Chapter 1 – The Story If there was one thing Sade knew how to do and do well, it was to run. After all, she had been doing it all her life. At eighteen years, she had received a medal at every single track event she had ever participated in. At eighteen years, that was quite a lot of medals. It didn't take long for people to notice how good Sade was at running. What they didn't know was that Sade ran, not because she wanted to, but because she needed to. For Sade, necessity was the mother of invention. But invention was luckier than Sade. At least, it knew its mother.
Chapter 2 - Unable to Run Sade's first memory was of a white ceiling. At the time, she did not know what was so fascinating about this ceiling. She remembered staring up at it, as voices floated around her. The voices were angry and impatient, as they threw around words like "system," "young," "damage." She didn't understand why everyone was so angry. No one told her and she didn't ask. She stared, instead. Sade did not know how long she lay there, absentmindedly yet intentionally tracing every pattern in the ceiling's multi-shaped layout. She did not know when the voices faded out, and silence reigned. Therefore, she did not know when a lady came in, until the lady gently laid a gloved hand near Sade’s arm. "Hey there." The lady said with a tentative smile. Sade cleared her throat in an attempt to talk, but the lump lodged in there refused to budge. The lady continued to stare at her, her eyes filled with sympathy. "Would you like some water?" Sade nodded in response. The lady turned around and left the room. Soon, she was back with a bottle of water in a slightly outstretched hand, as if handing the bottle to Sade. Thankful, Sade attempted to reach out to accept the offering. And that was when Sade realized what was so fascinating about the white ceiling: it was all she could see. She was on her back, her arms and legs heavily casted, as every single nerve in her body screamed in pain to protest her movement: it was all she wanted to see. Sensing Sade’s sudden discomfort, the lady hurried over and helped Sade up to drink. Once she had had her fill, she fell back onto the bed, exhausted. Too exhausted to ask why her body was on fire, and why her room smelled like bleach. It was later that Sade would find out that she and three other children had been beaten to unconsciousness by an unscrupulous foster father.
Chapter 3 - The Starting Line There were a few things that Sade could control in her life. Who she lived with was not one of them. Sadly, the paradoxical concept of being able to choose, yet not having a choice was lost on an eleven-year-old Sade. She was in the pre-teen stage of her life where she was desperate to prove that she was capable of making her own choices. Hence, the events that transpired on that 16th day of September led to it being dubbed a “fateful day.” With Ms. Solomon (it turned out the lady who offered Sade the bottle of water had a name) championing the effort, two months after her hospitalization, Sade was put into a thoroughly-vetted foster home. When Sade first walked up the sidewalk to her new home with its white picket fence and SUV-housed garage, it had looked so peaceful, and she had felt so out of place. But then, her new foster mother had opened the front door with the brightest smile on her face, bent till she was eye-level with Sade and whispered in her ear: “You are already my favorite.” Starved for love as Sade’s heart was, it clung tightly to the first person who offered it. That person was Mama. Therefore, when the time came for her to leave Mama’s house, neither Sade nor her heart were willing to let go. Mama had fallen sick and was less able to take care of Sade and her foster siblings. No one had seen her creeping by the door, but Sade had overheard them discussing moving her and the other foster children to other homes because Mama’s illness was “terminal.” Later that night, Sade had asked Mama what “terminal” meant. Mama had just smiled and said it was rude to eavesdrop, but that it meant she was about to go to be with God. “But God does not need you, Mama. I need you.” Sade had wailed. Mama had placed a kiss on Sade’s forehead. “Be sure to tell Him that. He just might listen.” Sade was not about to let God or anyone take Mama away from her. So, she searched through the Bible for the quickest way to reach God. After hours of flipping