Episode LXVIII – Being an anti-hero is a difficult job.

The slightly-slanted cracked black asphalt, full of lumps and crabgrass was spattered with blood colored rusty flakes. The connecting pins, axle, leg, and protective plate of the left rear wheel had been manhandled into a misshaped ungainly mass. The circular diameter of the wheel, if you could call it that, was pitted, scarred, and dented. It looked more like a square drawn by a clumsy child. Triangle, rhombus, or dodecahedron, it wavered. It wobbled without any provocation. It weakly eased from side to side, shaking from a lifetime of misuse and hard weather.

And without a care, it collapsed. For that split second, it remembered it was a wheel, it was round, and it was not meant to stand still even on flat ground, let alone that weak slope of a parking lot. Squeakily, it started rolling with the desperate motion of long neglected machinery. Every escape, however, requires co-conspirators. Rather than stand fast, and signal the guilty party’s flight with a squeal of rubber, its chain gang companions in the front and next to it also began to rattle off along with it.

I couldn’t hear the rattling from the opposite corner I was on. I could barely see the shaking and groaning of the escaped wheels as they bore the rusted out hulk of the broken-down shopping cart downhill. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. Like a creature of habit, I ran the route I was on daily. My primary concerns on my jog usually were the deranged patrons who frequented the near-empty small supermarket. Frantically, they swooped in and out of the lot, disobeying all sorts of traffic laws, nearly taking my life on many occasions.

I kept running by the market because I was addicted to the adrenaline rush from not becoming road kill. It also was on a corner between two picturesque tree lined stretches of emptiness. Usually, I wouldn’t care about the metal mesh monsters. I had seen plenty of fugitive carts caroming down the grade for freedom, only to find their flight interrupted by a car door or trunk. The present desperate case I saw in the near distance was exactly the same, except that this time, instead of being absolutely empty or filled with nothing but plastic and food, this cart carried a small child still strapped in the safety restraints of the basket.

I could see all of it from my position rounding the corner on two legs. The mother was half swallowed by the car as she shoved plastic sacks of coco-crisps into its trunk. With her head jammed into the rear of the car, she could hear only the subtle, sublime rustle of bagged goods. Out on the empty tarmac of the parking lot, the cart was beginning to obtain enough speed to launch the child with a high velocity. Just thinking about the x and y motion of the child’s short parabolic flight was enough to make me wince.

I broke stride. I turned left into the lot. My eyes slid back and forth spasmodically, searching for any incoming cars. My legs hurtled over crumbed concrete parking rests. My knees ached at the sudden downhill acceleration as I pursued my weaving metal target. I had outran small dogs, squirrels, and the occasional human. I was confident that I could reach the cart before it jerked the kid off into oblivion, or overturned on his fragile head. My chest heaved, and my arms stretched out in the empty air before latching on to the dismayed escapee. Despite my sweaty, precarious grip, I dug in my feet, tearing rubber off my designer shoes, and brought the whole contraption to a rickety stop.

In front of me, the kid looked up, giggled and clapped his hands incoherently. Leave it to a toddler to not know he was in mortal peril. A wall of sound assaulted my ears. Wincing, I turned to see the mother lumbering downhill toward our position, avalanche style.

“You monster!” She said, as she greeted my face with a hefty slap that resembled a right hook, before scooping up her amused child, and rumbling back into her car, which she started frantically. In her haste, she zoomed out of the lot and narrowly avoided two other cars. I gently massaged my stinging cheek in shock, and quickly placed my feet back on their regular path, lest something else interfere with my normal life.