“WE ARE GATHERED here today, because we all share an addiction…”
And so began the monotone introduction to yet another bi-weekly meeting by “Dave”, although frankly who knew his real name. He wore glasses and screwed his eyes shut every time he spoke, as if his entire delivery was from a teleprompter on the inside of his eyelids. The right side of his face was lop sided so that even while he had his mouth closed you could see teeth, discoloured by years of neglect, strangers to the light of a dentists lamp. I guessed the root cause to be some sort of minor stroke. His chubby features were also host to several warts and a mole, but not the sort of mole that looks good on a Cindy Crawford face. No. This one had an individual hair sprouting forth from the corner of Dave’s top lip. Can hairs get lonely? Strictly a rhetorical question, as my inner monologue spewed black soot out, working desperately to quell any thoughts of the addiction I had from popping into consciousness as I sat impatiently.
By the time Dave had finished with his extensive introduction, most of us, the other eleven, were all thinking of the vending machine lighting up the breeze block hallway outside the room. It didn’t take notes so I always emptied the change from my vodka bottle piggy bank beforehand.
Snickers. Mars. Dairy Milk. Lion bars. And if you exited the one story building to the left of the entrance there was a vending machine for fizzy drinks…my stomach gurgled with excitement.
Every second or so you could hear squeaks emanating from the chairs that were being squashed instead of sat on. Apart from mine. For that reason alone I felt like an outsider. I always had, but to feel that way in a place like this was spectacularly pathetic. I wasn’t fat enough to be considered one of them.
Still standing, Dave segued into this weeks agenda. “Self control. You all exerted self control by coming here tonight. What does that show? That we all have it!” I detected a change of pitch in the voice, a dramatic new development in Dave’s vocal abilities. He actually sounded enthused. In response to all this, heads nodded while the lazy ones simply blinked. Not that Dave noticed.
“And if we all have it, that means we can use it, to better ourselves and each other.” The words were about as easy to swallow as a chunk of Toblerone – whole. What other scripted bullshit was going to escape from our mentors moley mouth? My feet tapped impatiently, as if they had to move to cope with it all. After finding an area of the carpet of particular interest, where a stain now resided, I lost myself thinking about what had been spilt. The grey fibres – cheap nylon. Where from? Imported from some Chinese factory? When had it occurred? At least a month ago – it was before my time. My mind wandered back to the source of the stain. A drink most likely. My hunger wanted to imagine some sort of strawberry milkshake but the truth was less exotic. Probably some instant coffee with milk – and a sugar or two. Or three. Or eight. Yes, at least eight spoons of dark Demerara…
Dave continued to drone but was now standing, jacked up off his own voice, his back reflected in the large window behind him. Then – movement! A wobbly arm waved lazily. ‘John’ held his fat arm aloft just long enough to get Dave with his eyes open, the cheap watch squeezing like the small bit of metal at the end of a haggis.
The arm fell back down slapping off a fat-jeaned thigh.
“I need to go to the toilet.” These words shot out from a goateed face, gloriously stretched out due to the fatness of the man so that the underside of the facial hair that ought to be under the chin somewhere, simply had nowhere to hide.
“Certainly…you don’t need to ask John.’
We all shifted in our seats. Suspicious glances were made between group members. All thinking the same thing. John didn’t need a one or two anymore than the world needs another Hitler. What he would be doing any minute from now as he walked side to side to the toilets is this: He’d push open the door to the gents. There would be nobody else in there. It would be spic-and-span as the jan had likely cleaned it earlier this evening, after all the brats had left the school building. He’d choose one of the four cubicles opposite the pissers – the one at the end. Once in there he would lock the door behind him as he squashed himself between the graffiti walls and the ceramic bowl. He’d be joined by beads of sweat. Now, a hand would be reaching into his jacket and in it would appear a 1kg slab of Cadbury magic. He’d stop. And listen, paranoid that someone might have heard the wrapper rustle. Then fingers would rip into the packaging with surprising finesse. Salivary glands would be erupting. Another pause. Just in case. Then, decimation. A chocolate flurry. And whether John liked it or not, he was now 1000 grammes heavier. Knowing his type, he wouldn’t even have the decency to stick fingers down throat. He’d simply melt in the sugary rush for a few minutes before squeezing back out, washing his hands, checking his mouth and tongue for chocolate residue and quickly scrubbing at it to get rid of the tell tale signs.
You tragic fat pig. I was afraid I’d voiced those exact words as he sat back down. The face was definitely flush and a mild sweat had broken ranks. The amateur might mistake the ruddy face for the physical exertion, Dave for example, who limply smiled as John settled himself back into his body.
One of the ‘exercises’ this evening was to split into teams (a six and a five) and to come up with as many negative words for overweight people as we could imagine. These were all scrawled onto a huge sheet of white paper with markers. Fatty. Chunka-lunka. Porky. Lard arse. Beached whale. Fat cunt. Land mass. They were all there.
Nervous excitement rippled throughout the room as everyone took turns shouting out answers at Dave, who used his portable exec flip pad to categorise how hurtful the words were; ‘Mildly Offensive’, ‘Hurtful’ and ‘Deeply Offensive’. Being the serious mentor that he was, Dave chose to put all of the words under the ‘Deeply Offensive’ category, because, “if we let people away with any hurtful comments then they will feel it is ok to move onto more offensive ones.” It was his Malcolm X moment, he just didn’t know it.
After some more inane rambling in which Dave skilfully assassinated another thirty minutes, he kindly informed us that next week we would be covering self-esteem and diet. A limp ill-orchestrated round of applause echoed out.
“…and remember, together we can beat this! Take care of yourselves and each other, remember, you made the commitment this week. Let’s do it again!” And with that he shuffled off to organise some notes or fuck about with his diary on a table.
I couldn’t help thinking, aren’t we all addicted to something? We’re all addicted to life, to air, to drink, to food, even sex if you’re lucky. When does too much breathing become oxygen addiction? Or exercise, how many miles is too many?
One of my hands instinctively shot into a pocket and felt at the reassuring chinks of change. Which vending machine did I want to feed? And then I had a thought. What if Dave was right? Why couldn’t I use my self control, walk past both vending machines and go to my crap car? It was easy on paper. Somehow I did just that. As I turned the ignition a feeling of pride swelled up inside me. Self control. One way or another I’d done it. Last time I waited until everyone left the building and spent every penny I had. Maybe Dave deserved some credit, but then again maybe not.
I stopped at McDonalds on the way home. I’m avoiding sugar.