Write about what you know. It is the kind of unhelpful, lazy advice, which all aspiring writers will meet at some point in their careers. Nevertheless, it is the only excuse I can offer for my current––and continuing––fixation with public toilets.
It is not purely chance, which finds me in public toilets on a relatively frequent basis, it is also physical necessity. So perhaps it is no great surprise then that they should feature large in my written musings? I offer this explanation as a justification, not as a defence.
I had been half-aware of the man sitting at the table next to me; half-aware, in the way that he was a moving object across my horizon and nothing more. I had been more aware of him getting up and moving away. That action had led to some small speculation on my part of where he was going? I reviewed the evidence. His coat remained draped upon the back of his seat. His drink was still on his table; only the smallest sip taken from it, by my own estimation. The toilet. That seemed the most likely explanation for his sudden departure. The matter decided to my mild satisfaction, I gave neither man nor his destination another thought.
Until, he didn’t return.
I don’t know when I started to become aware of him again. Or, more accurately, aware of his absence. Ten minutes? Maybe closer to fifteen. However long it was, it seemed to be a long time to account for a trip to the toilet. It was no business of mine, but it was mildly unsettling. It threw into doubt my earlier, apparently reasonable deduction of his destination. Was there some other explanation for his non-appearance? I couldn’t think of one.
I finished the last mouthful of my own drink. Time to go. One quick visit to the loo for myself, before I headed off.
And there I found him. As soon as I opened the door to the toilet, there he was: wild-eyed and frantic-looking. There was a desperation about him, which I hadn’t noticed at the time he sat down at his table.
“I can’t get out. I can’t find the way out.”
He almost gripped my arm in his anxiety.
“There’s just so many… choices.”
And, in his way, he was right.
To the uninitiated, the toilet did present an apparent arcade of doors, any one of which might have been the exit; any one of which might equally lead to a cubicle dead-end. A skillfully positioned mirror, only heightened the problem, reflecting the row of doors into a kaleidoscope corridor of infinite possibilities.
Here was a man apparently trapped by the potential embarrassment of choosing the wrong door and bursting in on an occupied cubicle. In reality, here was a man trapped by a modern world dilemma of his own making: chronic inaction caused by too much choice.
I escorted him to the exit. I opened the door for him. Showed him the way out.
In my experience, I have usually found that choice is nothing more than an illusion.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree needs assistance looking for the exit.