pages, it seemed like a burnt offering was the way to go. So, she hatched a plan. First, she feigned a cold so that she could stay home with Mama while the others went to school. Of course, Mama saw right through her ruse, but let her stay with the warning that there would not be a repeat the next day. As soon as Mama started dozing off in her knitting chair, Sade stole away to get the necessary ingredients for her burnt offering: frozen chicken (she did not know where to get a live lamb), red toothpaste for blood, lighter fluid from the garage, and a lighter from the kitchen. Not too long after, Sade had a platform of frozen chicken and toothpaste topping set up in the backyard. Remembering the story of Elijah on the mountain and how the Lord had actively responded to him after liquid had been poured on the altar, Sade began to douse the platform and its surroundings with lighter fluid. Expectedly, the fire grew and began to spread beyond the platform Sade set up. At the sight of the growing fire, thinking that it meant God was listening, Sade had fallen to her knees as tears stemming from both emotion and the proximity of the fire began to fall from her eyes. “Please, don’t take Mama away.” She begged. “If you take her, who is going to sing me to bed? Who is going to pack my lunches? Who I am going to live with? I don’t want to live with anyone but Mama. I don’t want to live without Mama. Please!” Sade knelt there, begging and pleading, until… “SADE!” Mama yelled – something like panic – in her voice. Mama was standing by the patio door, something that looked very much like the house telephone dangling from her hand. “SADE, GET AWAY FROM THE FIRE!” It was then that Sade had looked around and saw that the fire had grown sizably more than what she had expected. She scooted back reflexively. “Mama?!” Sade screamed, half scared, half perplexed. “It’s okay, baby. The firemen are almost here.” Mama raised the phone (Sade was sure it was a phone now) in her hand to her ears. “Please hur…” Mama did not get the chance to finish the sentence, because she began to cough violently. She clutched her chest with her left hand, as her right hand held onto the door post for support. Sade stood up and tried to run to Mama, but the outdoor clothes pole had collapsed and now blocked her path. “Mama!” she screamed again. “S-t-stay where you are, Sade. They are here.” Mama heaved out, her voice deep and throaty, so unlike her normal soft one. Before Sade could respond, a fireman covered Mama’s face with an oxygen mask. Simultaneously, two firemen began to make their way towards her, clearing a path as they did. Sade’s eyes were on Mama the entire time, and she watched helplessly as Mama was lifted onto a stretcher. Finally, the firemen reached her. Without concern for her personal safety, Sade tore past them, her eyes and mind on Mama. “Mama, where are they taking you?!” She said hysterically as she drew closer to Mama, who looked so lifeless on the wheeled stretcher bed. Mama tried to speak, but the oxygen mask muffled her voice. Sade noticed little spots of blood on the clear oxygen mask, and her heart thudded painfully in fear. What was happening? Sade turned to the paramedic closest to her. “Where are you taking her?” She demanded, with all the indignance of an eleven-year-old. The man looked past her as if she wasn’t there, while one of the firemen standing close by had shouted. “Can someone please get this child out of here?” Sparked by the fireman’s rudeness, Sade’s heightened tumultuous emotions elected anger as their representative, and she trembled in fury. She defiantly held onto the stretcher, daring anyone to come close. A fireman attempted to lead her away from the scene. With all the force that an eleven-year-old’s fist could pack, Sade hit him. “Leave me alone! Mama!” Sade yelled. The fireman grabbed her roughly this time, lifting her off the ground and carrying her away from Mama who the paramedics were wheeling to a waiting ambulance. Sade went ballistic, as angry tears streamed down her face. “Mama! Please! Leave me alone! Mama! Please, let me go! God, why? I begged you. Somebody, please!!” Mama’s ambulance driving away was the last thing Sade remembered, until she woke up in a hospital bed to the news that Mama was dead and Sade was being moved to another foster home. So, Sade put on her sneakers and started to run – with no intention of ever stopping.
