Author’s Note: quick thanks to Lex Friedman, through whom I accidentally discovered ‘A Hunger Artist’, by Franz Kafka, which inspired me to write this story. God only knows how much the world will be shaped after such influences.
During these last generations, the interest in freak show circuses has markedly diminished. It used to pay very well to exhibit all sorts of ‘human aberrations’ on stage; back when it was still permissible to refer to them in those terms. But for now, we have convinced ourselves that we live in a different world. In the golden era of freak shows, a whole town quickly lit up after the first child spotted the first car in the circus fleet entering the city. Everybody always waited eagerly until the tent was set and tickets made available. The more crafty companies were careful enough to display a different set of freaks each night, guaranteeing attendance was maximized since even previous visitors would remain enticed by their curiosity. “What delightful nightmare would entertain me next?” they wondered. One night, a midget was riding on the back of a man with three legs. In the next one, a bearded lady lifted 200lb of fake weights. Siamese twins were a common presence, whereas a myriad of self-mutilated bodies could also be found: implanted spikes coming out of foreheads and arms; flesh deeply engraved by pictures burned in the skin; heavy stones permanently stuck through punctured lower lips. The very best companies, however, have noticed something interesting: to make sure the audience always went back home satisfied, amazed, shocked, and still feeling good about themselves, even after being exposed to a creative slew of catastrophic aberrations, the main attraction of the night should be followed by a quick, lighthearted, humorous and relatable closing act. Prosaic as it may seem, in this company, a fat man was in charge of that mission. Every night, after a monstrous climax made silence flow between the seats, while women and children hold their tears and man hold their screams, a large voluptuous table, holding food worthy of 10 banquets, was placed in the center of the stage with no announcement. Then a shirtless fat man, fatter than those times thought it was possible, painfully walked toward the table and started to eat. He would salivate, puff, let the food sprawl all over his grotesque chest, then bury his bare hands into the piles of treats, and shove more than he could chew down his throat, like a beast, until he choked. He did it again and again, with lachrymose-looking eyes. As the fat man drowned himself, the silence of the witnesses smoothly converted into laughter: “Look at that pig!“, “What an animal!“, “Mommy, look!“, “Disgusting!“, “He will eat until he dies!“, “Hahahaha!” were common shouts among the crowd. And so the host in colorful clothing entered the stage, wished everybody a goodnight, and ended the performance, but the fat man kept eating until all seats were empty.
At each new town, amid the other more casual attendees to the freak show, there was always a crew of more faithful watchers, who, in bafflement and surprise, couldn’t help themselves but to buy their way into the spectacle every night it was open. For those, the story was always the same: only in the first few shows would they manage to stare in disbelief at the new aberration displayed, and then release their tension in nervous laughter, as the fat man came to ease the stress of all viewers. On the first night, they all laughed as hard as any other newcomer; on the second, slightly less than that, but still; on the third night, even less so; on the fourth night, the repeated onlookers began to maintain their silence even after the fat man entered the stage; on the fifth, each started to wonder: “How can this man eat so much every night, and not burst and die?“, “Does he puke it all afterward?“, “Does he have a punctured stomach?“, “This is not possible! Something is wrong here.” On the sixth night, they cease to care about the main attraction, and from that point onward, they were just coming back to see if the fat man could continue eating; a week after the first show, some attendees would remain seated after it was over, just to see for how long the fat man could sustain his ferocious appetite. On the first attempt, they waited for a whole hour, but the fat man wouldn’t stop; the next time they tried again until midnight, and he still wouldn’t stop. The host of the show never cared to push anyone out, for her, the show could only truly end after the last customer left; besides, she knew damn well what was coming. As the days went by, the dedicated onlookers watched the fat man for longer and longer periods. They went as far as to spend the whole night in their seats, but, ill prepped, they often fell asleep throughout the night-watch and woke up in the morning, to their disappointment, facing an empty stage from their improvised lairs. There were, of course, occasions when at least one of the watchers kept their eyes open until dawn, but in those scenarios, the fat man would just remain there, eating steadily and incorruptibly, for the bafflement of all. A few more days passed by, and the small group of recurrent onlookers got to know each other, so they arranged to take turns watching over the fat man in a permanent fashion, but no great discovery was made: the fat man just stood there eating uninterrupted, day after day, for as long as someone was watching, from the end of one show to the beginning of the next, which was when he had to go backstage for an hour or so, letting the freak show proceed, and then come back again for the closing act, in defiance of his skeptics. This prolonged presentation, forcibly extended due to the skepticism of some didn’t bother the fat man at all. If anything, he preferred it that way, so no doubts hover over the seriousness of his act, and most importantly, so that the circus owner keeps providing him with food, since he only had access to the endless banquet on stage.