It’s a Sunday, yet here I am, all alone in the lab. The weather’s been quite nice today, not like the past two months or so. El nino struck pretty hard around this area. Usually it’ll be blazing hot by now, but today’s quite okay. The only thing that’s not okay is my stomach. Waking up before dawn, I had a series of visits to the restroom. Not sure if it’s because of something I eat or if it’s because of me sleeping without the covers again. It seems that lately my stomach is becoming more sensitive to the night chills. Before this, I could sleep shirtless through a stormy night without worrying a bit about my stomach, but not nowadays. The luxury of sleeping shirtless has left me, so much that even if it’s a hot night, I have to prepare a blanket on top of my stomach. Weird, isn’t it?
Well, back to today, back to the lab. I actually kind of enjoy being alone in the lab. On weekdays, it’ll be filled with people and chatter, not really good lab etiquette if you ask me. But I’m not one to complain as I am one of the culprits too. That is why I like being alone here. There’s a kind of calmness and an atmosphere of sophistication and intellect whiffing through the air, be it at night or on the weekends. The conical flasks that line up my workstation suddenly became elegant British gentlemen, talking about how a string of spider’s thread could save a human being from his demise or how the galaxy is much so unknown as the depths of our oceans. The distiller hisses like a mad cobbler working to shine shoes. The furnace sits in silence, trying to mimic the Thinking Man in pose and thought. Just kidding, but you get the idea. The lab on a Sunday afternoon is a tranquil place meant for the mind to be at ease yet still turn on its engine and zooming away, much like a weekend drive in a Tesla Roadster on the seaside roads of Italy. It has that kind of aura.
But the star of the day is not the lab. I’ve been attracted to the lab since doing about in it during the semester break, and its seduction has not wavered ever since. But what caught my attention today is a lavatory that has been long forgotten. It was dry and without scent the moment I enter it. Campus toilets are notorious for the bad odour and splash of wetness here and there like a bunch of kindergarten kids just ran through it, but not this one. I doubt it has ever been used recently. Maybe it hasn’t been in a month or two.
I came to know its existence almost two years ago, when the old hall was still used for tests and activities. I had a lecturer who likes to do his tests in this rundown humid building. The forty year old building is of the most basic of design. Dream not of designs mesmerizing such as what Oxford and Henares has, for this one bears no resemblance at all. It’s a plain old hall with a cement floor without finishing, big old fans, and high wooden arcs. No stage, no fancy deco, and nowadays is mostly used as a storehouse of sorts. It is smack dab in the middle of campus, but seems to be ignored by most. Had I not have a sudden diarrhoea attack, I would forget it as well, just like the others. In my rush to the library or lecture block, I suddenly remembered the existence of a grace hole just very near my lab (yeah, blame it on faulty planning for not installing toilets near the lab. What were they thinking?). I tried the door, and it was not locked. I tried the restroom door. Also not locked. At this moment, I was grinning from ear to ear, but a worrisome thought still lingered. I tried the pipes, and water was running! Thank God for running water, I shouted internally. Business was done, and back I am in the lab.
But not for long. A bad stomach day does not go away after a splurge or two. It’ll persist until you’re dry. So back to the old hall lavatory for me. This time, I had the luxury to immerse in the finer details of the lavatory. The old square-inch tiles of sky blue colour synonymous to old architecture fills the floor. The gaps between those tiles which were washed away by vigorous scrubbing by the janitors throughout the years. The wooden cubicles with gaping termite holes in between. The metal latch attached to an older plastic door, which was attached to an older wooden door frame. The original door must have been torn down by wear over the years. Inside the nine-or-so square feet cubicle suddenly felt like a museum which catches and stores parts of time from its construction in ’77 (or earlier) up to today. The wooden panels are for sure as old as the campus itself, yet the latch may have been just a year or two old. Suddenly, being in the cubicle felt magical to me, as if I was given the chance to see glimpses of the campus from times I was not yet in existence myself.
Then it dawned onto me. I must not be the first to use this toilet, nor am I the last. Many others have used these cubicles for various purposes. Some may take a dump, some may take a piss, and some may even make these stalls a lover’s rendezvous point, sweat-slicking all over each other despite the horrid smell, for lust have conquered them. Where are they now? They may be ministers at this time, for all I know. Maybe a few of them had started a proper family together. Some may still be single, still facing the harsh world with hardship thrown into their faces. Some may be businessmen with net worth in the millions. Some may be fathers, while others grandfathers. This toilet has seen them all taking care of their business once, a long long time ago. It has seen me taking care of my business here too. What will be of me tomorrow? Like the others, will I also forget about this particular stall, this particular toilet, this particular hall that looks like it’ll crumble at any moment? It intrigues me to think that most of the people that had used these toilets in the past may not even remember about these toilets anymore. Taking a dump and a piss has been so commonplace, so everyday, so normal, that we tend to forget that it is a very important part of our lives. Had the luxury to shit and piss be taken away from us, only then will we really appreciate this normal everyday routine that we take for granted.
I once had to handle a patient who cannot take a dump back when I was still working in the hospital. It was a three year old toddler. Her mother was very well known as she has the habit to shout out at the hospital staff, as if we weren’t doing our job properly. Maybe it’s the pressure of having to raise a child with such condition that drove her to be mean to everyone. Let’s just keep it at that. The kid had to have a hole cut out and her shit being taken care of manually, so God knows the trouble the mom had to go through from day to day. The hospital staff don’t like the mother, and I can see why. But I can’t help to put myself in her shoes and think ‘wow, you have to be shat upon your daughter everyday’. So despite her yelling at me at the counter, I just put up a smile. That memory suddenly came back right here, in this lavatory that almost everybody has forgotten. It suddenly gave me an epiphany of poopy proportions.
Life will give you shit. You take it for granted because you shit too. But a day will come and you can’t shit anymore. That is the day when you realize, oh, shit matters.
3rd April 2016