“Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact. It did. Just bumped me, kind of hard, but I’m okay. It hurts a little here, but I’m pretty sure I’m okay.” Rubbing my left side and leg, I shouldered my canteen and urged MJ to move back onto the road.
“Are you sure? Don’t you think we should go home and tell your mom? We could try again next Saturday, really. “MJ was dusting off my back and, no doubt, looking for blood somewhere.
“No, I’m fine. Let’s get going. We lost some time just now so we need to make it up.” MJ was not that sure everything was fine but she joined me back on the road. Both of us had learned to run 50 paces, then walk 50 paces during Girl Scouts, so we regained the loss following this pattern for about an hour. Next we walked briskly for another hour.
“Sojourner, I don’t know if I can really do this. I am getting tired already. Can we sit down and rest for a little while.” The road had changed to straight gravel about a mile back and, truly, the going was harder than on asphalt.
“Sure, MJ, we can sit down over there off the road. “Do you hurt somewhere or it’s just that you are tired?” Sitting down in the dirt, MJ thought about things.
“No, I am okay; it’s just that we have such a long way still to go and I am already tired. Can I really do this?” MJ was shaking her head, failure written all over the young freckled face.
“Sure you can, MJ! You did the sixteen miles just fine, remember?” I was worried because I knew if my mom found out that MJ had gone home and I didn’t, she would come after me. This hike was only okay because I had a walking partner. Mom would expect me to return with MJ. “You can do it; I know you can do it!” I was pleading with MJ more than encouraging her. We both knew I was desperate.
“I really don’t know if I can.” MJ was not crying yet but tears couldn’t be far behind.
“Okay, well, do you think you can go the same distance as on our last hike? That would be almost halfway. Then we could call your mother to come get you so you wouldn’t have to walk all the way back? How ‘bout that, huh?” Want to try? You will feel so good when you make it; I know you will.” Well, MJ was still not all that convinced but, to her credit, she got back on the road with me. Whew, that was close.
The miles passed with little talking or joking, except for the short breaks. I tried to take breaks frequently to give MJ more time to rest. She was doing well for a girl who was not all that much into athletics. I was so proud of her for trying and I liked having her with me for the long walk. Finally we hit pavement again and the going was much easier. It also served to encourage us that the city could not be far ahead.
The distance was actually a lot farther than we had envisioned once we were back on the asphalt road. At last, we could see a house, the house. Again, it took a lot longer to actually reach the house we had seen from a distance; but, finally, we were knocking on the front door in the next city! After filling the strangers in on what we were doing, they gladly let us make collect phone calls to our parents. MJ had made it! That was as far as she would be going though. She knew she didn’t want to repeat the distance just covered, though in reality it would be longer since we would take another country route to add the rest of the miles needed to total fifty. In addition, we would need to walk faster because I had the babysitting job waiting for me at the end of the day.
Having connected with our parents, we sat down on the front lawn to eat our sack lunches. I would be glad to not have to carry it on the return trip. My parents had the map of the route I intended to take and, reluctantly, agreed I could return alone. Things were safer in those days, much safer. The kind people at the house offered to let MJ wait for her mother to fetch her and we bid each other good-bye.
I turned for one last wave as my foot touched down on the side of the road. I would miss having MJ with me; that was for sure. Both of us parted with tears in our eyes, only one of us sure we were doing the right thing. Nevertheless, uncertainty aside, I took to the route and began the long way home.
****Same Gender Friendships, Scene 3… Coming Tomorrow