BBW Cinta Senese

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Benny Mon

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~BBW, SSBBW, Stuffing, Gluttony

Cinta Senese
(A successor, though not a direct sequel, to Peer Pressure)
by Benny Mon


Chapter 1

Carmen would never forget the first time she first saw Jahiba. She was out that night at the Comedy Cellar, watching her friend and roommate Natalie at an open mic. Natalie, if you asked Carmen, was really not that good at stand-up, and much better suited to the scripted comedy roles she was training for in college. So in an especially slow moment, when Natalie was in the middle of a long, complicated setup and Carmen’s drink was empty, she let her eyes drift over the audience. It was the usual crew on a Thursday night: not a totally empty house, but mostly college students avoiding their homework and some Brooklyn hipsters with nothing better to do, sneaking into Manhattan for a weeknight change of pace. Carmen imagined they’d each be opening at a coffee shop somewhere the next morning. She admired their audacity in staying out late before such an early morning.

In such a banal crowd, Jahiba stuck out all the more. Carmen’s eyes froze on this stunningly beautiful, absurdly fat young woman. She was stunned by how deep the girl’s belly was as it pushed out and down between her legs, how full the double chin that swallowed her neck and her jaw and flowed seamlessly into overblown cheeks, that spread wide as the girl broke into laughter at Natalie’s punchline. Her long, black hair was pulled into a ponytail that showed off those fat cheeks all the more. She wore a skin-tight, synthetic black top and flowy, high-waisted maroon pants, and her sleeves and pant legs ran all the way to her wrists and ankles. Even in profile, Carmen could see that this girl was wide enough to need two seats to sit on, two of the unsteady, old wooden chairs the Cellar paired at each table. Carmen couldn’t shake her surprise that they hadn’t shattered under this girl’s weight.

It was rude to stare, so Carmen yanked her gaze back to Natalie, who was basking in the laughter that had finally arrived near the end of her set. But Carmen couldn’t ignore the massive presence that sat across the room from her. She’d never seen anyone quite so fat, especially someone who looked her own age. Carmen was no stick herself, but she worked every day to keep her weight under 200 pounds. This girl didn’t seem to care at all, and on top of it she had such style and confidence. Carmen wasn’t the only one in the room sneaking glances at the enormous girl, but she didn’t seem to notice, let alone care. She was fully absorbed in Natalie’s routine and in the food at her table--now two empty baskets of wings and a half empty bottle of Dr. Pepper (her second). Carmen felt a pang of jealousy at how shamelessly gluttonous this girl was in public, and, what was worse, the girl’s eye seemed to catch her own as she looked up from the mostly consumed wings and soda. Again, Carmen’s eyes snapped back to the stage. She felt guilty for staring and for making the girl self-conscious.

Natalie wrapped up her set, and the MC thanked everyone and urged them to return tomorrow night. As the crowd began to filter out, Carmen stood up and ran her fingers through her long, dark brown hair as the long, thin Natalie walked over to greet her.

“So?” she asked her friend anxiously. “What’d you think?”

It was all Carmen could do not to stare at the massive girl, who was easing herself to her feet and reaching for her own coat. “It was good!” she told Natalie.

Natalie frowned. “You’re obviously lying.”

“No, I’m sorry, I’m distracted, just thinking about...work. Homework. It was good, really! You had the whole room laughing by the end.”

“It took me long enough,” sighed Natalie, pulling her curly blond hair into a ponytail.

“Standup is hard. You did better than I ever would.” That much was true. “And, you know, they say people only remember the beginning and the end of a thing. So you left them with a good impression!”

Natalie rolled her eyes and nodded reluctantly. “Maybe. Listen, I’m gonna go get my coat, I’ll be right back.” As she jogged backstage, Carmen looked again to the door, where the huge girl was ambling out. The girl turned back for a moment, giving the room one last glance and then locking eyes with Carmen. She smiled politely, even warmly. Carmen, panicked, half-smiled, too, and turned away abruptly. God, now she was forcing this girl to smile at her and be polite? She needed to get control of herself.

In spite of herself, she looked to the door again, but the girl was gone. Natalie returned, coat in hand, and they decided against a drink. It was too late, and they both had class the next day. As Natalie said good night to the MC, Carmen looked again at the empty front door, relieved to have the awkwardness lifted, confused that the girl had made such an impression on her. Whatever: it’s not like she would ever see this girl again.

* * *
 

Benny Mon

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[Ch 1 cont'd]

The next day Carmen was wandering the shelves of the Strand Bookstore. This semester her last class of the week ended at noon on Thursdays, and she liked to keep the rest of the afternoon to herself--no homework, no social engagements, just time to rest and reflect and wander. She spent that time at the Strand as often as not, rarely even buying anything. There was pleasure enough in perusing their offerings, reading the first few pages of intriguing books, imagining she had the money and the time to read them all. It wasn’t even the coziest or most romantic bookstore, but it was big and calm and close, and that was enough.

She checked her watch: not quite 2:15. There were hours still till her dinner with Natalie and a few other friends. It wasn’t like her to get antsy on these Thursday afternoons. Normally she was absorbed in the books and the store, never aware of the passage of time, let alone counting each minute.

She almost jumped when her phone rang, but she picked up.

“Hi, Mom!”

“How are you, Carmen?” came her mother’s voice. It was as always composed and a little raspy, like a smoker’s voice, though she’d never once so much as taken a drag off a cigarette.

“I’m fine.”

“Good, good. You doing your homework?”

Carmen rolled her eyes. She was twenty one years old and done with the better part of college, and still her mother asked if she was doing her homework. “Everything’s fine, mom. Don’t worry.”

“Good. And tell me, when are your finals again?”

“Mom…”

“I want to know when you’re coming home, that’s all.”

“I haven’t even had my midterms, mom.”

“Well, are you studying for them?”

Carmen sighed and stayed silent, wandering the store with the phone pressed to her ear. She just let her mom talk and answered questions in monosyllables. But as she rounded a corner, she came up short: it was her, the girl she’d seen at Natalie’s show, the mind-bogglingly big-bellied beauty. She stood here now in short boots and jeggings and a tight, tucked black top, enveloped in an unzipped, puffy winter jacket that made her seem half again as big. She looked up from the book she was holding (a travel guide for the Florida Keys) and smiled at Carmen in recognition. Instinctively, Carmen half-smiled back and abruptly told her mother she had to go, and without giving her a chance to respond hung up the phone.

“Hey,” said the girl in a flawlessly posh accent, “you were at the Comedy Cellar last night!”

“I was,” said Carmen her phone hand hanging idly at her side. “Yeah, I was, uh...that was my friend. The last performer, Natalie.”

“Ah, she was really good! I didn’t expect it, but she made me laugh by the end.”

Carmen smiled sheepishly. “Nobody expects it with Natalie. She’s funny, but she shouldn’t be writing her own material.”

The girl shrugged her huge shoulders and then quickly extended a hand. “I’m Jahiba,” she said.

Carmen returned the handshake, feeling oddly formal. “Carmen. Nice to meet you.”

“Do you go to school here?”

“I mean…” Carmen smiled wryly. “I don’t go to Columbia, and I don’t go to CUNY, if that’s what you’re asking?”

Jahiba seemed both amused and confused. “I don’t see why it’s anything to be ashamed of!”

“I don’t know, it’s such a fucking stereotype. I mean, look at me - the rolled up pants, the denim jacket, the beanie…” She felt suddenly self-conscious in front of Jahiba. Carmen didn’t even know the girl, but she had a strong urge to be liked by her. “I don’t even know why I wore this light jacket today, it’s so cold out. But, God, I’m being rude, rambling about myself. Are you a student here, too?”

“I am,” said Jahiba, “and, actually, it would really be wonderful if we could talk more. You seem lovely, and there’s still so much I don’t know about the school, let alone New York. Is there a coffee shop where we could sit and chat for a while? If you’re free, that is?”

“I’m definitely free!” Carmen said eagerly. “And there are so many coffee shops around here. Though, if you’re willing to go a little farther, there’s this great, weird little place that serves drinks like you’ve never had, and they have these waffle cookies...God, they’re so good.”

Jahiba eyes lit up at “waffle cookies.” “That sounds excellent, though it is a bit cold to walk. Why don’t I call us an Uber?”

