I’m sitting at the bus depot waiting for quite possibly the last Greyhound in America, and there’s a fat man watching a news report about obesity. I mean he’s really fat. He could have a lost tribe somewhere in his rolls, and he’s got one of the most horrendous comb-overs I’ve ever seen. Thing is, he actually has a decent beard, and if he just shaved his head and embraced it, I wouldn’t care how fat he is.
Brian Williams is lecturing this man about his bad eating habits and lack of exercise. I wonder when obesity has become such an emergency that it falls to Brian Williams to report it. Has there suddenly been an epidemic of lard, a plaque-building zombie virus sweeping from coast to coast? I picture the overweight undead shuffling about, resorting to eating Twinkies and Snickers bars because they can never catch any living prey. I can see these zombies becoming so heavy, their decaying legs collapse beneath them. You’ll never see that on The Walking Dead, except I think maybe I actually have.
I’m smiling now, but I’m smiling while staring at this man, who’s noticed me smiling and staring at him. He gives a feeble smile back. My gaze snaps into focus. Our eyes meet. He sees the amusement on my face, beneath the drone of Mr. Williams. The fat man’s smile vanishes. It goes zip, disappears into the folds of his face, behind his double chin and that truly glorious facial hair. A look of panic replaces the uncertain greeting. I wonder if he’ll start to cry, like Joey Calhoun in the fourth grade when I pulled down his pants and exposed his chapped thighs to half the school during recess. I still regret that. Or I still tell people I regret that. I’m not sure which is true anymore.
But the fat man doesn’t cry. The panic slowly subsides. He’s been here before, I can tell. He’s so ungodly fat, he’s had conversations about this with everyone: his team of doctors, because he’s surely seen more than one; his wife or lover or boyfriend or whomever deigns to sleep with him, because love only goes so far before you have to put your cards on the table; his family, if he has any; maybe a priest or a close friend; people like me, perhaps, but unlike me in that they aren’t content to stare, but actually feel inclined to impose. I do not intrude upon other people’s lives; they intrude upon mine.
Anger replaces the look of fear on the fat man’s face. It’s not a righteous anger; he isn’t going to come over here and pummel me. But it’s stronger than resentment. He might yell at me to mind my own fucking business. He will certainly complain about me to whomever he talks to about these issues. A therapist? I think this kind of self-knowing anger can only come from someone who’s seen a therapist. Someone who’s paid good money for another person to tell them stop. The fat man, despite his bulk, is dressed nicely, in clothes that weren’t bought off the rack. He put some thought into his attire. He could afford a therapist, I am sure. And someone in his condition who can see a therapist usually does at some point.
The fat man looks away from me. For a moment, I think he’s fed up. I think he’s telling himself that some people should mind their own business. But I can’t help what I overhear on the news, and who I happen to be watching it with. This is my business explicitly because the very subject of the broadcast is sitting just a few feet away from me. Isn’t that why the issue made the news at all? It’s all of our business, America’s business, humanity’s best interests at stake. That’s what Mr. Williams is telling this fat man and myself: that we need to care about each other, we need to point out our flaws so that we can help one another. I am assisting this fat man in the therapy he may or may not already be undertaking. I am doing a public service.
But no. The man hasn’t decided to ignore me. His attention has simply been pulled away. A squeal erupts from near the door—a little girl, maybe six or seven. Scrawny, with stringy blond hair. The girl runs forward, arms spread. Behind her, a comely woman of average weight crosses her arms, possibly pleased, possibly bored, though it appears that she’s trying to hold back a smile. The little girl disappears into the fat man; first she is running towards him, then he grabs her and turns so that I cannot see her anymore. Has he absorbed her through some form of osmosis? I cannot tell; the man walks away from me, his arms still wrapped in front of him. He doesn’t look back at me, not once, and I do not see the child again, even as the man leaves the depot.
My own wife appears a few minutes later. She sits down beside me and we wait for the bus together. Mr. Williams finds something else to talk about. I notice how my wife’s blouse doesn’t fit her like it used to. It’s grown tighter across her chest and stomach. I mention we should go clothes shopping when we finally get to Chicago. She smiles and I cannot tell if she is thrilled, bored, or plotting my death.
I watch her for a while from the corner of my eye. Someone else would perhaps see a moral here, a lesson that I should be learning. But there is none. There is merely a small observation: that the epidemic has hit closer than I anticipated. Merely this, though I do wish that the fat man had looked at me once more before leaving. It would have been nice for my attribution to be acknowledged.