Imagine a series of low rolling, heavily vegetated ridges radiating out from the city centre. They parallel each other as best they can but like spokes they are forced gradually apart. Roads run along the crown of each, houses sit off the road and then gardens and forest fill the gullied gaps. In many sections the forest comes to the roadside, houses being set quite a distance back. The soil is a heavy, rich red sticky loam that is infested on the road side by blocks of stone, small enough to run across, big enough to break an ankle on. In some cases big enough to have me prefer the bitumen and the traffic than the potential of a broken foot.
I set out along our ridge, drop into a gully, climb to the neighbouring ridge, drop back towards the city until the two ridges blend, turn right at the intersection and stagger back up our ridge to the house. A convenient round trip. As I go I join dozens of people, most of them solitary walkers though some in small clusters, heading to work. Tall, upright, poised and silent. Or capped with beanies, jacketed and shuffling along. Idi Amin in a shiny suit coasts past on a bright red and yellow bicycle. One other runner in steel capped boots crashes past and shouts a cheery good morning. I imagine he saves his sandals for work. I hear the singsong of women’s voices as they cut along tracks that link the ridges for pedestrians. I catch a glimpse of their bright clothes as they wind their way through gardens and vegetable plots, their giggles and calls softly joining the birdsong that originally woke me earlier. I slow up as I run through an intersection, crowded with people loitering as they wait for the matatu (minibuses) to pick them up. Someone has lit a fire and it smoulders away on the far side of the road. The rising sun filters through the forest and smoke, and through my dripping sweat the intersection scene becomes a slow moving play of shadows and vague movement. I’m aware of vague chatter and soft laughter and an occasional ‘jambo’. I gasp a ‘good morning’ in response and press on.
I’ve been told there are no monkeys to be seen in the gardens around here any more but I tread on one as I plod down the ridge. He’s pretty flat out this specimen however, and the only clue to his origins is the tail stretched out on the bitumen. Roadkill with a difference. The run takes me down through an archway of imposing and majestic jacaranda tress, just letting go the first of their purple blue flowers and I reminisce about Jackaranda Girl as I run. We used to count them in Sydney in that warm season of colour heading into summer. But I can’t drift off too much as the ant track worn hard by so many thousands of bare and sandaled feet vanishes every now and then and I am forced onto the road. I quickly learn to look ahead and judge those spots so that I am not on the road when a car is passing. And somehow return home, warming down to the sound of a billion bees in the hedges, ‘jambos’ from lunch carrying people walking the other way, and welcomed back by the slow shaking head of disbelief of our gate guard.