Why I walk

Daily walks became a part of my routine in July, a month after I became unemployed. I figured it would do me good if I added walking to my otherwise uneventful daily schedule. Around 5 p.m., once the sun started to set, I’d bike to a park near our house and walk there for an hour.

I listened to podcasts while I walked. For an hour, I could take my mind away from the worsening situation in the world and the violence in this country. I could stop thinking about my frustrations as an unemployed person. I could just focus on the podcast — the books, films, or ideas they discussed. I walked, I listened, I looked around the park. Usually, I was the only one out there for a leisurely walk. Other people walked by, but to go to work or the grocery. All the better for me, I thought, as I had the park to myself.

Those afternoon walks made me feel good, mentally and physically. It was stabilizing for that very unstable time. And, as a bonus, I started to lose weight.

Around September, I became employed again. Only this time, I had to move to Angeles City, an hour away from my hometown of Tarlac City. Despite these changes, I made sure walking remained in my routine.

My new work was from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. I could still walk during the afternoons, but it made more sense to walk in the morning. Luckily, there was a park 10 minutes away from my apartment. I was as excited to start my new work and my new walking routine.

After leaving work, I change clothes, and by 6:30 a.m. I am already at the park. This park in Angeles is poorly maintained and the trash cans are always overflowing. But other than that, I love the new park. It has a track that loops for around 700 meters. There is a huge open field in the middle, and the side is shaded by trees.

I am lucky that, in this economy, I found a new job easily, and that the job I found doesn’t drain the life out of me. I have even upped my routine, and now I walk for an hour and a half. During weekends, I walk for two hours. I still listen to podcasts, but now, something is different. I have dozens of other people walking with me. And I never thought how that would make the experience much better.

In the park, the crowd moves from right to left, perhaps to avoid the glare of the rising sun. Being a contrarian, I walk left to right, facing the crowd. I am sometimes joined by an old man with long white hair who has been going to the park before me. There was something about his satisfied face, his slow steps, that resonated with me. Other than the two of us, everyone walks the same way. The sun never bothers me, as I wear my sunglasses.

After my first week, I already remembered the faces of those who show up regularly. The first person I recognized was this old man who walks with a limp. He didn’t stick to my memory because of the limp, but because he walked so fast that he overtook people on a slow jog. One time, I walked behind him and tried to follow his pace. I found myself slowing down to catch my breath.

Another regular is a young woman who always wears an orange cap. She walks around to warm up and runs for a while, then spends the rest of the time walking again. Her cap is always tilted such that it covers her face, and she seems to be always looking down. I know she won’t bump into anyone because she can see people’s legs and feet. I used to do that, too, a few years ago. I hated seeing people and people seeing me, so I just looked down. I wonder if she does that for the same reason. That was a very dark time for me.

My favorite is this other woman whom I call The Mayor in my mind. She looks a lot like that famous mayor from the south — you probably know her. They both have that tough but mestiza look. The Mayor — the woman in the park — has a pixie haircut and a lean body. She wears a gray or a black cap, but her eyes always look ahead. She rarely walks—I only see her walking when arriving in the park, warming up. Most of the time, The Mayor runs. She runs fast, consistently. There’s something beautiful in the way she strides. She looks intimidating, but at the same time pretty.

There are many others, but these three are the ones that stand out, and who I want to “see” the most every morning. I wonder if any of them recognize me in turn. I’m a six-foot-tall man who hasn’t had a haircut since February, and I wear sunglasses even on cloudy mornings. So they probably do.

I wonder what their life is outside the park. Not just the three, but everyone there. Of the dozens of regulars, how many are on night shift? And how many wake up early and go for a jog before starting their day? Do they treat their morning routine — the stability of it — as an antidote of sorts to this unstable life?

I also wonder who will be the first to not show up during mornings. I will miss them if that happens, even though I don’t know them.

I like the activity of walking. Some people meditate, some go to the gym — it’s walking for me. Walking is simple. It doesn’t require focus or inspiration. Just low-key discipline to show up and walk for as long as you can. You don’t need to produce anything, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is that you walk. And that you keep walking.

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Mark Flores, 26, studied philosophy in college. He works as a content writer for a US-based company and lives in Angeles City, Pampanga.