I FEEL down.
I’ve never felt like this before. I keep telling myself I should just pull it together, but somehow I can’t manage to.
I wake up feeling tired every single morning. And not just tired, but as though there’s nothing to look forward to. Every day is a struggle. Things I used to manage quite easily now seem to take up all my energy.
My phone rings. And rings.
Normally I’m the ultimate Quickdraw when it comes to a ringing cellphone. I usually pick mine up before the second ring. But these days I let it go the full eight rings before reaching into my pocket. If I even bother at all. Sometimes it just feels like too much of an effort.
Today, I wait seven rings before reaching for my phone and checking the display.
I remember a time when seeing his name pop up like this would have filled me with excitement. Especially since he hardly ever phones me. He’s more of a BBMer. I would probably have done a quick victory dance before answering the phone with a sexy “Hellooo?”
Today, it takes every ounce of strength I possess just to press the green button and grunt “Hi”.
“Trinity?” Zach sounds a bit unsure if it’s me.
I yawn hugely. “Ja, it’s me.”
“Did I … uh … wake you?”
I can picture him looking at his watch in puzzlement. It’s a quarter to one. Fifteen minutes to go before lunchtime. Or should I say … soup-time?
“No, no, I was awake,” I say.
There’s a moment of silence. “Am I catching you at a bad time?”
I make an effort to pull myself together. “No, no. This is fine. I’m just feeling a bit down.”
“Oh? Well, this ought to cheer you up. I did my first tandem jump this morning.”
“Tandem jump? What’s that?”
“You know, where you jump out of an aeroplane strapped to an experienced skydiver. I didn’t tell you about it because I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Oh, right,” I say vaguely. It’s difficult to imagine worrying about anything ever again. “So it was all right, then?”
“It was fantastic! I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. Listen, you know that scholarship dinner I’ve been invited to?”
“Uh-huh.” He’s been talking about it for days. Once a year, all the kids at Brentwood who have been given scholarships to attend the school are invited to this swish dinner with the teachers. It’s very formal, with the teachers wearing academic gowns and everything. I’ve never been invited to one, although my dad has been the keynote speaker a couple of times.
“And you know how you’ve been all jealous because I’m going to it on my own and you’re not invited?”
I’m only half-listening, but then the meaning of what he’s saying penetrates my depression.
“Um … no I haven’t,” I say, interrupting him.
He laughs indulgently. “Yes, you have. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you change the subject every time I mention the dinner, or how offish you’ve been with me lately. You’re jealous because I’m going on my own. You’re probably worried I’ll get off with some brainy hot girl or something.”
I’m dying to tell him that a) I’m not that insecure, b) his stupid scholarship dinner has hardly even crossed my mind, and c) that’s not the reason I’ve been a bit offish with him lately.
But it’s just too much effort to argue with him. So I make a noise that could be interpreted as agreement.
“Well…” he says. “I’ve got good news for you. We’ve just been told that the postmatrics are allowed to bring partners to the dinner.”
“Really?” I say tiredly.
“You think I’m teasing you, don’t you? But it’s true. We just got the email from Dr Hussein now. So you can come as my date! Isn’t that great?”
“Yes, it’s great.”
All I can think about is how I’m going to manage to eat only salad and a slab of meat no bigger than a pack of playing cards during a three-course formal dinner. Oh, well. I’m too tired to figure it out now.
“I knew you’d be pleased!” he says. “You probably want to obsess over what you’re going to wear now, don’t you? And I’m going in to lunch. So I’ll talk to you later, babe. I just wanted to call and make your day.”
“Yeah,” I say sarcastically. “You’ve really made my day.”
I sink back into my chair and close my eyes. I can hear the thumps of the other girls coming downstairs and heading for the dining-hall. I don’t even bother trying not to hate them.
I open one eye and see Lael sinking down into the chair next to me. She looks pale and tired, her olive skin an unattractive shade of ash. I know she’s lost a kilogram so far, just like I have, but you can’t really tell. Her body looks about the same as before, but her face is showing the strain.
“Have you got the sachets?” she asks, closing her eyes with a sigh.
“No, they’re still upstairs. I haven’t had the energy to go up and fetch them yet.”
