You Just Needed to Pee — What Happened Next Was Life-Changing.
You are walking down a medium-length corridor. The strip lighting accents the slight shadow under your eyes. You stayed up working on an assignment last night, until the words started to bounce off the page. The bag strap on your shoulder is heavy.
You push open a door in the corridor that feels tacky, like the paint hasn’t dried enough. It is the grime of your student ancestors. It is invisible. When you step inside you notice something in the corner or your eye. A blue sign that makes your sneakers squeak to a stop. A sick uncertainty settles in your gut.
That’s right: you have just entered an all gender bathroom.
Fuck, you think. Nothing else comes after that. You are frozen in time. You see your cheeks start to burn in the spotted, ageing mirror. The blank tile stares back. The door whines behind you and bumps to a close. You are fragile, alone, and in an all gender bathroom.
What? All genders? How many are there, exactly, you wonder, forgetting the weight of your bag. You are certain this should have been something they taught in social studies — a subject you took at an advanced level. It occurs to you that someone else could walk in at any minute. Anyone else. Your sneakers are glued to the tiles.
You desperately need to take a piss.
You zero in on a stall in the corner. Target acquired. You walk quickly (one-two step) to the door, lock the door, shed your bag, no hook (typical) so it goes on the floor. You flip the seat up and get busy. A steady stream of warm gold ushers forth. An audible hiss of relief escapes your lips, dampened by the plaster ceiling. The walls are curiously free of graffiti.
The sound of the door jerks you back to life. You can feel your heart jump into your neck as it closes. A stall slams shut. Your neck bulges with heart and prickle-related activities. Your stream has terminated. Panicking, you focus on the poster on the back of the stall door. Redness? it enquires. Itching? Inflammation?
You notice your shoulders have become tense. Steel-strut-on-a-suspension-bridge tense. You try to think of what your idol — Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí — would do in this situation.
Bathrooms? Gaudi says, raising his voluminous brow at you. My work is in marble, not porcelain.
Gaudi, it turns out, is not a very big help in this situation. You slowly twitch your pants back on, wincing at their every rustle. You can hear your unknown fellow inching toward a flush. You do not dare to announce your presence with such fanfare of swirling water.
Woooshhhh! They have pressed the button that signals your release. Under the cover of sound, you grab your bag from the ground, preparing for flight. The other stall creaks open.
Badoom badoom badoom! Someone thumps on your stall door; you flinch like an animal; the sound of the tap turning on echoes over your head.
It was your heart pounding, not a knocking stranger intent on your loins. Badoom, your chest says, muffled and sheepish at the fuss it has caused. Badoom. The roar of the hand dryer drowns out the beat. You hear the door bump the frame. You are alone, again, in the all gender bathroom.
You fly past the tap and the still-rumbling dryer, past the spotty mirror, past the blank tile. You smash your palm into the door, numb to its history, with the only thought in your head escape. You forget to flush and do not care. You enter the medium-length hallway so fast that you barrel into a tall, slim person who has paused to check their phone.
For a split second, your elbow goes into something semi-soft. You smell lemon myrtle and a faint lingering smoke.
“UM — sorry,” you say. They brush hair out of their eyes to look at you, unshaken.
“That’s okay,” they say, with a light smile. You both stand there for a moment. It occurs to you that nothing bad has happened.
There are, Gaudi once said, no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. As you exit the hallway, the impulse takes you to raise your hand in a feeble wave goodbye. They don’t see you, but it feels better that way. In the elevator, you dig in your bag and google: how many genders are there?
The answer will shock you.