Fiction: Big American Dreams

May 18, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

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By

Jerome Teelucksingh

 

 

 

When Hyilah Ali was eighteen years he decided to leave his parents and move into a nearby apartment building on 8th Avenue in New York. He was a second generation Pakistani immigrant. His family moved to the United States in 1980. Despite disapproval from his parents he married Indeerah Singh who was an illegal immigrant from India. She was a temporary clerk at a store in the nearby mall. She was a vegetarian and non-smoker. She ate foods that were fresh and disliked fried and oily foods and drinks that had preservatives and coloring. She was tall, slim, had short hair, fair-skinned and had fifteen tattoos on her neck, arms and legs. The tattoos included two angels, a butterfly, two cobra snakes, spiders, monkeys and a dog.

Ali worked as a bus driver on the M27 line. After two years he was fired because he was always late for the job and complained of being unable to fit into the driver’s seat. He tipped the scales at 626 pounds and this extra weight also contributed to health problems. The termination of employment did not adversely affect him because he received a disability allowance which helped pay the rent and food bills. He obtained legal advice and decided to sue the New York Bus Corporation for not providing larger seats and more room between the steering wheel and driver. His lawyers argued this was discrimination against overweight ethnic minorities. He received $4 million in compensation and used some of this money to purchase a condominium in Rochester.

On mornings, at 8 am, a typical breakfast comprised nine fried eggs, four slices of toasted bread, bacon, three slices of cake, a large bowl of Fruity Pebbles cornflakes, two glasses of chocolate milk and a box of Pop-Tarts. At 10 am he would have a snack comprising five packs of vanilla pudding, a glass of Coca Cola and a bowl of ice-cream. For lunch, the layout consisted of fried chicken wings, mashed potatoes, four slices of pizza, three burritos, two cans of Sprite or Dr. Pepper and a hamburger. At 5 pm, he had an evening snack of three milkshakes, a plate of chocolate chip cookies and five hotdogs. His dinner at 7 pm was usually fries, chicken nuggets, curried shrimps and five cans of Budweiser beer.

Seven months after leaving his job, he weighed 889 pounds and could not leave his room. For two years the room became his prison. He had five tattoos on his chest- a hamburger, packet of fries, hot-dog, pizza and a box of fried chicken. On his left arm he had tattoo of a Coca-Cola bottle and on his right arm there was a tattoo of a Pepsi bottle.

`He was confined to his bed because his legs could not support his bulky frame. He could not fit into the toilet and shower. His wife prepared his daily meals, gave him a weekly bath and regularly emptied his bedpan. She gave him two insulin tablets after each meal and also administered his other medication including Lovaza, Livalo, Crestor and Lipitor which were supposed to lower his cholesterol. On a daily basis Ali took dosages of four new diet drugs- Qsymia, Belviq, Contrave and Saxenda.

Ali spent each day sleeping, eating and watching television. On Valentine’s Day, he wanted to do something romantic for his wife. After devouring his lunch he took the chicken bones and three fries and made a heart-shaped formation on his plate. He then blew a kiss for her.

She forced a smile. She was agitated and felt pity for this pathetic life form who was confined to a room. She went into the kitchen and placed water in a pan that was on the stove. She lit the stove and opened a cupboard. There was a bottle of Folgers coffee. After drinking the coffee she placed the cup among the growing heap of dirty dishes in the sink. She dressed and went to purchase food.

She entered a deli and bought containers of Caprese salad, Mediterranean pasta salad, rice pudding, tofu and Swiss cheese. It was raining and she decided to buy a cup of tea and sit at a table. One hour later she returned home and emptied the groceries.

Ali shouted, ‘Did you buy cheesecake and chocolate mousse?’

‘No.’

He was enraged. ‘What the hell!! What about bologna, pork chops and steak? There is no damn cornflakes in the house! Did you buy Cocoa Pebbles?’

‘No, I went to buy some items for myself.’

He began to sob. ‘Why are you neglecting me? Don’t you love me? It’s Valentine’s Day. I feel so unloved. All this stress is the cause for my gastric ulcers and migraines.’

She was exasperated. She entered his room and stared at him in disbelief.

