‘Look Fay,’ little Anna called to me. ‘That girl over there.’ As her grown sister, I felt it only right to remind her that it was rude to point at people.
‘But she’s so thin!,’ she explained, as if that in itself authorised you to forgo your manners.
My eyes searched for the thin person ahead of us in the queue inching towards the string of cash registers. The city’s Fnac was swarming with people that Saturday morning. Next time we would come any other morning in the week, from Monday to Friday, I kept reminding myself all throughout our journey inside the four-storey megastore. I find shops oppressive; shops full of people, claustrophobic; the advent of on-line shopping has been a godsend for me. Still, my ten-year-old sister wanted the going-shopping adventure, and the leisurely pace of the customers, encouraged by the store’s policy of laissez faire, made it just about possible to bear even for me. The fact that we found what we were looking for was a pleasant surprise, too. At least, the pain had not been suffered in vain.
I spotted the ‘she’ my sister was talking about six people ahead of us: A woman in her early twenties, just like me. She wore a black summer dress that tried unsuccessfully to cling to her body, and hair a la garçon, as black and as limp as her dress. She was indeed very thing, skeletally thin and the skin on her bare arms and legs made me think of a mortuary sheet removed from a casket that had been in a tomb for at least a century.
I bent down towards my sister. ‘She’s anorexic,’ I whispered.
‘Anorexic,’ Anna considered. ‘I thought she might be.’
I ignored this remark, as Anna often wants to make herself appear knowledgable about things of which she knows nothing. Instead, I signalled my sister to keep her voice down and explained:
‘She hardly eats because in her mind she’s never thin enough.’
‘But she is very thin!’
‘I know, I know,’ I waved her hand down. It was her style, inherited from our father: my sister was speaking too loudly.
‘But she doesn’t see it,’ I explained further.
‘I’ve heard of it on Youtube,’ she nodded. ‘It’s a mental illness.’
Youtube, I thought, mental illness. Kids these days.
We both looked towards the girl. I was shocked to see that she too was looking in our direction, with the exorbitant eyes of a starving woman wearing mascara. I looked away more frightened than embarrassed.
‘Don’t stare, Anna, it’s not polite.’
‘I’m not staring,’ Anna protested, ‘she’s staring.’
I looked again and the thin girl averted her eyes. A young man standing next to her turned his head towards my sister and me, and immediately put his arm around the woman’s boney shoulder, proprietorially, protectively. The boyfriend or husband. It occurred to me that the couple’s grave demeanour didn’t denote criticism or embarrassment, but acknowledgment that a serious problem existed, that they didn’t see Anna’s stare or mine as morbid interest but concern, which it was; a concern they shared. Perhaps, I speculated, the man had come recently into the thin woman’s life to help her. I considered myself fortunate for not having the same problem; how much better it was to be ten kilos above zero than ten kilos below. Unhappy as I was with my weight, I sincerely believed it was better than that other extreme eating disorder.
I didn’t look at them again, it wouldn’t have been fair on them. Anna lost interest too once she stumbled upon the enormous choice of squishies by the tills. Our turn to pay eventually came, we forked out our bank notes and went away, back home, to enjoy our new movie, CD and squishy.
Some days later I was given a red dress by one of my mom’s younger friends. Red is my favourite colour, especially the deep red this dress had: the colour of poppies in the shade, only redder for being more extensive and uninterrupted by patterns of stigmas, stamens, sepals or pedicels. In short, only the petals, hundreds of them, sewn together with thousands of invisible stitches, like the ones our mother sews in the clothes she makes for fun.
I tried it on. I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. But I had to. I had to see how the dress looked on me in order to decide whether to keep it to myself or pass it on to somebody else. It couldn’t look good, but it had to look reasonable. I braved it and looked at the mirror head on, with both my eyes, tears already welling behind them. Ok; it wasn’t too bad, given my seize. It was reasonable. I turned around slowly, carefully. I puffed: that big belly of mine; that was the main problem. My ass was big too, and my breasts, but for some reason I don’t mind those as much. I puffed again, this time sucking my belly in: it was still big, but almost normal. Still, the dress was flattering for a big woman. I sighed with a feeling that would have liked to be contentment and wiped a couple of tears off my face. I took the dress off, careful not to glance at the mirror again while doing it, in case I caught myself in a less flattering position.
