BodSwap with Moses by Wendy Rawlings
Manuela in scrub top and cheetah pants hasn’t even finished telling us what to expect from our new bodies when the Kenyans stride in on their excellent legs. She shouts each of their names. “Kipchoge! Nourreddine! Alpesh!” She looks down at her clipboard again, like maybe it’s lying. “Moses?”
These are the Kenyan runners that didn’t make the cut. Didn’t win the Boston Marathon, didn’t win the New York City Marathon, didn’t win the Caballeros de Yuma or the Chinklamoose Marathon. Maybe they came in seventh. Maybe they tore a hamstring and hopped off the course in excruciating pain at the eighteen-mile marker. Maybe they had diarrhea running down their leg that day, and the Americans, for once, beat them. The way Manuela talks, you’d think these Kenyans couldn’t do twenty-six miles in a station wagon. In elite sports you need to be elite to compete, Manuela says. If you’re not elite, you’re salt, and not the good kind of Himalayan pink salt sold at the finer supermarket chains but the salt poured on the street after a blizzard. Road salt.
Manuela hates they took her out of PICU and stuck her in Bariatrics. Her motto is Bariatrics es como Prohibition: a really bad idea. On days she’s feeling cruddy, Bariatrics es como the Holocaust: a really really bad idea. I’ve tried to learn some Spanish from Manuela, because the sound of her first language puts her in a better mood. Results: mixed.
Now Manuela yells our names: “Donna! Patti! Trish! Gretchen! Bertha!”
We are the fat ladies in the post-post-post-post Obamacare circus that is health care in America. We are the lackers of self-control who snack on TurfShaker bars that weigh three pounds each. I have tried every weight-loss scheme in the book. I tried la tummy tuck and la lapband, y la stomach staple, y el biliopancreatic diversion con duodenal switch. At one point I considered having todo el estomago removed. Now I’m down to the last option: BodSwap with one of these washed-up Kenyans. Manuela’s other motto is “Kenyans Melt the Fat Away, OK OK.” Because they do. And then they give us our bodies back. Like dry-cleaning.
We sit in red plastic chairs made for dwarf children, and the Kenyans rotate from one fat lady to the next. My first is Kipchoge. He has a huge forehead. He’s a member of a Bantu tribe. Bantu are foraging peoples. I tell him I’m the opposite of a foraging people, unless foraging means digging around in the freezer at night for another TurfShaker bar. I spend two minutes talking about the old one-point-five-pound TurfShaker versus the new and much touted TurfShaker with double the Chewy High-Calorie Fun. He tells me his parents died in a cholera epidemic, plus all nine of his siblings were killed by invading tribes.
Moses, bouncing on the edge of his plastic chair, has a wary look of emergency, like he might make a break for it. Well, he won’t be doing much of that if he ends up BodSwapping with me. He has some kind of disorder that makes his hands shake. We’re all damaged goods, but he’s a little more damaged than most. It occurs to me I might be able to negotiate a discount if I BodSwap with him.
Moses asks me how I got so big.
I tell Moses: Baby, I was born big.
Moses asks if largeness maybe also has anything to do with the American food that is so fast.
I tell Moses genetics is a bummer.
Moses agrees many things are a bummer, such as civil war in his country and also cholera epidemic.
I’m not sure I’m so crazy about Moses, even if I were to get the shaky hands discount. Moses is judgy.
Our three minutes are up.
Nourreddine asks me to stand up and turn in a circle.
No one who weighs three hundred and fifty pounds wants to turn in a circle.
“Please, I help you with my lonely determi- nation.” Nourreddine has a good attitude and wolfish teeth. Before this, he trained in Tokyo, where he was the tallest person in the city, and no one spoke to him for four years.
Nourreddine tells me about the tribal markings on his face. I show him the dolphin tattoo on my wrist. Once I’m skinny I plan to get three more dolphins leaping over a rainbow on my lower back.
He makes approving noises. “If I had the tattoo it would be the tattoo of your face right here.” He points to his chest.
Wow, over the top. But okay. Sell it, Nourreddine.
I wake from surgery with Elise’s hands on my face.
