Julia had never seen her city like this before. It was as though she were taking a guided tour through streets and roads she didn’t know. Or maybe had once known. There were so many things she had once known. Like maths. She remembered enjoying maths at school. Her school days hadn’t come back yet, but Doctora Ortiz said they would. Dra. Ortiz had fantastic faith in her. A well-built middle-aged woman, Julia could imagine her at home with her children, watching television. She sometimes imagined herself squeezed in beside them on the sofa like a Persian cat sitting between a family of good-natured bulldogs. Julia had been put in Ortiz’s care on her arrival at the rehabilitation centre. It was down to Ortiz that she had come so far. Her skeletal frame and stitched-up scalp had seemed too frail to survive, but one of Ortiz’s unflinching methods was a diet of regular exercise and rich foods. After a week she could sit up, after two, she could get out of bed. By the time two months had passed, Julia could walk, with a frame, as far as she liked. And she did like it. It was as though she had never walked before.Everyday she could be found exploring various corners of the spacious building. Her body still refused to put on weight, but Dr. Sanchis, the physio, told her that her muscles were recovering, which was good. Anyway, her family said, you’ve always been slim. The biggest change was in her face, her eyes, formerly a flashing green, were now the shade of an autumn forest, with none of the life. On her chaperoned walks in the park she saw trees which fascinated her. Surely she knew what trees were? Her accident had caused such severe damage that she often felt like an infant, seeing everything anew each day. The thought caused her as much joy as sadness, as well as another feeling. If she could have given it a name, she would have called it bittersweet.
As she continued to regain lost memories, and forge new friendships in the centre, she began to worry about her future. What would it hold for someone like her, she wondered? Her mind had been broken, and it wasn’t ever going to be fixed. At least not ever like it had been. But what had it been? She was 24 years old, it wasn’t unusual for her to return to her parent’s house. But it would be like living a second childhood. One with aging parents, who would suffocate her recovery. She had had many conversations with Dra Ortiz and with the clinician, Dr. Ferran, about this, although she could barely express the worries in words, which had only served to frustrate her even more.
In any case, like so much of her recovery, it had been Ortiz’s idea to walk off her emotions. “Everyone thinks better while they are moving” she told Julia once, and surprisingly Ferran agreed. “I’ve seen how you enjoy walking. Many people say it helps to clear your head. In this case, I can’t think of a more suitable solution.”
So she walked as far as the corner. And around the corner. She had never been on this street. It was already busier. Her worries now were mainly that she might not remember how to return to the centre. But she had the address written down, and there were plenty of people to ask. Some of them looked foreign. An Asian man selling fruit offered her some oranges. She declined and kept moving. She saw a young man pushing a baby carriage. He was not much older than her and looked tired. On the street she saw some lorries and bicycles, which for a moment brought back sickening memories of the accident. But she recovered herself and kept moving. Here was another park. She ducked into it away from the traffic, and immediately was assailed by the smells of dog faeces and urine. A gypsy traipsed past carrying some lengths of metal salvaged from a rubbish container across the street. It was appalling. She started to run. And this was the moment of exhilaration. The moment her head cleared, and she had a fully-formed idea for the first time since the accident. She would become a runner.