the window, ignoring the presenter. He wears a pastel, short-sleeved shirt, biro clipped in breast pocket, belted chinos hiked halfway up his chest. Square, practical glasses form a windscreen on his face. I catch his eye. He frowns.
Outside, a couple in their fifties, sitting on a park bench. The woman has a wheeled suitcase, the man has a rucksack. They study a map. The woman holds it out in front, elbows on knees, squinting. The man cranes his neck to see. Points at something. His finger collides with the paper, a soft thump, a rustle.
The bail bond office is still open for business. SE HABLA ESPAÑOL. Inside, a man leans across the counter, gesticulating at the clerk. His teenage son is half-turned away from the desk. He is kicking something on the floor, absently. Looks at his shoes.
The skyscrapers gleam silently. Lights go on and off, an animated chequerboard. The sky is red, dappled with pink, cross-hatched with jet trails.
Street lights hum and fizz, in their halos of gnats.