“Keep your hands under the sheet,” she whispers.
“Stop smushing my face.”
“I’m caressing your face. That’s what a lover’s hands do.”
“It feels like smushing.” Elise and I have been together nine years. She’s a late-to-the-party lesbian and very attached. If she could attach herself to me so the two of us merged into one big double-vaginaed, TurfShaker-bar-eating body, she would put up the money in an instant.
“Eventually you’re gonna wanna hold hands, my love. May as well embrace the darkness.”
“Don’t say it that way,” Elise says priggishly.
I decide now’s not the time to tell her I went in for the Moses Shaky Hands discount.
Elise was married to men before we got together, so the temporary Kenyan penis thing shouldn’t be such a big deal. The bigger deal is the temporary Kenyan black skin thing. Elise didn’t grow up around blacks and says their skin makes her nervous. “Believe you me, Sugar Magnolia,” I told her, “your skin, historically speaking, should rightfully make them far nervouser than theirs makes you.”
A few days later I wake up with a huge thing for the supermodel Iman. And by “thing,” I mean an ill-concealed-from-Manuela-who’s- checking-my-vitals hard-on. Iman, in tiny leatherette shorts; Iman, with gold-dipped feather earrings and a gold bra; Iman, crawling toward me on her knees with her purple-black aureoles pushing her nipples in my direction— and boy is my mouth open and drooling in anticipation. Yeezus, are porno Iman fantasies how Moses gets through a marathon?
“Hey, Mama,” I say, not knowing at the time that many Kenyans refer to women generally in greeting as “Mama.”
“I’ll bend that thing till it breaks off you.” Manuela actually swipes at it, like the penis tenting the sheets is a species of rodent.
“Don’t mess with the merchandise. I gotta give it back,” I remind her.
Look at how those cheetah pants flatter the buxomness of Manuela’s lower half. Even her scrubs top with the miniature-deer-galloping- away-from-hunters-blasting-at-them-with-rifles pattern gets me going.
So this is what it’s like to be a man from the neck down. Everything activates me. I’m like a horndog version of Elise’s immune system in hay fever season.
When finally I get to go home from the hospital, our little dog Jean-Charles decides she doesn’t know me or at least doesn’t like the person with my face and Moses’s shaky black hands to pet her. Hadn’t anticipated that; also hadn’t anticipated Elise, because of her rheumatoid arthritis, walking so slowly that I end up carrying her back from walking the dog. Alhough, since the dog won’t let me carry her as well, Elise slung over my shoulder has to hold the leash while the dog and I make our way around the golf course in the middle of our development. I’m starting to like these Kenyan legs.
“All the blood’s rushing to my head,” Elise complains. She’s kind of big to stay hoisted over my shoulder like that. I think about the weird sensation of all the blood rushing to Moses’s cock whenever I think about Iman or even Manuela. Even thinking about thinking this makes all the blood rush to Moses’s cock. Beezus, Manuela in those cheetah pants! I bet she’s a monster animal in the sack. I force myself to stop thinking about Manuela being a monster animal and wonder how Moses is doing with all three hundred and fifty pounds of me attached to him. It occurs to me I should call the guy, ask him to coffee, give him the last seventeen TurfShaker bars from the freezer if he’s got cravings, ask him the names of the foods I’ve been craving, maybe or maybe not mention Iman.
It’s a while before we’re able to meet at the Starbucks in the strip mall near the hospital. I wonder if I’ll recognize myself or if Moses will have slimmed me down beyond recognition. The quid pro quo for these Kenyans getting citizenship is they’ve got to MELTFATFASTTM, and that means getting our big bodies up and running as soon as the sutures heal.
I spot Moses in a corner of the shop. He looks schlumpier than I remember him. Right, of course, that’s because he’s carrying around a couple hundred extra pounds. He’s got my body wearing a lavender (not my color) T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and the word azzercise! on the chest. Cheezus, if there’s one thing I don’t miss it’s my ample and not particularly well-defined bosom. It’s like a single entity that reaches from just below the neck to somewhere in the vicinity of his waist. My waist. Whatever.
“How you been, Mama?” he asks.“What’s happening, Bro? You going to Jazzercise?”
