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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Deal - Part 1

The following is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed below are purely fictional. Any resemblance or similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.

The following is copyrighted to Blogannath. All rights are reserved.

The Deal

Some people eat to live. Some others live to eat. Thomas Dehaan made no secret of the fact that he belonged to the second category. Not many people who met him would have had any doubts about which category he belonged to either.

Tom had always liked eating. He struggled with his weight throughout his childhood, teen, and adult years. He had always been overweight for his height, but his fear of diseases linked to obesity outweighed his desire for food every time he exceeded about 200 lbs in weight. He would then make a supreme effort to rein in his appetite, and bring his weight down into the realm of obese from that of morbidly obese.

It did not help much that he had married Mary, a gourmet cook of some note. Whether Tom was attracted to her or only to her food was the topic of several rounds of friendly debate at family gatherings. That the object of Mary's attraction was Tom, and nothing else, was beyond debate. Mary adored Tom, all 200 or so pounds of him, all three of his chins, and his several pairs of love handles! She had always wanted to marry a gourmand, and when she had found Tom who was not only a gourmand, but also a man who was not afraid of wearing his love of food on his sleeve (and all other parts of his body too), she knew he was the one!

Mary was Tom's biggest supporter during his struggles with his weight. She used all of her cooking skills to try to prepare tasty yet healthy meals for her husband. She took classes in healthy cooking to try to make sure she did the right things to keep Tom's weight in check. But, it was always a losing battle. Tom would pack on the pounds for a few months, then deprive himself almost to the point of starvation to bring his weight back down. Nothing Mary did helped stop this yoyoing of his weight.

And where Tom's weight went, so did metrics of his overall well-being such as his cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin resistance, joint problems, etc. Tom was actually quite health-conscious and was almost religious about his annual checkups. His doctor never seemed to deliver good news, but Tom did not stop seeing his doctor because of that. Tom was deathly afraid of anything that could make him a burden on his wife. So, he tried his hardest to control what he ate, how much he ate and how many times a day he ate. Unfortunately Tom's brain was finely tuned to love what was bad for him and hate what was good for him. It looked like Tom was doomed to either feeling miserable about the food he ate, or feeling miserable about the effects of the food he ate!

All of this changed one fine day that had started out like any other day, with no hint that the day was about bring forth anything unexpected. Tom and Mary were sitting on their new couch (they always bought couches with insurance for weight-related damage, and the furniture store invariably ended up giving them a new couch every two years or so), watching TV, with a large bowl of heavily buttered popcorn between them. Suddenly, there were three sharp and precise knocks on their door. They looked at each other in surprise since neither was expecting company.

The company they did get was most extraordinary. He was a neatly dressed gentleman who took dressing well to quite an extreme. He wore a three-piece suit, and carried an open-type watch on a chain in his right pocket. In his left breast pocket was a neatly folded kerchief. The creases in his sleeves and pants-legs could have inflicted cuts on people who brushed against them carelessly. Tom and Mary could not tell the color of the shoes he was wearing because they were polished until they shone like mirrors. He carried a heavy white cane with a bright gold-finish handle shaped like a dog's head even though he never placed its other end on the floor for support.

The stranger did not bother introducing himself. He told the couple that he was authorized from "very high up" to make a deal with them. The deal would allow them to eat whatever they wanted, however much they wanted, whenever they wanted, for as long as they wanted, without suffering any of the bad consequences of unhealthy eating. All it would cost them, the stranger announced with no change in his voice or expression, was their eternal souls when they were eventually free of their bodies.

There it was, out in the open. There had been no thunder or lightning when the words were spoken. There was no booming voice from the heavens, none of the pets in the neighborhood had cringed or let out plaintive howls, or practically any other sound, for that matter. The stranger had talked about their eternal souls much like a newspaper salesman might have talked about the benefits of a subscription to the local newspaper at the entrance to the local grocery store. You can read whatever section of the newspaper you wanted, whenever you wanted, for as long as you wanted. And all it would cost you was $2.50 a week. No big deal! In fact, the stranger made it sound as if a peal of thunder at that point would have been as incongruous as peals of thunder everytime the newspaper salesman pitched the newspaper to another shopper. The stranger asked Tom and Mary to think about the deal for 24 hours, before letting himself out.

Tom and Mary were not big believers. Tom was not even sure he had a soul or that it was eternal. But he was a healthy skeptic about other aspects of the deal that had been offered. Neither of them was unfamiliar with how these types of deals worked, based on their reading of popular horror fiction and the horror films they had seen. They did not believe that such deals happened in real life. But if such a deal was indeed made, they also knew that there was always a catch with them. Something would happen that would make the deal-maker yield his soul sooner than normal. At least in the books and movies they were familiar with, such deals did not go well for the people who entered into them with whoever this person "very high up" was.

Tom and Mary had always made fun of such books and movies after they were done reading or watching them, as the case may be. They had always told each other that they would have made sure the deal included clauses that would prevent them from falling premature victim to whatever ill fate befell the protagonists in these books and movies. Now, it looked like they were being given the opportunity to make exactly such a deal. Would they be able to put their learnings to good use? Would they be able to create a catch-free deal that allowed them to reap the benefits of the deal without being cheated out of any of it?