Carmen suddenly put together that Jahiba would never physically fit in the place she had in mind: the shop itself was a hole in the wall, and the seats far too narrow to accommodate her expansive new friend. “May we should go someplace else, then,” she amended. “It’s a little closer, and they still have amazing scones.”
 

Benny Mon

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Joined
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[Ch 1 cont'd]

Soon enough they were nestled at a table in the new venue, Carmen perched on one chair as Jahiba spread out on two. As Jahiba stirred her cappuccino and picked apart a steaming, reheated cherry vanilla scone, Carmen watched her overflowing upper arms wobble, her overblown face a picture of concentration on the treats before her. She took a sip of her drink, her eyes gliding up to Carmen. “So,” she said, popping a bite of scone into her mouth, “I want to know everything you know about our school.”

“No, no,” said Carmen, “you have to tell me about yourself first. I don’t know anything about you! Who is the mysterious Jahiba?”

Jahiba laughed one deep laugh, shaking her corpulent frame. “Fair enough!” She straighted up like a student called to attention. “My name is Jahiba Hinazir, I’m from Lamakan, and I’m studying abroad here in the States this term.” She paused. “I can you’re confused. You don’t know Lamakan?”

Carmen winced. “Should I?”

“I suppose not. I have yet to find someone here who does! We’re not a very large nation, just a small island in the Indian ocean, east of Oman. It’s quite literally a desert island, and it wasn’t much else before we became a hub of global finance. Yes, of course, there were fishing villages and one port of trade, for centuries, but it was hardly the center of the world, whereas nowadays…”--she took a bite of scone--“it very nearly is.”

“If the rest of the world revolves around your country, while haven’t I heard of it?”

“Perhaps because you’re an American?” Jahiba smirked. “No, that’s too harsh, and it’s not even true. We do keep a low profile, so if you don’t work in finance, you wouldn’t know us. Quite honestly, it’s only my generation that’s begun to go abroad for our education. So in that sense I’m not merely a student. I’m also an ambassador for my country.”

“Well,” said Carmen in mock seriousness, “I’m honored.” Both girls giggled, but suddenly Carmen noticed that she’d gobbled down her whole scone, like it wasn’t even there. Even the much larger Jahiba was still working on hers. God, thought Carmen, I stop paying attention for one minute and I can’t control myself. There was something about Jahiba that unsteadied her.

“So,” said Jahiba, “if I’m an ambassador, you are, too. So tell me about yourself.”

“Well, I’m from Philly, and I grew up my whole life there. I’ve got a younger sister who’s still in high school, and here I study music. Violin and piano.”

Jahiba’s cheeks and chin spread wide as she beamed. “Lovely!”

“Eh,” said Carmen, guilt creeping in, “not if you’re my parents.”

“Why? They don’t support you?”

Carmen stared back incredulously. “You don’t know the stereotype about American students wasting their education on art degrees? It’s every parent’s nightmare. Actually, though, this is worse. They wanted me to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or something. The only reason I get even half-assed support from them is...I’m actually pretty fucking good at what I do.” She smiled slyly, and Jahiba smiled back warmly.

“I’m sure you’re brilliant. I’d love to hear your perform sometime.”

“Oh, God…”

“No, really! I’m trying to take in as much New York culture as I can while I’m here. What better way than to be dazzled by my new friend?”

“But no pressure, right?” Carmen blushed slightly. “I mean, if you’re set on it, there is a big concert just before break. You could come to that.”

“I’ll be there. I’m here to study literature, so I’m a lover of the arts as well. And my mother’s a bit of a musician, too--a singer--so there’s always been music in the house.” Jahiba placed the last bite of scone in her mouth. “What do you say, shall we get another scone?”

Guilt ricocheted in Carmen’s gut. She could feel her pants cutting into her belly flesh when just a moment before she’d been totally unaware. “I really shouldn’t.”

“Really?” Jahiba looked genuinely surprised. “Why not?”

“‘Why not?’” Carmen raised an eyebrow. “That’s a whole fucking can of worms.” Carmen’s parents, her mother stern, her father anxious, flashed before her eyes.

“Another American thing I suppose. You know, we don’t diet in Lamakan. Indulgence isn’t taboo. Quite the opposite: we value a fat figure. It means you’re living well. But I imagine I didn’t have to tell you that for you to see it.”

“Ha, well, I, uh….” Carmen felt sweat beading on her forehead. Jahiba’s confidence mesmerized her, but this frankness was more than she knew how to handle.

“I’m sorry, now I’ve gone and made you uncomfortable. Forget about it, and don’t worry about the scones, either. But, uh...well, I think we could each use a pain au chocolat instead, and I wouldn’t mind a hot chocolate as well. Let me just…” She moved to get up, struggling to scoot out each chair and raise her many hundreds of pounds to her feet.

“No, no, don’t worry!” Carmen sprang to her feet. She’d never felt so light. “Let me get them.” If another pastry made her feel guilty, watching Jahiba struggle to her feet made her even more acutely uncomfortable. And so within a minute or so, she’d returned with pastries she didn’t want and with Jahiba’s hot chocolate. Guilt and pleasure swirled in the chocolate and butter that melted on Carmen’s tongue with her first bite.

“So,” said Jahiba after a sip of hot chocolate, “now you must tell me everything.”

“I will, but one more thing first: are you planning a trip to Florida?”

“Am I…? Oh, the guide book to the Keys! I am, yes. I should go somewhere warm during the Thanksgiving holiday, shouldn’t I?”

“I mean, I guess, but traveling that week is going to be a fucking pain…”

Through hours of conversation and one more round of treats, the afternoon melted away.

* * *
 

Benny Mon

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[Ch 1 cont'd]

One freakishly warm Friday, weeks after their first meeting, Carmen and Jahiba abandoned a study session after midnight and went to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. A couple hours later, they stumbled out of the theater giggly, delirious with fatigue, and full of popcorn and soda.

“J,” Carmen said slowly, “that was just as trippy as I thought it would be.”

“I know,” said Jahiba, a little dazed. “But it was fucking terrible.”

Carmen doubled over in an irrepressible giggle fit, and after a beat Jahiba joined her, setting her whole body to rippling.

Carmen changed tracks abruptly. “Jahiba,” she said as others poured out of the theater, “tell me about Lamakan.”

It was a common refrain in their budding friendship. The day she and Jahiba had had coffee, Carmen had practically had to tear herself away to keep her dinner date with Natalie and the others, and the whole time she was distracted by thoughts of Jahiba. After she’d gotten home that night, she googled Lamakan, only to find disappointingly little information. The Wikipedia page was dry, stocked mostly with climate data and demographic statistics, and there wasn’t so much as an exoticizing CNN documentary to be found on Youtube. Jahiba really had been right: the Lamakni kept a low profile. But Carmen ate up what little she could find. Though it was financially out of reach, she’d always wanted to study abroad in Europe. Lamakan’s capital city didn’t resemble Paris or London, but Carmen found it equally tantalizing.

Unable to learn about Lamakan inconspicuously, Carmen turned to questioning Jahiba, and the Lamakni girl was more than happy to oblige. Every time they studied together at one of Carmen’s favorite spots on campus or checked out a new museum, Carmen traded details on college life for the inside scoop on Lamakni culture. She learned that while Lamakan had never been colonized, the British had exercised a great deal of influence over the strategically important island until the British empire in India and the Middle East had crumbled. She learned that after Lamakan’s wealth skyrocketed in the 1970s, the local elite had been eager to promote their traditional culture--music, cuisine, and so on--as the equal of the finest French cooking or the most sumptuous Japanese sushi. She learned about shey, the rich, sweet beverage that the Lamakni sipped from the time their feet hit the floor in the morning to their last moments before bed each night. And she learned that the island was punishingly hot year round, forcing its residents into an exclusively indoor, air-conditioned, sedentary lifestyle.

So now, in this moment after the movies, when Carmen asked about Lamakan once again, Jahiba rolled her weary eyes. “You’ve got to give this a rest, Carmen.”

Paranoia wrapped itself around Carmen’s middle. “Oh God,” she said. “I went too far. Did I offend you?”

“No, no no,” Jabhia said. “I’m proud of my culture, and I’m so glad you’re interested. The ambassador thing, remember? But, at a certain point, it’s so hard to explain. It’d be easier just to show you.”

“Yeah, well,” said Carmen, looking down and kicking the pavement.

