If given a chance to save a damsel in distress, would you take it or leave it? Any dick, thinking or unthinking, would take it because nothing shone brighter than any medal or trophy, except any gallant act, ancient or modern. What if the damsel was a cheesecake-liking and carbonara-loving, soon-to-be-married lady, in short, FAT? Would you take it or leave it?
“Why are you here?” I asked Gina, my voice as sour as the taste of year-old vinegar.
“I need your help, Herbert,” she replied. Those four words plus my name tickled my taste buds.
She told me, and I couldn’t conceal my grin. Her second unannounced visit at my place in the wee hours of the night brought me back to Gym Olympia the following day, on my rest day.
I watched cars and cabs zoom on the street in front of me, taking their passengers either to their abodes or to some dark and smoky bar to wash the stress of the city day away. Every minute or three, a bus appeared, carrying those who couldn’t afford their own vehicle or the pricey cab fare or didn’t want to waste energy dealing with the impossible rush-hour traffic. I stood motionless outside the three-level building of Gym Olympia waiting for my fat damsel in distress. Would she arrive via car, cab or bus?
My question got its answer in less than a minute when a yellow cab halted in front of me. Gina Watson stepped out of the vehicle in a pink shirt and purple Adidas jogging pants, carrying an orange Nike gym bag on one shoulder. She waved at me. “Sorry I’m late.”
I looked at my watch. “Five minutes is no big deal.”
“Five minutes late is still late, no matter how you spin it.”
“Five minutes late in rush hour is impressive. You should see how the rest of the city uses rush hour to alter the meaning of punctuality.”
Gina giggled. “In my job, being late even for a second can make me hysterical.”
“What do you do, anyway? Everybody got so excited with the announcement of your wedding during our dinner we forgot to ask about your job.”
“I’m not surprised. She always has the need to be the first to know.”
Gina giggled again. We both knew a hundred examples of Sarah’s nosiness from our high school years. She must’ve recalled an instance of that.
“So, what do you do out here in the city?” I asked again.
“Everlasting Weddings at Sard Avenue. I coordinate weddings,” she said. “From bouquets, decorations, photographers, videographers, emcees, invitations and food; I take care of them all.”
“Here’s a silly question. Is a wedding coordinator’s ultimate dream to coordinate her own wedding?”
“Absolutely! I didn’t hire anyone. I wanted to do it myself.” Gina laughed, annoying me a bit.
I looked at my watch. “Time is flying. We should step in.” I motioned toward the gym’s entrance.
The two of us went inside Gym Olympia. With the help of the receptionist, Amy, Gina enrolled in a three-month membership plan. We parted ways on the second floor, going to our respective locker rooms to leave our things.
The men’s locker room wasn’t packed much. It was Thursday. The number of people at the gym always decreased as each week neared its tail. I picked a vacant locker near the door and unbuttoned my shirt. The view in the mirror was so big, I couldn’t help but feel attracted to my reflection.
Of course, I had every damn right to admire my torso in the mirror. Like everything I obtained in Cinnabar City, my physique didn’t come to me easy. Some gym members of Olympia who started around the same time I did saw results before long. But I fought with internal shame and self-doubt for a year before I started seeing progress from my workout. At some point, I almost caved and took steroids to have something to show for my effort. But I wanted to achieve things in the most honest way possible, even if it had to take longer to obtain them.
I envied Francis, who never had to worry about his diet. Even if he binged on boxes of pizza or donuts for one night, his body knew how to dispose of anything that would become fat in other people’s bodies. Girls often fell for his skinny-guy-with-abs schtick, which most of the dudes in the gym would also envy I was sure.
I also envied Bernard who was the only guy in our high school group born as a mesomorph. He achieved his ideal body a year before he got married. After my godson was born, fatherhood and beer started to catch up around his belly, but he never showed any insecurity about it. Even with the disappearance of his abs, his body looked better than a lot of the single guys in the city.
If Gina could see what I was seeing in the mirror, she’d be ashamed of how she let herself go. Danny was most likely a skinny guy because no male health nut would ever date a fat girl. Why would they pair up with women who didn’t share the same dedication they had with their bodies? Their wedding invitation only showed their faces and I knew it was the right choice. An underweight guy and an overweight girl? What an unsightly couple!
I copped a feel of my right biceps when a male voice startled me out of my self-admiration. “Looks good.”
The mirror reflected the most annoying member and pest of Gym Olympia, Leopold. He had a freaky grin on his face while eyeing my nipples. I pulled my workout shirt from my bag and put it on.
“You’re getting bigger every week, Herbert,” he continued.
Amy told me before that Leopold had been a member of Gym Olympia longer than I had been, cycling among the other gyms in the city. Some months I saw him around, some months I didn’t. I had never seen him lift a single dumbbell or barbell. He spent most of his time on the treadmill or StairMaster doing his lousy exercise if he wasn’t waiting for prey at the locker room.
“You’re his new target,” Amy told me one rainy night a couple of months back, one of the few instances her voice didn’t come out as a shriek.
“Who?” I asked.
“The gym’s most loathed gay.”
I shook my head. I was still unaware then.
Amy showed me an ID photograph on her computer. “Leopold. Don’t you know him?”
“I see him sometimes in the locker room. How do you know that?”
“I got eyes on every wall in this building.” Amy’s voice returned to its normal (or not) pitchy tone. “He was hounding Marty and Edward before. Now he’s turned his eyes on you and one of the new members.”
“Are you sure with what you’re telling me?
Amy rolled her eyes. “Ever wonder why Leopold’s body remains unattractive after being a member of this gym for a long time?” She waited for me to say something but I was stunned. “He’s not here to work out. Never.”
“Thank you,” I told Leopold in haste. The other guys in the room were also preoccupied with their own thoughts about their bodies, either good or bad, to pay any attention to Leopold or me. I changed from my pants to a pair of shorts while facing my locker.
“I saw you arrive with a girl. New friend?”
If I told Leopold that Gina was my girlfriend, there’s a chance he’d leave me alone for good. There was also a chance of word spreading around I was dating a fattie. “Old friend who wants my help,” I said.
“Maybe you can help—”
I padlocked my locker and headed to the door. “And she’s waiting outside. Gotta bolt.”
Gina was already waiting for me right where we agreed to meet.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said.
She looked at her watch. “Five minutes late is no big deal.”
“I see what you did there.”
“Does your fiancé know?” I asked with no intention of speaking Danny’s name ever.
“About my plan to lose weight before our wedding? No. It’s a surprise for him and a secret. He’s out of the country at the moment for work. But he’ll be back before the wedding.”
She didn’t know, too. My plan was a secret. She might believe she’s a damsel in distress but I wasn’t her knight in shining armor. A dragon, maybe, and not the friendly type.
“What do we do now? I’m both excited and nervous,” Gina said.
I looked at the row of machines near us. With a villainous grin, I told her, “Treadmill. We’re going to use the treadmill.”
Herbert Novelli lives an ordinary life. Breakfast. Work. Lunch. Work. Gym. Dinner. Sleep. Plus the occasional get together with his long-time friends who entered adulthood together with him in Cinnabar City.
An unannounced visit to his apartment one ordinary night brings his ex-girlfriend Gina Watson. After leaving him with a vague letter and a broken heart in their old home town Verona, Gina’s unexpected appearance is the last thing Herbert expects to happen.
Gina hands Herbert an invitation to her wedding with another man as a strange peace offering. Herbert accepts it, a show of his willingness to bury the hatchet.
But Death has a funny way of doing his job in the city. Sometimes he makes a grand fanfare of his arrival. Other times, he comes unannounced with a wedding invitation on hand.