Edem had breached her agreement. She was now suffering the consequences, paying her penalties through nausea, sweat and convulsions. She had already spent several hours going back and forth between her bed and her trash can, dry-heaving over the latter for minutes at a time. She felt like she was going to die.
Whatever was wrong with her was not a job for a physician, especially not an American one. The diagnosis was certain to be incorrect, her symptoms erroneously summarized as a reaction to an as-yet-unidentified allergen. There was no medicine that could intervene on Edem’s behalf. This kind of sickness could only be endured, not cured. So she waited, entertaining no anger and succumbing to the exhaustion. She would bear the cross, for she had brought it upon herself.
In the part of her brain that was still capable of rational thought, she calculated that she had perhaps twenty minutes more of this torture to sit through. She wished she would pass out and wake up an hour later, when there was nothing left to suffer but the residual ache of her diaphragm – but unconsciousness was not one of the mercies available to those in her strain of practice.
Yet, for all the pain and suffering, did she regret a single thing she had done?
Without a doubt, absolutely, certainly, not.
The bathroom didn’t look any different than usual. The toiletries haphazardly packed into the cubicles were perpetually threatening to avalanche. The half-drawn shower curtain afforded a glimpse of the shower’s floor tiles, upon which clumps of brown and blond hair were scattered. The puddles of water around the sink basins, contaminated with strands of hair, toothpaste and only-God-knew-what-else, were in the process of congealing into discolored masses of goo.
You had to love gender-neutral, communal bathrooms.
The tidiness of the bathroom had never been a prevalent issue in Paul’s mind. Whatever his purpose in there, the only thing that ever side-tracked him for a second was the mirror. He had an instinctive ritual of stopping and staring for a few seconds at his reflection whenever he came in, briefly absorbing his green eyes and curly, light-brown hair before carrying on with his business.
The image of his own face lingered in Paul’s mind as he walked into a toilet stall and neglected to close the door. Thus, it escaped his notice when the click of the lock sliding into place sounded anyway. With the automatic familiarity of a boy who had been executing the same motions quite literally since he was potty-trained, he unzipped his fly, pulled out his dick, and the steady spray of yellow-orange liquid began.
“Penis detected. Activating automatic male urination sequence.”
The deep, female voice startled Paul to his core. He jerked so violently that he lost hold of his penis before he had the chance to consciously pause the spraying. The stream of urine deviated from its graceful, arched course and splattered onto the toilet seat, in the very same moment that the seat itself instantaneously lifted without being touched, completely confusing the urine’s trajectory. Before Paul knew it, he’d been splashed on his face, arms and clothes. The stall’s walls and door hadn’t escaped the shower either.
“Eugh!” he yelled.
“Targeted urine stream no longer detected. Automatic male urination sequence paused,” said the voice. It seemed to be coming from all around the bathroom at once, vibrating in the very walls, floors and ceilings.
With his penis still dangling outside his shorts, Paul spun in every direction, searching for a speaker or hologram or something – any telltale signs of the source of either speech or telekinesis.
He confirmed, to his terror, that he was completely alone. Immediately, his skin transformed into gooseflesh and his mind went static. He grabbed the stall door and yanked it. It rattled in response but didn’t open. He gave the lock a rough jerk, but it remained fixed in place no matter how frantically he pulled and shoved.
“Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Panicking harder, Paul continued to jiggle the hopelessly locked door.
“Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Near tears, Paul gave up on the door and exhaled. He leaned his back against it, having forgotten that it too held droplets of his urine, which the back of his head and shirt were now soaking in. Despairing, he closed his eyes. His breaths had become quick and shallow. For several minutes, he was entirely at a loss for what to do, or how to even begin understanding what was happening.
“Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Instantly, his fear of the disembodied voice with the weird African accent was completely replaced by fury and frustration. He pounded on the door behind him with his fists as he bellowed, “The fuck am I supposed to ‘sanitize’ with, bitch?”
In the most infuriatingly calm and levelled tone, the voice responded: “Processing inquiry.” Then, after a beat, “The user will find disinfectant wipes on the floor, to the right of the toilet.”
Paul was initially so startled by the fact that he’d received a response at all, that he was unable to process its content.
It took a few more minutes for him to let go of the notion that this was merely a dream. He really was locked in a toilet stall, listening to an African Robot Ghost Woman trying to tell him what to do. This realization stunned him all over again, so that for even longer, he could only stand still and process.
Finally, when he made mental progress, he thought to himself: The ghost girl said there were wipes at the…
He looked down and, to his intense surprise, found a packet of disinfectant wipes exactly where the Robot Ghost Woman said they’d be. He could have sworn those hadn’t always been in here. (Not that he’d ever tried to find any before.)