My thoughts and emotions about my body are fluctuating and conflicting. I love it because it is mine, because it is a big part of me — no pun intended — and I can’t help loving it; much like I love my sister and I imagine one day I will love my children. But I also love it for the fact that it works, bar my weak digestive system, like the most magnificent machine, and it keeps me alive and mostly well every day. Moreover, I consider I have a pretty face, not film-star pretty, but pretty enough, with beautiful skin and hair. I make sure that every now and then I thank the gods and goddesses for all of that. And if all of that weren’t enough, my corpulence is fairly harmonious, bar my big belly, my fleshiness firm; only a little bit of the abhorred cellulite in me. In fact, some of my friends my age, who are much thinner than me, have more cellulite. That makes me happy, I’m ashamed to admit.
Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for and I feel stupid, vain, superficial, selfish, narcissistic and all the synonyms for still agonising over something as unimportant as my weight. It’s like complaining about not being able to afford to eat out, when millions of people in the world can’t afford to eat every day. All I have to do is to be in solidarity with those millions and stop eating. But that is a confused thing to say, because, given the chance, all those wretched people would rather be fat, I’m sure. The best thing would be for me to share my surplus of food with them. Then I wouldn’t be fat and they wouldn’t be starving. How I could go about doing that, I don’t know, though. Anyway, it’s just an idea; nothing I consider seriously. The food companies and food outlets throw tons of food away every day; they could solve the problem in a heartbeat if the set their minds to it. But, do they have a heart? And are their minds set in anything else other than making a profit? Nevertheless, I sometimes feel I contribute to the problem for being, in my own way, as greedy as a multinational. Only when it comes to food, mind. Not like my friends, who change their wardrobe every season and can never have enough lipstick, shoes and necklaces.
I often wonder what it is that makes me overeat. I like food, yes; nothing wrong with that, it’s only natural. Some good for you, some bad. But I know that I don’t eat only for my enjoyment. I use food as a drug. More specifically carbohydrates, the things that turn into sugar once they get absorbed into your body. Actually, those in themselves are not the bigger problem either; the unhealthy carbohydrates are the ones that come with real sugar dumped into their recipe. Cupfuls and more cupfuls of the white stuff added to the mix. I consume those carbs the same way a heroin addict consumes heroin and a cocaine addict consumes cocaine. The same way some people drink alcohol, which by the way also turns into sugar, I eat things that turn into sugar laced with sugar. If it sounds crazy is because it is. And yet, there’s nothing I can do about it. My name is Fay and I’m a sugarholic.
It took me a very, very long time to admit to my problem. I used to be a sugar addict denier, but now I know that those man-made edible crystals, white, golden or brown, solid or liquified, whatever their source, are my ruin. As I said before, I’m not talking about bread and rice, which I just find difficult to digest but are supposed to be healthy —although that is also currently under debate— I’m talking about the heavy duty ones that not only turn to sugar themselves but have sugar added to them during their confection: cakes, biscuits, cookies, ice creams, ice lollies, gummy liquorice, gummy bears, gummy berries, gummy eggs, gummy everything, and, last but in any way least, CHOCOLATE. Whoever came up with the idea of adding sugar to cocoa was of the same demon species that thought of making heroin out of opium and crack out of cocaine.
I’m tempted to say I don’t need my fix every day, but it would be a blatant lie. I do eat my drug everyday. I might hold the craving by the leash in the mornings, when it’s not so strong, but by the afternoons it begins to trot, and in the evenings it is running and jumping, dragging me after it.
