Uncle Pedro was always getting in my way. It was like a wall, but - then again - it was also like a pit. It was like a pit, but - then again, it was also like a fungus. His bulk prevented me from seeing past him, so that, over the years, I sank into the places where Pedro did not want to be - the very same places that he put that huge body of his. And, sinking into those places, I felt a general uneasiness gnawing at me, like the promise of dead wood - the composite of and intricate connections between all the places that Uncle Pedro chose to place himself, so that he could - through the agency of eyes and ears and nose and mouth - exist elsewhere.
Pedro's body must have infuriated him, getting between him and his desires as surely as it got between me and mine. Its materiality prevented him ever from arriving wholly at whatever the places were at which he arrived, since instead he would always have to stand at the outskirts, as if afraid he would soil someone's dress with his heavy shoes
The fact was, Uncle Pedro did not live through his body; his body was a vehicle, much like a motor-car, to get him to the sites of new experience where he could take breath and allow everything to wash over him. I would try to force him aside, and he himself, for different reasons, was no less anxious to remove his bulk from view, to contain his fat between the two oily palms of his, so that he could squeeze it into a pure verticality of non-existent width, and thereby increase his necessarily horizontal view of the world.
Yes, Pedro's mind did not want to be wherever his body was, and perhaps it was this fact - this intuitive lack of connection within his own self - which caused the one to expand at the expense of the other. It was like a see-saw which only swung one way. Smoking a cigar, refusing to answer my questions, I saw that Pedro had long since nodded off in his own mind, lulled by the smooth folds of fat that rippled and settled gently in his wake. Somewhere, the real Uncle Pedro had burrowed deep inside himself, as if into a kind of cushion, and it was here that his mind insulated itself from a world for which it really had very little time at all.
All of us had put our heads together, and at one time or another each of us made our separate depositions to him. Pedro liked to be the centre of attention, but the fact was he never intended to be convinced by anything we said. He saw it all as some kind of test - a persuasive dissimulation on our part that he would need all his mental energies to refute. So it was that he himself read up on different food stuffs and rates of metabolism, refusing to be gainsaid, although maintaining the pretence that he wanted to be so.
"People of my build need a high protein diet," he continued to affirm, and really the thing was, after all, incontestible. There was no one of Pedro's build except Pedro himself, so he must have been his own best judge. "I don't eat sugar; I don't eat vegetables. The reason I don't is because they don't agree with me. I've always told you that."
"But you could take a little exercise," someone would say.
"Hmph! Ah yes, exercise ... What, you'd have me running about like a bloody sportsman, would you? That's a good one."
It would be a lie if I said there weren't times when he relapsed a little, but I had never been present at those times. It seemed that, once a year or so, Pedro would admit, under duress, that his size was a problem, and that he did not really want in his heart of hearts to be quite so huge as he was. But he seemed to have a stubborn need to take ascendancy over every situation, so that it was impossible for him to accept the seeds of transformation from without. The mere fact we mentioned some possible course of action seemed to compel him to do just the opposite, and the fact that we were always about meant that he could never diet secretly. In a strange way, I even wonder if his pride wasn't the greatest impediment, and that things might have changed if we could all just have left him alone - as if it were us rather than his belly which really got in the way.
I was embarrassed because I did not know how to introduce the girl to him. Pedro did little to help me. He had grown so used to being an encumbrance that it seemed impossible he could envisage ever being more than a general impediment - not just to my sight, but to my meaning, which was always trying to skirt around him to get to the light.
"She's a skinny devil, isn't she?" was his only comment - as if all things had to reduce themselves to the bulk of the world.
"But don't you think she has nice hands?" I pleaded.
He laughed. "I'd like to see a pair of hands like that hammer a nail clean."
Pedro was always being provocative, and in this case his retort was kindly meant, but it was also irrelevant. Pedro would have disdained such work as a needless exertion, so he might as soon have been talking about himself. In fact, it was quite possible that he was. At the ceremony I had to squeeze my way past him to put the ring on her finger, and, as I did so, it seemed to me a wonder that I had ever managed to see far enough to remark the small, pretty girl who shivered in his shadow.
But this is only tangentially a story about me. It is mostly about Uncle Pedro. He was not a happy man, although he made no special claims upon the world, and even his unhappiness seemed a thing he disdained to share, either with the world or even with himself. To carry such a bulk around and to feed it from day to day demands a certain clarity of vision - to know what he was, to know how he could change it, and yet to adduce reasons why he would prefer to keep things just as they were. So it was for Pedro. He knew exactly what he was doing, and why. At first he had made himself fatter to test the indifference of those about him.
But ultimately he persisted in his enterprise because he simply enjoyed eating, and had easily come to terms with the widening girth he might even have mentally extrapolated in advance from month to month, and year to year. He knew exactly how fast his metabolism ran, and exactly what food he should eat and should not eat to get fatter, to get thinner, to stay the same. His choice, though, was to get fatter, with full knowledge of what he was doing, and full knowledge of exactly how much strain it was putting on his feet, his heart, his marriage. He did it because only one thing had accepted him unconditionally in this world - food. And food made him no false promises, unlike the feet whose toes had got broken, or the woman he had married; it told him exactly what it would do to him, and exactly how it would taste. For this reason, it was a surety in life, and he embraced it wholeheartedly.
As a child, he had put me on his knee, and it was as if the world had taken me for a pilot. I sat astride him like the helmsman of some unwieldy tomorrow, charting a path through perilous seas. The keel of his thigh would nod up and down, and I found it increasingly hard to deduce any mortality in a frame so massive. It was as if he had been sculpted from enduring stone, or was regulated by a mechanism so inexorable and over-engineered that neither wind nor rain could rust or impair it in the least degree.
But the attrition of life is no less capable for the fact it has an enormous subject to work upon; even a more-than-man like Uncle Pedro was as human as the rest of us in more familiar ways. Nevertheless, when he died it was as if the last of a race of giants had left the earth, and only a cathedral could have made an adequate headstone for the form that was compelled to feed a small orchard above it.
And, as I grew older, I came to realise that Pedro had never actually died. He had only been turned into different forms of life. There were a hundred things that interceded between me and my experience of the world, and all of them, in a way, were fashioned out of those same massive shoulders, the swaggering bulk that wobbled uneasily above a belt already slackened to its furthest notch. He was the futility of dead-end streets, of anger, of obsession, of all the small ways that we delude ourselves, all the subterfuges we erect for one reason or another, not realising that they hide us from the truth.
Perhaps ultimately even his bulk had been a subterfuge, and the world I was striving to deduce around his frame was actually an illusion. Perhaps Pedro was all there was in the world, and he fed himself simply to turn a small certainty of life into an ever greater one. Incapable of exhausting its compelling meaning, maybe he had been driven on by the purely human need to feed the hopes that subsisted in that certainty, to give them form and to let them grow, so that at last he could be at peace.