I mentioned in a recent post that I had taken to bringing my iPhone with me on my runs in case Mrs H were to call with news that proceedings had begun. When I told a friend about this, she suggested that it might be good for taking photographs as well of anything that caught my eye as I ran along the Thames. So far nothing out of the ordinary has occurred – most people are on holiday – so it is usually just me and the ducks. But it made me think of something, or rather someone I wished I had taken a photo of while I had the chance.
About 100 metres down the road from where I would start my lunchtime runs was a house with a red door. Each day, without fail, as I ran past stood a little old lady by her gate, a broom in her hand. She always wore the same red cardigan, which matched the colour of the door. We never shared a word, the closest to an acknowledgement we came to was when she returned a smile. And yet, there she was every day, as though she was taking a rest from her domestic life to check that all was well and in order in the world. She was a solitary witness to my departure and return.
I started writing Why We Run when Philip Hoare’s incredible Leviathan or, The Whale had just been published. Although it would have been a blatant rip-off, if I’m honest, I considered the idea of including in my own book a curiosity of photos that documented my journey into the world of ultra-distance running. I imagined what the old lady might think if I asked for her photo. In the end was abandoned, so I never got the chance.
Having run past her house every day for more than a year, eight months elapsed before I did so again. The first few times I forgot about her, but as I re-discovered my routine, so I began to wonder where she was. It was then that I noticed her door was a darker shade of red, the garden cut back, the hedgerow cropped. A ‘For Sale’ sign went up and then came down, summer arrived and now August is starting to turn. And yet I have not seen her once.
Camera in hand I took a photo of her house. It seems clear what has happened to her, but each time I pass her house I wonder, belatedly, what kind of life she had, what was the story that brought her to that footpath. And what has become of the red cardigan.