Saturday, March 8, 2008

I straddled the toilet seat, lid down. I had wanted to find a place of escape, somewhere protected from the prying eyes of people who might notice my flushed cheeks, my shame. The frustration of standing in the queue at Medibank waiting my turn, sandwiched between three women, all of whom knew one another and were chatting amicably about the days events, their children’ antics, their husbands eccentricities, this closed shop of womankind, was too much for me. And worse, when I all but reached the end of the queue and my ticket number was about to be announced, I rifled through the internal compartments of my hand back, past reluctant zippers and abandoned lolly wrappers only to find that I had forgotten my Medibank card and receipts. I would not be served.

‘I’ve forgotten my forms’ I stammered to the woman behind me. ‘You can have my place.’ I fled from the building. Earlier I had made a fuss of not being allowed into my rightful place in the line because I had come into the building through an adjacent entrance and not through the one that most people, most women, they were all women, including those serving at the counter, had followed.

Out on the street I looked across the concrete wasteland to the service station opposite. I could smell the loose oil, petrol and seared rubber from skidded tyres. The garage toilet, garages always have toilets for their patrons, would be tucked somewhere behind the main building. These days you have to ask at the main desk for a key, but in my dream I did not need a key. The toilet was slightly ajar and it stank, as you might expect, of disinfectant, urine and shit. I sat down on the toilet seat. I could not close the door of the narrow cubicle. It shed light into the corridor, an airlock that shielded the nakedness of the toilet from the outside world, the back of the garage, the stacks of used rubber tyres and empty petrol tins. I looked down at a mango I had produced from my bag, and pulled apart it’s already cut flesh. Someone had slit the knife through the mango making a crisscross pattern for easier eating. I forced up the skin to raise the yellow mango and began to chew off lumps of sticky sweetness. The juice ran over my fingers, down my chin, onto my lap. I did not care. There was something in the fruity sweetness of the mango that offered me comfort and I ate like a starving person, till the outside door opened and through the slit of the door I could see one of the station attendants waiting his turn for the toilet. He would have barged right in had I not managed to push the toilet door close, dropping the mango onto the floor. This was enough to indicate the toilet was occupied, but not enough to send the man away. He continued to wait for his turn. I wiped my face with my hands. I peeled off sheets of toilet paper to try to soak up the sticky excess from the mango. I puzzled about how I might hide the mango halves now dust covered on the floor. I could not conceal them. I would leave them there I decided, hoping the man might think they were someone else’s and not mine. I reached back to flush the toilet. The water echoed under the closed lid like a waterfall.

‘It’s the smallest toilet I’ve ever seen,’ I called out to the man, in a tone I hoped might sound nonchalant and normal. Then I squeezed my way out of the door past the man and back into the sun-blinking daylight.

I have not been able to describe the desolation I was feeling throughout all these movements. I was in a dream. I knew I was in a dream. In a dream I could feel the full impact of my sadness, my worry over ‘running out of resources’. This was my fear; that I would have no more money to pay my bills.

The secretary from the garage came over and handed me a bill, $211.00. I was relieved. It was for services rendered. Earlier the apprentices, supervised by the head mechanic, had cleared water from the petrol tank of my daughter Tessa’s car. It had been a lucky escape. Any more water in the engine and the car would have been non-drivable, irreparable without a complete tank clearance.

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