‘This attitude makes me depressed and when I am depressed I eat a lot.’ He wiped the tears trickling down his fat cheeks and avoided her gaze. He stuck his fingers in a large bag of Frito Lay’s Dorito Chips. After the bag was empty he threw it on the ground. He then gobbled up a dozen Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies and two packs of Utz potato chips and pretzels. ‘I want to run for president.’ He looked at her reaction. He stuck his hand in a pack of M&M’s and grabbed a handful.

She casually asked, ‘President of what- the neighborhood watch group?’

‘Those types of comments make me feel suicidal. I want to be the president of the USA.’

She twisted her mouth and then stared at him. ‘Really? Are you serious? Who will vote for you? Who will provide huge donations?’

He coughed. ‘Yes I am serious. The fast food restaurants will provide financial help or else I will threaten to sue them.’ He placed a Slinky on his forehead and allowed it to slowly move to his chest and belly.

She looked at the toy gliding over his large frame. This was one of his favorite pastimes. ‘Do you think the Americans will take you seriously? Which party will endorse you- Tea Party, Democrats or Republicans?’

‘I will form my own party. Now is the time for a new party in American politics. A new way of thinking.’ He began chewing on a Twizzler. ‘He began to breathe heavily and clutched his chest. ‘I’m having some pains. Do you think we should call an ambulance?’

She quickly replied, ‘No, it could be some gas, here take some aspirin.’ She opened a drawer and took two aspirins, that had passed the expiry dates, and gave them to him. He took both and quickly placed them in his mouth. He had crumbs and pieces of chicken skin on his chest and belly. He swallowed the aspirins and switched channels. There was an episode of Real Housewives of New York City. He shouted at the television screen, ‘You are a fool to leave your man!’ A few minutes later he screamed, ‘What an idiot! How women could think that way.’ After the show ended he viewed The Moment of Truth, Manson Girls, Entertainment Tonight and Showbiz Tonight. He continued to shout and curse at the television. This was a habit that his wife hated.

At 11 pm, he told her, ‘I’m feeling to eat something different like Chinese food.’

‘It’s late. You should not be eating so late. It’s not healthy,’ said Indeerah.

He pouted. ‘I really feel unloved.’

She nodded. ‘Okay I’ll order some for us.’ Nearby was a pile of sixteen telephone books and outdated television guides. She checked the most recent issue of the telephone book and found China Star located on 8th Avenue. She was happy to see that the restaurant offered free delivery. She called and placed the dinner order.

Whilst waiting, he ate nine packs of Skittles and eight Twinkies. His dinner arrived and comprised crispy sesame beef, lemon chicken, moo shu pork, sautéed bean sprouts, beef in garlic sauce, egg drop soup, pork dumplings, fried scallops, Cantonese noodles, tai chien chicken, squid in black bean sauce, prawns in chili sauce, lobster in garlic sauce and roast duck. Indeera washed the food containers and placed them in a cupboard which contained many empty bottles and dirty dishes. Her dinner was a glass of green tea and sandwich with whole wheat bread, grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves.

Two hours later, Ali shouted, ‘I am hungry, order some damn pizza.’

‘Okay.’ She checked Domino’s Pizza and ordered two large Extravangzza pizzas. This comprised ground beef, black olives, extra mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, ham, sausage, mushrooms and onions.

Five minutes later he shouted, ‘Don’t forget to order the damn side orders and dessert. Maybe order an extra pizza for tomorrow. You forgot to do it last week and I almost starved to death!’ He focused on the television series Wife Swap. He looked at his wife and wished he could swap her for someone who could cook or feed him lots of food.

She called and placed the additional order for Domino’s Mexican Sizzler, chicken wings, potato wedges, coleslaw, waffles, chocolate chip cookies and Häagen-dazs ice cream. ‘So what caused you to eat so much?’

Ali sighed. ‘Well to tell you the truth, when I was younger my mother caused my pet hamster to die. She did not want us to buy pet food for it. It was very traumatic.’ He began to cry. ‘As a teenager I suffered more trauma. I badly wanted to join the circus but was rejected because I was too thin.’ He continued to cry and his wife consoled him until he stopped crying. The doorbell rang. He asked in a frightened voice, ‘Are you expecting anyone?’

