The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room
It was just another post-race celebration. This particular bash was held in the large conference room of a Ramada, following our recent return from Gansu Province and the Ultra Trail Gobi Race. I had arrived on time but with the disadvantage of being in characteristically disheveled and shabby order. I was effectively directed to a runner's table. In a room filled with some 277 race support staff and now fewer than 30 unfled racers, we runners were very much in the minority.
Czech adventure racing legend Pavel Paloncy had taken up dining lodgings to my left, with American ultra-running legend Marshall Ulrich close by and female competitors Vero and Anna to my right. Other racers were positioned elsewhere about this table and at neighbouring ones. To the far right of our row, adjacent to the opposite wall, was located some race paparazzi and the Exile Medics contingent. The latter had taken the initiative of dressing for dinner, presenting a breath of fresh air in delighting us with attire beyond the otherwise fine and functional medics' uniforms.
Two of their number stood out at once and captured my attentions in no small measure. The first was young Christopher. As a strapping Englishman with more than six foot and ample change to his stature, Chris was notable for his height and dashing good looks, but is worthy of no further distraction to my tale. The second individual to ensnare my gaze was an angel. Whilst this object of my affections was not tall, she was the perfect height, but her loftiness, or lack thereof, was not featuring on my consciousness at this time.
Indeed, I made the mistake - as one often does when catching sight of an overwhelmingly beautiful woman at an unfair distance - of drinking in the full view of her all at once, when a more advisable approach may have been to sample her bit by bit across multiple sittings. I was dumbstruck. I felt that I had been smashed in the face with a sack of spanners. My world was spinning. It had been a mistake to be stood up at this point. The table seemed to be making an attempt to rush past me and I made a wild grab for it before it could get away. I steadied myself further with what I took to be my passing chair, and used both to help me to a lower, sitting altitude, where oxygen was more abundant and my dizzy spell began to subside.
Was she real? Was she really so mesmerisingly beautiful? Before I could counsel myself with better judgement I had looked back to her for a second helping. She was wonderful and heavenly; a vision too much for mortal men to take in without feeling weak. Pavel had identified my enfeebled condition and had already begun pouring me a helpful glass of beer to reinvigorate my bamboozled senses. I inhaled the first and Pavel ensured the glass was not dry for long. Here was a man, I told myself, who knew when the time had arrived for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
I have adopted the personal philosophy that if one has something nice to say, one ought to say it. This is not a British trait, of course, and the very idea of confronting a woman to confess how stunning the adored creature is did not sit comfortably. Several bracing drinks later, however, and I was beginning to feel a little more equal to the necessary task.
I had been rehearsing my lines in my head. When one recognises the impulse to tell the worshipped woman all, it is absolutely essential that one does not sound like a desperate and hunted man, and nor can one permit oneself to come across like some sort of dribbling and unchained pervert. The essence of the line is that it must convey a casual charm and matter-of-fact tone and intonation, so that the angel might feel pleasantly surprised, buoyed, warmed and cherished. She must be helped into an unquestioning position of belief, in knowing that the information confided was said because it was true, and that her hours of hard work in the wardrobe and powder room had paid off.
There is an argument that the heavenly body could not give a toss what the opinion of a shabby oik such as your humble author might be. This is a possibility. However, that she might have put rather a good deal of effort into the evening's attire, and that at least one representative of the hairier half of the species had spoken up, could well indicate that this siren's man of choice, should she have one, had also noticed. Thus, it is a duty to bestow the honest truth where it is due, and where it ought to be met with grateful acknowledgement and a lifted spirit.
It was only a few more restoring beers, hand poured by the omnidoting Pavel, and I convinced myself that now was the time for action. The walk across the room might have varied in the eyes of the casual observer, from a sort of drunken swagger to haughty stroll to a nonchalant strut. None of these would have represented any deliberate poise or posture. I aimed for an easy stroll at a sensible pace, with a secondary ambition of not upsetting any of the myriad furniture, which lay strewn in my path as if to purposefully counter my intelligence.
I reached the medics' table without injury and swung around in front of the adored, so as to approach from a more empowering and less cluttered easterly direction. The worshipped had an accomplice close to her western shore, but amongst the noise and general hullabaloo I felt confident my sidling up to her starboard flank would not be questioned.
I steamed in and lashed moorings upon a chair to our rear. Time was of the essence. Despite my repetitious mental rehearsals, I felt a note of discomfort conceived in my stomach, which rose quickly to my heart, increasing its pace, as I spluttered out my compliment as earnestly as conditions permitted, before the heat consumed my neck and thereafter brought my face into full blush. I attempted to deal with this by scanning the horizon for further restoratives and was soon presented with spirits that answered my call.
For all my efforts the much adored merely thanked me and scarcely turned a head in acknowledgement. As this saved us both her witnessing the blush I ought to have been grateful. There may be men in this world who can invite a woman to dance, but I do not dance. There may be others who invite on dates, but how this is accomplished is beyond my skill set. Still, on one night in Beijing, I once told a beautiful woman that she was beautiful, and, perhaps, in some ways, that can be enough.