Chapter 4 – Time to Run Like clockwork, Sade found herself there again. Every year, she promised herself she would not do this. Every year, she failed. Sade held the bouquet of flowers with trembling hands as she neared the marked site. It was seven years today that Mama died, and Sade did not know what to do with herself. They said time healed all wounds, but her wounds seemed to deepen instead – hurting worse every year. The only time Sade felt some semblance of relief was when she ran. And so run, she did. Every day since Mama died. Today, her legs carried her to Mama’s grave and she was powerless to stop them. By the time she got to the plot allotted to Mama’s coffin, her entire body was trembling. She fell into a heap on the ground, tears streaming down her face. It didn’t matter that seven years had passed since Sade woke up that day in the hospital room. It didn’t matter that she had then been transferred to another foster home where Carly, her new foster mom, had been the epitome of perfection. It didn’t matter that Carly had spent years trying to fill the void left behind by Mama. None of it mattered because no one understood that it was she who had killed Mama and that she deserved every ounce of pain she was in. Sade wiped the tears from her face, and gently placed the bouquet next to Mama’s headstone. She longingly ran her fingers over the now-familiar lettering – “Rest in Peace, dear one who loved all and was loved by All.” Inevitably, more tears fell from Sade’s eyes. That she, who Mama had loved more than most, was the one who eventually deprived the world of Mama’s light was too much for Sade to bear. The weight of her guilt felt like a thousand bricks on her shoulders. It was she who had killed Mama. It was she who had lost Mama. She – “Are you okay, miss?” A voice cut into Sade’s emotional mayhem. Sade turned in the direction of the voice. A man, who was probably the groundskeeper for the graveyard, stood not two feet away from her. Sade swiped her palm across her face and stood up so fast it probably gave the man in front of her whiplash. “Yes. I am fine. Thank you.” Something akin to pity crept into the man’s eyes and Sade’s legs began to itch. The compassion in his eyes was stifling, and she resisted the urge to lean over and take deep breaths. Her legs began to twitch. It was time to run. “I am so sorry for your loss. How long ago did it happen?” He said sympathetically. The man took a consoling step forward. Sade took a matching one backwards. Panic flooded her veins; she did not want anyone’s pity and she certainly did not want to talk about Mama to someone who had not known her when she was alive. Sade dusted the sand off her hands and off her running shorts. Smiling politely in a manner that conveyed to the man that she did not want, need, or appreciate his pity, she said, “It has been a while.” The man got Sade’s message loud and clear and she saw that he did. He took a step backwards. “Of course. I will leave you to your…business. Forgive my overstepping.” He picked up his rake and walked away to a nearby tree that had more leaves on its branches than on the ground, and began to rake the nonexistent leaves. Sade clenched a fist, as she felt the urge to apologize for her abruptness. She just as quickly shook off that urge, for she knew that the man could take her apology as a cue to continue talking to her. And it was easier, way easier, to run than to face her guilt and grief. The graveyard was not built with running in mind, so the terrain was not exactly suitable for a full-on sprint. So, Sade settled for walking away as fast as she could. But she wasn’t fast enough. “Jesus loves you, miss.” The man’s voice echoed from behind her in the silent graveyard. That stopped Sade dead in her tracks. She whirled around. “Really? Does he now?” The man looked like he was about to respond, so she raised a palm to silence him. “I have heard that before. Been there. Done that. Came out wiser. I can assure you; he does not. Please spare your Bible-toting crap for the next person. They just might be gullible enough to believe it.” Sade turned around, not waiting for a response and not caring about the terrain, for she broke out in a full-on sprint.