“Two or three times in a day. Your body cannot run yet so we dance. Dancing melts the fat and puts the joy in your overwork heart.”
My heart? I’m getting confused about personal pronouns. Does this mean I tell him he’s having a lot of joy in his overwork penis? About Iman fantasies and even some about Manuela, our bariatric nurse? “I always liked to dance,” I say, deciding prudence is the better part of valor. “I mean, you know, swaying to the beat of “Ebony and Ivory” kind of thing.”
“Not aerobic dancing like to the beat of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”?”
I admit I have never aerobic danced to “Hey Ya.” Not even close.
Moses sips a black coffee, and I slurp at something frappucinized and topped with lots of whipped cream.
“Shake it like the Polaroid picture,” Moses says as I lick cream off my lip. The deal is I’m allowed to do whatever I want with his body, but his job with mine is to MELTFATFASTTM. I didn’t ask to be born a fat American with cash any more than Moses put in for cholera epidemics and tribal warfare. You take what’s handed to you.
“My hands still shaking?” Moses asks.
“I like your hands.” He holds them out for me, as if they’re old friends I haven’t seen in a while. “Your hands don’t shake, and they both have cushions.”
“My hands are pudgy.”
“Pudgy,” he says slowly.
“You have strong hands, even though they do shake.”
He shakes his head wistfully. “I get strong hands in the wars. We use the bow and arrow.”
“In the twenty-first century you use a bow and arrow?”
“It is Maasai tradition.”
“Kreezus.” I put my frothy drink down and hold out his big strong hands to clasp my small pudgy ones that look like fat white fish that can dart away invisible under sea grass. “Buddy, you need some new traditions.”
Moses nods gravely. “Bow and arrow more deadly than machete.”
“Did you kill people with a machete, too?” I look at the black hands with their ropey veins on the backs. All these hands have been doing recently is knitting a freaking balaclava for the neighbor’s kid.
Moses starts to tell me more about machetes but I stop him. I’m not sure I want to hear about these hands taking human life via bow and arrow, machete, or whatever other vintage killing tool is in the offing.
Who is Moses anymore, and who am I? I am not a person who would kill anyone with a machete, even the worst possible rapist with a long rap sheet. If Moses got sent back to Kenya right now, would he try to kill one of those rival tribe guys with my pudgy hands? I think of how Elise still won’t hold my hand unless I grab hers, and then her hand gets all sweaty, and she makes me let go. But still. That’s not all of it.
“Moses, I have something to ask you.”
“What if we didn’t swap back?”
He looks startled. “Isn’t this part of the rules?”
“What if I went and talked to them? I could pay extra or something.”
Moses nods without speaking. Is there any more American phrase than, “I could pay extra or something”?
I whisper when I tell Moses the reason: how my partner of nine years wakes me now in the dark of our bed at night and nuzzles my face with her chin and tells me she wants me to hold her down and do it to her. Give it to me, she whispers in my ear, with that big black cock.
“Things are going well for you and my . . . body,” Moses says.
I concede this. Things are going spiffily.
“Your wife likes when you’re a man for her.”
“Something like that.”
Moses shrugs. Que sera sera.
“What about your wife?” I ask.
He shrugs again. “‘A woman’s polite devotion is her greatest beauty.’ African proverb.”
“So it’s cool?” No one can say I don’t look the image of suave in this tracksuit. In my old life I would have killed to look this good. “I can keep you for a while?” I feel like I’m talking about an adoptable pug.
He says I can have his body as long as I want. It doesn’t matter to him, he says. He’s learning to live in his big American woman body. We shimmy together, a little Jazzercise move I remember from the old days, when I couldn’t lose the weight and Elise rejected me. “You’ll be okay?” I ask him. He gives a little ceremonial bow, and I almost say hi to myself in that lavender shirt. Hi, self. As I pull onto the highway, I see Moses on the dusty service road, walking my body down to size.
Wendy Rawlings is the author of The Agnostics, a novel, and Come Back Irish, a book of short stories. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared most recently in The Florida Review, Meridian and the 2016 Pushcart Prize anthology. She teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Alabama.