She shook her head.

He thought for awhile and said, ‘Maybe is Mabel who promised to come and give me some counseling.’

Indeerah went to the door and checked. It was Mabel. She opened the door and smiled. ‘Welcome, we have been expecting you. Come right in and follow me.’ Mabel frowned when she saw the messy house. She entered Ali’s room and was surprised to see his size.

‘Hello, glad you could make it,’ said Ali. He was eating a large pizza from Little Caesars.

Mabel sat on a chair and began writing in a notepad.

‘Have we started the counseling session?’ asked Ali.

Mabel nodded. ‘Hmm, yes I’m making some preliminary notes on your mood. So tell me when do you get angry? Are you constipated? Do you get headaches? Do you see ghosts?’

‘When I am hungry or if I want to see a show on television. I don’t believe in ghosts and get headaches after watching more than twelve hours of television each day.’

Mabel wrote five sentences in her notepad. ‘When are you sad?’

‘Whenever someone dies in a television show or movie I feel really sad and often cry. I guess I’m just an emotional teddy bear.’

‘Do you get suicidal thoughts?’ asked Mabel. She continued writing.

Ali was pensive and then replied, ‘Yes, whenever I am hungry and also a few times when a show is cancelled or if a food place is closed. But luckily I cannot move to the kitchen to get a knife and I cannot buy a gun over the telephone so it’s difficult for me to get something to commit suicide. So you see being this large size is a blessing in disguise.’

Mabel continued. ‘When do you feel embarrassed?’

‘I use to feel ashamed that I could not use the toilet or bathe like normal people, but now I am accustomed to my lifestyle of bathing with a sponge and pail. My wife has to help me bathe because I am helpless.’

‘Are you happy in your marriage?’

‘Whenever there is food in this house I feel my marriage is blessed. When I am hungry I feel like getting a divorce….’ He paused because Indeerah walked into the room. ‘Bring me some cereal, I am hungry. All this talking made me get really hungry.’

Indeerah departed and returned with two bowls of Apple Jacks and Raisin Bran and placed them on the table. She remained in the room.

Mabel continued scribbling in her notepad. After ten minutes she said, ‘I’ve finally made a diagnosis of you!’

Ali was excited. ‘Really?’

‘What is it?’ asked Indeerah.

Mabel was serious. ‘You are polypolar. It’s a rare condition and actually you are the first person I have seen displaying symptoms.’ She adjusted her spectacles.

Indeerah was agitated and annoyed upon hearing Mabel’s diagnosis. ‘I know about bipolar but what does polypolar mean?’

‘Ali could be displaying fear, anger, apathy, hate, happiness, sadness and embarrassment at the same time or in a short space of time. He is a talented and gifted man.’

Ali looked at Indeerah and said, ‘You see, I am special and need to be treated with care and love.’

Indeerah nodded. She gave four hundred dollars to Mabel. This was a special fee which included a house visit.

One morning after a large breakfast, Ali complained that the tightness in his chest had returned. ‘I’m having some problems breathing. You should dial 911.’

Indeerah calmly responded. ‘It’s just indigestion again. Remember you suffer from reflux. It will soon go away.’ She poured some Pepto Bismol in a glass of water. The glass was dirty. ‘Here try this. If it does not work I’ll get something else.’

He reluctantly drank it. After one hour the pain did not subside and Indeerah gave him Prevacid, Alka-Seltzer, Pepcid and Tums.

In the evening Indeerah washed the two curtains in his room. She sprayed more Lysol and felt this was important for a healthy home. She read the words on the container – ‘Kills cold and flu virus.’ She entered his room and saw him asleep. She laughed as she recalled his earlier suggestion of having children.

He awoke and shouted, ‘Dear bring some food quick. I am starving. And I just had a dream that I was eating a plate of macaroni with lots of cheese. I’m feeling to eat some cake. Do we have any?’

She checked the fridge. ‘No, we don’t have no cake. I will bake a Betty Crocker cake and also call a restaurant and order some chicken nuggets, macaroni pie and fries.’

