To eat or not to eat, that is the question
By FS Khanzai
Sheena stared at the scrumptious piece of apple pie in a plate in front of her! Her eyes cloudy as if in a deep trance and her face indecipherable. With her hands in her lap she was dead still as if for a painting. She would have stayed like that for the rest of her life, but another hand moved forward from its position on the table and covered hers. She jolted out of the trance and looked at her husband with grateful and relieved eyes.
“Smile honey, it’s just a piece of pie, not a cookie monster from under your bed!”
She laughed, out loud, and some people in the restaurant stared at her, but not annoyingly, no, with amusement. Her laughter was contagious and music to the ears. She looked at the plate again and this time, picked up the fork and attacked it.
“I love apple pie!” she said.
“And I love you!” he took her other hand in his and brought it to his lips.
“Would kids be joining us?” she asked with her mouth full.
“No, I told them I want to have some ‘MY WIFE’ time with her alone on my anniversary and they said and I quote,
‘Fine old man, we’ll be here at home with a cake and crackers and a movie!’”
She laughed some more and finished her pie savoring the last pick.
“Did they tell you not to tell me?” she asked.
“Yes, with capital letters. They wanted to SURPRISE you!”
“Then why did you tell me?” she eyed him mischievously.
“From your own kids?”
“They called me an old man!”
“Honey, you’re an adorable old man.” She touched his white hair and then tried to comb them with her fingers. He wasn’t an old man, yes, it was true, but his hair turning white quite early made their kids get back at him once in a while when they were having difficulty sharing her: their mom and his wife.
“Who’s side are you on?” he asked, grabbing her hand and kissing it again.
“I am always on your side dear, always!”
“Then let’s go tell those brats who’s the daddy!”
She laughed and this time everyone at the restaurant looked at the smart and lovely couple celebrating their anniversary. Some of them wished them ‘happy anniversary’ as they got up and taking advantage, Saad twirled her at the jazz music playing there — her sari moving aside to reveal her small waist and his coat still unbuttoned exposed a toned torso, and muscular physique. People clapped and stood up to applaud them both. Sheena couldn’t stop smiling the whole way to their car, her arms filled with flowers from all the tables in the restaurant. She dumped them on the back seat and joined her husband at the front.
“Ready?” he asked with a smile.
She nodded her head.
He leaned forward and kissed her gently. She rested her head on his shoulder while he started the car. From the restaurant window, the manager saw the fairy-tale couple leaving the parking and wondered with a smile about their fairy-tale life in a fairy-tale castle.
Sheena’s life was not always a fairy-tale; it was, for most of her teenage and early twenties, a nightmare! She didn’t know how to smile, how to dance and how to enjoy life. She just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t eat and drink. She was into a habit of starving herself and had even tried to commit suicide. She had never thought that she would get married. Doctors had told her that she was driving herself towards infertility. She had developed early osteoporosis and acute arthritis. Sheena had suffered from Anorexia Nervosa; an eating disorder, characterized by low weight, food restriction, fear of gaining weight, and a strong desire to be thin.
Sheena didn’t always have it. It all started at the end of the school when she had gained weight during her O levels. She was a bit over weight, not fat. She knew she had it under control and she would lose it later. But that’s when the plastic Barbie girls and Ken boys at college started teasing her. She knew it was bullying, but she also knew that they were right; she was FAT now. She tried many diet charts, diet foods and crash diets too but all in vain. So, she let it go and endured the bullying for two years.
She had thought that it would stop in the university, but it didn’t. She knew she was hideous! She was not eating she was guzzling food now. At first they called her ‘teddy bear’ and ‘moti’ which looked cute, but now it was too much. They didn’t say anything but they looked down at her like she was a giant monster among humans; like she deserved to be locked at home and starved till death!
And that’s when she tried to take her life. She lost a lot of blood and somehow, her parents got her off the criminal charges against her, paying the fine of course and then decided to get her proper and professional medical help.