It has often entered my mind the question, if I love my body so much why do I abuse it? But my mind is part of my body, and my mind has a mind of its own.
* * *
On Friday evenings I go out with my friends to the beach and then to the club; some Fridays, the other way around, when we decide to end the party on the beach. I like the night. In the night there is little light. Because we can’t see each other in our real form we relax and achieve an intimacy that is unthinkable during the unforgiving daylight. In the night we show ourselves in a good light. I can make others believe it, too. I’m not the kind of girl who would make love with anybody, but occasionally I can also make myself believe that I’m in love. Then my heavy roundness is infused with a potent sensuality that engulfs both the incognisant male victim and me. Yes, in the night I can believe that I am an alluring odalisque. Sometimes I feel sorry for my victims, usually drugged, because they don’t know what they are getting themselves into until it’s too late, and yet early, too early in the morning to be strong enough to come to terms with reality.
I just realised that I should have added Turkish delight to the list of my favourite sweets; one of my most favourite, but not easy to find. Crystallised fruit, that’s another one; I know a very good shop that sells it in town, if you’re interested; expensive though, good crystallised fruit is; there’s no point in having cheap crystallised fruit, it’s as bad as cheap chocolate.
But I digress. After the swirl in the sand, which I have to confess doesn’t end up in Turkish delight often enough, I wipe the sand off me and disappear before dawn, before the male victim sees the light. After those nights I don’t need chocolate or jam for breakfast. Perhaps if I had a good husband one day, I would grow thin and healthy.
Saturday evenings are a different kettle of sweet. That’s when mum and dad go out and I come to my childhood home to look after Anna. We sit together and watch movies, mainly horror movies – her favourite. Before we sit down we supply ourselves with anti-terror weapons: marshmallows, pieces of chocolate cake and drinking chocolate for hydration; nuts, also, for strength of mind (my mum says raw nuts prevent you from going nuts.) It is important to understand that cake and cookies (that is, the combination of flour, sugar, fat and salt), as well as a substitute for love, constitute an antidote against the stress and distress of life, and bad movies. I’m not the only cake addict I know.
There are other reasons to make cake, cookies and their variants your drug of choice:
- They are legal.
- Easier to get than love. Indeed, they are readily available everywhere. What’s more, sugar is added to lots of foods you might not even think they had it, and don’t even need it.
- They are cheap. Cheaper, in fact, than any other food; cheaper than fruit, vegetables, eggs, nuts, cheese, fish or meat. What is that about?
Yes, sugar is dirt cheap. It’s hard to believe that a whole packet of chocolate buns can be cheaper than two apples, but it’s true. And even when you believe it because you see it day after day in the blessed supermarket, it’s hard to understand how or why we’ve come to this. Especially when the sweet invention used to be so expensive that only rich people could afford it, and indeed its producers and traders made fortunes selling it, not less fabulous had they been able to turn its crystals into diamonds.
A long time ago sugar was considered a ‘fine spice’ and a luxury commodity in the same way some spices used to be a luxury commodity: Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, black pepper… Imagine: just like those spices, the ‘sweet salt’ used to be considered a medicine —Sugar, a medicine! Imagine: all the black people that were enslaved to live until death manufacturing that delicious, demonic creation; all the soldiers that fought wars and died on the other side of the planet protecting and expanding its commerce in the name of the King, the Queen, the Company… What if they had been told that a couple of hundred years later sugar and spice, and all things nice —except for opium and its derivates— could be purchased by everybody and anybody for tuppence in hundreds of uninspired warehouse-type shops called ‘super-markets’? Would they have believed it? Would it have made any difference to them? Probably not. Mad world we live in, always has been. And I’m afraid it’s probably not going to get any less mad.
