He hath arrived, the Chickenman. He emerges from the depths of the tunnel system and prowls the hospital campus subterranean corridors, guided by his flattened nose. The waft of cooked food causes this behemoth to present itself for inspection under pale neon lights; his eyes seek only the dark golden brown of fried meat poultry and haven’t a glance to spare for any people in the vicinity. It is not as if the creature were blind, although one would suspect some visual impairment as they attempt to locate the eyes, which themselves are small, watery and partially concealed behind hillocks of flesh surrounding the ocular opening.
He slips between steam tables like a Hummer H2 easing into a compact car parking spot. Small salt and ketchup packets maintain their geocentric obit around his mass before being thrown briefly out of trajectory as a meaty fist swats them away. Food service workers slowly curl their fingers into their palms, in much the same way that a zookeeper would protect stray digits from the maul of a carnivore. Small children, sensing imminent danger, fly to the safety of their parent or grandparent, and survey Chickenman warily as he makes his way to the chicken counter.
The Chickenman is not to be trifled with. 6’ 5” and weighing in around the same as a VW Bug, his size intimidates other canteen patrons. He grunts and snatches a large Styrofoam take-out container in one hand and a large plastic dinner plate in the other. He assaults the stainless steel “dark meat” chicken bins, leaving only crumbs in his wake. It is nothing short of chicken brigandage.
Into the container go every last moist and tender thigh and leg. It is packed beyond capacity, bulging in protest to the unnatural amount of cooked carcass parts encased therein. Onto the plate goes the same, and the plastic moans ominously under the hefty burden.
Chickenman waddles to the cashier, who seems apathetic toward the (daily!) event and she rings him out to the tune of $40. VAMC Canteen chicken is slightly less expensive per piece than the average gumball at your local convenience store. Chickenman rummages through his pockets and locates a thick was of cash, neatly peels a few tens from the roll, and fumbles once again to pocket his valuable money.
Chickenman ambles towards a booth and squeezes his mass between table and bench. His generous frontage, be it man-breasts or displaced belly meat, mounds over the lip of the small Formica table. His breath comes in grunted puffs as he situations himself, rolling left to right in an effort to situate the bulging rolls of fat on his thighs and buttocks. The bench creeks ominously and then Chickenman rests, the lower portion of his gut overlapping his kneecaps and the upper portion taking up too much space on the table top. Chickenman doesn’t care.
He sets upon the plate of chicken. He eats at an alarming rate, dark lips and yellowing teeth pulling breading and flesh from bone and sucking them into a cavernous hole. The air is peppered by wet smacking and slurping sounds, and small food particles scatter across the table. Chickenman finishes a thigh, carefully gnawing the last vestiges of cartilage from the ends of the bone, and then dabs each greasy finger on his tongue. He starts on a leg. The activity is indecent.
In less than twelve minutes the carnage has come to an end. Twenty stripped bones lay bare on the plate as Chickenman noses about for anything that might have made a bid for freedom. A fat finger presses down on crumbs, forcing them to stick to the end of the digit so that they might be easily lifted to the mouth. Satisfied that nothing edible can be had from the bones, Chickenman’s shoulders lean back and he proffers a growling, gritty belch of chicken-flavored air.
He heaves himself out of the booth and departs, clutching the carryout container possessively as if daring Frodo Baggins to snatch it away from him and throw it into the cracks of Mt. Doom. Back into the darkened tunnel system he goes, taking refuse in the crumbling underground network connecting all the buildings on campus.
This is his existence, this phantom of the canteen, this freakish creature of Highland Drive. I see him depart and I take inventory of my own fingers and toes, and vow to only consume salads from this day forth.