With the sluggishness of a creature unexpectedly caught in viscous liquid, he bent down to grab a handful, lowered the toilet seat, and began to clean. When he was done, he dropped the used wipes into the toilet, then gingerly stepped back and waited. Nothing unexpected happened. He reached out and barely brushed the flush handle with his index, quickly snatching it away as though electrically shocked. Still, no unexpected phenomena. Finally judging it a safe action, Paul placed his palm on the handle with a little more confidence, and applied pressure. The urine and the wipe disappeared with a wholesome swoosh.
Without prompt, the lock slider slowly grated to the left with the squeak of metal-on-metal, and the door swung open. Paul whirled and bolted like the devil herself was after him. Fast as he ran, though, the bathroom door didn’t shut soon enough for him to miss hearing the voice say, “Initiating thorough self-sanitation sequence…”
It would be a while before Paul recovered enough to realize he’d run off with his fly still unzipped and his penis still hanging out of his shorts.
Ryan was going to be late. Again. He knew it the moment he set his ass down to take a shit, fifteen minutes before his class was supposed to begin, in a building as far away from his dorm as it was physically possible to get, within campus limits. If he left this very second and ran, he’d probably just be able to make it. After all, it wasn’t a huge college. The problem was, of course, his desperate need to poop.
Ryan was a dumbass, and he knew it. How many times had Alison told him last night not to eat the spicy Indian food? How many times had she told him he’d be better off with some slices of pepperoni pizza or a bowl of Caesar salad? But noooo, he’d wanted the rice with the sauces whose names he couldn’t even pronounce, and the samosas which, after every bite, he’d had to chug cold water to keep from exploding into grains of White pepper. Instead of heeding Ali’s wisdom, he’d decided to be an idiot instead. Now, the universe was teaching him a lesson.
There were long periods of silence. Then sudden bursts of splrrrbrrrsplaplapsplrrr, like somebody was emptying thick marinara sauce very loudly down a sink. Ryan didn’t even want to look at the half-liquid mess of badly-processed excrement coming out of him right now. He just wanted all this to be over with, so he could go to class. His GPA was at stake.
Ryan was a pretty good student, but his tardiness was very rapidly working against him – not to mention his case wasn’t being helped in the least by the glares Ms. Martinez gave him every time he walked into the room in the middle of her sentences. If there was one thing Ms. Martinez detested, it was interruption.
Ten minutes had passed now, and that was enough time for Ryan’s nose to have grown used to the pungency. A few minutes later, finally, it was over.
He wiped his ass and rose, and then, carefully avoiding examination of the toilet bowl’s contents, he flushed in one swift, fluid motion. He turned to leave, but the door’s lock refused to budge.
Goddamn it! It was literally the worst possible time to get accidentally locked in a fucking bathroom! Imagine having to text an RA to come bail you out from the toilet. And if there had ever been a chance of redemption with Ms. Martinez, he’d sure as hell blown—
“Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
Holy fucking shit. Where had that come from?
For a second, he thought he was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence for him, and admittedly, he’d gotten slightly high last night. But his hallucinations never carried on until the morning after. And he’d bet his ass that even his subconscious wouldn’t know how to conjure up such a thick African accent. Nah, he couldn’t be tripping.
Ryan continued jimmying the lock, thinking maybe he unintentionally fumbled the first time. The door stayed shut, the lock remained immobile.
“Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
What? What was the mechanical voice saying? And where the hell was it coming from? Ryan looked around and found signs of neither person nor machine.
It suddenly occurred to him that this was a scene straight out of a spy film, and he was a suspect of some sort of heinous crime. Some intelligence company had clearly been monitoring his every move with surveillance equipment and was now trying to intimidate him into confessing. It was the thought of someone sitting behind a desk, watching him shit, that provoked his hysteria.
“Oh my God, get me out of here! Fucking CIA! I swear it wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything! Get me out of here!” he screamed.
He hadn’t truly expected an answer, so he was partially sobered when he heard the disembodied voice respond, “Processing request…” Then, a moment later, “Request denied. Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
“Argh!” Ryan yelled. What was she even on about?
He ran his hands over his face, and tangled his fingers in his long, messy, blond hair. His eyes rolled up into his head, his natural response whenever he felt like he was losing his mind.
“Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
His eyelids snapped open, and his gaze settled on the contents of the toilet. He had flushed his excrement, but thanks to the sheer amount of initial shit and its weird solid-liquid state, even after the first flush, several tiny pieces of poop had resurfaced and were now floating about in the bowl, and the toilet water had turned a sickly yellow-brown. He was disgusted by the sight.
I could have gone my whole week without having to know what that looked like, he thought to himself. He inhaled and exhaled deeply as the stupid spy machine’s voice reminded him, “Kindly flush again.”
“Okay, okay! I heard you the first five hundred fucking times! I’m flushing, God!”
He yanked the handle again, and the loud sucking mechanisms drained the toilet bowl of its contents. This time, the water that refilled the bowl was clear, and stayed that way. When the toilet once again fell silent, the voice returned.
“Flush levels sufficient. Exit granted.”
Behind Ryan, the locked door opened itself up, granting unhindered passage out of the bathroom.
As fast as he could, Ryan sprinted to class, trying to avoid admitting to himself that there was zero hope of salvation with Ms. Martinez now.
Someone was knocking on Liam’s door at one a.m. It was a good thing for them that Liam never slept early. He had been in the middle of resolving the bugs in his latest programming assignment when he got up to find out who could possibly be visiting past midnight, and wondering if he’d have to call an ambulance.
“Paul?” Liam asked, astonished. “What are you doing here? Don’t you, like, crash by ten every night?”
His friend seemed distraught and his face was filled with some other disturbing emotion that Liam was having a hard time defining.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Paul panted. “But hey, I have to ask you a favor. Can I, like, use your bathroom?”
“Use my bathroom?”
“Yeah. It’s, um, kind of urgent.”
Liam had one of the most coveted dorm rooms on campus – unsurprising, since he was an RA. Not only was it a single, but it also had its own unique bathroom, something Liam’s friends were wildly envious of.
“Bro, did you seriously just get up after midnight, walk past the bathroom in your hall, ignore literally every other bathroom in your dorm, cross the street to get to my dorm, and come all the way to the fourth floor, to use my fucking bathroom?”
“Listen, Liam, it’s complicated. Just, please, can I use your bathroom?” Paul looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown.
“Okay, whatever, weirdo. Sheesh.”
Liam stepped aside, and Paul rushed in.
Well if he needed to go that bad, why’d he come all the way here, Liam thought to himself.
Right before Liam shut the door, a black girl with an Afro and a curious mark on her cheek passed by on her way to the elevator, clutching a stack of folders. Liam recognized her. She was African. From Ghana, if he remembered correctly. Their paths crossed on campus sometimes because they had a major in common, though they hadn’t yet been in a class together. Some of his friends had, though, and they told him she was a computer science genius. From a distance, he’d always found her intensity intriguing.
Right before the door obscured his view of her, he thought he saw the African girl crack a half-smile. Since he couldn’t figure out what would have given her a reason to, he dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.
Edem had caught a snippet of the conversation between Paul and the RA boy as she was returning from her meeting with her CS partner. After working for hours, they had finally called it a night, assured that their presentation the following morning would not be a total flop-fest.
All day, she had been waiting for a letter from her teachers back home; those who had initiated her in the traditions of African Electronics and had made her promise not to misuse her skills. In addition to the consequences that were already woven into the fabric of the art itself, there were usually extra punishment doted out by the elders. She’d been preparing to receive hers all day, but so far, nothing had come.
Distressed and paranoid, she picked up her phone and called Fafali, the sexagenarian Anlo woman who was both her mentor and the elder she had the best personal relationship with. She wasn’t worried about the time; it might be late in Texas, but in her GMT zone, Fafali would already be up and on the go by now.
Fafali picked up a half-second through the first ring – she always knew when a phone call was coming – and didn’t bother wasting time with pleasantries.
“Let me guess: you’re wondering why you haven’t received notification from the elders, even though you know we are surely aware of what you’ve done,” Fafali said in rapid Ewe.
Fafali’s reply was saturated with impatience. “Well, for Mawu’s sake, someone had to put the fear of the gods in them! How can you be twenty years old and so deprived of home training?”
Edem was stunned. “Ah, Aunty, wait oo. You’re saying I’m not getting punished when I come home for the break?”
“Sweetie pie, your program wasn’t nearly severe enough to cause any brain damage. We’ve pronounced your distin resolved already. Cool your heart and go to bed, eh? It will not be good for you to be sleepy in your classes today. You better take your studies seriously, otherwise, you should really start getting fearful of returning home.”
“Yes Aunty! I’ll go to bed right now. Akpe lo! My regards to the elders.”
“Goodnight, eh. And may your afɔdzi never cause you that kind of stress again.”