* * *
My youngest cousin, my mother’s youngest sister’s son, came over to my place one day. He’s two-years-old, thin as a pencil, smart as a whip, scrumptious as an upside-down carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Joe is his name. I keep him company occasionally when my aunt, who works from home, needs to do this or that, or go to this place or that place on her own, and her husband, who also works from home, coincidentally needs to do this or that or go to this or that place in the same day and time of day. Sometimes I also babysit Joe when they want to go out together in the evening. I’m still without a full-time job after college and my aunt pays me, so it’s all good. All the better for the fact that my little cousin loves me and I adore him.
He’s a very active little guy and can’t stand still for long, as it is often the case with kids his age, so we run and jump around until he uses up enough of his energy to sit down for a while and I’m exhausted. We then do sedentary things like paper cutting or folding (one of the funniest things on Earth: watching a two-year-old doing origami). We’re also allowed to watch some telly. So, yesterday, after successfully making a paper cup and drinking water from it until it turned to mush, we sat down and turned the tv on to watch reruns of his favourite program: Balamory. He prefers it to new programs and, I have to confess, I enjoy watching it in his sweet company. ‘What’s the story Balamory,’ he recites in his ragged tongue when he sees the coloured houses coming up on the screen.
That day, after one episode, the tv channel went to commercials. The last one after the next program advertised the coming Fashion Show in Paris with models hurriedly sashaying along a catwalk. Do I need to inform the reader of the fact that they were all skinny? I looked over at two-year-old Joe; his light green eyes seemed hypnotised by the screen, and while I marvelled for the millionth time at his godlike beauty, I wondered semi-consciously what the boy thought of those girls. No sooner the commercial ended and the next Balamory episode was starting, I found out.
‘Cushion Fay when ar de peetee guls aggen, you sink?,’ he said, the green in his eyes, still fixed on the television screen, rippling like soft waves in a pool, his freckled cheeks shining, gently flushed. It least I think that’s what he said; I was so shocked by the revelation that I’m not sure my recollection is accurate. His speech is very developed for his age and it is a feature of his to say things, in his own way, like ‘When are we going to eat, you think?’ So it is possible that he ended his question in that manner. I’m also sure it had the intonation of a question. But more than anything, there is no doubt in my mind that he used the expression ‘pretty girls.’ I wanted to ask him where he had got that from, the expression I mean, but I have already said, I was in shock. Was it just an expression he had heard somewhere in relation to women on the television? I had never heard him using it before. Did he really think they were pretty?
I didn’t want to admit it, but yes, of course, two-year-old Joe thought those girls were beautiful. To me they looked like crack addicts in expensive nighties and tons of make-up. But that was me, obviously, since a two-year-old had very quickly come to the conclusion that they were indeed pretty. How on Earth had he acquired that misshapen concept of female beauty? ‘That’s the wrong canon Joe!’ I wanted to tell him, ‘That’s the canon imposed by society! And it’s completely unrealistic! And it hurts women all over the world!’… But you couldn’t say that to a two-year-old. Well, you could, but he would look at you as if you were mad. And, indeed you would be mad, because, How is society going to impose a canon of any kind on a two-year-old?
So who else could have taught him to feast his eyes on fashion models? It hadn’t been me, that’s for sure. Let’s see: Both his parents, mother and father, male and female, were staunch feminists, and the rest of the family weren’t far off the mark. He didn’t go to a kindergarten, he didn’t have a nanny but me. He wasn’t allowed to see any programs or movies that weren’t adequate to his tender age. Of course, his parents weren’t fundamentalists in any fashion, so Joe did have contact with other families and played with other kids. It must have been another family, I said to myself. But I felt sick with the certainty that Joe had his own opinion about what a pretty girl looked like and it had nothing to do society’s beauty canons but his own internal canon that came, where from? His DNA? The collective subconscious? God knows where; yes, He must know.
We watched another episode of Balamory. I glanced from time to time at his sweet profile and caressed his lovely ginger hair. He didn’t mention the ‘peetee guls’ again. I didn’t tell his parents. I mulled over it for days. I still do. It occurred to me, for example, that what had made the girls pretty in his eyes were the dresses, the hair, the make-up… That had the girls been rounder he still would have considered them pretty. So much for you ‘don’t need make-up and high heels to look pretty,’ I thought of that. Oh, là là, one way or another, quelle catastrophe!