Jahiba thought for a moment, the fat fingers of one hand sinking softly into her super-plush cheeks, and then inspiration struck. “I have an idea. Come on!” She led Carmen around the corner and began to walk into a Shake Shack.

Carmen hesitated. “J, we already had dinner before the movie.”

Jahiba looked back, creasing her cheeks and chins. “Are you telling me you can’t eat?”

“Not exactly--”

“Then come on.” Jahiba forged ahead, and Carmen had no choice but to follow her through the door and up to the counter.

“What can I get you?” asked the pudgy, pimply girl behind the counter.

“Two shack burgers, fries, and a malted caramel shake with whipped cream.”

“All right, that’ll be--”

“Oh, I’m sorry, my friend still has to order.”

The wide-eyed cashier turned her gaze on Carmen, who shook her head and her hands and took a step back.

“She’ll have the same,” Jahiba said.

“Everything?” asked the cashier.

“N--” Carmen tried.

“Everything,” said Jahiba. The girl rang up the order, Jahiba paid, and Carmen found a table where Jahiba could push two chairs together. The booths were far too constrictive. Jahiba, in the meantime, gathered napkins and a few cups of ketchup for the table.

“I’m too full,” said Carmen as Jahiba settled her bulk on the chairs across the table.

“You’re not full.”

“Well I’m not hungry!”

“I still don’t think that’s quite right.”

Carmen sighed, dismayed. “What are we doing here, J?”

“It’s been hours since dinner. Aren’t you hungry again?”

“Not anymore! We had all that popcorn at the movie.”

“Psh. A snack! I couldn’t wait for my next meal.”

Their fob buzzed, and Carmen went to pick up their trays to spare Jahiba the effort. “I’m not gonna finish this,” she said as she sat back down.

Jahiba was already stuffing fries into her mouth. “That’s a bit premature, don’t you think?”

“It’s not. I don’t think that.”

“If you were in Lamakan,” said Jahiba said through a mouthful of burger, “you’d finish it. You’d already have eaten one of the burgers. I would, too, if I hadn’t had to debate this with you.”

Carmen stared at the burger as the smell of beef and bun and sauce reached her. She picked it up, hefting it in her hands, and pressed a bite between her teeth. It was heavenly. “I’m not going to finish this,” she insisted. Bit by bit, she alternated bites of burger, bunches of fries, sips of shake, telling herself that she would only munch, that she’d already eaten, that she was just humoring Jahiba. Maybe it was just Jahiba, egging her on, or maybe she was just tired. But, sure enough, the food on her tray dwindled as bite after bite left her fuller and fuller, and soon enough she was cradling a food baby in front of an empty tray. Jahiba, finished well before her, sat watching in admiration.

“That,” Jahiba said, “is what it’s like to be in Lamakan.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten all that,” Carmen moaned.

“Nonsense! You look full, but you don’t look ill.”

“That’s the problem,” said Carmen, leaning back in her seat. “A normal person would feel sick after all that.”

“I consider that a blessing.”

“That meal was more calories than I should eat in a day! You don’t know how easily I gain weight, Jahiba.”

At once the Jahiba looked guilty, suddenly conscious of how this experiment tortured her friend. “Please don’t feel bad, Carmen. I’m sorry. I wanted to give you a sense of what Lamakan is really like, but maybe I was too forceful. Let’s get home.”

In the moment, Carmen felt that Jahiba had indeed been too forceful, but she woke up the next morning feeling bright, rested, and hungry. Last night’s second dinner (worth two dinners, really, she thought) hadn’t left a dent in her appetite. That dismayed her, as it always did, but for the first time there was another voice in her head, one that asked if she wouldn’t prefer to live as the Lamakni did, heedless of diet culture, unapologetically obedient to their appetites and desires. What a dream.

Carmen heard bustling in the kitchen: Natalie must be up. Carmen threw off the covers and slid out of bed, padding into the hall and into the bathroom to brush her teeth. She spread toothpaste on the bristles, but lowered the brush to the sink as she looked at the scale to her left. It had been a little while since she’d weighed herself, and after a night of hedonism, she should probably know where she stood. She placed one foot on the scale and then the other, waiting there in the light shorts and nightshirt that hung off her plump body. The scale display flashed once, twice, three times, and then showed her: 192. Still under 200 pounds! And that was with a huge second dinner still sitting in her belly. A wave of relief swept over her. Last night was just one meal. It couldn’t do her in on its own.

A knock came at the bathroom door. “Carmen, are you done? I really need to get in there.”

Carmen just stood there for a moment, basking in the relief.

“Carmen?”

* * *
 

Benny Mon

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[Ch 1 cont'd]

The relief stayed with Carmen, and it changed her. She spent more time than ever with Jahiba, doing homework, visiting coffee shops, going to plays and movies and concerts. She was straining her budget and indulging a little too much, but it felt good to live life to the fullest with her new friend--and how long were they going to be able to do this? Jahiba was only here for a semester. This wasn’t a whole new life, just a new experience Carmen had to take advantage of while she could.

While Carmen was nowhere close to the gourmand Jahiba was, steadily this new lifestyle began to work its changes on Carmen’s body. She could see her arms and her calves grow pudgier, her belly cut a little more into her waistbands, her face take on a subtle new plumpness. It wasn’t much at first, but as she grew ever so slightly rounder and rounder, softer and softer, Carmen grew increasingly afraid of weighing herself again. The 200-pound mark had to be inching closer all the time, and there was no telling whether she’d crossed it already. Not that that stopped her: she and Jahiba visited new bakeries for the cookies and cakes, new ice cream shops for the milkshakes, new coffee shops for the seasonal specialty lattes. She’d never let herself go like this, ever, and what was happening was precisely what she’d feared. But the novelty and the exhilaration of it all carried her forward.

The semester blew by. Carmen didn’t even go home for Thanksgiving--by that time, she was practicing constantly for her upcoming performance--so she and Natalie had a friendsgiving with a few others who stayed. Their oven wasn’t big enough to prepare a turkey, but none of them even liked turkey, anyway. Instead, someone picked up a roast chicken, and the rest made stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, buns, cranberry sauce, and two pies. Even without Jahiba around (she’d made the trip to Florida after all), Carmen found herself overeating, though her friends’ holiday indulgence gave her some cover. No one would take the leftover pies, so Carmen found herself polishing them off, too. They were gone within a couple days of the holiday.

The following weeks were a haze of practice and study and final exams, and then, finally, the day of the concert arrived. It was the holiday showcase for all the junior and senior music students, and Carmen would be performing with the full orchestra, and again later in a violin-piano duet as the violinist. The evening of, she stood in her room, tugging her long, black gown down over her midsection. It had never been roomy, but never this snug either. On stage, as she picked up her instrument to warm up before the concert, she felt it press into a softer layer of fat as she placed it under her chin. Every day held a dozen reminders that she was getting fatter.

The orchestral portion of the concert went smoothly, and in the run-up to her duet Carmen sat just offstage, peeking out into the audience. Her family wasn’t there--they’d come the year before--but Natalie and her other friends had come, and there too, sure enough, was Jahiba. The large Lamkani looked more massive than ever, garbed in a too-tight red wrap dress and barely stuffed into one of the auditorium seats. Carmen looked to Jahiba’s left and right, in front of her and behind her. Sure, there were fat girls in the mix, but no one came close to Jahiba’s size. Her black hair was pulled back into a half-ponytail, the rest pouring down her wide, thick shoulders.

Before Carmen knew it, it was time for the duet. Amidst polite applause, she stepped onto the stage, looking to the pianist with a smile and a nod. He returned the gesture, and they launched into the piece. Here, at center stage, the lights were too bright to make out any faces in the audience, so Carmen felt both very alone and highly scrutinized by the anonymous crowd. But her anxiety dissolved quickly. She knew this piece. She’d spent hours practicing--she could play it in her sleep! She felt her fingers dance on the neck of her instrument, felt her bow sing across the strings. Gone was any notice of her blossoming double chin or the fabric stretched tight across her belly. She only knew the music pouring through her, the long, tender, slow notes, the virtuosic runs, the sonorous chords echoed by the piano that brought the piece to a close. Carmen felt tears of exhilaration building as the audience broke into raucous applause. She and the pianist each gestured in turn, giving the other a chance to bow.

