After school the next day Jan rode his bike to the sports store. His first problem was that he needed equipment. He examined the shelves and racks, taking it all in. The weights, machines and gear all looked so cool and high tech under the store lights, but it was depressing – there was no way he could afford any of it.

Then a well-built young assistant came over. “You wanna start bulking up?”

“Ya. But I can’t afford this stuff.”

“I feel you, dude. But believe me you don’t have to buy it new. When I started at home I bought all mine second hand. People make New Year resolutions and buy the weights and static bikes and stuff, but most don’t have the guts to keep at it and next thing – it’s for sale at Cash Crusaders. You don’t have to get sucked into all this high-end equipment hype. Don’t tell my boss what I said hey, or I am so fired!”

“Ha ha, ’course not! Thanks for the advice. And, by the way, I’m not gonna give up. I can feel it.” They smiled and shook hands.

Jan drew all his birthday money from the ATM and raced to the second-hand shop. Inside, he felt like he had struck gold. Piles of the stuff lay around.

He had to make two trips to get the weights home and worried that his school bag was going to split at the seams. But he managed to sneak his loot inside and hide it at the back of his cupboard. In the shed he found a goodm thick off-cut of wood for his calf raises.

He logged in to write up what he had bought under “Comments”, then quickly checked his email. There was one from his best buddy Neo.

Why u miss WOW last night? Wat up?

His World of Warcraft nightly gaming session – he never missed it! In fact he was a bit of an addict. His parents were always complaining about him spending too much time online.

O soz dude. Busy with something. Hook up tonite.

Then he rushed to school because he had decided to join the cross-country running club. Feeling shy, but determined, he approached the surprised group at the meeting point.

“Well – I didn’t read you for a fitness type, Jan. But welcome,” said the coach. Jan stood awkwardly, embarrassed in his old tackies and shorts, and aware of his skinny legs.

“Hi, Jan. I’ve also just started, so we can shuffle together with bad style, in agony, at the back,” laughed Sindi, a girl he recognised from his Grade.

“Oh … hi, Sindi,” he mumbled. “And uh … yeah … lets, thanks. Ha ha!” Jeez I am such an inarticulate fool, he thought. With a ridiculous body.

As they set off, Sindi jogged beside him and continued chatting. “So, what made you take up running?”

“Well, er … um …” he tailed off, feeling tongue-tied.

She looked at him. “Hey, sorry. If you don’t feel like conversation just tell me to shut up!”

“No … no! It’s not that. I guess I … just want to get fit.”

“Ya, me too. Eina – my legs are already killing me! I still have a long way to go to get to that so-called stoked feeling – you know, from release of serotonin in the body.”

“Oh … er … hell, yeah – me too. Serotonin? I never heard of that – that’s interesting.”

They smiled at each other, then fell silent as breathing became more difficult.

As they jogged on side by side, Jan realised, with an unfamiliar thrill, that all he actually wanted to do was look at her again. And he didn’t want the run to end, despite his burning muscles.

That evening he managed to strain though his beginner schedule for Tuesday: back and shoulders. He hadn’t realised how unfit he was. It was shocking.

At suppertime, as he looked at his pile of white rice, fatty lamb chops and gravy, and a few boiled beans, to be followed by tinned peaches and custard, he faced up to his second problem: his family’s eating habits.

The Tank said that he needed to eat four healthy meals a day of “muscle-bulking clean food”. And Jan was alarmed at what The Tank listed as “clean food”. No fatty, processed or refined foods like polony or white bread. Lean meats, like chicken breast, baked fish. Lots of protein. Good carbs. No fried food like fish and chips and burgers. Loads of fresh fruit and veg. No sweets and junk. Just the occasional “splurge meal”.

His mother and father would not be happy. They were chubby couch potatoes who loved lots of rich food.

Jan decided to take them bit by bit, by stealth. He would take bigger servings of veg, smaller of bad carbs and not eat any meat fat. He would say he was too full for dessert. He would make his own “fourth meal” of wholewheat bread, salad and tuna or sardines. He would cut out all junk food like crisps and Fritos and sweets and fizzy drinks.

After dinner Jan felt good: he had eaten loads of veg, cut the fat off his chops and turned down dessert, despite his mother’s amazed protest. Everything was going to plan.

“What’s so funny?” asked his little brother, seeing Jan smiling to himself.

“Mind your own business, kiddo!” Jan laughed, grabbing and wrestling Deon to the ground.

But really, he was smiling and laughing at the memory of Sindi jogging along next to him. She was gorgeous!

I think I really like her, girlfriend-like her, he thought to himself, amazed and at the same time nervous. His chest felt tight. Could it be possible that she liked him too, despite his wimpy body? All the more reason to get bigger – as fast as possible!

He logged on to enter his Body Project comments, then remembered Neo and WOW. Nah – he didn’t feel like playing. He was tired and would rather browse body-builder pics and fantasise about Sindi.


Tell us what you think: Would you be allowed to eat a different diet to the people in your family? Would you like a body-builder’s diet?