* * *
A week later, the following Friday, I met someone. I young man my age, a boy, one could call him, the same way people call me a girl. I was wearing my new second-hand red dress. I was in the club by the beach. I had been dancing and drinking with my friends. I went to the restrooms and then decided I needed some fresh air. I stood right outside the club’s entrance looking at the sea, black as tar in the dark, not daring to wander any further on my own.
He was coming from the right, leaving the promenade to go into the club. He was alone. As he walked in my direction he studied me with a soft smile.
‘Wow,’ he whispered, ‘that’s some dress.’
‘Thank you,’ I said smiling back. He was dark like the night sea. I remember thinking he had come from it, all the more so because he seemed to carry with him some of the mist that was coming off the sea after the long hot summer day. Befittingly, a disco version of ‘Smoke gets in you eyes’ was coming from the club. It sounded far away behind the glass doors that kept the cool conditioned air inside the club. One of my favourite songs, I thought, although I would’ve chosen the The Platters’ version for the occasion. Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes, he had. A kind face, too. To me, breathtakingly handsome, although my friends wouldn’t agree with me. He stood in front of me and took to studying my face. His interest in me wasn’t offensive, like sometimes other boys’, who looked at you as if they were inspecting a thing they were thinking of buying.
‘I don’t know,’ he doubted. ‘Too much red I think.’
‘What a nice way of calling me fat,’ I retorted, brightening my smile.
He opened his eyes and lost his smile. Shaking his head he proclaimed:
‘Oh, no, no, no, I didn’t mean that! And you’re not fat! You’re not fat at all!’
I laughed out loud at his consternation; it seemed so genuine. He was exactly my height, which meant we could look straight into each others eyes, and embrace and kiss without straining. His frame was light, but not too light to feel like a child in my arms. He was so perfect, so gorgeous, I felt dizzy and I could have collapsed in a red heap hadn’t it been for the 1.5 gallons of blood rushing through my body like a freight train. I was galvanized by an extraordinary force I hadn’t felt before. I didn’t know whether this force originated in my own cells or was coming from him, or from the universe. It didn’t matter to me.
However, the miracle of miracles that took place that night, wasn’t that I had found him, it wasn’t that I had fallen in love, just like that, like in the songs: it was that I could see he was feeling the same. For me. How ever was that possible! But there it was, the way he looked and smiled at me, how he followed me and talked to me all night, as if he couldn’t bear to not be with me, knowing me. Yes of course it occurred to me, him loving me was too good to be true, but I was determined to let the smoke get in my eyes. Tarik was his name. It still is since he’s not dead, God forbid.
The next weeks I couldn’t see anymore that I lived in an ugly world where States’ wars and poverty kill innocent men, women and children every day, where industry implacably destroys plants, animals and humble people’s habitats, making you feel so impotent and sad that you wonder whether there’s any point in being on this planet. I couldn’t see it because the thick smoke surrounded me night and day, the smoke of the clouds in Paradise that Tarik and I inhabited. The state of the world wasn’t relevant anymore because it wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t feel other people’s pain. And I was anaesthetised against my own. Love is the drug, the song goes. It certainly acted as a painkiller. It was all supremely selfish but I didn’t feel at all ashamed. I, like so many people, had some time or other believed that love could be the answer to the world’s troubles. But how can that be when love is narcissistic? It makes you feel good, but to what extent does it infect or affect other people? Jesus and Gandhi were probably talking about a different kind of love than the one I felt for Tarik.
The Song of Songs says: ‘Your love is sweeter than wine, the smell of your perfume is more fragrant than spices.’ Yes, I got all the songs then. Love, I said, was the drug for me. Not sugar anymore. Tarik’s kisses were sweeter than wine, than chocolate fudge, than gummy bears, and had a sweeter effect on me than anything I had tried before.
