thanks for the cheer

Cherries in a plastic basket.
Hazelnut ice-cream.
Dark chocolate.
A phone call.
Text messages.
A banana muffin.
Email how-are-you’s.
Triple grande hazelnut lattes.
Promises of fruit tarts & pies from Oz.

I was encouraged by the many ways friends reached out to me, yes, even by the notes you left behind, dear readers. It gave me that little surge of power to continue on this leg of race called September. Your cheers yelled out, ‘You’re precious! You can do it!’

I can and I will.

Thank you for the pom-poms and dance. It meant a lot to me.

*

I’d ignored the weighing scale in the gym’s locker room for the past one week but today, I couldn’t resist. I took off my sneakers and climbed on.

‘What?!’ I cursed under my breath. The scale told me that I’d added another 1.5 kilos since the start of my intensive training. Don’t tell me it’s muscle! The tight jeans beg to differ and seriously, this weight issue is starting to grate on my nerves. Gah!

My overflowing closet continues to mock me every morning I choose to wear something. You see, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I have gotten chubbier. 7.5 kilos in fact. This is NOT good.

Sulking, I nursed a bottle of water as I stared at my thighs. I contemplated returning out to the gym. Maybe I could run off half a kilo on the treadmill? Nah… My legs were already trembling from the crazy walk-lunges I did with weights. Any more and I would probably crumble in a heap at the foot of the machine.

It’s tough enough, walking into a gym. People there like to watch you as you do your workouts. I don’t get that. Why are they so unabashed in observing me sweat it out? The first time it happened, I thought it was my imagination.

‘Why are they seated around me, watching us?’ I whispered to Flex.

‘They’re cashing in on your lesson,’ he chuckled. ‘You paid for me to train you, and they, being free-loaders, are seeing if they can get any tips. I call it monkey-see-monkey-do.’

‘I want them to disappear,’ I managed to grunt as I hoisted myself up from the floor.

‘Wipe your sweat,’ he said before leading me to yet another metal machine. I took no offense. I perspire a lot and at the end of each session, am usually drenched. It’s embarrassing but what the hell… there’s no one at the gym to impress.

I’ve been working out at the gym for about a week and I must say, gym culture is very interesting. This is my first foray into the world of the body-beautiful and so far, I’ve already noticed a few regulars.

There’s the Indian girl who’s always on the treadmill. She runs with an amazing swivel-motion to her hips and I wonder if her knees hurt. It’s almost unnatural, as is her dedication to her goal – which I’m assuming is weight loss.

Then there’s Swing Lady – a petite, toned and limber female who swings on the rings in what looks like child’s play. Except that she’s always with a trainer too, so I’m guessing it’s actually exercise.

I’m just glad no one likes the Summit Climber. Each time I enter the gym, I head straight there. Being goal-oriented, I know why I sacrifice time to enter the sweaty place: I am training to climb up to the Annapurna Base Camp in one piece. Hopefully, with a smile.

The ticket is purchased and travel plans firmed. Now all I need is the right equipment to help get me up there without dying. First thing was the shoes. I did some research and nearly gagged at the trekking footwear they categorized as ‘stylish’. It was all very blah. Well, at least it’ll blend in with the mud I will undoubtedly encounter.

We’re traveling there during the final weeks of the monsoon season.

‘The good news is that you won’t see leeches!’ an experienced friend exclaimed.

‘What?! Leeches? Wait… are there insects on this trail?’ I asked.

‘Of course! That’s why you need to remember to keep all your bags tightly sealed. You don’t want them climbing in…’ she laughed. I didn’t.

‘What else do I need for this trek?’ I was starting to get a teensy weensy bit worried.

‘Get a walking stick, or walking poles. You will need them because on your first day there, the one thing you’ll be asking yourself is why. Why did you pay so much to suffer this torture? But after that, the view will be worth every bit of pain,’ she said.

‘Pain? I don’t want pain…’ I whined a little.

‘You have three weeks to train… that’s erm, very short to get appropriately fit. You are fit, right?’

‘Well…’ I smiled. I didn’t dare answer her. In my mind though, I began calculating how many hours I could put in on the Summit Climber.

‘I can’t help you with the altitude but if you work on this machine and can complete an hour, you’ll be in good shape,’ Flex told me on our introductory tour around the gym. Since then, I’ve managed to work up from ten measly minutes to 30. It’s sheer torture though.

‘I get bored…’ I confided in him. ‘What’s there to take my attention away while I climb the steps?’ I asked.

‘Think about how wonderful the mountain will be,’ he answered.

Right. That is NOT going to help me one bit. Maybe it’s time to be annoying and start observing the other people who work out at the gym. I guess I can conjure up stories about them…

Watch out gym rats.