Chapter 5 - Easier to run? Sade had long since thought she was the stupidest person on the planet. It wasn’t a ploy to elicit sympathy or a call for self-redemption. Sade honestly felt like she could never get anything right; instead, she seemed to have an uncanny ability to irrevocably mess things up. Case in point: the day she thought it was a good idea to present a “burnt offering” to a God who maybe existed and if He did, definitely didn’t care about her. Sade wasn’t sure what made her stupider: her belief that God (whoever He was) would listen to her or the fact that she knowingly stimulated a fire with an accelerant. Some people might say that Sade got a pass as she was only eleven at the time and did not fully realize the implications of her actions. But it didn’t matter what people had to say, since Sade would never hear it. She was a loner surrounded by thousands. It was the groundskeeper’s proclamation (which was still ringing in her ears, by the way) that had reiterated to her just how stupid she really was. Because for a second after hearing the man profess Jesus’ love for her with such gentle conviction, and despite what she had said to him in response, Sade still wanted to believe that it was true: Jesus loved her. And she hated that she did. Because that meant that there was still a gullible, love-starved eleven-year-old inside of her. The same eleven-year-old girl who had eventually killed Mama. Sade shook her head vigorously as if to physically evict the swirling thoughts. Her legs began to itch to do something – to run away from the overbearing thoughts, and it was all she could do to keep her legs still under her desk. “You must be excited.” Someone whispered next to her. Sade turned to the source of the voice, confused and taken aback at the nearness of the voice. A bespectacled boy looked back at her, a small smile on his face. When Sade continued to stare back at him blankly, he motioned to her jerking knees. Sade placed her hands on her knees to still them, and chuckled humorlessly. “Believe me, this is not excitement you see.” The boy smiled indulgently, as if he saw and understood more than Sade wanted him to. At the presumptuousness in his eyes, Sade could feel her ire, as well as her hackles, begin to rise. “Nervous?” He prodded. “No.” “Restless?” “No.” The boy’s smile grew wider. “Mysterious much?” Sade narrowed her eyes at him. “No, more like you-don’t-know-me much.” “I could.” The innocent simplicity of his statement irritated Sade. There was nothing simple or innocent about her. Sade frowned and scoffed audibly. “No thanks.” “Okay.” He replied. She narrowed her eyes at his response. “Sade and Grayson, eyes forward. Please.” Ms. Allison called from the front of the room, before Sade could process what-in-the-heck just happened. They didn’t speak to one another for the remainder of the class period. When the bell rung for the next period, Sade’s legs pushed her up and she hurriedly gathered her things in a bid to leave before the boy could say anything else to her. But she wasn’t fast enough, again: a quiet “Godspeed at your race this evening” still found its way to her ears. Later that day, at the sound of the starter pistol, Sade ran faster than she ever had in her life. “Jesus loves you,” and “Godspeed” played on a constant loop in her head, and she tried to run away from the hope they were offering. Grief and guilt, her demons and constant companions over the past seven years, called to her. But she ran from them as well. And so, there she was: a runner with a past, but no destination. For the first time in her life, Sade couldn’t remember why she was running. Was it truly easier to run? It was fortunate that she had reached the finish line, or Sade would have lost her first race, as the realization stopped in her tracks. Literally. Sade stood there, bewildered, as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. She had just beaten her own record by two seconds! Funny, she couldn’t find it in her to give even a half-smile. After many back-pats and hugs from everyone and their mother, Sade was finally able to break away from the crowd. She headed to the locker room, found an empty bathroom stall, and dry heaved. Seven years of pent-up emotion rushed over her like a flood and Sade held onto the toilet bowl like a lifeline. Her legs itched, as usual. This time though, they wanted to rest. They were tired of running. She was tired of running away. So, she ran back to the starting line, where it all began. She talked to God. It didn’t matter what she said or how she said it. It mattered that she did.
Thirty minutes later, Sade gathered her things, and walked over to the parking lot. Like clockwork, Carly was waiting by the car, a proud teary smile on her face. “Honey, you were so great out there.” Sade nodded, her lips forming a smile of their own accord at Carly’s display of affection. “Thanks, Carly.” In response, Carly pulled her close and wrapped her arms around her tightly. “I am so proud of you, sweetie.” Sade’s smile grew even wider, and for the first time since she came to live with Carly, she hugged her back. Sade had long since thought she was the stupidest person on the planet, and that she could never get anything right. But later that night, as Sade drifted off to sleep, she felt more at peace than she had ever felt in seven years. She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, something was turning out right. Because maybe, just maybe, “Godspeed at your race” was why she had three unread emails from university scouts sitting in her inbox. And “Jesus loves you” was why she could maybe, just maybe, hope that her story will end with a happily-ever-after. Invention might have and know its mother, but Sade would come to know that she had a Father and it would always be easier to run to Him.