* * *
After a week of being with Tarik I began to concern myself again with my appearance. For a whole week, it hadn’t occurred to me once that I was too fat or not attractive enough for Tarik. I find it difficult to believe now but it’s true: I was able to see myself through Tarik’s eyes. My parents had always told me I am beautiful, but I believed only Tarik. One day though, I saw him talking to a young woman outside the restaurant where he worked, somebody I didn’t know, a peetee gul, and that changed things. I felt a deep stab in the chest that made me gasp for air. I secretly made the decision there and then to lose weight. Even though Tarik wasn’t complaining, I felt compelled to make myself look better for him. I wasn’t going to let the fat surrounding my body get in the way of our love.
I stopped having sugar altogether. As I said, it wasn’t the drug for me anymore, so I was already skipping some of my carbohydrate snacks without even having to think about it. But after ‘the decision’ I cancelled any kind of sugar or carb intake completely. I even started inspecting labels to look for the undemocratically added sugar in preserves; not just fruit preserves, but vegetable preserves, tinned meat, tinned fish, sauces… Anything and everything. Take a magnifying glass to your local supermarket and weep. Sugar is used as a flavour enhancer and a preservative, enhancing and preserving the obesity and the hyperglycaemia of the population. Another crime perpetrated by the food industry against the people under the protection of the law. Some of the prepared foods take the cake, like corn: GMO and preserved with sugar. Perfectly evil.
I don’t have Tarik’s love anymore. I was blind but now I see. Again. It was all a mirage. When he left and I started seeing reality again whether I wanted or not, I thought I would go back to sweet food with a vengeance. That’s why psychologists say you eat candy in the first place: to fill the hollowness inside you, as a substitute for love, for sex. But nothing is sweet enough anymore. Everything tastes like cardboard. Coffee tastes like liquid cardboard.
We argued about food, Tarik and I, if you can believe it. That’s what did it. He didn’t want me to go on a diet. ‘This is you and I like you the way you are,’ he would shout angrily. ‘You are not fat, you’re perfect to me.’ My girl friends disagreed with him. They explained to me that he said these things because he was a Muslim and he wanted to control me, he wanted to keep me all to himself, not being appreciated by anybody else. Of course, they added, when he has you looking like an eyesore he’ll leave you for somebody else that doesn’t look like an eyesore. My dear friends: always looking after my own interests.
The truth is my friends had never liked Tarik. At first I thought they had concerns regarding his religion and its moral code, and the effects those could have on me and my life. I also suspected them of racism. I never voiced any of my concerns. The truth is I didn’t care what they thought and didn’t want to care, didn’t want their negative outlook to taint my love. Also, some of their criticisms clearly didn’t match my circumstances with Tarik: he never raised any objections regarding my clothes or my make-up. Not that there could be anything to declare, since my clothes are attractive but modest, a constraint imposed by my size —I could never be one of those overweight girls that go about in cut-out shorts and a tank top.
It is true that I hardly saw my friends after meeting Tarik; one of the reasons they didn’t like him and one of the causes of their concern. But that wasn’t Tarik’s doing. He never stopped me from going out with my friends, male or female. There was no need for it: It was me, I didn’t want to be with anybody else but him. Of course, that is what happens when you are in love as I was, when you can’t get the person out of your mind all day; wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whoever you are talking with, in your mind is always that person; there isn’t room in your mind for anybody else, and hardly anything else, unless it’s got to do with him and the things you’re going to talk about and do with him.
At night, when I wasn’t with him, I dreamt of him. It was like an illness. I felt ill in fact, in the most delightful way. Yes, yes, as if under the influence of a powerful recreational drug. I wonder if heroin makes you feel that way. And when you withdraw it from your diet, perhaps you feel like I felt when Tarik was late for our date; I couldn’t understand it or accept it and I immediately would think that something terrible had happened to him, that he had been run over by a car or a metro, or had been stabbed in an alley for his wallet. I would cry and roll on the floor in terror, until he finally knocked on the door and I jumped to my feet, smoothed my dress and my hair, wiped my tears and smiled; forgetting just as immediately that a second earlier I wanted to die.