After the concert, Natalie and the others swarmed Carmen, cheering and congratulating her, and then Jahiba approached, all smiles and jiggling fat. She waddled up to Carmen and wrapped her in a huge, soft hug.

“I told you you’d be brilliant,” she said with emotion, pulling back. “Wow. Even I didn’t know, though. That was absolutely fantastic!”

Carmen smiled, tears in her eyes. “It meant a lot that you came.” She blinked. “We’re all going for a drink now. Come join us!”

“I really wish I could, but I have another final tomorrow. My second-to-last. Got to study. But, Carmen, let’s hang out after my last final--one more time, before I have to go back home.”

Carmen nodded eagerly, sadly. “We will. For sure.”

Well after midnight, Carmen and Natalie stumbled drunkenly back into their apartment. Carmen wanted to tell Natalie all about her obsession with Jahiba, how her fatness baffled her as much as her beauty stunned her, how she was a mystery Carmen couldn’t figure out how to define, let alone unravel. Instead, both girls slumped straight onto their respective beds and fell immediately asleep. Carmen wouldn’t wake up till noon the next day, when she dragged herself out of bed, shuffled into the bathroom, and plopped onto the toilet to let out a huge piss. God, she’d needed to do this forever. As the relief sunk in, she turned her head to the silent, silver scale across from her. Emboldened by her inebriation, she pushed her leggings the rest of the way off and stepped pantsless onto the scale. A boozy belch escaped as the display flashed once, twice, three times, and then read: 204.

That was over 200. Definitively over 200, thanks to a gain of more than 10 pounds in less than two months. Carmen gripped the door jamb, her head spinning, though whether from her ABV or the number on the scale she couldn’t say. She weighed more than 200 pounds for the first time in her life.

But...maybe that was okay?

Her mind carried her back to the concert, where she felt powerful, where she felt lyrical, where she’d held everyone spellbound. She was over 200 pounds then, too, wasn’t she? In fact, had she ever played so well when she weighed under 200 pounds? Of course, that was a drunk thought, and she didn’t trust it even then. But something had changed in Carmen, and it wasn’t just her weight. And, really, did she feel all that different at 204 than she had at 195, or whatever it was? Sure, her clothes were a little tighter, but they all still fit. 200 was just a number. Why should base 10 tell her how to feel about her body, anyway?

Carmen toddled back out into her living room, naked from the ass down and dragging her leggings along with her. She struggled into them and flopped on the sofa, grabbing her phone and calling Jahiba instinctively.

“Carmen?” came her posh voice.

“Oh God,” Carmen said immediately, “I shouldn’t have called you. You have a final today, and I’m sure you’re studying your ass off...”

“Oh, don’t worry. It’s not till four, and I can’t focus anyway. I was thinking about you, actually.”

“Really?”

“I was. I was feeling really sad that we have to part ways before the year is out.”

“Yeah, no fucking kidding…”

“So, I was thinking...why should we have to?”

Carmen, slumped into the sofa, squinted into the bright living room. “What are you talking about?”

“I wanted to invite you to visit me. Over the holiday.”

Carmen’s eyes went wide. “What?”

“Yes! Come visit, Carmen. You can stay through the New Year, meet my family, get to know Lamakan a little. I could spend years telling you about Lamakan, and it wouldn’t convey a tenth of what you’d learn by spending two weeks here.”

“I...oh my god...of course! I mean, of course I want to, but...it’s so expensive…”

“I thought about that. Don’t worry. My treat!”

Carmen shook her head violently. “No. No way. That’s too much.”

“It’s not. I’d love to.”

“You can’t.”

“But I can.”

“And what’ll I tell my family? I already missed Thanksgiving with them.”

Jahiba paused. “I don’t know. It is just the one time. Maybe they’ll be okay with that.”

“I don’t know, Jahiba…”

“Why don’t you ask them?”

“What?”

“Talk to them. The worst they can do is say no, right? At least you’ll have tried.”

Carmen sighed. “I guess. All right. I’ll ask.”

* * *
 

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To Carmen’s total and utter shock, her parents didn’t say no.

“I guess you have always wanted to study abroad,” her father mused over the phone. Her mother was silent, which could mean anything.

“Totally,” said Carmen, “and this is maybe an affordable way for me to do it, and without having to take a whole semester for it.”

“Affordable?” her mother chimed in. “Where are you going to get the money?”

“Well, Jahiba offered to treat, but--”

“No,” her mother cut in. “You are not accepting charity from this girl’s family.”

Mom, I agree! I was just gonna say I couldn’t do that. But she would put me up and everything, so we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel. It’d mostly be the plane ticket.”

“Hm,” said her mother. What felt like an interminable silence followed.

“I think it might work,” her father said finally, “for us to cover your ticket. And you have some savings for spending money, right?”

“Yes.” It was mostly a lie. She’d spent so much of her money on indulging with Jahiba already.

“Fine,” said her mother. “We’ll miss you at Christmas, but this is an opportunity, and you went to college for opportunities. As long as this country is safe. Is it safe?”

Mom.”

“Well, is it?”

“Stop being racist, Mom.”

“I’m being practical! Don’t get like that with me.”

They went on like that for another 15 minutes, working out the details, making assurances, until finally the deal was sealed: Carmen’s parents would pay to fly her to Lamakan and back. She couldn’t believe it. She was thrilled. In just a few days, she’d be jetting halfway around the world with Jahiba to an entirely new land.
 

Benny Mon

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CHAPTER 2

Carmen had never been to this part of JFK, in a remote corner of a terminal she wasn’t even sure existed. She and Jahiba sat outside the only gate at the end of this corridor, in seats that were noticeably wider than usual. Evening sun poured through the windows as planes taxied on the runways outside, and the gate desk, for now, sat empty. Carmen surveyed the passengers nearby, a handful of very fat Lamaknis shivering in winter coats. She suddenly realized how warm she was in her own and slipped out of her sleeves.

“Some Lamaknis have a hard time getting used to the cold,” Jahiba explained.

Carmen turned back, unaware that Jahiba had been watching her. “I mean, some Floridians have a hard time with that. Probably all of them. But, God, am I that obvious when I stare?”

Jahiba smiled back warmly. “Maybe.” She laughed. She herself had laid her coat on the chair next to her and sat instead in tights and a long, gray bodycon dress that warped outward around her huge belly and ass. She seemed even bigger than the night Carmen had first spotted her at the Comedy Cellar, but that was no surprise given how she ate. And it’s not like Carmen herself hadn’t put on weight, she thought as she reflexively rubbed her pudgy belly. Christ, that was only two months ago that she’d met Jahiba, and now she was joining her for a family holiday on the other side of the planet. What was going on? This Lamakani was really fucking charming.

An airline employee appeared suddenly behind the desk and began to announce the beginning of boarding in her posh Lamakni accent. She was fat, too, a healthy 250 or 300 pounds, Carmen figured, but not on the level of the passengers. She wore the airline uniform of dress pants and a shirt under a buttoned-up vest, wrapped tightly around her bulbous middle. Her hair was pulled into a bun and topped by a short, cylindrical hat straight from the forties, white with pink and gold accents like the rest of her outfit. The colors of the Lamakni flag, Jahiba had explained. There was only one class on the flight, so everyone lined up slowly and ponderously and shuffled through the gate. Carmen proceeded slowly behind Jahiba’s heavy, deliberate pace, and when she scanned the boarding pass on her phone the attendant said, “Have a lovely flight, Ms. Fonda.”

Inside the plane, it looked like someone had extended first class through the whole space. Each row held only two seats, some paired in the middle for those traveling together, some spaced out at opposite ends for those seeking privacy. Each seat was massive, bigger than Carmen had ever seen on a plane or anywhere else, with room to swivel or lean back fully for sleep, paired with a full table surface and a TV screen. Awestruck, Carmen soaked it all in as she followed Jahiba to their seats in the low, soft gold light of the cabin. Chubby flight attendants placed their carry-ons in overhead containers while Jahiba plopped her full bulk into one chair and Carmen settled slowly into the other.

Another attendant, a young African woman who looked even fatter and overstuffed in her uniform than the others, waddled up to them promptly with a tray. “Some shey for you, ladies?”

“Of course,” said Jahiba graciously, and the attendant deposited two steaming mugs of the light brown beverage on their tables before waddling on.

