Who's Who 4: All You Can Eat

They made a joke of it at first. Those helping him move. It wasn’t without foundation. He was healthy back then. Like them. Carrying wardrobes in by themselves, hoping the locals might stop and see them straining through their tight, expensive clothing.

Those friends, friends no more, saw his new flat was over a takeaway and told him he’d have to demand kale on the menu. Quinoa and smashed avocado salads.

Looking back now, larger and slower, struggling to lift his bulky frame from day to day; he knows those people were never really friends. They made accessories of themselves and others. They lived by aesthetics. The right physique. The right magazine left, unread but skimmed, on the right worktop. Their unused, designer golf clubs sitting next to their skeletal framed racing bikes. Bikes that would squeal and throw up their handlebars should mud ever touch their shiny paintwork.

Those so-called friends had dried up now. Vanished as he climbed the clothing sizes, never announcing their parting. He had other friends. The regulars in the pub knew him by name. They would nod to him outside the confines of The Red Star. The people in the shop always spoke to him, doing their best not to react to the baskets he brought to the till.

The heaped piles of crisps, sweets and beer. The ready meals. The cheese.

Once upon a time, when he could see his feet and other private places, he’d have called such things poison. He’d have pointed that out to any who deemed to eat them in front of him. He’d had other lectures locked and loaded. Smoking being one. These days, he often bought himself a pack to see him through the night. They settled the shakes, cut through the booze and batter. Thanks to his genes, he knew he was susceptible to a little addiction.

There was doubting he was addicted to the heavily fried offerings from the place beneath the floorboards. He couldn’t keep himself from going down there. No matter what he told himself. No matter how much he paced the decently priced floorspace that’d lured him here. No matter how hard he clenched chubby fingers into clammy, cushioned palms and told himself ‘be strong’.

The first trip had come after a truly bad day. There’d been an argument with Gill over paperwork. A call from his parents concerning his mother’s heart. An email telling him to reapply for his own job. Something about the smell from downstairs had caught his attention after that. It slid a hooked wire into his heart. Pulled him down to the stainless-steel counter.

That wire had sewn itself deeper over time. Carved a network of wounds with itchy, long roots. It twitched, tugged, said he’d cut down tomorrow. Said to stop obsessing about the wide doorways in his flat. As if every other resident, seduced by mod cons and superfast broadband, had gone this way.

His reflection had been known to baffle him of a morning. His belly hanging far past his belt, far below any t shirt he owned. All of them straining to contain what they did cover of him, stained and sweat laced.

It made him queasy to picture the man behind the counter in the cold light of day. The slippery smile that flashed at the sight of him.

“The usual,” he’d always say. It was rarely a question.

He’d destroyed all his old photos now. Deleted most contacts from his phone. Limped off social media, far too aware that at least half its name was a lie. He often woke to the sound of his own snoring and assumed something unholy had crawled into bed with him.

Standing in the queue yesterday, he’d seen a couple break up. They went in young and happy. Only the wait for a large order left them time to argue about vegetables and who was tired of separating beansprouts. It took them no time at all to turn on each other and then the boy was gone, leaving her to sob over a straining carrier bag.

He’d wanted to tell her that it was a greasy, slippery slope she was staring down. He’d wanted to tell her he recognised the pains straining his chest and it wouldn’t be long before the flat upstairs was vacant again. He’d wanted to tell her that the world had it wrong. Loneliness wasn’t always bittersweet. On the worst days, when you’d nearly convinced yourself you were better, loneliness could start off sweet and only turned bitter once you’d seduced yourself into indulging just a little.

Instead, he’d kept his head down and ordered himself the usual.