By Isabelle B.L
Sometimes I ate chips from gutters. I never understood why people threw unwanted chips in suburban gutters when bins were all around. The fish and chip shop used to wrap the greasy food in newspaper print. I walked past often, but never walked in. I stood in front of the newsagent’s next to the fish and chip shop reading. The headlines and covers of the weekly magazines showed skinny stars with permed hair teased to great heights. Teens with trim waistlines in acid-wash jeans carried their Walkmans, stepped into the fish and chip shop chewing gum, and walked out eating chips from newspaper cones. The salt was odorless, but not invisible. The chips sparkled. I walked away, hungry.
I returned when there were fewer cars, and kids were in their bedrooms playing Pac-Man, and other kids were hanging around at the skatepark. The fish and chip shop owner used to take long naps in the afternoon. Unwanted chips lay in the gutter. I walked towards them like someone about to shoplift. I needed an accomplice or two. Digging into my bag, I found four accomplices. Four keys, that seconds later, dropped exactly where I wanted them to—on the chips. I grabbed the keys and scooped up some chips along the way.
The salt melted in my mouth. The potato filling spilled out of its crispy shell. I wanted more. The four seasons passed. I dropped my four accomplices many times. I picked up chips many times. Once the scorching days of January came by again, I no longer needed my accomplices. My hefty hand became a grapple truck with a mechanical claw capturing the cold chips. I was no longer concerned with eyes peering through thin slits. Blinds letting in much more than sunlight. Standing comfortably in their lounge rooms watching, judging, labelling, picking up the rotary dial and spreading gossip. The subject of me raised eyebrows. I became an adjective. At school, down the street, especially that street, eyes turned into an X-ray machine.
I was hungry, but I wasn’t poor. When I could buy chips and eat them from a table, from a picnic mat, at the beach with gawking seagulls for an audience, I was no longer hungry.
“Nothing but skin and bones,” I heard them say when my body shrunk. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives changing to the rhythm of my metamorphosis.
Chips are now sold in hygienic and recyclable containers. Now and then, I see chips in gutters. I hesitate. I walk closer. I step back, palms wet. Foods dipped in oil are my enemy. Oil penetrates the environmentally friendly container. I despise that lonely chip in the corner of its box full of fat and calories. A seagull doesn’t think like I do. It doesn’t mind this type of oil spill. I back off.
While travelling along my internal red freeway, en route to my brain, Ghrelin takes a wrong turn. I don’t know what hunger is anymore. I examine the chips I have prepared for others. Thick wedges. I squeeze one between my fingers. The snowy stuffing leaks out slowly; the sparkles stick to my bony fingers. I’m not tempted. I’m more concerned that the sticks of sunshine will get cold.
My arms, covered in fine, downy hair, carry the bowl of chips to the dinner table. My fork dances around my lettuce leaves. I stroke the new hairs on my arm, which are soft like those of a newborn baby. Like a newborn baby, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Maybe one day, chips will accompany my water-based vegetables. I could even go for seconds. I can walk past the scales in the bathroom. Maybe one day, instead of a glass of water with an effervescent laxative producing a chemical reaction, I can choose a glass of lemonade. Enjoy its lemony and sweet taste alongside my crunchy chips. Maybe one day, I’ll accept invitations where food will be in abundance. Maybe one day, the numbness will vanish, and I’ll start living, using my five senses to nourish my mind and body. When I touch a food, I want to feel its texture and contours. Is it rough or soft? Delight in watching food sizzle, change shape in a saucepan full of water and bubbles like a spa but for food. Explore how food rises, transforms from liquid to solid. Take my new oven mitts, which took ages to choose, grab the dish and serve myself a hearty portion. I will watch basil, curcuma, and pepper rain onto my plate. I take a pause to extol the waft of aromas that surround me and then spear the food like there’s no tomorrow, but there is. Breakfast will be even better.
Life and living seem like colossal tasks. For now, I can take it one chip at a time.