“This is the stuff?” asked Carmen, still half dazed.

“Ha! Yes, it’s the stuff. The national beverage of my country. No journey and no visit can truly begin without it. Cheers!”

They clinked their mugs, and Carmen felt the intoxicating notes of shey touch her tongue for the first time. Her heart fluttered, it was so good, and before she knew it a sip became a gulp, and a gulp turned to an open throat that drained half the mug. God, that was good. Sweet and rich without being too heavy, and full of faint echoes of spices and herbs she didn’t know and couldn’t name. She took another sip and then forced herself to put the mug down before she emptied it entirely. She looked up in embarrassment to Jahiba’s fat, grinning face.

“Not bad, right?”

“Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m so rude.”

“Carmen, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you. Where I come from, restraint is not a virtue!” She tipped her own mug to show its emptiness. “If you didn’t react like that we’d think you were being rude! Every time I think you’ve left all that nonsense behind it rears its ugly head again.”

Carmen simply looked wide-eyed and worried around the luxurious cabin.

“Carmen, are you still worrying about food?”

“No.” She paused. “I’m worrying about how much money my parents had to spend for a first-class ticket like this.”

Jahiba leaned over and placed a pudgy hand on Carmen’s forearm. “This isn’t first class. There are no classes on Air Lamakan! This ticket didn’t cost them any more than an economy ticket from New York to Dubai would have.”

“That can’t be right.”

“It is. This is a government-run airline, subsidized by the parts of our economy that really make money. Air Lamakan doesn’t have to turn a profit; they get all the money they need to offer every Lamakni a safe, comfortable, affordable flight, anywhere in the world.”

“That’s...incredible.”

Jahiba smirked. “You ain’t in America anymore, baby.” Carmen laughed at how stilted this sounded coming from Jahiba, and her enormous friend laughed with her.

“Passengers,” came the smooth sounds of the flight attendant’s voice, “please turn off your mobile devices or set them to airplane mode as we prepare for takeoff.”

In the very same moment, Carmen’s phone buzzed and lit up, filling the screen with a cropped image of her mother from a Christmas photo. Carmen swiped and picked up hastily.

“Carmen?”

“Mom, I have to go!”

“Carmen, are you on the plane?”

“Yes, mom! We’re about to take off. I’ll text you when we land!”

“Please do, Car--”. Carmen hung up and hurriedly switched to airplane mode.
 

Benny Mon

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[Ch2 cont'd]

Their plane began to taxi across runways as the pilot announced their trajectory: a five-hour flight to Amsterdam and another leg to Lamakan’s capital city of Almoharl, where they would arrive just after sunrise. Carmen was a bit of a nervous flyer, so she grew quiet and tense as the plane accelerated and lifted into the air, circling and climbing into clear skies where they could see Manhattan and Brooklyn outlined below. Another spiral sent them off across the Atlantic, leaving behind the East Coast for endless, steely blue ocean.

The same flight attendant approached again, wheeling up a cart that held their dinners. Each received a heaping plate of penne with meat sauce and a generous mound of parmesan, with a couple pieces of buttery, hot garlic bread on the side. Carmen asked for a Coke and Jahiba took a Dr. Pepper.

“Not hung up on this meal?” Jahiba asked as they both munched and slurped down the hot, rich pasta.

“I’m Italian. I can never say no to pasta.”

Jahiba chugged down most of her soda. “Good. Oof, I was starving.” She fiddled with her pasta for a moment. “I know I’m pretty pushy about this, and I think I should be, but I realize I’ve never asked you why your family is so hard on you about your food.”

Carmen spread out both arms, a fork still in one hand. “Look at me. That’s all you need to know.”

“You think you’re fat?” Jahiba said incredulously, more statement than question.

“I am! They certainly think so. And this is America: everybody’s obsessed with eating healthy and losing weight. Even the fatties, and I mean especially the fatties.”

Jahiba just looked at her steadily as she shoveled more pasta into her face and the attendant refilled her soda. Carmen felt pangs of crosscutting guilt--for living in a way that would disgust her parents, and for withholding the whole truth from Jahiba.

“Okay, yes,” she admitted, “my family is weird about this, even for Americans. Honestly it’s my fucking mom. Her whole side of the family is fat, everyone except for her, and she hates it. She got out of her house as soon as she finished high school. She’s always told us how lazy and pitiful they are, how nobody has a good job or any self-respect.”

“Is she right?”

“I have no idea. She wouldn’t even let us see them growing up. I’ve maybe met them once, at a funeral? I was so young, though. Like, it’s bad. She hates them. And she does not want her family to be like them. So I’m constantly a disappointment at risk of turning into a huge disappointment. In all senses of the word. And of course my sister is just the opposite, skinny and boring as hell and wants to be a doctor or work in finance or some shit.”

“How old is she?”

“Still in high school. Which is even worse.”

“And your dad?”

Carmen sighed. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think he’s better than my mom--he’s not mean like she is--but he doesn’t think she’s wrong about my weight. He pities me, he wants to help me. That might be worse.”

Jahiba sopped up pasta sauce with her garlic bread. “I’m beginning not to feel so bad about taking you away from them over the holiday!”

Carmen shot her a look, half-teasing. “You don’t feel bad at all!” Jahiba hid her smirk by stuffing the bread in her face. Carmen sighed again. “I don’t know. I do love them. They’re family! I’ll miss them while I’m gone.” Her face brightened. “But I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I’m so excited we’re doing this!” She squealed. “I feel like it’s finally hitting me. My first trip abroad!”

“It’s a big one!”

“And what about your family?”

“Well,” said Jahiba, taking a deep breath, “you’ll find out soon! They’re very nice, I promise. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But you do need to prepare yourself, Carmen. Not for my family per se, but for Lamakan. It’s going to be very different from anything you know.”

“I know! You’ve told me all about it.”

“And I’ve told you that none of that comes close to actually experiencing it. There may be a bit of a shock. But I’ll be there to watch out for you, and we’ll take good care of you. I think you’ll love it in the end.”

Carmen beamed. “I’m sure I will.”

“All right. Ready for dessert?”

Dessert was molten chocolate cake (one for Carmen, three for Jahiba). By now it had grown dark outside, and all the girls could see was the light flashing on the tip of each wing. For a while, Carmen listened to some Chopin while Jahiba flipped through an airport magazine. After about an hour, to Carmen’s surprise, the flight attendant returned with another tray of food. Jahiba explained that this was the after-dinner snack, and despite her rock-hard, full belly bulging against her dress, Carmen found herself hungry for more, so she selected a plate of pigs-in-a-blanket, which came with a small side of fries. Unlike any airline food she’d ever had, the dough was flaky and fresh and the thin-cut fries were firm and sizzly like they’d just come out of the fryer. Jahiba assured her there were no kitchens even on Lamakni planes, which led Carmen to conclude that Lamakan had mastered reheated frozen food like no other country. The bites of her snack slid down her throat, rich and heavy and greasy, pushing into her already overstuffed belly, and it reminded Carmen in the most viscerally satisfying and distressing way that she truly had no limit. She wondered sometimes whether she’d burst her stomach on some particularly hedonistic day simply because her body wouldn’t know how full it had become. So far, though, it held up, with an endless capacity to stretch and grow, to accommodate whatever Carmen chose to glut herself with next.

The cycle repeated itself an hour later, when the attendant offered a “bedtime snack.” Carmen didn’t need Jahiba’s reassurances this time: she gobbled down a plate of baklava without batting an eye.

Even if all this food couldn’t fill Carmen up, it did make her sleepy. Normally a night owl, she found herself belching and dozing as the plane glided smoothly through the dark, thousands of miles above the waves. “Go on,” said Jahiba when she saw how drowsy Carmen was. “Get some sleep. It’s a long flight; you don’t want to be awake for the whole thing.” So Carmen reclined her seat, pulled a blanket up over her bloated belly, and tried to find a comfortable position. It didn’t matter, though--she was still twisting and belching as sleep overtook her, and she slumbered a few dreamless hours until, to her surprise, Jahiba gently shook her awake.

“Midnight snack,” she explained.

So Carmen roused herself enough to accept a three-scoop bowl of caramel ice cream, which she shoved into her mouth faster than anything she’d eaten earlier. The frozen, sugary treat cooled her tongue and soothed her belly, and before she knew it she was asleep again. She wasn’t sure how long she’d slept when Jahiba gently woke her again.