“So you think that you are fat?” asked the doctor looking at a 23 year old girl sitting in front of him, her wrists bandaged and a bit bloody because she had tried to rub her wounds. Her hands were tied at her sides now with a special belt. She was dead on her feet, thought the doctor. All he could see was skin and bones and death lurking around her.
“Yes!” she answered in a small voice barely audible.
“Sheena, have you seen the mirror lately?”
“Yes, why do you think I did this?” she moved her head towards her wrists, from one to another.
“Are you smart now? Physically?”
Sheena started at the doctor and then started crying. “I’m fat, hideous! I know that. I have tried everything, nothing works. Nothing ever works!”
She kept crying and then shouting changed into screaming and she had to be put down.
“When did it start?” The doctor asked Sheena’s parents.
“She was in college doing her ICS. She started dieting and eating less and less and then it became worse. She would skip breakfast and lunch and she would hide her dinner in a shopping bag and throw it away. When I found out, she screamed at me that I was the cause of her being fat.” And then Mrs. Amjad started weeping into her handkerchief.
“Is she your only child?”
“Yes.” Answered Mr. Amjad.
“Usually siblings make fun of each other but it’s not the case here so where did it all begin?”
“Some girls at college and then some boys; it was just a joke! She was cute and a bit chubby when she had joined. They weren’t bad kids. They didn’t mean any harm. They apologized later and told her that they thought she was cute like a teddy bear and some called her ‘moti’ in a fun way.”
“But your daughter has told me a very different version Mr. Amjad.” Interrupted the doctor.
“That’s where it all began and we started realizing that she has a problem with her image.”
“But you didn’t think it was a matter serious enough to consult a doctor?”
“We thought it was just a phase!”
“Well, turned out, it wasn’t.”
“Are you going to help our daughter?” asked Mrs. Amjad, a bit offended by the truthfulness of the psychiatrist.
“Of course I will, but she will have to stay here for a long time now under supervision. You can see her in visiting hours. It’s for her good because right now she looks at you personally responsible for her ‘fat’ and ‘cellulite’.”
“But why can’t she see that she’s actually starved herself to death?”
“Because she has Anorexia!”
“Do you know why you are here Saad?”
Asked the doctor from an elephant of a man sitting in front of him on a bench —-no chair could accommodate him—-he was 24, a university student with an excellent academic record, he was an exemplary son, a student and a friend with a healthy social life; he was perfect apart from the fact that he was delusional when it came to his physical form. He was under the impression that he was smart and loved food to the point of killing himself with it; he was literally doing that since twelve years.
“I am here because my parents think I am fat and I need medical help. I know what you’re gonna say to me doc, but pardon me if I don’t believe you. You know the problem with you all is that you wanna make good money and for that you have to diagnose everyone with some disease that does not exist. So, save your breath, take your fee from my dad and tell them they can take me home.”
“How very charming you are Saad. You just saved a lot of my time. I am eternally grateful to you for that and I will let your dad take you home after just one question.”
“I see, you’re quite a grown up. 24 is a ripe age, so why don’t you drive yourself home? Why do you have to bother your dad for a ride?”
“I — DON’T — DRIVE!” Saad was annoyed, he had lost his cool.
“But your dad’s not here yet so why don’t I call you an Uber?”
“It would be around the corner and be here in a minute.”
“You cannot sit in a cab Saad! Now, why would that be?”
“You cannot fit in any car Saad, except your father’s which is custom made to accommodate you. You cannot drive because you cannot move your feet on time for a break. You can have a heart attack any time due to the stress driving could cause you and that is why you don’t drive.”
“Go F**k yourself!”
“Your dad’s not coming. You will stay here for a few months whether you like it or not; you can make it easy or difficult for you and us both. You’re suffering from an eating disorder called Binge Eating or simply call it Over Eating; you will not leave this facility unless you fit in a very normal Uber.”