My state of mind was crazy and I did suspect at times that the whole thing was unreal, but my faith kept me riding the moon while seemingly awake. We both did. We talked about how the feeling would eventually subside —please, let it subside— then we could get married and have kids. This would send us into a paroxysm of laughter. Yet, deep down, we meant it. Tarik particularly would grow very serious at times, look at me melancholically and say ‘how I wish we had been together for a long time and I didn’t want you so much, and I knew you very well.’ I disliked the ‘didn’t want you so much’ bit, but I knew what he meant. And yet, after all that, we are not together anymore, and probably never will be. I wish I could disintegrate into the atmosphere and be me no more. Hideous me.
As I said, I went on a diet, a very strict diet. No carbs, no fats. I just wanted Tarik to able to lift me, perhaps even carry me in his arms. Just for two or three yards, like he did with his fourteen-year-old sister one day in the pool. How effortlessly he picked her up in her modest swim suit, transported her to the edge of the pool as if she were a sack of wafers and dumped her in it. No extra work of his lungs or muscles. How he laughed at that, and how she screamed with pleasure. I daydreamed he carried me and dumped me on the bed.
I hardly lost any weight with my diet. I didn’t know why. My mum warned me I would end up anaemic if I didn’t eat enough, how important healthy food was, how, if I wasn’t eating carbs I must it fats, healthy fats, like nuts (mum and her nuts). ‘Never mind the calories,’ she said, ‘You should go to the doctor and have a blood test done; see if you have some metabolic disorder, hormonal imbalance…’
Mothers: always blaming the gods, the world, or themselves for their children’s problems. The problem was me, my mind; not my body, but me-me. My mind couldn’t change so that I could stop this craving for food. How could I end up anaemic if I didn’t stop eating? And you can’t stop eating carbohydrates unless you stop eating all together because, just like with sugar in supermarkets, in more or less quantities, carbs are present in all the foods!
There were brief moments when I have believed I could have it all back, that not all was lost, that the companionship, the complicity, the embrace, the fullness and the ecstasy, which had slipped sneakily out of my life would be coming back into it, that it was all just around the corner, walking towards me, almost within my grasp. Brief moments. Seconds. Then my mind and my body would rush back to the world, to the dreadful mediocrity of a ordinary life, the life without passion, without creation.
* * *
‘Shoo-shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo-shoo,’ sings the song in the bar’s radio, ‘shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo Sugar Town.’ Yes, where is my sugar, where is my de luxe chocolate cake? Why did he have to go? I think while a sip my bitter black coffee. I don’t care for any other drug but love. For me, no white sand disappearing into the black pond; even though it doesn’t alter its blackness, as if it weren’t there at all! Maybe like sugar, I diluted in Tarik only to provide sweetness. And when the sweetness went, Tarik went bitter. What am I saying? I’m going bananas. No, bananas are too sweet. Fruit in general is too sweet. Forbidden or legal: Off limits, fruit. Except for blueberries and strawberries, which they can go and fuck themselves because they have been poisoned with pesticides (in an updated version of Snow White, the evil step-mother could use those instead of an apple), and organic is so expensive… Pineapples, which I used to love, are GMO… It’s better to do away with fruit altogether. I stir my coffee needlessly; there is nothing to stir in. I stirred up the love when it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
‘Fay?’ I heard behind me. I swivelled round at the sound of that sweet voice. There he was: my love, my de luxe chocolate cake.
‘Tarik! There you are!’ the barman shouted, giving voice to my thoughts. ‘I thought you’d forgotten it’s Tuesday.’
Tarik took his black eyes off me for a moment to look at the barman.
‘Hi Andy,’ he greeted. ‘No, I didn’t forget.’