“Mmmwhere are we?” Carmen mumbled. “Amsterdam?”

“You slept right through Amsterdam.” Jahiba was pulling her table closer. “We’re just a few hours out from Lamakan! Breakfast is served.”

And indeed, all sorts of warm, rich scents had hit Carmen’s nose. She struggled up and righted her seat, noticing that her belly still looked enormous from her earlier feasting. But as soon as she smelled breakfast she was hungry like she hadn’t eaten for days.

“God,” she said, “I’ve never been taken care of this well. Not just on a plane. Ever!”

“We have a culture of hospitality, as they say.” The flight attendant poured and handed them both steaming mugs of shey as Jahiba spoke. “I really think you’ll love breakfast.”

Carmen examined the meal placed before her. The main course was something like curried fish with a heaping side of rice, alongside a couple different kinds of buns and breads, several slices of ham, and a tall glass of juice.

“It’s called sam kalbari,” said Jahiba. “The seafood in Lamakan is just amazing. This is just the beginning.”

Carmen barely felt like a person by now, full of half-digested food and half-digested sleep, so she shoveled in her delicious breakfast in a daze as the light grew in the sky outside their window. The food was gone in a flash, so she just sat there digesting, sipping the still-hot shey, filling herself with the rich and substantial drink. Jahiba maneuvered herself by inches in her chair, twisting and turning to gather her things early before the descent. Carmen just stared, watching the girl’s prodigious flab tremble with each movement, sending waves through the tight surface of her dress. Her enormous face looked a little flushed from the effort, and she flagged down the attendant to pour her a fresh mug of shey. What a life, Carmen thought. Her government literally pays for her to fatten up whenever she travels. No prohibitions, no inhibitions, Jahiba spent her days pursuing her interests and her pleasures, following where her desires led her. No wonder she was so happy all the time. No wonder she was always pressuring Carmen to let go. As thousands of calories broke down in her belly, preparing to join the chorus of fat that enveloped her, for the first time Carmen felt Jahiba’s spirit inside of her. Not just intellectually, not even guiltily. She was really starting to believe that she should just let go and follow her appetites. She was starting to see the upside.

She signaled the flight attendant for another glass of shey.

* * *
 

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[Ch2 cont'd]

A couple hours later, their plane touched down at Almoharl International Airport, situated just at the border between city and endless desert. Jahiba hadn’t joked when she called Lamakan a desert island--on the descent, Carmen could see literally nothing but sand outside the capital city, though Jahiba assured her the occasional village still dotted the coast. As the bloated girls stumbled out of the plane and down the bridge, preceded and followed by equally ponderous Lamaknis, Carmen could feel the heat creeping in even to the air-conditioned corridor. But cold air fully took over as they entered the terminal, where the passengers found a small fleet of courtesy shuttles, small vehicles that ferried elderly and disabled passengers around American airports. Jahiba explained that most Lamaknis would be crazy to turn one down, especially after a long flight.

“Why walk when you can avoid it?” she shrugged.

So Carmen settled into a seat, and she felt the cart sag slightly to the right as Jahiba climbed in next to her. The shocks on these things must be world-class, she thought. The girls laid their winter coats in the middle of the seat and then they were off, cruising through the white, modern terminal with tall, bright windows. The sky was an intense, bright blue today, lighting the cosmopolitan throng that filled the space. Moving both on foot and by shuttle, there were Arabs and Lamaknis, Africans and Asians of all backgrounds, with robes and jeans and hijabs and bare heads, most of them some degree of fat. Carmen was particularly struck by one superfat teenage girl, bigger even than Jahiba, short and wide with a massive, heavy, sagging belly that fell past her knees. Barely packed into high-waisted silk pants and a tight shirt, she plodded on with short, shallow steps, slowly making her way wherever she was going. Carmen was astonished she hadn’t opted for a shuttle ride. Already Jahiba was no longer the fattest person Carmen had ever seen.

“What do you think?” Jahiba asked, her fat face beaming as she struggled to hide her anticipation.

Carmen just nodded, speechless for a moment. “I’ve never been somewhere quite like this,” was all she could manage.

Jahiba’s grin spread her huge cheeks even wider. “And this is just the beginning.”

Guilt and memory surfacing at the back of her mind, Carmen pulled out her phone and texted her family that she had arrived. The shuttle carried her and Jahiba past dozens of fast-food and fine-dining restaurants to an indoor parking garage, where Jahiba’s family had sent a huge SUV to meet them. The driver, a thin, darker-skinned man with a dense head of hair, had already received their luggage, and as he opened the door for the girls a ramp extended itself for easy access to the car. Jahiba lumbered up and fell into the far seat, and Carmen followed behind, settling into a seat much wider than she needed. The ramp retracted, the chauffeur hopped wordlessly into the driver’s seat, and the SUV rolled out of the airport and into the desert, carrying Carmen and Jahiba away from the capital city of Almoharl.

“Don’t worry,” said Jahiba, sensing Carmen’s apprehension. “I know there’s not much outside the city, but there are some suburbs, and that’s where my family lives. We’re headed to a town called Elliuri. It’s the Lamakni translation for “Liguria,” which is a region in Italy.” Jahiba could clearly sense Carmen’s confusion, too. “I don’t really understand it either. Some Lamakni generations ago must have been a lover of all things Italian.”

“Okay…” said Carmen, still confused. Jahiba pointed out that a panel in each door swung open to reveal several sodas and a bag of fried, crispy snacks, somewhat like chips but smaller and thicker. As the girls slurped and munched, Carmen took in the scenery: nothing but desert sand under the white-hot sun, and the solitary, two-lane road strung between Almoharl and a suburb Carmen couldn’t even spot yet. The chauffeur never once spoke or turned around, simply carrying them forward. All Carmen could see was his dense, black hair bursting out from under a driver’s hat.

“My parents are going to love you,” said Jahiba, interrupting Carmen’s thoughts.

“Well, I hope so…!”

“No, really, they will!”

Carmen smiled in embarrassment and curiosity. “What makes you so sure?”

“Who wouldn’t? You’re the loveliest person I know!”

“Okay, now you’re just bullshitting me,” Carmen laughed. “I love you, Jahiba, but you’ve only known me for a couple months.”

“More than enough time to know.” Jahiba grinned, smug and mischievous but somehow earnest all the same. “Really, they’re excited to meet you. I’ve already told them all about you.”

Carmen laughed again and felt herself blushing. To distance herself from her embarrassment, she put on a fancy accent, like a midcentury movie star. “You are too much!”

“No, my dear,” said Jahiba, grabbing her belly, “not nearly enough.”
 

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Mods, I'd love to change the name of this story from "Cinta Senese" to "Ligurian Pigs," but I'm past the deadline for editing my original post. Any chance someone can do that for me?
 

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CHAPTER 3

Slowly but surely enough, the town of Elliuri appeared on the horizon and grew in size. Jahiba’s driver slowed as they entered the community, a mostly residential exurb of massive homes connected by reflective, semi-cylindrical outdoor walkways, and occasionally interspersed with shops and restaurants. It was like someone had mixed together a McMansion development and a dozen strip malls and poured them out in one big mess. Every building was white plaster, with bright blue and pink and gold accents and the occasional metal ornamentation. There was no one on the street but the occasional team of police officers, revolvers at their side and semiautomatic weapons hanging from their shoulders. They were all men, and each was a beefy mix of muscle and fat like a defensive lineman.

“Christ,” said Carmen, “you’d think living in New York would get me used to police carrying guns.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about them,” said Jahiba. “You don’t look anything like a thief. They’d never hurt you.”

Carmen shrugged as the chauffeur pulled into the driveway of a particularly massive home, one that towered above its neighbors. The driveway quickly gave way to a long garage, attached to the house on the left. The SUV came to a halt by a side door, where a potbellied man and a very fat teenager stood waiting eagerly. Their doors slide open automatically and the ramp extended, allowing Jahiba to force herself to her feet and waddle to meet her greeters. As the driver wordlessly pulled their luggage from the trunk, Carmen stood up woozily, sluggish from the jetlag and the snacks but boosted somewhat by the caffeine in her soda.

