I was about half a minute into my first run in seven weeks when the smell hit me.
It was evocative, like blowing the dust off a hazy memory hidden away deep in the brain’s filing cabinet. Unctuous. Almost salacious. Something so wrong but, at the right time, and in the right circumstances, so right.
I paused my running app — I wouldn’t let this moment interrupt my heavily-falsified times — and floated toward the scent.
A familiar face poked out of some dishevelled chef whites. Behind him, a great elephant leg waltzed to the tune of a searing orange grill. Beads of sweat oozing from amorphous beige. We meet again, old friend.
The kebab shop had reopened.
Well, partially reopened.
It was offering window service only, and you had to phone ahead to place your order. I’m fluent in kebab after a couple of shandies but like any language, it fades with neglect.
“Good evening Sire, or is it good morning? Please shave me some chicken into a wrap, all the trimmings and both sauces, por favor. And fries. And a beer. I shall eat it in my bed once I’ve finally settled on a show to watch on Netflix.”
For me, kebab eating is not a communal activity. I do not like to be watched. It is something private that should be kept between a man and his kebab.
I unpaused my app and headed down the street.
It was my New Year’s resolution to start running. It was perhaps the only one I’d ever stuck with and I racked up 150 kilometres by the time the Spanish lockdown came into effect on 14 March.
I’ve since tried to maintain some sort of indoor exercise regime.
In the first week, I did at least one routine every day. But my discipline dropped as time progressed. I soon went from one a day to one every other day, then to one every three days, to just two days a week pretty quickly. My wine consumption did the exact opposite.
On 2 May, we were allowed back out again, between 6-10am or 8-11pm.
I bolted out of my house at 7.59pm and the street erupted into applause. It wasn’t for me, it was for the health workers. But I finally felt what it was like to be a marathon runner.
As it turned out, everyone in my neighbourhood had the same idea as me.
It was impossible to run more than a couple of meters before having to drop down to a walk again to navigate between the crowds of people on the pavement.
Thousands of middle-aged men, seemingly vacuum-packed into lycra suits, had invaded the city’s roads atop their noble steeds as though the streets of Madrid were playing host to the heavy-weight edition of the Tour de France.
After going so long without seeing other humans, the crowds were overwhelming.
I found myself running up and down the quietest street I could find, sucking my mask into my mouth on the uphill. I managed just 2 kilometres before calling it a day.
Seven-weeks of strict confinement has undone a lot of my three month’s running progress.
But nothing can undo my love of kebabs. I’ll be making an order soon.
Just as soon as I get over my crippling fear of phone calls.