“Oh, Trinity!” she whines. “How could you? You knew I had Biology just before lunch, and you had a free. The least you could have done was go and fetch our sachets. I’m completely exhausted.”
“So am I.”
“I’m more exhausted than you. You’ve been sitting on your bum. I’ve been staring into a microscope. Go and fetch them.”
“You’re the big exerciser, Workout Girl. It’ll do you good to climb the stairs. You’ll probably burn about 50 calories or something.”
“I’m burning enough calories just sitting here breathing. You know it’s your turn, Trinity. Why don’t you just do it for a change instead of wasting time arguing?”
I haul myself out of my chair and trudge out the common room and up the stairs. My legs feel like they’re made of lead. I stare resentfully at the girls twinkling
past me as though climbing steps is no big deal. They’re just showing off.
Even Matron comes steaming past me and she must be fifty if she’s a day. When she reaches the top of the staircase, she turns and stares at me with her hands on her hips.
“Come on, Auntie, they’re not that steep,” she says as I stop to catch my breath halfway up. “What’s wrong? You look tired.”
“Nothing,” I puff.
The last person you ever want to know that you’re on a diet is Matron. Matron doesn’t believe in diets. If she thinks you’re not eating properly, she’s liable to phone your parents.
I have a brief fantasy about my mom arriving at the school with steaming dishes of bobotie and tomato bredie to feed me up. Then I remember that she’s in Chile, and give a little sigh.
“What’s the matter with you, Trinity?” Matron asks as I make it to the top of the stairs.
I turn a pitiful face to her – one that I don’t have to fake in the slightest. “It’s my time of the month,” I say in a wobbly voice. “I’m feeling really horrible.”
“Shame, man. You come to my office after lunch and I’ll give you some Panado, see?”
I reel into the dormitory, wondering if Panado could actually make me feel better. How many calories are there in a Panado? Would it take away this grinding ache in my tummy, this terrible feeling of hollowness?
I reach into Lael’s cupboard and pull out three soup sachets. I deliberately choose the carrot and coriander flavour, knowing it’s her least favourite, tuck them into
the pockets of my skirt and start the trek back to the common room.
By the time I get downstairs the place is deserted. Everyone is in the dining-hall, probably stuffing themselves with chicken pie and mashed potatoes. Lael looks ripe for murder by the time I get back.
“At last!” she snaps. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Get them yourself next time.” I practically throw the sachets down in front of her.
“By the way, your mate James Ellison was in here about a second ago. I think he was looking for you.”
“Oh, really?” I say with a little flare of interest. “What did he say?”
“Nothing. I didn’t have the energy to talk to him. He just stuck his head in here, looked around, and went away again. It was literally just a moment ago. You’ll probably catch him going into the dining-hall.”
I rush to the door, but I’m too late. There are a few kids still filing into the hall, but James isn’t one of them. I wonder what he wanted.
“He was probably going to tell me something new about the Gumede Shield,” I say. “You could have asked him to wait, you know. You knew I was coming back any minute.”
Lael just yawns. Even the words “Gumede Shield” don’t have any power over her any more. It must be ten days since I told her the secret for pinching the shield, but she’s done nothing about it and neither have I. All we’ve done is diet. All we can think about is this flipping Brand New You diet. I’ve even started dreaming about it. When I close my eyes at night, I can see the logo dancing in front of me, taunting me.
With a long-suffering sigh, Lael starts measuring out the soup powder into two glasses. There was a time when I would have watched her like a hawk, making sure she wasn’t giving herself one grain more than me. We worked out a rule that if one of us measured out the powder, the other one would choose which glass to drink from, so there was no incentive to cheat.
But now I watch her with dull eyes. I couldn’t care less if she gets more than I do. This soup isn’t going to make me feel any better. Nothing has the power to make me feel better anymore. Just the smell of that orangey powder makes me feel sick. I take my glass over to the kettle to fill it up with water. I don’t even bother with the shaker anymore. I just use a teaspoon to mix the powder.
My stomach heaves at the sight of the thick, fibrous mess I’m supposed to drink down. This isn’t food. This isn’t even a beverage. It’s a crime against nature. I see Lael choking hers down, practically holding her nose as she does it. Then I lift mine to my lips … and start to swallow.
I didn’t think it was possible to feel worse than I did, but a few days later, I know I was wrong.