As Carmen stepped stiffly into the frigid, aggressively air-conditioned garage, the pot-bellied man with salt-and-pepper hair and mustache stepped forward and shook her hand aggressively. “So nice to meet you, Carmen,” he said. “I’m Amir, Jahiba’s father.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Hinazir,” Carmen replied, as Jahiba’s father continued to shake her hand clasped between both of his. He was so friendly she half-expected him to say, “No, please, call me Amir!”, but he didn’t.

“Come, come,” he said, guiding Carmen down the ramp with a hand on her shoulder. “You must meet Jahiba’s cousin Ebil.” Jahiba and Ebil were locked in a fleshy hug, but the latter girl pulled herself away to come give Carmen another vigorous handshake. Ebil was a bit shorter, younger, and fairer than Jahiba, not as fat but somehow much flabbier. She wore a fashionable crimson jumpsuit that was loose at her ankles and wrists but tight around her belly and breasts, and she had long, black hair braided into a single long strand. She grinned eagerly as she pumped Carmen’s arm, her face as wide and fat as her cousin’s.

“We’re so excited you came, Carmen!” she exclaimed.

“Everyone’s so excited to see me...” Carmen said, smiling uneasily.

“Well,” said Mr. Hinazir, “it’s just not often we get a visitor like you! And Jahiba’s told us so many lovely things.”

“Let’s go inside,” Jahiba said. “Anil’s already brought our bags in.”

Sure enough, Carmen noticed, they were trailing the driver, instead standing around in a frigid garage pumping each other’s arms up and down. Ebil wobbled eagerly inside, followed by the slower, more deliberate steps of Mr. Hinazir. Jahiba hung back a bit and whispered to Carmen, “I’m sorry they’re so over the top. You’d think they never learned to shake someone’s hand before. And we shake hands here, it’s not like Japan or India!”
 

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[Ch3 cont'd]

Carmen just smiled awkwardly, but she was a little relieved that Jahiba had noticed the same silly details. She followed her massive friend inside the house, every bit the stunning, modern mansion inside that it was outside. Every wall, floor, and surface was bright, spotless white, and here and there abstract paintings adorned otherwise empty walls. A thin desi woman approached them immediately with a tray full of small, clear glasses of shey, and Jahiba and Ebil began downing them one after another like shots. Carmen picked one up herself when offered, holding it gingerly at the edges to avoid burning her fingers, and sipped it down. Christ, this was even better than what they served on the plane! Carmen couldn’t tell if it was spiced differently or used different milk or what, but she was in heaven, and she quickly snatched another glass.

Jahiba shot her a familiar smile. “I know what you’re thinking. So much better than the plane, right? And what they serve on the plane is good! Indrani here is just that much better. She makes a superior cup of shey, and she’s not even Lamakni.”

Indrani inclined her head slightly but otherwise showed no response. Carmen suspected Jahiba and Ebil would polish off the whole tray, but Mr. Hinazir intervened and suggested Indrani bring the rest to Mrs. Hinazir while they all went to greet her. Indrani again nodded slightly and followed the group as they made their way slowly to what looked like a beautifully adorned service elevator. It held everyone with plenty of room to spare, and as it rose to the second level Carmen admired its gold and platinum plating, it’s deep reddish-brown finished woods, the occasional ornamental jewel.

“It’s a little old-fashioned,” Mr. Hinazir shrugged, “but I’m a little old-fashioned. It was kind of Mrs. Hinazir to let me have this much!”

Carmen smiled and nodded, hoping her nervousness wasn’t too obvious. Everyone was so cartoonishly friendly and corny she didn’t know what to do with herself. Surely they weren’t this excited to meet a stranger who’d only been friends with Jahiba for a few months?

A soft ding! announced their arrival at the second floor. The elevator doors slid open noiselessly to let them into a well-lit white hall, which ended in a set of double doors. Indrani pushed them open, and the group stepped into an enormous bedroom that housed Mrs. Hinazir.

“Housed” felt like the right word to Carmen, given the mind-boggling size of the woman who sat in front of her. She was utterly enormous, maybe twice as large as her daughter, so much of her a massive, flowing belly that sprawled out on the bed in front of her. She wore a dark green tunic top with long sleeves and colorful accents that barely draped over the middle of her belly, and the rest of her was covered in a truly enormous and elastic pair of dark brown leggings. She was a blimp, with massive arms the size of grain sacks straining the sleeves of her top, with a cascade of cheeks and chins sitting on the plushest chest and shoulders Carmen could imagine. Her hair was pulled up into a bun, and she was pretty without being beautiful. But her makeup was impeccable, and she wore thin, simple gold necklaces and bracelets at her fleshy neck and around her fat wrists.

“Ah, my love,” she cooed in a sultry voice, “you’re home!” She pressed a button on a smartwatch just barely strapped to her wrist, and her bed folded and tipped forward, allowing her to ease forward onto her bare, bloated feet. Carmen was astounded that Mrs. Hinazir was mobile at this size, though it was clear she couldn’t go far. A misty-eyed Jahiba waddled up and embraced her mother by her gargantuan middle, and her mother did her best to wrap what she could of her arms around her daughter. The two released each other, picking glasses off Indrani’s tray, clinking them and downing them.

Then Mrs. Hinazir turned her attention to Carmen, her eyes radiating warmth. “And you must be Carmen.” To Carmen’s surprise, the woman waddled over and gave her something of a hug, and Carmen felt half of her body press into this belly. Mrs. Hinazir smelled great, Carmen admitted to herself, but god she was enormous. Standing, it was clear her legs and ass were fat, too, and her arms even more so, but Carmen figured that three quarters of this woman was belly, wide and deep and long with barely a crease or fold. In the moment of embrace, Carmen could feel Mrs. Hinazir’s heartbeat racing alarmingly fast, her lungs opening deep to catch as much breath as they could. She’d clearly overexerted herself, so Carmen wasn’t surprised when she stepped back to the bed, crashing back down onto it as it lifted and straightened, leaving her propped against a mountain of pillows.

Carmen’s own heart was racing now, struggling to keep up with the parade of corpulence this visit to Jahiba’s had introduced to her.

“My love,” said Mrs. Hinazir to her daughter, “you look so well. I was worried you’d lost weight in America!”

“I told you, mother, Americans might be dieting all the time, but there’s plenty of food around! I gained 8 kilos while I was in New York!”

Mrs. Hinazir clapped her surprisingly small but round hands together, sending heavy ripples through her arms and her belly. “Such a good girl! Always doing us proud. What do you weigh now?”

“216 kilos.” Carmen quickly did the mental math: that was close to 480 pounds.

“Ah!” chirped her mother. “Lovely. More than I ever weighed at 19, but of course we all hope for a better life for our children.”

Carmen turned to Jahiba in surprise. “You’re only 19?”

Jahiba smiled sheepishly. “I never told you? I am a sophomore, at least, not a freshman. And I’ll be 20 this summer.”

“I,” stammered Ebil giddily, “I thought she was surprised by your weight, but it was, it was your age!”

All the Lamaknis laughed, and even Indrani smiled slightly. To be fair, Carmen thought to herself, it was both: that Jahiba was so mature despite being two years younger, and that she was almost 500 pounds while still a teenager! Every time Carmen thought she’d understood or made peace with Jahiba’s gluttonous way of life, she was shocked anew. But after seeing Mrs. Hinazir in all her enormousness, Carmen doubted she could be shocked any further.

They spent the rest of the morning catching up in the massive bedroom, though Carmen couldn’t tell whether it was Mrs. Hinazir’s alone or for both parents--there didn’t seem to be much room for Mr. Hinazir in the bed. Jahiba and Ebil settled in a couple large lounging chairs, and what looked like a fancy bean bag chair was brought in for Carmen...and it was the most comfortable thing she’d ever sat in. Indrani and a few other staff maintained a steady stream of shey and snacks to the room, and Carmen found herself downing piece after piece of buttery, sugary flatbreads, slathered in jams and nut butters. She also found herself tuning out of half the conversation, mesmerized as she was by Mrs. Hinazir’s eating. Idrani was particularly attentive to the lady of the house, ensuring a constant, large supply of breads and pastries and shey, and she devoured it all like a competitive eater, barely chewing, washing down everything in the delicious national drink. Even when she spoke she munched on something, but more often than not she was silent, gulping down the unending stream of food and drink Indrani delivered to her.