Perhaps, if they were really careful. They decided that the best way to proceed was for one of them to take the deal to test it out. Based on feedback from this person, the other person could then try to negotiate some changes to the deal before signing on. And so it was decided: Tom would take the deal while Mary would not. Unlimited eating did not appeal as much to Mary as it did to Tom anyway.

The stranger, as can be expected in these kinds of cases, arrived precisely 24 hours after he had said he would be back in 24 hours. He was once again dressed impeccably, but instead of a cane, he carried a large double-scroll in his hands. In the double-scroll was one long sheet of vaguely wheat-colored vellum paper with tiny, but neat, writing on it. The paper had been unrolled almost fully from one of the scrolls, and into the other one, to reveal the words "The Deal" at the top of the sheet of paper. Tom and Mary were a little disappointed with the wording, but the person "very high up" obviously worked in strange ways! They were also, in their heart of hearts, disappointed that it had been a perfect, sunny day throughout with not a single cloud in the sky, not to mention any possibility of lightning, thunder, fog, rain or other inconveniences associated with making such a momentous deal with someone "very high up"!!

After Tom and Mary intimated the stranger that they would be willing to hear the details of what the stranger had to offer with an open mind, he started reading from the sheet of paper. In a crisp, clean voice, he proceeded to read "The Deal" off the paper while slowly unrolling the sheet from the lower scroll into the upper scroll. The writing was simple and without dramatic flourishes. It was easy to understand, in fact, it was written so that an average 5th grader would have no problem understanding it. Tom and Mary felt like they were listening to a reading of "Swiss Family Robinson in Words of One Syllable!"

And the deal was truly as the stranger had advertised the day before: Tom and Mary would not suffer from any consequences of bad eating such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, cancerous growths, back problems, knee problems, foot problems, etc., etc. In fact, Tom and Mary would not fall sick or suffer from any maladies at all, food-related or not! Tom was in fact surprised to learn that bad eating could lead to a lot more than just heart attacks, strokes, cancer and various other weight-related maladies that modern science had recognized as being caused by bad eating habits. "The Deal" itself would have been an eye-opener to most doctors and obesity researchers! But the non-disclosure agreement that was part of the deal was quite clear about Tom or Mary not being able to reveal these details to anyone.

"The Deal" also included a section (appropriate titled "Dirty Tricks"), that precluded the possibility of Tom or Mary falling victim to practically all accidents that could be a consequence of their weights. The stranger had stopped reading when he got to that section, and told Tom and Mary that his client did not have the power to change or void basic physical laws. They would gain weight and bulk because of their eating, there was no getting around it.

But, by the same token, his client would not be able to short-circuit the laws of physics to cause bizarre, improbable or downright implausible accidents. This section of "The Deal" explained that they would not cause well-constructed buildings to collapse around themselves, cause an earthquake or tsunami, be attacked by blood-thirsty piranha in their own bed, or fall through the earth's crust to its core, among other possible "dirty tricks". But they were still subject to normal physical laws and would do well to avoid quicksand, molten lava, rickety bridges designed for 98 lb weaklings, and the business end of firearms, among other things, obvious and not-so-obvious.

Even though they had done little except listened to the stranger, Tom and Mary felt exhausted at the end of the reading. The stranger seemed to have suffered no ill-consequences from the long reading, and looked just as perky as he had when he had stepped inside their home a few hours back. Tom had the irrational urge to ask him if he ever sweated or had to relieve himself, but wisely refrained from doing so.

The stranger enquired if Tom or Mary required more time to think things over. Tom and Mary looked at each other. They had thought of several ways in which someone could short-change Tom with a deal that promised him unlimited eating pleasure, but "The Deal" seemed to preclude all such misfortunes in pretty iron-clad language. Tom arched his eyebrows and shrugged as best as a man with no neck could. His wife spread her palms in front of her, and said, "seems OK to me . . ." Tom then looked at the stranger and said, "the sooner I sign on, the sooner I can start eating, right?" The stranger smiled, revealing teeth that seemed to have been custom-made for his mouth out of polished ivory.

Tom then told him that he was going to sign on to "The Deal", but Mary would not. Tom held out the hope that Mary might sign on eventually after having Tom test it out for a few years, but it was not for her now. The stranger pondered this for a while, then smiled once again and said, "perhaps I may be able to offer something different, of value to Mary, to get her to sign on in a few years."

With that, he reached into an inside pocket of his suit and produced an elegant, ancient-looking pen which he proferred to Tom. Tom gingerly took the pen, shot one last glance at his wife, and seeing no discouraging signs there, affixed his signature with a firm hand on the scroll of paper where the stranger pointed. The stranger told Tom to keep the pen, with best compliments from his client. Somewhat incongruously, he also told Tom he would receive a copy of the signed sheet by mail within the next 4 to 6 weeks (he did not offer a phone number which Tom could call if he failed to receive the copy within this time-frame, and Tom was too pre-occupied with other things to ask the stranger for one). He then folded the paper tightly onto the scrolls and let himself out.

To Be Continued . . .

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