You see her wherever people are jogging: in Central Park, in Venice Beach, on a college town’s main boulevard. It’s important that other people are jogging, she doesn’t show up if they aren’t. You’re not sure if it’s the same girl you saw that other time, or if there are thousands of them. You never get a long look at her face.
But you recognize her from a glance. She’s East Asian, skinny and quite pale. Perhaps Korean? You’re not sure. Her hair is in a ponytail. Her expression is as blank as the cloudless sky above.
She’s wearing expensive athletic wear, Lululemon and up. It’s perfectly coordinated, from earbuds to shoelaces. The sleeves and layers suggest a day that is 20 degrees cooler than the actual weather outside. It is as if she alone is haunted by a gust of February wind in the middle of sweaty June. She doesn’t seem to sweat at all.
If you froze the frame, she appears to be jogging with the crowd. Her elbows are bent, the knees rise slightly. But when the frame unfreezes, she is moving at half speed. Her locomotion is far slower than what should physically be possible in a running pose. She is not stepping in place, her gait should propel her forward. But it’s as if gravity itself pulls her legs to the ground with a gentler tug than it does for others, letting her hover motionless in the air for a blink during each step.
She jogs slower than the sweaty guy pushing a stroller with two kids. She jogs slower than the white-haired lady walking her three-legged Chihuahua. She may reach 3 mph briefly if she’s going downhill with the wind at her back.
When I walk purposefully, I overtake her quickly. When I’m strolling we end up side by side for a long stretch, so long it becomes awkward. A man with his hands in his pockets and a woman pretending to run, synching up as the rest of the world swirls around us.
And when that moment happens, the question burns in me. Who are you, slow Asian girl? What is your meaning, and is it mine to decipher or yours to disclose? Are you a moral about the gap between style and function, in a world that ever values the former over the latter? Or are you a paean to a more leisurely and composed life, an admonition to the hundred sweaty bodies zooming past you, going nowhere fast?
I want to ask you, but I can’t. You are already far behind me.