As I drag myself into the dormitory at half-past five, all I can do is pitch face-forward onto my bed and lie there motionless. I feel like I’ve run a marathon, but all I’ve done is walk up the stairs. I’ve just come from homework, where I spent a full hour staring into space.
I don’t normally go to homework in this session, but I’ve fallen so far behind with my work that I’m starting to worry I might never catch up. And today didn’t help
at all. I haven’t been able to settle down to anything. I could cry when I think of how delighted I was that becoming a boarder meant being up to date with all my work. Now I’m way behind again.
I will myself to sit up and start packing my bag for tomorrow, but instead I lie where I am and start to drift…
A horrible, evil hand is shaking me by the shoulder.
“Gowayanleemealone,” I mumble.
I lift my face out of the pillow. “Go. Away.”
“I can’t,” says Lael. “You need to roll over and listen to me now. Seriously. You have to hear this, Trinity. It’s about the diet.”
I don’t want to hear one more thing about the stupid diet, but I roll over anyway and glare at her.
“Talk,” I snap. “And make it fast.”
“Okay, okay. Look at this.” I notice that she is brandishing a book in my face. I force myself to focus on the cover.
“The Drinking Man’s Diet,” I read slowly. “What on earth is that? Not more milkshakes and soups, I hope.”
“No!” she grins. “Much, much better than that. It’s this diet where you can eat as much as you like and still lose weight.”
That catches my attention. I sit up and stare at her. “Eat as much as you like? For real?” I have a sudden vision of stuffing my face with ice cream and doughnuts and chips, while slimming down to a skinny size 8.
“Yes, but only certain foods.”
“I knew it was too good to be true! It’s salad again, isn’t it? Eat all the salad you want and lose weight. Well, I’ve got news for you. I’m fed up to the back teeth with
salad. If I never see another lettuce leaf in my life, it’ll be too soon.”
“No, no, it’s not salad,” Lael says soothingly. “I’m fed up with salad too. But let me ask you this – how would you feel about having bacon and eggs for breakfast … every day?”
I give a long groan and collapse back onto the bed.
“Are you trying to torture me? Bacon and eggs? I love bacon and eggs. But they’re fattening. And anyway, you’re Jewish. You can’t eat bacon. And you’re allergic to eggs.”
“Yes, but I can eat turkey bacon, can’t I? And beef sausages, both of which they serve every day in the dining-hall.”
It’s been so long since I actually ate breakfast in the dining-hall that I’ve almost forgotten what they serve.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I demand, making a grab for the book.
“It’s no joke. It’s a high-protein diet that lets you eat as much meat, eggs, cheese and fat as you like all day long. And you still lose weight. Guaranteed.”
“Why is it called the Drinking Man’s Diet?”
“Because you’re allowed to drink alcohol on the diet as well.”
“Really?” I brighten even more. I’m not much of a drinker, especially since I became a boarder, but just knowing it’s allowed cheers me up.
“Yes, but only pure spirits like whisky, vodka and gin,” she adds. “With nothing mixed in.”
Lael and I have identical expressions of distaste on our faces. We enjoy a Brutal Fruit as much as the next
girl, but plain old alcohol tastes like medicine to us. Very unpleasant medicine at that.
“Look, this Brand New You diet isn’t really working for us, is it?” she asks. “We’ve got no energy and we’re cranky and starving all the time, correct?”
“Plus, I’ve only lost a kilo and a quarter in two weeks, and you’ve lost about the same. It’s going to take me months to get down to my goal weight and I just can’t take it anymore. If I have to drink one more milkshake or soup, I’m going to crack. So I’m giving it up right now and I’m trying this high-protein thing instead. It’s got to be worth a try, right?”
I nod slowly. “So, tonight we’ll just eat meat? As much meat as we want?”
“No…” Lael looks like she’s having a religious experience. “That’s the best part. The book says you shouldn’t go from one diet to the next. You should have a week of normal eating before starting the Drinking Man’s Diet.”
“Normal eating?” My voice rises to a squeak. “You mean we can have a normal meal tonight? Just eat whatever they’re serving down in the dining-hall?”
“That’s exactly what I mean!”
I glance at my watch and see that it’s already five minutes to six. I bounce off the bed feeling more energetic than I have in weeks.
“Then lead me to it.”