The Three Runners

An African Folk Tale

In the days when whites ruled South Africa and apartheid was the law of the land, two middle-aged blacks met in a 'whites only' section of Johannesburg. One of them had a permit to work in the area, the other did not, which meant he could be put behind bars for trespassing into an exclusive zone.

Suddenly they saw a policeman coming towards them, and froze.

"Run!" whispered the man with the permit to his friend. "I'll follow."

They started running and the policeman shouting "Stop, stop," began chasing them.

Finally he caught the second man.

"Did you think you could outrun me!" he snarled. "Show me your permit!"

The man, playing for time, began fumbling in his pocket and finally produced his permit.

The policeman was taken aback. He realized that he had been tricked. The man without the permit was now too far away to be caught.

"When you had a permit why did you run!" he bawled.

"Doctor's advise," said the man. "He has asked me to run a mile every evening."

"Oh, yes?" sneered the policeman. "Then why was your friend running?"

"His doctor too has advised him to run," said the man.

The policeman became red with anger.

"You think you're very smart, don't you?" he snarled. "But tell me, if you were only running for your health why didn't you stop when you saw me running after you? And don't tell me you didn't see me chasing you... I know you did!"

"Of course I knew you were running after me," said the man.

"Then why didn't you stop?" asked the policeman, triumphantly.

"It was stupid of me," said the man, "but I thought you too had been asked to run by your doctor."