Standing near the vending machine, I count coins. I remember stuffing a mutilated dollar in my back pocket. But for someone like me who weighs over two hundred and eighty pounds, it’s an impossible task to reach my rear without getting out of breath.

“Mouth big enough to swallow a ship, appetite as much as a starving hyena,” my father used to say.

Spicy Doritos or sour cream onion chips?

I jerk my chin towards the soda machine, licking my lips. Reminds me of mama. She used to lick her lips in her sleep. Those days after she fed all of us and slept with a droning stomach. Her mouth opening and closing in her sleep as if she was chewing cud. The next day, she’d work without eating much.

I can still smell the kerosene. I can still hear the slight hiss of gas near the flame of a stove as I push the Doritos in. I sense a layer of red dust settling over my teeth. I remember how I sat near the broken steps and waited for dinner—how the first bite tasted, the next, and the last. Especially the last bite that I always delayed to convince myself that I was full.

“Hunger is in your mind,” mama often said, looking at me. “It isn’t feeding but craving that keeps you going in life.” I’d nod and disappear, and think of her clicking tongue with those rising buds—stuck on the ceiling of her mouth like crawling insects feeding on stale air. And it calmed me for a few seconds.

The last supper I had with her was in her hospital room, six months ago. I ran out of patience watching her chemo-sucked fingers struggling to open a sealed yogurt. I wanted to stuff it into her, making up for those hungry nights, all of it—the small heap of peas, the light butter over the potato skins, the invisible salt tickling between spaces—waiting for her. Instead she stared at her plate with indifference as if she gained control of her craving long ago.

I wipe my pulpy fingers and my pale nails. Food stuck in edges. I touch my face. It hurts. I try to smile but I cannot. The layers of skin, the folds of fat, absorb it. Whether absence of food or surplus, hunger has its way.

I lick my lips.

 

Rachna Kulshrestha lives in McKinney,TX with her husband and two teenage kids. She moved from India to the United States two decades ago and is an Electrical Engineer by profession. Her work has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Redactions, Jersey Devil Press, Prime Number, Dewpoint, FlapperHouse, 2 Bridges Review and Columbia journal of Literature and Art Online.