Everyone has that one bathroom.
You know which one I’m talking about.
Maybe it’s the one with the flickering light bulb and the murder vibe in the basement of your girl/boyfriend’s apartment building. Or maybe it’s the last, most graffitied stall in the food court next to your work. Or maybe it’s the one with that funny I-may-or-may-not-be-poisoned-in-here smell next to the chemistry lab at your school.
It’s your safe haven, your oasis.
It’s the place where you poop when pooping isn’t socially acceptable.
Mine was quiet, empty on weekdays, clean, and well-lit. Everything that a girl with a bowel-munching chronic illness could hope for in a bathroom. Until one dark day. The Day of the Breach.
It’s a Monday morning, half an hour before my first class of the day. I’m sitting in one of my favourite stalls: one down from the end of the row, enough darkness that I feel hidden, enough light that I can read the graffiti on the walls.
Basically, I’m having a delightful time, by Monday morning public poop standards.
The unmistakeable sound of a cart rolling over tile echoes down the long line of empty stalls.
A woman’s voice calls out. “Anybody in here?”
Now, let’s be clear: I was mid-way through the movie, people. I had passed GO. I was strapped into the roller-coaster, and there was no getting off the ride.
In other words, this was a LEVEL 1 RGIRSS (Real Girl in Real Shit Situation).
I freeze, holding my breath as the cart clicks across the tiles. I can hear the cleaning woman breathing. She wheezes a little as she walks.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Okay, calm down. She’ll know I’m here, right? She’ll understand the etiquette in this situation. She’ll just leave when she sees my feet. She’ll–
She opens the first door in the long line of empty stalls attached to mine.
It’s just a routine check. She’ll just check your stall later–
Another door opens, closer this time. There is a whooshing sound as she flushes the toilet.
She just doesn’t know that you’re in here, yet. Try the faux-cough. Everyone understands the Faux-Cough Signal.
I cough. Small, discreet.
She doesn’t even falter. She just keeps coming. Closer and closer.
I cough again, louder now. “A-HEM.” (Translation: There are three stalls between you, me, and an uncomfortable situation. BACK AWAY AND LET ME RELEASE MY LOAD IN PEACE).
BANG. Two stalls. BANG. One stall.
The blue walls close in on me. I stare wildly at the quotes scratched into the door, like they’ll offer me some hidden wisdom or exit strategy.
A shadow falls across the blue and white tiles under my door, extending from the tips of two black-toed shoes.
I throw one hand on the toilet dispenser and the other on the cold metal wall, bracing myself. My throat is tight, my mouth dry. The end is near.
The door to the left of me, the last one in the row, opens and closes. The toilet flushes. Then, footsteps, as she walks back down the row toward her cart.
I slump in the stall, pressing one hand against my heart and raising the other to the sky in a silent prayer to the Bathroom Gods for protecting me on this day.
The assault is over.
I just have to wait her out. She’ll clean the mirrors and leave. She has other bathrooms to clean. Other poopers to harass.
And that’s when I hear the broom.
It scratches against the tile in long, uneven swipes. Closer and closer. Coming toward me.
SCRATCH. Two stalls. SCRATCH. One stall.
The broom crosses the stall boundary into mine, almost touching my foot. An accident, I think. She heard my Faux-Cough Signal. She knows.
But, the broom comes again. Harder this time, fully crossing into my stall and hitting my foot with a dull thwack.
It’s at this point that I realize I’m under attack.
I pull out my phone and text my sister, saying something like: “Haven under siege from rogue cleaning woman. Send help.” As if she could help me. As if anyone could help me.
I am alone, trapped in what was once my favourite bathroom stall, with not even my Faux-Cough Signal to fall back on.
The cleaning woman walks to the stall on my left and pushes the broom under again, this time hitting my left foot.
The sound of my dignity being ripped out of my body deafens me for a moment.
Then, she speaks. “Everything okay in there?” Her voice is bored. Like she probes the feet of innocent poopers with the edge of her broom every goddamn day of her life.
“YES,” I squeak back, sounding nothing like a human being. “ALL GOOD, THANKS.”
“Well.” She says. “I have to clean…”
I want to flush myself down the toilet. I want to seep into the drain.
Instead, I clear my throat. “OKAY, GIVE ME A MOMENT.”
She walks back toward her cart, and I kind of hope the ceiling caves in. A meteorite. Rogue tree branch. I’d accept any form of death, in this moment, rather than have to walk out of the stall and make eye contact with this woman.
But, the ceiling holds. No meteorites fall. Tree branches remain in tact.
I walk out of the bathroom stall pretending that I am extremely interested in the way that my feet look while I’m walking.
She’s watching me. I can feel it. But, I don’t look up. I never look up.
I just wash my hands (even though this would have been a reasonable moment to flee and just USE PURELL, WOMAN) and walk out.
And, you know, I’ve never been back to that washroom. I’ve passed it many, many times. But, it’s not my haven anymore. Not since The Day of the Breach.