The face glances back at me, a broad grin that coaxes me into offering one of my own.
The man looks about seventy, but he presents the exuberance of a twenty year-old, it’s infectious, and I love it.
Short white hair, sunglasses, blue t-shirt and black shorts, he pounds the pavement with purpose, you can tell he’s ran all his life, or at least for a long time.
I’m about a third of the way through a ten kilometre jog, it’s shortly after 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, I’m feeling good, not great; yet suddenly I’m uplifted.
When I run alone, it’s essential for me to have my earphones in, loud enough to hear what I’m listening too, yet quiet enough to be aware of my surroundings.
I enjoy greeting people when I run, but only if they are running the opposite way, face-to-face, I lack the commitment to turn around and I find it terribly awkward.
Today I’ve taken the day off greeting however, I’m going to be a grouch today, I just want to run, I’m too tired to engage with another human.
This man with the broad grin however doesn’t miss a beat, he’s a slave to the acknowledgement of other runners and a bundle of exuberance.
When he turns to me I almost jump, he’s running faster than me, much faster.
That’s my first thought, right there and then, I’m impressed by the pace.
I start to wonder whether or not I will be as proficient at his age.
I wonder how many kilometres in he is?
I mumble a good morning of sorts back, he says something else, I don’t hear it, I’m too startled by the pace.
You see, this is one of my biggest issues, when I run I get tired, naturally, and then I mumble. I mumble when I greet people!
Sometimes what I say to them doesn’t even qualify as English.
If I mangle one badly, it plays on my mind for the next person. Here I am trying to run a personal best and learn how to speak at the same time.
I also rely on eye contact, if they don’t make eye contact with me, I’m not mumbling at them, if they don’t see where it came from, they won’t know what it was.
The man skips past, he doesn’t wait for eye contact, he creates it.
His technique is good too, a runner’s technique, whatever that looks like.
He continues his courteous ways, addressing everyone on the path.
Mumbles and all, I decide I’m up for the challenge, it’s time to start greeting people.
I’ll just wait however until he’s a little further in front, I don’t want to barrage people in quick succession.
I pick up my pace a little by accident, I want keep an eye on the man, see what he does next.
He greets a group of oncoming runners, I follow suit.
“Morning guys”, I mumble.
What did he say? They all wonder.
An older gentleman strolls past, short in stature and in stride.
“Hey mate, how are ya? I offer, fluent as ever.
“Hello.” He responds.
I breathe a sigh of relief as the English leaves my mouth.
The exuberant man ahead of me is now seemingly gathering steam, he’s started running backwards, he’s looking at me.
Well I’m sure as hell not doing that.
He turns and eyeballs the next target, like an assassin with a clear objective, there is no escape.
“Greet them all!” I imagine his brain commanding.
His latest target runs past me and I mumble at them aggressively, they look offended. I need a translator.
I’m keeping pace with the exuberant man and I watch as he approaches a large group of runners, stretched out across the footpath.
How on earth will he greet his way through this?
With no hesitation to speak of he launches himself onto the small brick wall that runs along the footpath, he glances down at his victims; his grin penetrates their gaze.
I half expect lasers to protrude from his sunglasses, my imagination is running wild.
Maybe he’ll transform them into his disciples and they too will offer a devastating exuberance of their own. I must be dehydrated.
He jumps off the wall without breaking stride (he’s done that before) and powers his way along the boardwalk, there is simply no stopping this unrelenting force.
I weave my way through the large group of people, a gap has been opened for me and I mumble a thank you in return.
NO ONE understands what I said.
I keep the same pace with the exuberant man for a long time, I’m roughly fifty metres behind
The sun is bright, the air is still, it’s a perfect morning, it feels as though the esplanade is growing busier.
I run to the Jetty and turn around, the exuberant man keeps going, I wonder if I’ll see him again.