For the umpteenth day in a row, Brig awoke in pain. He swallowed a pair of his NSAIDs and pulled on his new gym shorts. He would begin training for his trek to Everest Base Camp today. As he laced up his shoes, Brig saw James Wilson’s business card sitting on top of his nightstand. He felt guilty about the way he had treated the friendly New Zealander, especially after how much James had helped him, but that was that. He had no time for regrets. Upward and onward, Brig told himself.
After breakfast, Brig made his way to the gym. How long had it been since he had been in a gymnasium? Working out was not a part of a closeted drug addict’s routine. Just as Brig stepped out of the elevator and onto the floor with the hotel’s gym and spa, his phone dinged. Another message. Brig’s heart raced. He presumed it was another message from Happy. The phone alert forced him to think of Happy, which, if he was ever going to get over her, had to stop. Should he block her messages? But the message wasn’t from Happy. It was from Tommy, and he was upset.
“God damn it Brig, answer me! Where are you? I know what you’re planning. The doctor’s say I’ll need to stay in this hospital for at least another couple of weeks, so come back to Xining and let’s talk. At least let me know you’re alive.”
Did everyone know he was planning on killing himself? He had told no one about his plans to commit suicide, but both Tommy and James had put the pieces together and figured it out. Going forward, Brig resolved he would be more conservative with information he shared with others.
Brig entered the gym and was overwhelmed by the number and variety of exercise machines. There was only one other athlete in the room, and she was going hard on a rowing machine. Brig looked for something simple to start with as he didn’t want to embarrass himself. He spotted a row of treadmills. But these treadmills weren’t like anything he had ever seen before. Each machine had its own twenty-inch monitor, a pair of headphones, and an absurd number of buttons. It’s a Chinese TV remote on steroids, Brig thought anxiously. He stepped onto the motionless rubber band, perplexed on how to get started. He saw a “+” icon on one button, pushed it, and to Brig’s relief the machine sprang to life. Brig wasn’t planning on pushing himself today, so he pushed the “+” button repeatedly, increasing the machine’s speed to a slow walk.
After only ten minutes Brig was gassed. The woman on the rowing machine had finished her workout and left the gym. Brig relaxed, not needing to pretend anymore. He stopped the machine and grabbed his knees. Ten minutes at a walking pace? Pathetic, Brig laughed at himself.
“Is that all you got?” A familiar voice startled Brig out of his thoughts.
“I’m not done,” Brig announced, hitting the + button and began walking again. “Are you stalking me now?”
It was James. “Thought I’d get in a few kilometers in before work.” James stepped onto the treadmill next to Brig’s, quickly ramping up to an eight-minute per mile pace that appeared to be no trouble for him. Brig increased the speed on his machine to twelve minutes per mile, forcing him into a jog. Every foot plant sent a jolt of pain through his legs and into his hips.
“Fuck that,” Brig said out loud and returned the machine to walking pace. “Look. James. I wanted to thank you for your help yesterday.” Brig explained, breathing heavily. “But you have the wrong idea. I’m not trying to kill myself. Would somebody who is suicidal go through the pain of working out? I don’t think so. People on treadmills are thinking about the future. Like I told you yesterday, I’m trying to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing and touching Everest. That’s all.”
“Good! That’s great to hear. Then you won’t mind if I join you.” James smiled as the front of his treadmill automatically inclined 5%.
Brig’s mouth dropped, “How did you do that?”
“Make your machine go up like that.”
“It’s programmed. You can set if for several types of workouts. Do you want me to show you?”
“No. No. I was just curious.” Brig stepped off of his machine and walked over to the water cooler. He filled his small conical cup three times before seeing the small refrigerator filled with plastic bottles of water. He grabbed a bottle from the fridge and sat down on the cushiony seat of the bench press, breathing heavily.
James stopped his run and wandered over to where Brig was sitting. Another person entered the room, and James waved to the man in recognition.
“You’ll need permits and somebody to drive you. Why not me?” James asked.
Brig looked up from his seat, wiped his sweaty face with his hand, and sighed. “Fine. But I make the trek from Rongbuk to EBC on my own. Agreed?”
“Deal.” James and Brig shook hands. Brig was secretly pleased. He liked James and knew the odds of him reaching Everest Base Camp had just gone up considerably.