Accidental Jihad

In North Carolina I missed the ocean, but less than a mile from my new house I discovered a network of running trails that snaked through the woods alongside a creek.

BY: Krista Bremer

 

In North Carolina I missed the ocean, but less than a mile from my new house I discovered a network of running trails that snaked through the woods alongside a creek. I ran for miles beneath a dense canopy of leaves, losing myself in the rhythm of my breath the same way I’d lost myself in the motion of the waves. I ran in the early morning, when the woods were nearly deserted except for a tall, dark man, his graying hair cut close to his head, who leapt down the trail like a jackrabbit on long, toned legs. When our paths crossed, he swerved off the trail to let me pass and flashed a broad smile. I began to look for him, to listen for the distinct sound of his gait on the path. We became friendly, and sometimes I wished he would switch directions and run with me for a few miles.

One Saturday morning, just as I reached for a tomato, he appeared by my side at our local farmers’ market. “My name is Ismail,” he said, his vowels bent and stretched by an accent the likes of which I had never heard. Was it Irish? Moroccan? I had no idea.

I nodded and smiled. “I know you from the woods.”

“Next time we should run a few miles together.”

Caught off guard, I agreed to meet him at the trailhead the following day, though I regretted my choice as soon as I turned my back to him. His obvious interest in me was a weight I didn’t want to carry with me down narrow dirt trails. My body knew the work of tending to men like a mother’s breasts knew to leak in response to a baby’s hunger. Before I even realized what was happening, their need became mine; I smiled more brightly, nodded more enthusiastically, drew out even the most reticent man with probing questions. But that was the last thing I wanted to do during my precious time alone on the trail. I ran to feel free, to become like the deer I often glimpsed through the trees. If he was by my side, I feared I would not be able to outrun the good girl, the polite girl, the bright smiling one who tap-­danced across the silence.

Continued on page 2: Accidental Jihad »

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