David R Ewens

God’s Little Punishment

1st July 2010

Cyndi waddled over with the usual large and cheerful smile on her face. Emma could see the rolls of fat bulging out from the over-tight black fitted top the other woman was wearing. It had to be extra-extra large. Emma knew that she shouldn’t think that Cyndi ‘waddled’. ‘Walked’ would do just as well, and so would ‘large’ instead of ‘fat’. Emma knew that she shouldn’t be uncharitable. She had had a good Catholic upbringing and acknowledged the value of being kind, thoughtful and considerate. Anyway, there was also the matter of sin. If she sinned, she would be punished. She discreetly crossed herself.

Cyndi’s large face loomed in the mirror. Her plump arms and hands readied themselves for work on Emma’s hair. Her body seemed to envelop Emma’s own slight frame, and she felt an odd mixture of revulsion and a sense of being mothered.

‘The usual?’ Cyndi asked brightly.

‘Yes please’, murmured Emma.

Cyndi had a ‘larger than life’ personality to complement her physical bulk. Perhaps her size had fuelled the development of her personality; or perhaps her personality and sheer zest for life was behind her bulk. Maybe there was no connection. Emma just fell into the dream-like musings she always indulged herself in when she went to the hairdressers. The two women, one extremely large and one delicately petite, lapsed into their usual comfortable way of behaving as Cyndi’s hands began their dexterous work. Cyndi prattled away; Emma gave half an ear to listening, muttered an occasional reply, but mainly daydreamed.

It was when Cyndi had exhausted the account of her holiday – the sauciness of her ‘gentleman-friend’ and the ‘gobbiness’ of her wayward daughter – and moved on to the story of the mad late dash last Saturday night for a kebab ‘with all the trimmings’ that the worst of Emma’s uncharitableness flooded back.

‘What is it with this woman?’ she thought venomously. ‘She’s five feet six, the wrong side of 20 stones and she’s still stuffing herself full of food- the wrong kind, too.’

Her admiration for Cyndi’s sheer cheerfulness was completely extinguished. She struggled to contain a tart response by biting her lip.

To stop herself, she forced her thoughts away. That holiday in Kenya only three weeks ago had been wonderful – the colours vivid, the people vibrant. She had walked barefoot, like a true African, on the sun-baked red clay soil. That was a holiday she’d never forget. Her cut and perm over and her appointment made for next time, Emma went for her skinny latte as usual in the little café further down the street. She was a fastidious eater. She had never over-indulged herself and even approaching 40 her weight had never gone above seven and a half stones. Why did so many people so grossly over-eat? It was beyond her. It drove her mad with impatience. She could not accept that people became ‘large’ because they were unhappy, because their self- esteem was low, because they had been abused as children. Piffle! People were large because they over-ate! Only her God-fearing Catholic upbringing and fear of retribution softened her angry intolerance.

A week later, the swelling began. There was no explanation for it. A huge unsightly tyre developed around Emma’s slender waist. Her face swelled up. She could not bear the sight of her own body. She could not bear the horrified looks of her husband and family. What on earth had gone wrong? She used to think of Cyndi only when a hairdressing appointment was due. Now she could barely think of anyone or anything else.

It was a desperate, bloated woman whom the GP welcomed into this surgery one gloomy Thursday evening.

‘Emma Lucas?’ he said doubtfully.

‘Doctor Matthews, I’ve been your patient for twenty five years, but you barely recognise me!’ wept Emma.

Once the GP’s shock had abated, his examination was thorough and sympathetic. He asked question after question as he examined the grotesquely inflated body.

‘Have you recently been abroad?’
‘Yes,’ said Emma, ‘on holiday to Kenya.’
The GP nodded. ‘Did you walk barefoot at any stage?’ ‘All the time’, said Emma tearfully.

‘We must send you to hospital for more tests of course, and I think you’re going to need surgery. I’m not certain, but I’m afraid I think you have a rare form of elephantiasis, and that’s what’s caused all this swelling. There are chemical particles in the red soil you have been walking on. They have got lodged in you through your feet started to interfere with your lymph flow and perhaps your blood circulation.

Emma could not take the explanation in. She could only think regretfully of Cyndi. She repented too late. Her wail pierced through the consulting room and into the waiting room, where people shuffled uneasily in their seats. Doctor Matthews’s kindly face filled with alarm. His face was blank with incomprehension as she cried ‘No it’s not that – it’s none of that -it’s God’s punishment!’

David R Ewens


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