Ali became depressed and shouted for lots of food. He shoved six chicken nuggets in his mouth and began chewing. He quickly swallowed and grabbed more nuggets. He swallowed and then stuffed his mouth with fries but had forgotten to put ketchup on the fries. So he took a bottle of Heinz Ketchup and squeezed it into his mouth. He smiled as he chewed the nuggets and fries that were cooked in lard. He shouted at the television program, ‘Come on fool drive faster to catch the damn bandit. Shoot him! Shoot him now!’

His wife scolded him, ‘Stop eating like some animal in the jungle. Eat slowly and chew your food properly.’ She looked at the steamed carrots, potatoes, parsley and cauliflower on her plate. She felt nauseous when she saw him eating meat.

Ali did not reply and continued chewing. He rammed a handful of fries into his mouth. He wiped his greasy fingers on the bed sheet. He switched the channel and saw part of Cheaters. ‘Darling, would you ever cheat on me?’

She paused and touched the wedding ring on her finger. ‘No dear, you are special to me.’ She looked at the five trophies on the glass shelf near his chair. These were won by Ali for winning eating competitions. Two years ago, he was banned from twelve restaurants which had ‘All you can eat’ specials.

‘Yes, be grateful I’m not an alcoholic and also not guilty of domestic violence.’ He bit into a drumstick and began eating cole slaw. He changed the channel and saw Iron Chef America. ‘I’ve been thinking that maybe one day I will become famous as the fattest person in the world and have a wax figure of me in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. People from all over the world will come to see the wax statue. I will become an icon like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela or Gandhi.’ He ate seventeen Klondike bars, five Pillsbury biscuits and a strawberry pie.

She ignored his comments and admonished him, ‘You stuff your face with food and then complain of pains and trouble breathing. Take your time and eat. The food is not running away. This is not a jungle or forest where other animals waiting to eat your food.’ She used her knife and fork to cut the carrots and broccoli.

He wiped his mouth on a pillow and switched the station to National Geographic. There was a documentary on the ancient Egyptians. He checked Discovery Channel and saw an interview with terrorists. The next station- Animal Explorer had a documentary on lions hunting in Africa. He felt like a lion and began to roar. He felt like a king as he was in control of the room and the home.

Indeerah entered his room with a large tray that had five hot dog sandwiches, two milkshakes, six doughnuts and a pack of Oreo cookies. She rested the tray near his feet and could not bear to watch his eating frenzy. He hit the nearby table with his right hand to attract her attention. She looked at the fallen table and then stared at his face. She realized his mouth was twisted and saliva was slowly dripping on his chest. He pointed to his mouth and paralyzed left arm. Tears rolled down his fat cheeks.

She panicked and a look of fear spread across her face. ‘Dear what’s wrong with your mouth? Why are you dribbling?’ She knelt beside him and touched his cheek.

He opened his mouth but could only utter gibberish.

She knew something was seriously wrong. She quickly dialed 911.

Within seven minutes an ambulance was at their front door. The paramedics were surprised to see the unhealthy and unkempt surroundings. However, he could not fit in the ambulance and a larger ambulance arrived to transport the obese man. Neighbors emerged from their homes. Some had never seen Ali for two years. His skin was pale and the sunlight caused him to squint.

Indeerah returned to his empty room. Chocolate wrappers were scattered on the floor. The bedpan needed emptying. She felt a feeling of emptiness and loneliness. The prison guard had grown attached to the prisoner. The tray with his dinner was on the ground. She carried it to the kitchen and began to sob. Her feelings of hatred had disappeared.

At the hospital, three beds were joined to allow comfortable accommodation for Ali. He had two oxygen tanks near his bedside and tubes connected to his nostrils and arms. This was to assist him in breathing. There were also tubes connected to his chest and an electronic monitor. He missed viewing cable television. Every day, Carla, a Trinidadian nurse would give him a sponge bath. She would leave work early to watch reruns of the Simpsons. Her brother, Kyle, was a History teacher at a secondary school in Tobago, in the Caribbean. He often visited his sister.

Vladimir and Sumintra, Hyilah’s parents, arrived at the hospital. Both felt that Indeerah contributed to their son’s poor health condition. Ali opened his eyes and smiled. He had problems breathing and eventually closed his eyes and continued sleeping.