“So, Carmen,” said Mrs. Hinazir at one point through a mouthful of croissant, “you’re a musician!”

“That’s right!” said Carmen. So far the morning had consisted mostly of family catching up with family, so she felt a little awkward having the spotlight turned on her.

“What do you play?”

“Violin,” she said, “and some piano.”

“But do you sing?”

“God, no,” Carmen laughed. “I’m a terrible singer. You’d think singing would be the one thing a fat girl could do, but I never could.”

Ebil let out a short, curt laugh and Mrs. Hinazir inclined her head with condescension. “Whatever your dreams may be, you’re not fat, dear.”

Carmen felt insulted by the remark, and then confused. It was the first time she’d taken offense at not being called fat.

“But I suppose I fit the stereotype, myself” Jahiba’s mother continued. “I never went to college, but I did train as a soprano. I even studied in Rome for a little while.”

It stung Carmen that she’d forgotten this fact that Jahiba had shared, and that she’d spoken disparagingly of being fat, but it didn’t seem to phase anyone, and she was genuinely impressed by the stint in Rome. “Really?” she managed.

“I did, my dear, I did.”

“Auntie’s still really good,” said Ebil. “Show her, auntie!”

“No, no, I can’t,” said Mrs. Hinazir modestly.

“We have a piano,” interjected her husband, leaning in mischievously. “Perhaps you two can perform together before you go, Carmen.”

“Oh, god, I’m a little out of practice,” Carmen demurred, but she and Mrs. Hinazir met each other’s gaze coyly out of the corner of their eyes.

“Amir,” said Mrs. Hinazir, fidgeting anxiously in her bed, “would you call Indrani? I’m a little hungry, and she’s been dawdling in the kitchen for a bit now.” Carmen guessed she’d only been gone five or ten minutes.

“Of course,” said her husband, standing up. “And you, girls, you’ve had a long journey, and you need a proper welcome home. Let’s leave your mother, Jahiba, and get you two settled.”

Jahiba went and kissed her mother’s flabby cheek, and everyone but Mrs. Hinazir filed out of the room as Indrani returned with another tray of food. As the servant closed the door behind her, Carmen could hear a scolding tone coming from Mrs. Hinazir, though she couldn’t work out the words. Ebil bid the two farewell, excusing herself to return to her family, whom Jahiba promised to visit in a few days. Mr. Hinazir brought the girls to a huge lounge on the first floor, with long seats and sofas and the biggest TV Carmen had ever seen fixed to one wall. Mr. Hinazir excused himself.
 
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Benny Mon

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[Ch3 cont'd]

“You never told me you were nineteen!” Carmen said as they each plopped down on a chaise.

“You never asked! I’m sorry, though.” She didn’t seem too guilty.

“I thought you never drank because you were Muslim, but it’s because you literally legally couldn’t drink…”

“Well I am Muslim, but yes, I couldn’t have bought a drink if I’d wanted to.”

“You are a woman of mystery, Jahiba.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little mystery.” She flashed her disarming grin. “You can’t give it all away in the first few months of friendship.”

Soon a few servants entered the room with trays of buttery breads, rich, creamy fish stew, fried shellfish, sweet coconut milk, and candied fruit.

“No shey?” Carmen asked Jahiba as they bellied up to their meals.

“Not with meals, usually,” Jahiba said. “Hence, the coconut milk. It’s delicious and hydrating, too!”

The girls tucked into their meals. Carmen lost herself in the many dishes, bursting with flavor and richness, all living up to and exceeding Jahiba’s boasts about seafood. If Carmen had paid a little more attention, she’d have noticed that she was almost keeping pace with her much larger friend.

“So what was Ebil doing here today?” Carmen asked.

“Mmph,” said Jahiba through a large bite of fried shrimp. “She’s family! They live right next door. You saw those shiny tunnels connecting all the houses when we drove in?”

“Yesh,” said Carmen through a mouthful of stew.

“They connect all the houses in the neighborhood, even some of the stores. Well, not all the houses, there are a few networks. It’s too hot to go outside, so this is an easy way to get around and see friends and family. And they’re like one-way mirrors: reflective on the outside, but transparent on the inside, so we can enjoy the sun and scenery without any of the heat.”

“Not badph,” Carmen editorialized, stuffing buttery bread into her face.

“Yes, but Ebil’s home from college, too. She goes to Almoharl University, like me, though she hasn’t gone abroad. She’s a freshman."

“You two must be close.”

Jahiba smiled. “Always have been. It’s amazing we’ve been able to go to college together, too.”

“So you really don’t have any siblings.”

“I don’t! It’s rare, honestly. Women here, especially in my town, get so fat so young that they usually only have time for one pregnancy, two if they’re lucky. There are a lot of only children. So we’re close with our cousins, too. Otherwise we’d get lonely.”

“I wasn’t going to say it,” said Carmen after a gulp of coconut milk, “but your mother does look remarkably young.”

“She is. 39!”

“Wow!” Carmen’s own mother was closing in on 50.

“Why isn’t Ebil here with us, if you’re so close?”

“Because,” said Jahiba gleefully, “you are experiencing a traditional Lamakni welcome home. If someone’s been away for a while, the thing to do is give them a huge meal and leave them in peace to eat and rest up. We call it lildat liwetan--’homecoming.’”

“That’s...considerate. So we’ll see everyone again for dinner.”

Jahiba popped some bread in her mouth and chewed slowly, silent for dramatic effect. “I don’t think you understand just how ‘huge’ I mean. Soon they’ll come in again with some dessert, and after that they’ll bring some digestive snacks. And then another meal. And then dessert. Then snacks. And all over again.”

“When will they stop?”

“Who knows. The kitchen always plays it by ear. Usually when I come back from a big trip, I eat and nap, on and off, for a day, maybe two, until eventually I get a proper night’s sleep. They take that as a signal that I’ve had enough to eat.”

A voice inside Carmen said she should fear this tradition, that she should find it freakish and harmful, but all the shey and the stew and snacks had gone to her head, and she found herself nodding along and wondering when the staff would bring dessert. It wasn’t long: soon she and Jahiba had cleaned their plates and were eating rice pudding and baklava, a Lamakni favorite borrowed from the Eastern Mediterranean. The girls talked less and less and ate more and more, putting on reruns of old Lamakni soap operas with subtitles to fill the void. Occasionally Mr. Hinazir popped in to check on them, but he stopped by less often as the hours rolled by. Around sunset the girls dozed off in a food coma, only to be woken an hour later by the smells of roast lamb and rice, with creamy vegetable pudding on the side, and then Lamakni caramel candies for dessert. Another nap came, interrupted hours later by a midnight snack, just like on the plane, and after that Carmen simply lost track. Carmen had always loved food and never filled up easily, but this constant stream of stuffing awakened something new in her. She felt both dazed and intensely present, her vivid sensory experiences unanchored to any sense of ego, floating between the sensations of this spiced curry and that sugary treat, feeling the pressure of her overstuffed stomach in her gut, too full and craving more all at once. It was like a drug, and Carmen did not want to come down. She wasn’t even sure when she slept: Carmen was conscious only of eating, of filling her mouth with flavor, of feeling the heft of a big bite, feeling the weight of it as she swallowed and it traveled to her stomach, never wanting her mouth to be empty. Finally, some untold number of hours later, she slept, truly slept, but even in her dreams she ate. Dream-Carmen wasn’t as big as the Hinazirs, but she was fatter, and she dove onto a table overflowing with dishes, shoveling them into her mouth desperately. Even in the dream it felt ridiculous, though, and part of her took a step back and realized how strange this all was. She felt dissociated from herself, emotionally numb, barely capable of processing her first hours in Lamakan, her time with the surprisingly kind and generous Hinazirs. But it didn’t stop her from pushing more and more food from the table to her mouth, until even in the dream she grew too full and faded to blackness.
 
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fat_elf

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I love this alternate view of Lamakni culture and their love of having women fattening up all the time. I enjoyed the previous tale immensely (pun intended) but I think I do really prefer this start, as a person enters Lamakni culture freely of her own choice, knowing what's in store, even if she isn't necessarily fully aware of just how much gluttony must have gone into every one of these extremely generous figures. More of a willing participant in her own extreme expansion, rather than subjected to the previous Main Character's almost resentful gain, first as a rejection of, then as resignation to, her family's changing demands of her.
 
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