17 May 2018


There are two shops at the bottom of the roundabouts on War Lane. The War Lane Cellar and another family shop, that's now a chain, although it doesn't feel like anything has changed inside. Both of the shops are owned by Southeast Asian families. Ganesha is there, in the restaurant next door, reminding me of our Indian taxi driver, Letchu, in Malaysia who awkwardly had us over to his house once. When you go into the shop, even though it's now a chain, it smells like spices and everything is overpriced except beer and Barefoot Merlot. The second shop, War Lane Cellar, is mostly booze, with one wall of snacks. Two for one pound mini-pappadums and onion rings like American funions and cheese puffs like American cheese puffs. Under a small TV, they have lager from all over Europe, all one pound nineteen or one pound twenty-nine or one pound fifty-nine depending. They have ice cream too, Magnums and popsicles and Twisters and Cornettos. There is an Indian man who owns it, I think, then his wife and perhaps his brother and then there is another man sometimes, an older white man, who once got upset at Mei because I had given her money to pay for everything we were buying and he said it was against the law to take the money from her because there was also beer.

Somewhere in the last year, I thought I had fixed myself, or that I had been fixed. I thought the meditation had done it. My heart rate is barely perceptible. And then, on Wednesday, I ate six thousand kilocalories. It happened in the present tense. I find myself at nine-thirty at night in one of the stores at the roundabouts, buying beer and cheese puffs. I feel my thighs rubbing against each other. And I eat it all quickly and hide the wrappers in my bin at my desk underneath everything so that no one finds them. I rationalise this by saying that it's about the kids seeing and being jealous, but it's about being ashamed, about my wife finding out that I'm a child. I bought M&Ms this time and not the ice cream because M&Ms are less than two hundred kilocalories and then I am under four thousand today. I know this because I enter the calories, all of them, in my app, the calorie counting app. Four thousand better than five thousand, I tell myself, until a moment later, I thinking of buying cheese naan at another shop on the roundabout, the balti takeaway. The naan is more but I’m still under five thousand. That's bad, but it's not the worst.

My heart rate is barely perceptible. When I went to give blood a couple of weeks ago, the nurse, the sister who is really a sister, the sort of woman you want with you if you're dying, got upset because my heart rate was too low. We were face to face in a tiny consultancy room with a drop of my blood weighed down with iron at the bottom of a vile of green liquid. You gotta bring it up, she says, or you can't give blood. And we can't let you run up and down the stairs anymore, they changed the rules. What do you want to do. I felt like a little boy who had done something wrong, like Paula Johnson — that was her name wasn't it —  was shouting at that Baptist Church we used to attend in El Paso, Texas off Redd Road. I'm sorry, I said to the sister who was looking at me with faux anger, I run a lot. I meditate. I started to breathe hard and she checked me again, annoyed. Look, I'm going to give you one more chance. I'm going to go out there and come back and you do whatever you have to do, or you can't give.

I remember the way the late afternoon light was in that church in Texas. There was always some club going on, some set of activities, games that melted away into a story about God and hell and me asking for Jesus to forgive me again, hoping that it would take this time. I prayed whenever they invited us to because I was never sure whether I meant it enough, or if I even knew what it meant to mean it. I remember there were pizza parties and huge plastic gallon bottles of Walmart knock-off pop, the generic kind, Dr Thunder, Max Cola. It's not a real memory, but a conflation of memories, sitting on a folding chair, my fat legs in shorts sticking to the metal seat and a paper plate in my lap. The pile of pizza seemed to grow and grow, and then chips and we all kept eating, Paula Johnson pacing about somewhere, not upset at me exactly but upset.

How do you bring up your heart rate. I realised afterwards I should have thought of something sexy, but it didn't occur to me. I breathed quickly and shook my arm. If I could just stand up and run in place. If I could just stand up. I pretended I was running in the dark at night, and that I was being chased. I put two fingers on my throat and thought about a terrorist attack. I thought about all my family dying. The sister came back  and I apologised, and she went in again for the pulse, and then immediately to the clipboard. Fifty six. I made it, I got over fifty, they can take it from me. She started to leave and I felt like I wanted her to forgive me — please forgive me. Why do I want her to forgive me.