The story-teller is let loose.

comfortable skin

‘Hello! My name’s Flex and I’m here to help your muscles get strong,’ the stocky instructor said. I nearly choked on my Coke Light. Flex? I quickly wiped the liquid dribbling down my chin.

‘Hi,’ I replied weakly. I didn’t expect the gym to allocate a trainer that quickly. Too many days since my last run and a rotund tummy was starting to get to me, and I knew I had to start running again, but after the last time I went out in the morning (about a week ago) I found myself severely disheartened. I don’t know where my motivation went.

Yesterday, while cleaning out my bag, I chanced upon a random voucher lying inside. ‘A two-week free pass to the gym? That might work’, I thought. And that was how I found myself there today, standing before Flex.

‘Look, I have never joined a gym before and have no idea how things work,’ I began. I didn’t want him to think that I knew anything about what I was doing. In fact, I think I might have unconsciously painted a pathetic portrait of myself, to kill any expectations he might have had. ‘You’ll be working with a complete beginner…’

‘No problem! I’ll take you through the equipment and start you on a course of workouts that will whip you in shape for your hiking trip!’ He enthusiastically pounded the table. ‘Do you want to start now?’

‘What? Now? Noooo… I’m not ready,’ I stammered. ‘How about a few days later?’

‘I can do lunch. You want to try on Thursday? I can slot you in at noon,’ he nodded, ‘Just send me a message with your mobile and I’ll slot you in.’

‘Okay…’ I meekly replied. Yes, I can see how having a personal trainer helps because I am now committed to a lunch-time workout. Me – the girl who always eats in to avoid jostling with the lunch-time crowd, who likes to kick back and chill, alone… will now be found sweating her ass off in front of a man named Flex.

*

‘Let’s use gaffah tape!’ Cutesy exclaimed, as we discussed the decor for the next campaign. I stifled a smile. Gaffah?

‘Will it be hard to edge the images of the dancer out if we shoot her against a background that’s not white?’ She continued. Edge? Did she mean etch?

‘It will take time but it’s do-able. And we’ll continue with the veneer effect…’ the designer answered. Veneer? Now I had to speak up.

‘Do you mean vignette?’ I smiled.

‘Yeah, whatever that effect is,’ he laughed.

‘Hey! You have white nostril hair!’ I guffawed. It was fascinating.

‘Ah, it’s the dust from the sculpture I was working on,’ he said as he grabbed a tissue to clean his nose out. ‘Maybe I should wear a mask.’

And that is how our weekly department meetings go. I like my team. They are some of the best creative minds I’ve met, who speak without an ounce of elitism in their speech.

*

‘What was the Sky Gym like?’ I asked the Husband on our way home. Months ago, he was offered several personal training sessions at one of the most elite gyms in our country and I know he enjoyed himself there.

‘I felt intimidated at first,’ he said, ‘Because that place caters to the rich and exclusive. It was always empty so the staff would be watching you as you did your workouts. I mean, they had nothing else to do. The view was great though, and the trainer was nice. I would have returned except… that place made me feel uncomfortable.’

‘What do you think of the gym we went to just now?’ I asked.

‘I like it there. I know some people may bemoan the fact that it’s common and crowded, which it is, ever since they lowered the membership price but I know if I’m a klutz there, no one’s gonna bat an eyelid,’ he said.

I nodded. It’s true. I liked being in that place because it didn’t feel extraordinary. If anything, it was common and approachable. Very much like the team of people I work with. There are no airs and if you make a mistake, it’s okay. It’s expected.

I want to be able to look back on a day and laugh at my plebian ways.

*

Stepping off the train, The Husband and I noticed a well-dressed chap walking ahead of us. Everything about him was perfect. His jeans hung at just the right places, the shoes were spot on trend and his clothes… well, let’s just say he looked like he’d just walked off the Sartorialist pages.

‘Why do I get the sense he’s too aware of what he’s wearing?’ I whispered.

‘I was just thinking that!’ The Husband exclaimed. ‘And that’s what makes his entire perfect outfit look a little wrong on his person…’

‘Maybe inside, he’s trying to be someone else,’ I answered.

How sad.

‘We are all freaks. Yes! Alone in our rooms at night, we are all weirdoes and outcasts and losers. Whether you admit it or not, you are all worried that the others won’t accept you, that if they knew the real you, they would recoil in horror. Each of us carries with us a secret shame that we think is somehow unique

And if we are, each of us, freaks – then can’t we accept what’s different in each other and move on?’

– James St. James

I want to be comfortable in my skin.

There is a line in my favourite Switchfoot song that goes, ‘We are a beautiful letdown, painfully uncool. The church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools…’

If only we would let go of the facade of perfection for a moment. We would finally be happy with who we are and cease from attaining the faultless life. Flexing our happy muscles then wouldn’t be such a chore.

(Sorry, had to use the word flex. It’s been ringing in my mind)