The desire path

I have this recurring daydream, usually when I’m doing low-focus work like Photoshopping, or like now — sitting in the high-speed way train from Shanghai to Suzhou.

It’s this moment from my high school.

We need to run three kilometers or some distance like that. Too far to sprint, but close enough to just sort of jog and still get back before the teacher went home.

I remember we had to cycle from our school to the starting point, and from there start running through a small forest with vegetable gardens, up a cold dike, and then run with a large bend back through grass fields back to the starting point, where the teacher would be waiting with a stopwatch.

I was running with Deniz, who I figured would be less fit than me but he wasn’t. We could manage the same pace, which was slow as we were talking or laughing.

Through the forest with the vegetable gardens we went and up the dike. The bend in the road was next, with grass fields on either side. Morning dew made it impossible to run across the grass without soaking your shoes and socks. But there was a desire path straight ahead, while the road went around it. Trampled grass never looked so tempting. Going straight would only cut five meters at most, and it felt so daring to me, to defy the teacher that way — who was nowhere to be seen though. I wouldn’t dare yet Deniz did, and so did I. Maybe it wasn’t significant to him, but I’ve relived it so many times.

Deniz died some years later, on September 29th in 2015. And every new day puts more distance between that point and where I am now. Each day is a day robbed from Deniz yet one that is given to me — and each day this pain does not heal. Instead, it only grows, at the rate of one day a day.

And somehow this moment plays in my mind, at the most random times. We decided to cut that corner, to save five meters of running. No. That was not the point. The point was that the teacher wasn’t watching. The path offered defiance and we took it. Two teenage boys against control. And the thirty-one-year-old me still wonders if he would still cut that corner now. But Deniz would, with an unworried smile on his face.