Julie Andrews (Maria) sang in the Sound of Music; let us start from the very beginning, a very good place to start. And so I proceed to 490 BC.
There was war between the Greeks and the invading Persian armies. The Greeks won the battle of Marathon and Miltiades (Greek Army leader) sent word of the victory to the King via a runner Pheidippides. (You might wonder why he didn’t send a text message, or flash(Naija style).
Poor (or patriotic) Pheiddippides ran the full 42.2Km at full speed to the Palace and promptly died after delivering his very important message.
If na Naija, e for climb Okada. E fit even branch Mamaput for pounded yam and pure water. Between ‘swallows’ he will surely mutter, ‘man pickin no go die for government work’.
If na mai village Pheidippides die, dem for ‘forbid’ running that distance. But Europe different. Na that 42.2 Km na im we dey all run till today; so God help us.
Back to the present. 21-4-07.3.30pm
I am driving down the M25 to the Excel Centre to register for the race. Paul Play’s Angel of My Life is playing and I cannot help wondering. Has Paul in all his playing considered that women like Angels can grow wings and then fly away? One has to call his babe Angel with some trepidation!
All my people are voting for our next Nigerian president back home.
At the Excel centre, I join a queue and hand over my letter bearing my running number 15900. I get handed a bag, which contains a computer Championchip, and running numbers for my bag and vest.
Everything went smoothly. Well, they wrote my surname incorrectly but hey, what’s new there?
For those who don’t know, the chip is what makes ‘rigging’ the race impossible. For starters you lace the chip to your trainers for the race and your progress can be tracked as you run across various sensors that have been placed across the road. If not sharp guys fit enter train, empty bucket of water on im self and appear at the finish line as winner.
Cousin’s House .7pm
(Not quite. Every family friend in Nigeria is a brother or cousin and every mansion, flat or rented room is a house)
Eat dinner with cousin. Was working a night shift so left me at home to sleep. But not before he wound me up. ‘Wilson, abeg on your way back from the race tomorrow buy Malt and canned drinks. You need to replace what we have drank’ he said.
I could believe my ears! After 26.2 Miles, make I go shopping?
I did some breathing exercises.
‘Look, you should get yourself to the finish line and help me home. Am I not your guest? I am buying nothing’ I said.
‘Abeg buy the drinks’ he said.
I was perplexed. We grew up together. Our fathers entertained each other in Lagos. Is this what living in England can do to a man? Too much night shifts and too little social interaction. Na wa!
The weather forecast was hot, hot, and hot. I begin fear.
D Day. Lazy in bed. Felt stiff from all that driving from Birmingham to London. Shower, and then adjusted my coral beads. (My latest fashion statement- the South-south look). The necklace had to be shortened and held down with safety pins to make running easier. (See photo). At this point, I thanked God that I didn’t have breasts.
Was getting late. Left by 7.10am with cousin who had now returned from night shift. He didn’t have a clue how to encourage someone about to undertake a big task (or perhaps was too tired to care).
At Sutton station there were no trains (Up British Rail!) and I was soon on a Coach to West Croydon to arrive 8.10am.
I was late and sweating. The race starts 9am for elite women, 9.25am for the Wheel Chair Marathonand 9.45am for elite men and the masses (me). And you sabi say the only African time that will be on display will be the victory times of the Black athletes. I began to calculate and pray at the same time. A skill all Nigerian have acquired while driving on Nigerian roads.
I had hurriedly put just £5 in my pocket and left my wallet and credit cards back in my cousin’s place. Train transport was free for all runners who display their running numbers so I thought I didn’t need money. I began to rehearse how I would convince the cab drivers to take me to my Blackheath starting point on credit. I began to blame myself. Why was I late? Why did British rail close Sutton station. It will be sad to go home without a medal.
As I came off the bus, a chap called me. He was looking lost. Was from Northampton and needed get to the Marathon starting point. I on the other hand had lived in Croydon before. Off to the cab office. £23 to Blackheath. His mum brought out the cash. Hallelu..Halleluyah.
God said I will go ahead of you….
I ran for ages and got very angry at the first sign. ONE MILE. Only?? With all this sweat and thirst? 25 miles to go. God help us. At 3 Miles I saw the Vittel water sign. The shock. The water had finished. Na lie. People started looking on the road at the empty plastic bottles for remnant water. Some spectators were tipping water into bottles to make up a good quantity for drinking. God alone knows what mouths had been on the bottles before they got thrown on the dirty road. Omo, I rush the bottle. Disease no dey kill African man; (only poverty and Aids).
Where are all those Lagos street hawkers selling ‘Pure water’ when you need them? Make dem give dem Visa now!
I even wrote a poem for them in my book- My Time and dem come let me down like this.
Pure water, pure water
The little boy said
Will quench all your thirst
And cool down your head
It is good for madam
Perfect for Olga
Pure water pure water
The little boy said
Dr W Orhiunu