He was fat. Immensely so. The sort of fat that the politically correct zealots begrudgingly label as such.
He had thick-rimmed glasses, a cube square backpack and knock-kneed legs that were surprisingly skinny. He cut a comical figure wherever he walked, and today in 32 degree heat he was doing just that. He was walking to school.
He had started walking to school 5 months ago. This was after his parents walked out of their private hushed meeting with the doctor. The knees were suffering more and more, and the sleepless nights gasping for air were beginning to take an emotional effect. He knew it was coming; leafy salads and Dickensian portion sizes had been the norm for years – ever since his first year of school when he had started growing and his parents eyes started dimming. But despite his best efforts, they hadn’t worked.
When they came out of the doctor’s office he was sitting looking at the tropical fish swimming about aimlessly. His mother looked resigned. We just need a circuit breaker, she said. You have got to do this yourself. You have to do a little more, she kept saying. Its not your fault, but you have to do a little more.
It hadn’t been too bad in the end, now he thought about it. He felt improvement each week. He felt some sort of noble agency about his new regime. The hard bits had mostly gotten easier as time wore on. The worst bits were something that happened regardless of if he as walking or not: the whispering from ahead, the laughter from behind. The turning heads. Those looks of disgust, of incredulousness, of pity mixed with equally with blame – as if people couldn’t work out to be angry at him or sad for him – they were the things that actually hurt. But he had always had that to deal with. This was nothing new.
He never had an aversion to activity; it was just that it wasn’t a pleasant option for him publicly. P.E lessons at school would bring inevitable whispers and backroom negotiations on which team would have to be handicapped by his presence for the day. Their glares never fully concealed the anger of the result of the P.E draft system.
He still fronted though – that was the terrible thing; its not like he wasn’t trying. There was very little that he had done differently from anyone else his age up to that point, yet here he was. Some kids would eat twice as much as he ever had. Its not my side of the family, she would say when they had their nightly dinner argument over the (un)likelihood of seconds. It’s your other genes, those Irish genes. He always felt an irrational guilt when she said that.
He stopped at the lights. Lines of sweat trickled down red cheeks. He leant heavily onto the railing and patted the sweat from his face. He looked over the intersection to the opposite corner. Then he saw Her.
When you walk the same stretch at the same time everyday, you get to know by sight the other similarly timed walking community pretty well. There was Swinging Arm Lady, who would swing one arm wildly in what looked to be for some sort of therapeutic purpose, and whose arc had hit him plum on more than one occasion. There was Inappropriately-Attired-Middle-Aged Man (this week’s theme was mustachioed hipster, and he assumed that he had to be a teacher, one of those teachers who tried to empathize too heavily with their cohort, really trying to be “one of you guys”, usually to little effect and secret derision). Then there was the Sitting Man (wistfully staring), Brisk-Paced Business-Woman, Bowl-cut Boy, Grumpy Ugly Rat-Dog (usually out walking with Disinterested Spinster) – all silent yet pivotal participants in the everyday street congregation. And then there was Her.
She wasn’t classically beautiful – he was pragmatic enough to know his own limits socially, even in constructing potential fantasy. She obviously went to the school down the opposite way, and they had never interacted in any way, never even walked on the same side of the road – yet she seemed to carry an understanding air about her. A hint of compassion. Of depth. These were very attractive qualities to a guy like him.
And it happened that one morning not long after he had started his routine that She walked by. He was waiting by the intersection lights when he saw Her walking opposite along the perpendicular route. At first it was a passing interest, nothing more than a quick look. The more he clumsily walked past Her though, the more his mind would begin to wander with a more impressive pace than his actual one. What’s Her story? Who is She? Where is She going, or coming from, or Her thoughts on life? On me?
Rich narratives began to ferment daily, of her gentle condition, her just character and noble lineage. Heartbeats would multiply exponentially when nearing the crossing, and he began to work out the statistics of their chance encounters to calculate the probability of seeing Her – She was walking past about 43% of the mornings each week, but June had been a slow month. Where was She the rest of the time? Sitting Man provided no solace, nor answers other than his occasional hoik of phlegm.
Lately he had begun to search for her eye as if to gauge her opinion of him. He wasn’t expecting reciprocity for the elaborate fantasy he was building; just hoped that it wasn’t complete revulsion. Anyhow, he felt so much slimmer. The doctor had confirmed it. The hard work was paying off. He felt a changed man, different, better – and somehow that bred an inner confidence that he never knew he had before. He was ready to take a risk. He was ready to be measured by her eyes. He would do it today.
He took a quick look both ways, and with the Red Man still unashamedly red he bumbled across the road to the other side of the street…
She was late today. She would have to double her speed to get to school on time. Arriving at the intersection, she tried to avoid the eye of Mr. Green who was also standing there (he was wearing Chucks with pant legs rolled up today, plus it was just unbearable interacting with him now he was constantly quoting every Orange Is The New Black episode).
As the lights turned green, she looked down momentarily to check her phone – when momentarily her forward progress was blocked as a swaying figure loomed up in front of her, almost as if it was moving there on purpose. She looked up.
Oh. Just the Fat Kid, she thought.
And she rushed past him over to the sidewalk, narrowly dodging the wayward arm swinging perilously close to her face as she reached the other side – and quickly made her way to school.