The Devil You Know

I saw a man at work go for a run at lunchtime. Out for a healthy jog on his break, not a big deal, all fine there.

When he finished the run, though, the man walked back inside the building and into the common area. Lots of people spend their entire break in the common area, maybe a couple of hundred staff. As he arrived into this space, the man did a little run over to the canteen on the other side, slowing down to a walk just before the entrance. It’s hard to explain why, but that really annoyed me. There was no need for it, I thought. In the first place, he had to slow down coming back inside the building, stopping to get through the security gates. What was he at taking off on another little run? Was it just to show off? Like, “look at me, being active while you all sit there with your lunches.” It seemed like a poncy thing to do. Maybe twenty feet of a little run after walking in to the place, over a hundred other staff sitting finishing lunch as he would bounce on by before slowing to a walk into the canteen. Anyway, as trivial a thing as it was, it bothered me. Since I didn’t know the man, I wasn’t about to say anything to his face. I said terrible things about him among my friends, of course, but not to the man himself. He was a stranger and that would be rude.

The next day, though, same thing. And the day after that. And again the day after that. Every day, as I finished my lunch, he would stroll in to the common area and take off on his little run to the other side. Every day, it annoyed me a little bit more. After a couple of weeks, I thought it best to break up my own routine. I went out for lunch for a change. As I left the building, there he was, that same man, doing warm-ups and stretches by a lamppost at the main entrance. That’s when I knew that it was all for show, all an exhibition. This man didn’t want to exercise as much as he wanted to be seen exercising. I couldn’t let it be anymore, it was time to do something about it.

So, I introduced myself to the man and asked him if it was difficult to fit a run in during work. “I’ve been thinking about taking up running but I can hardly find the time,” I explained. The conversation took off from there. His name was Gerry and he was only too happy to talk about how he managed to fit a run in everyday no matter how hectic his schedule. Gerry introduced himself by his full name and job title, before telling me that I should go for a run on my lunch break and that I would not regret it. “For me,” Gerry enthused, “it just sets me up for the whole day. I couldn’t go without it now. Honestly!” With that, Gerry went off on his run and I went on my way.

Next day, running in different directions, I gave a little nod to Gerry as we passed each other on lunch break. The day after that, I met Gerry stretching as I left for a run. Gerry suggested that I join him, so I went along. And again the day after that. And so on and so on until about six months had passed and every day at lunchtime, Gerry and I went out for a run. We talked about work as we ran. We talked about our lives outside of work, about our families and friends, and about little plans that we had. Gerry wanted to run a marathon but he didn’t think he was ready. So, we made plans to be marathon ready and run it together. As the time passed, Gerry and I became friends. The only thing we didn’t do was go back into work together. I would normally go to a different entrance, making excuses by saying it suited me better or that I needed something from my locker. Over time, it was simply the done thing, a habit I had formed.

But on this day, things were different. Gerry and I were friends and there are certain boundaries that friends don’t have. Gerry made his way to the main entrance. I tagged along, explaining that I needed to grab some food for later. We walked back inside the building and into the common area. I prepared myself for the final piece of the plan, what these past months had been all about. As soon as we stepped into the common area, Gerry shaped up to run across to the canteen. Quick as a flash, I said “Gerry! What are you at, man?” He stopped instantly and turned to me. “Just popping over to the canteen,” Gerry answered, a slight look of confusion on his face. I drew level with him, gently shaking my head. “I’m headed that way too,” I explained with a smile, “Hardly any need to run, is there?” Gerry’s eyes dropped to the floor as he considered this.

“Well,” Gerry pondered, “no, no I suppose not.”

“Of course not,” I continued. “Honestly Gerry, running across a little distance like that… in front of all of these people… You’d look like a complete knob.”

Gerry was silent as we walked to the canteen, but I knew my words had reached him. That was important to me. Part of me felt for Gerry because he was my friend and, in some way, this was all for his benefit. It was the desired result of my entire plan, from our first introduction to this very day.

You see, sometimes it’s rude to be brutally honest to strangers. But with your friends? Well, with your friends, you can be as honest as you want to be.