She can't help but feel a pang of unworthiness as she watches the uniformly slim locals prance about in tight shorts and crop tops. All of them sport large, lightly made up eyes - all the same, of dark eyeshadow and of winged lids - and smooth, flawless skin and a voice with a feminine lilt.
But at the same time, the city of Bangkok is breathtaking.
There is something on every street corner. Giant billboards with the face of the King, a small store selling Muay Thai goods, a dimly-lit stall tucked in one corner advertising dubious massaging services, a street hawker deep-frying his fritters, a farang* being much too affectionate with his Thai girlfriend.
She is afraid to blink. She might miss something.
"This dress looks nice," Mother says, putting a multi-coloured piece of cloth over her daughter and stepping back to appraise her. Daughter's hands are clasped behind her back, out of Mother's sight. She pinches the bits of baby fat that stick out from her forearms, from her triceps, and thinks about how the thick straps of the dress would just make her fat arms look all the more fatter and make her broad shoulders look all the more broader, and this makes her sad.
Instead, she puts on a mask of fake exasperation and sighs. "Mum, I've told you, I have man shoulders. I can't go around wearing something with this kind of cutting."
Mother purses her lips, furrows her eyebrows. She hands the dress back to the tiny young girl whose flat stomach incites jealousy within Daughter with an apologetic smile, and motions for her daughter to leave.
When they exit Platinum Fashion Mall, the sun is beating down harshly and she is still empty-handed. Mother, however, has accumulated three bags of clothes and shoes in the past two hours, and complains about how she has a picky daughter. Said picky daughter thinks about that nice black dress that cost less than ten dollars, about that pretty lace top that would go very well with that grey skirt and that pair of strappy heels. But then she thinks about how her tree trunk legs would look even thicker when cut off at the knee and how the lace would simply draw attention to her flabby arms and slight stomach and how the heels would make her look like a child trying to act like an adult, and any semblance of regret slips away. When she looks good, she will be able to buy all the clothes in the world and actually look decent in them.
It is lunchtime. Mother asks what she would like to eat, and she shrugs as if to say anything would be fine; in actual fact, nothing would be perfect.
They end up at a food court in one of the many, many malls. It is a weekday, so the only people there are tourists touting bulky cameras and baggy bermudas and empty backpacks. In her seat, she looks around while Mother goes off to buy her favourite meal - pad thai. Pad thai used to be her favourite meal too, until she realised the reason why it was so delicious was because it was fried with lots of oil and topped off with sugar. Diabetes on a plate, indeed.
Five minutes later, Mother comes back with a piping hot plate of pad thai. The smell wafts into her nose, tempting her, but she knows she is stronger than this. She will not let food control her ever again.
She gets up from her seat and peruses the options. There is Thai, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean - hell, there is even Mexican. Everything that looks delicious was coated in oil and sugar and fat; everything that looks delicious tempts her. She walks around for five, ten, fifteen minutes before finally deciding on a fresh coconut.
"You're not having anything?" Mother asks, finishing her plate of noodles.
She shakes her head as she sips on the coconut water. To her parched throat, it is unspeakably refreshing.
"I'm not hungry," she says, while she feels the silent grumble that reverberates throughout her body. She feels it, but she knows it is merely a trick of the brain.
For the rest of the day, they walk along the streets in search of cheap souvenirs and cheap clothes. It's an easy task.
They end up in another mall for dinner. This time, Mother suggests a local Japanese chain - Fuji, she thinks it's called - and she doesn't object. After all, the Japanese are as uniformly slim as the pad thai-eating Thai girls, and maybe if she eats like them, she will be as uniformly slim too.
She allows Mother to choose the dishes - a California roll, grilled squid, pork ramen and a mushroom salad. When Mother relays the dishes to her, a smile begins to creep onto her face; everything is pretty healthy. But happiness is fleeting. The California roll comes with mayonnaise, the grilled squid with teriyaki sauce, the pork ramen with a deep-fried pork cutlet and the mushroom salad with sesame dressing.
"Your favourite dishes!" Mother proclaims, thinking she's made her daughter happy. But she doesn't see her daughter's face as she digs in into her bowl of ramen.
Daughter picks at her food. She uses the complimentary bowl of miso soup to wash off the sauce from the squid. She eats only the insides of the California roll, careful to avoid any mayonnaise. She uses her chopsticks to dig out the meat that has (hopefully) not been in contact with oil. She digs at the bottom of the mountain of salad leaves to find the ones that are still dressing-free.
At the end of the day, Mother leaves the restaurant feeling satisfied, Daughter feeling guilty. Even though she did her best to keep away from all the nasty, fat-laden sauces, it was inevitable that she would end up eating some.
Mother is fast asleep at night, exhausted from the day of endless walking and shopping. But Daughter is not. Her mind is racing, her stomach is grumbling. She lies in bed for one hour, two hours, three hours; but she cannot slip into the darkness, no matter how much she wants to.
She sees the pack of cashew nuts peeking out from the luggage, taunting her. She bought it earlier in the day to give as a souvenir to her friends, but now, it calls out to her like a siren. She looks over at the other bed - Mother is still sleeping soundly.
It is automatic. She walks over to the pack of cashew nuts and rips it open. She pops them into her mouth one after another; she cannot stop. The cashews are freshly roasted and would taste delicious on any other occasion, but right now, she does not taste the nutty fragrance nor the slight saltiness that lingers after each crunch. She tastes the guilt and the regret, but she cannot stop.
She finishes the pack of cashews; the next pack, a pack of salted macadamias, goes quickly too. By the end of it, she lies in bed, one hand on her bloated stomach and another on her aching head. Guilt is not a stranger to her, especially not after a nighttime binge. She tries to reason - she's been eating well the whole day, she deserves to eat something nice at night. But it does not work, it never works. Because she still ate two entire packets of nuts, and she is still fat. Her stomach still isn't flat, her arms still aren't toned, her legs still aren't shapely.
Tomorrow I will be good, she tells herself. She says this, but she knows that twenty-four hours later, she will be in the same situation saying the same thing. It might not be packets of cashews and macadamias; it might be bars of chocolate or loaves of bread or boxes of cereal, but they are all the same.
She turns over on her side, buries her face in her hands and cries herself to sleep.
A/N: Hey there! I left an Author's Note on PWF detailing my plans for the rest of December plus next year, so do take a look if you're interested. This story's sort of inspired by my latest trip to Bangkok. I stay in the region, but have never really visited the place, so it was a pretty eye-opening experience. Great food, great shopping and great massages - that is all I can say. Bought so many things over there.
Anyway, I'll be posting more oneshots. They might be long, they might be short; who knows? This was written on whim because I can't sleep even though I've got to wake up at six tomorrow morning for cross training (a bad idea...), so I'd better get to bed now. Please leave a review and favourite and follow, I appreciate every single one of you. :')