In the beginning, both of them drove everyone at the facility insane and they usually had to sedate them both. Sheena didn’t eat anything for days and Saad wouldn’t eat whatever was given to him. They both weren’t able to exercise without killing themselves. Saad’s starvation was doing well to his weight, but Sheena was disappearing; she was given essentials in the drips. Doctors were losing hope in her case and didn’t know when Saad would start eating because his medical status wasn’t good; he was angry all the time with high blood pressure. And then one day, Saad met Sheena and everything changed forever in their nightmarish life.
Sheena had come to meals now after months, but she would cry herself hoarse and still tried to vomit everything out after eating. Saad had started a walk every afternoon but he stole other patients’ food whenever he could and that is how he had met Sheena. He was there to steal her meal and she was more than happy to let him do it, but he didn’t do it even though he easily could. One look at her and he dragged himself back to his own room and ate his meager meal without a tantrum. This was a miraculous break doctor Hamza needed. As soon as he was told about the incident, he devised a scheme.
Saad and Sheena would interact with each other daily no matter what.
“Why do you hate me so much? How do you beat me every time at this stupid board game? You don’t even look at me damn it!” He brought his punch down on the table rattling the game pieces, got up and left. He had lost another chance for a proper meal. His doctor had told him that if he would beat this skeleton of a girl at this game, he would have a cheat meal.
Sheena would never reply. Her doctor had told her that if she would constantly beat this beast made up of cellulite, she would be allowed to skip a meal.
Saad gave up after three months and accepted that he was fat. That day, he won the game from Sheena and she stared at him, furiously slapping him across the face and leaving. He got his cheat meal!
“I don’t want to play with him!” she declared to the doctor.
“Why? Does he cheat?” he asked.
“No, but because I hate him.”
“Why is that? I thought you would like him because he looks—– justlike you.”
“No, I think I am not like him.”
“I am not f—f—-fat as much as he is.”
And that was the beginning for Sheena.
“What do you see in a mirror now Saad?” Doctor Hamza asked a smart, handsome man sitting in front of him.
“Are you kidding me?” Saad asked mischievously.
“No! It’s been a year Saad — tell me, how do you feel?”
“I feel happy, healthy and free!”
“That you are! You can go home, but remember what you have to do to feel the same. I will be seeing you around. Shall I call that Uber?”
“Can I stay for a little longer?”
“Why? You think you’ll get off the wagon?”
“No, I wanna help her get better.”
“But she already is and I am grateful to you for helping me out in the matter.”
“But she has not recovered like I have. She is still afraid to eat.”
“She might never recover fully from this condition Saad. It might reoccur even if she does fully recover. Depends on her and people around her.”
“Then let me be around her, please.”
“Because now, it’s always a draw!”
“I don’t understand!”
“She doesn’t lose so that I don’t get a cheat meal and I don’t lose to make sure she doesn’t skip a meal and we end up at a draw! You see, first we were playing for ourselves and now we both play for each other.”
“And that means?”
“That means I love her and wouldn’t leave this place without her!?”
“You can’t always stay here with her!”
“Of course we would leave; you can’t keep a healthy married couple here doctor.”
“You’ve sorted everything out already it seems.” Said the doctor with a grin on his face.
“You know I am a genius, right!” they both laughed.
“MOM, just eat it. It’s a piece of gluten free, matcha cake!” Sheena looked at her twelve year old daughter and then at her fourteen year old son.
“Why such a hurry?” she asked taking a small bite reminding herself that it wasn’t her anniversary daily.
“Because you promised you’d tell us how you two met and got married.” Said her son.
“After falling madly in love!” added her daughter and they giggled.
“Well, there definitely was a lot of mad in there where we met!” Saad said taking a spoon to share the piece of cake his wife was eating.
“And board games!” Sheena giggled with her mouthful and Saad couldn’t help beaming that he was the luckiest guy in the whole world.