The first time I saw the Breathtaking Man, he did not leap into my awareness all at once, the way some people to do. Instead, he came to me in parts, surreptitiously, until his existence became undeniable.
At first, I didn’t pay him any mind at all. He was simply another gym-goer, wholly unremarkable in appearance. He was neither slight nor muscular, but I judged him to be in shape. Admittedly he was taller than average, and the headphones he wore while working out seemed large and cumbersome. He wore tank tops, and at times I spied a heavy golden chain hanging low around his neck. He was just like everyone else, and immediately after laying eyes on him I stopped noticing him altogether.
One idle day a few months ago, when I was halfway through a set of lateral pull-downs, something began to feel amiss. It began with a repetitive scraping noise that I didn’t hear so much as feel. It set my bones vibrating. I thought perhaps one of the machines must be needing oil. I tried to locate the source of the ruckus, but it was like trying to find the source of an echo. I just couldn’t get a lock on it. Maybe it was some kind of deep bass that was reverberating underneath the reggaeton music that was blasting over the sound system, but that didn’t feel quite right either. As I began to isolate the noise I noticed that it had the quality of a high-pitched gasp, and it was then that my quest turned inward. Did I have a hole in my eardrum? Or, worse, was I the one producing the sound? Was air escaping from my person at high velocity?
Suddenly I had it. The Breathtaking Man was the cause. It was a loud, laboured wheeze and it was unmistakably coming from him. While the source was so obvious, it didn’t make any sense at all. He sounded like a man dying, like a messenger returned from battle, collapsing from exhaustion but with just enough breath to deliver fateful news: Persia has fallen.
I thought for a moment that he was in distress. Was he suffering an attack of some sort? But as I watched him rasp, he carried on doing his dead-lifts like a man with all the patience in the world. He simply continued to wheeze and wheeze, like an unattended teapot.
I suppose he had some sort of condition. Possibly he only had one lung. He certainly knew his way around the equipment, but I don’t believe I’d ever seen him on a treadmill. The problem, Dear Reader, is that I hated that noise. I’m phonophobic, you see. Sharp noises and loud sounds irritate me. I realise that this is my own shortcoming, but the sad result was that I could not help but despise the Breathtaking Man. After I became aware of his odd affliction, he became my foe. I could not continue exercising when he was in the room. His breathing cut through everything. It was louder that the clanking of the machinery, and the grunting and cajolery of the other gym members. I could hear him over the pounding of the sound system. Nothing could drown him out.
No one else seemed to notice. I began to feel like I was going mad. I would often stop what I was doing when he arrived, and I would go and busy myself on another floor of the gym. The moment I saw him ascend the stairs, my jaw would reflexively clench in frustration. It was terribly unfair to him, I know. But his very existence vexed me.
Recently, the Breathtaking Man entered the gym accompanied by a rather attractive young lady. She is certainly not his girlfriend, I thought. How could a man as obnoxiously asthmatic as him possibly sustain the attention of a female for long enough to recruit her as a gym buddy? It was exceptionally unkind of me to think such a thing, but so deep had my enmity become.
I surmised that she was his sister. They were strikingly similar in appearance. They had similar complexions, and both of them possessed soft round noses, and oval-shaped faces. I also noticed the way he acted around here. He was friendly, but not forward. He was attentive, but not flirtatious. He kept his distance. When assisting her with barbell squats, he kept his hands folded into loose fists in order to avoid touching her inappropriately. The more I saw him interact with the woman, the more I grew to like him. I began to scold myself for criticising him.
The decisive moment came when I saw him trying to make a joke. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but for a brief moment I saw him wave his hands about in an elaborate way, elbows tucked firmly as his sides, and he ended the gesture with a beaming smile. The woman didn’t laugh, and that made the moment all the more endearing. A figure whom I had possessed animosity towards had started to become human in my eyes, and the negative feelings I had towards him began to dissolve. I still find the wheezing quite annoying, but the man making the noise is alright by me. Sure, he might have only one lung, but he seems to have a pretty big heart.