THE MEATY VEGAN RAN
When I come home from my 9-k run – a first! – , my downstairs neighbour is just about to get into his car, sports bag in hand. He’s quite buff; all thick neck and trained torso in a tight-fitting shirt.
“I just ran 9 kilometres!” I tell him. He hasn’t asked – he hasn’t so much as greeted me – but I always feel this need to share any kind of milestone immediately, with anyone. He seems genuinely impressed though.
“Been running for long?” he asks.
“God no,” I say. “I’m not an actual sporty person or anything.”
He looks quietly at me for a moment, without seeing me, a thought formulating in his head. “So where do you get your motivation?” he then asks.
“I have this app,” I say, and I briefly tell him about Evy.
“Huh,” he says. “Would you say this app has changed the way you feel about physical activities?”
It’s an odd question, but the image of his girlfriend comes to mind; heavily panting as she tries to fit her scooter into the narrow storage room on the first floor. Sometimes, she angrily leaves it in the doorway and gets her boyfriend to park it for her. It’s a daily fight, but she’s dependant on the scooter for her 3-kilometre commute to a supermarket downtown, she told me once as she saw me parking my moped on the curb; something she couldn’t risk because of the foreigners. She said she hoped someday her parents would buy a place with a proper garage.
They didn’t. Instead, in addition to the current one, they bought the upstairs apartment as well, the one we were subrenting at the time. One day, she and her father came over to inquire about our moving date and to measure some stuff up. It was the first time we properly introduced ourselves, and I got to know her name was Tanja.
Tanja was absolutely positive our apartment was bigger than hers.
“Honey, no,” her father sighed. “It’s the same building with the same apartments in the same lay-out.”
“Uh-uh. Just you wait until I’ve measured the rooms downstairs, and you’ll see I’m right,” she said. “This one’s definitely bigger.”
“It only looks like that because you’ve got more and bigger furniture,” her father said.
“Whatever,” she said. “I have to get to work. I can’t believe they’re making me do this.” She looked around and, when no one reacted, continued: “Today’s the day of the soccer match between Poland and Utrecht, you guys heard?”
“You like soccer?” I asked.
“I hate soccer!” she said, disgusted. “The city’ll be flooded with hooligans. And what do hooligans want? Beer. And where do you think they’ll get that?” She was visibly getting worked up.
“It’s just a three-hour shift,” her father said.
“I could get killed,” Tanja said. “You should be worried.”
“Well, then, you should’ve asked for a day off.”
“And having it been taking out of my vacation leave days? Uh-uh,” Tanja said. “That’s only why I signed up for this shift to begin with. I’d never thought they’d actually stay open. It’s irresponsible is what it is.”
A couple of days later, our landlord called to ask how attached we were to the couch. His old couch, since we were subrenting his apartment partially furnished. “I just spoke to the new owners and the daughter would like for the couch to be included in the sale,” he said. “But I’ve told them that you guys get first choice. If you want to have it for your new place, you can take it.”
We did not have a couch of our own nor money for a new one. It was a nice offer. We took it.
It was also the end of any engagement with Tanja. If I would so happen to arrive home at the same time as she, she’d make sure to ignore me and heavily slam the doors. If she’d hear me coming down the stairs while she herself was heading out, she would linger behind her front door. Once, it took me a week to get a mail order package her boyfriend accepted on my behalf. I rang their doorbell, but Tanja pretended not to hear me. The only solution was to work from home and be alert to the sound of her boyfriend's car when he was coming back from the gym, so I could catch him in the hallway.
I don’t know the name of Tanja’s boyfriend. Though we’ve been living here for almost four months, we’ve never extended our cordialities beyond some hi’s in the hallway.
“I’m not sure this app has changed my views on physical activities in general,” I tell him, to answer his question, “but it has helped me to stick to an objective I’d already set.” I don’t know how to make a bridge from that to “By the way, what’s your name?”, but it seems I don’t have to, since he’s looking at me with that blank look again, thinking about something else; maybe a way out of this conversation.
“Okay, well, thanks”, my neighbour says, and he gets into his car. I’ve recently learned that his gym is about a half a mile down the road. “Good luck on the rest of your training,” he says, and as he drives off, I realize I’ve got my front door key, but I’ve left the key to the building on my kitchen table.
I ring Tanja's bell to ask if she can let me in.
No one answers.