Vladimir began to cry when he saw his son, ‘We always try our best to give you the best foods and healthy drinks. How this could happen?’ He looked at Indeerah and asked, ‘Would the hospital bill be a lot. Does he have health insurance?’

She hesitated. ‘No. We did not qualify for Medicaid because my salary is more than $15,000 a year. I could have earned more but some people did not want to hire me because of my tattoos. Last year I told him that life and health insurances are a waste of money. We thought Obamacare would take care of poor people like us. But he did have car insurances with Geico, AllState, 21st century Insurance and the General Automobile Insurance.’

Vladimir stopped crying. ‘I didn’t realize you earned so little. He had a car? He could drive?’

Indeerah bent her head and said softly, ‘No, but he liked the advertisements on cable television and decided to get these insurances just in case in the future we decided to buy a Toyota Corolla car and after we would then take driving lessons.’

Vladimir and Sumintra were shocked and remained speechless. They quickly bid goodbye and exited the hospital.

Three months in the hospital was the wake-up call that Ali and Indeera needed. His cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure readings were extremely high. He agreed to lose weight and was allowed to return home. Indeera obtained samples of the medicine from friends who were pharmacists.

One month later, Vladimir visited his son and begged him to have gastric bypass surgery to assist in his weight reduction. ‘Son, you must try and lose some weight. If you do not get thinner, you will die soon.’

Ali sighed. ‘I cannot get thinner because then the government will stop their disability grant and I will be forced to go and find a job. Being fat has its advantages.’

‘Really? What advantages?’

‘Well when I learn to drive and buy a car, I will be allowed to park in the handicapped zone. But sometimes I wish to be thin.’

His father’s face brightened. ‘Really? When? What for?’

‘Sometimes I wish I was thin to audition in Dancing with the Stars, The X Factor and America’s Got Talent.’

Vladimir shook his head and did not reply. He left his son and met Indeerah in the kitchen. He pointed to decaying items on the floor and asked, ‘Why do you have dried and decaying orange peel?’

‘That is for a potpourri I am planning to create. That will freshen the room. It will be healthy because it is home-made.’

He frowned. ‘What about the two broken mirrors and four old postboxes in the corner of the living room?’

‘Ali will fix those mirrors when he is better. He promised to do so.’

He lifted the clock that was lying on a table and said, ‘What about this old clock without hands?’ He pointed to items scattered in the corner of the room. ‘What plans you got for those three broken bulbs, seventeen empty bottles of Downy, fifty six empty aerosol cans of Air Wick, a twisted lamp, broken candles and two old fans?’

‘Put that down gently. I can sell that clock and the fans at a garage sale. All this stuff got sentimental value so be careful with it.’

‘Really? It have people in America who will buy this garbage?’

‘Yes, in fact I bought the fans at a garage sale. I plan to get someone to refill the Air Wick cans. I’m hoping that some of these items got historical value and will be featured on Pawn Stars on the History Channel.’

‘This radio working?’ asked Vladimir.

Indeerah avoided eye contact. ‘Of course not. It is an antique.’

He pointed to six old car batteries and cynically said, ‘I suppose this will also be sold in the garage sale.’

‘No, this is more precious and I will see if a pawn shop or thrift shop will pay more for it.’

Ali wanted to be remembered by future generations. He wrote to the Guinness World Records asking that he be considered as the fattest person in the world. Two weeks later he received a reply. The compiler of the Guinness World Records wrote that Ali needed to increase his weight by six pounds to break the record. Ali folded the letter and carefully placed it on his stomach. He thought about winning the next presidential election in 2020. He wondered if the daily menu of the White House would be sufficient to satisfy his hunger.

 

 

 

 

 

Jerome Teelucksingh

I am from Trinidad & Tobago (in the Caribbean). My short story ‘Cricket in the Caribbean’ was published in the Caribbean Writer and ‘Pastor Tries to Save The Environment’ was featured in the anthology Jewels of the Caribbean.  Also, my short story, ‘The Tourist’ appeared in the IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature. My poetry has also appeared in magazines and journals including the Poetry Box, Taj Mahal Review, Journal of South Texas Studies, San Pedro Review and Diálogos.

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