‘Go to the kitchen. Is there just you to pick up the food today? Because there’s quite a lot from the weekend. It’s frozen, of course. Almost as frozen as business lately.’
‘Right,’ Tarik said sighing with impatience. He wanted to get back to me. I couldn’t get my eyes of him. I was as frozen as business lately. I managed to part my lips to say ‘hello.’ But chatty Andy got in there first, again.
‘Where are you taking it?’
‘Down to the church and the mosque, half and half, as always Andy,’ Tarik proclaimed, in his proclaiming manner. Then eagerly turned to me. Andy moved down the counter and disappeared into the kitchen.
‘Hi,’ I finally said and tried to smile. I almost added ‘What’s the story in Balamory?’ but I held my madness firmly by the reins. How are you?’
‘Ok,’ he said. He looked me up and down, down and up. He didn’t like what he saw.
‘How are you?’ he asked reluctantly.
‘Good,’ I lied. ‘Good.’ I nodded my head for emphasis and that made me feel dizzy. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to hug him, go on my knees, hold his legs and ask for forgiveness, for him to come back. If only I knew it would work. But I knew it wouldn’t, so I remained perched on the edge of my stool, like an oversized pigeon.
‘You don’t look good,’ he said.
That hit a raw nerve.
‘What is it to you!’ I shouted. ‘It’s not like you care. You left me…’
He opened his eyes and mouth widely, like that first time we met.
‘I didn’t leave you!’ he shouted back. ‘You left me! Remember?’
‘Yes, right, yes, right! You accused me of not caring for you! Of not accepting you they way you are!’
‘The way I want to be! The way I want to be!’ I screamed at him. It was an important distinction. But he ignored this.
‘And now you accuse me of leaving you and not caring for you? When you are the one that left me, the one that only cared about her looks! I accepted you the way you were! You are the one who doesn’t accept yourself the way you are!’
His chest heaved with indignation, his handsome face inches away from mine. I froze again. Even though he had never been violent with me or anybody else, the intensity of his anger used to frighten me. I thought there would come a day when he hit me, but that day never came. Perhaps today?
‘Look at you!’ he seethed. ‘You were beautiful…!’
‘No I wasn’t!’ I screamed. ‘And don’t pretend that you didn’t care about my looks! You all do!’
He grabbed me by the shoulders and swung me around to face the counter. I writhed with rage, trying to free myself from his grip, but Tarik was much stronger than he appeared to be. Appearances are deceptive, I reminded myself in the middle of the conflagration.
‘Look at yourself!’ he demanded.
The mirror at the back of the counter run along the wall, as it often does in bars, mirroring the bottles, glasses, vases, plastic flowers and toys sitting on the shelves screwed onto the glass mirror. From one fragment of the mirror, behind a bunch of plastic red roses, a girl looked at me. I knew that girl. I was sure. I had met her before. And not that long ago. That’s right at the Fnac. Suddenly it felt like a lifetime ago. I was with my sister and she pointed at her rudely because she was… What was the word? Anorexic. And there she was, in the bar, looking at me and Tarik. Other people reflected on the mirror were looking at us too; all this shouting had called their attention. I wanted to turn around to see what table the girl was sitting at and tell her to stop looking at me, that it was rude. But Tarik wasn’t easing his grip. I used to be stronger.
Then the scene turned surreal. Well… It was already surreal, but turned surrealer. People in the bar kept staring as if we were aliens from out of space, my head was swimming and I saw Tarik pinning the anorexic girl down. It wasn’t me. I had been hallucinating lately —my mum said it was the lack of nuts. But right now Tarik’s touch was doing the trick; the touch I had missed so much. After another couple of seconds the veil in my mind was drawn, the mirage in the reflection came into focus and was correctly interpreted. My blood ran cold as the emaciated girl in the mirror opened her eyes and mouth wide in horror. Mum and Tarik had been right all along: Fay, you don’t like yourself; Fay, you don’t know yourself.
Myself is the girl in the mirror.
Vivi, May 29th 2022