by Noel Sloboda
Once, three brothers from the country decided to enter a very famous pie-eating contest. The event was held annually at the capital, and it drew participants and spectators from all over the globe. The victors always enjoyed great renown and often went on to successful careers in the culinary field.
All three brothers had prodigious appetites. In one sitting alone, the eldest could devour half a dozen oxen. The middle brother could consume four oxen in a single night. And the youngest could down almost two and half oxen in an evening.
Although the brothers agreed the eldest was most likely to shine in the contest, the road to the capital was long and dangerous, and competition at the event was always fierce. So the three siblings said they would support one another by traveling together and by eating shoulder to shoulder.
Yet seven days after the three brothers set out, only one passed through the gates of the capital, on the very morning of the contest. Looking far more substantial than when he had started his journey, the brotherless brother (formerly the middle brother) carried himself with newfound confidence. He whistled loudly as he swaggered through the city streets, then into the great hall where the very famous pie-eating contest was held. After finding a place among the swelling crowd of international competitors, he sat down before a stack of pies, ready to give the event his all.
The pies were easier to swallow than the oxen heâ€™d grown up on. And his appetite had grownâ€”along with his waistlineâ€”since heâ€™d left home. He ate with style, verve, and gusto, drawing applause from the audience more than once. In just 10 minutes, he consumed 42 pies. But despite his efforts, two other eaters outpaced him, and the brotherless brother finished third, behind a former sumo wrestler (47 pies) and a voracious Russian harridan (61 pies).
At the victory ceremony, the brotherless brother took the lowest position on a three-tiered podium. He looked over at first and second place, and he thought about his absent brothers, who had hitherto always defined his place. Then he glanced down at the bronze medal hanging from his neck, above his distended stomach. His red-stained lips spread into a half-smile, and, patting his midriff, he concluded that anything was better than being in the middle.