Why you should care

Because we all got digestive systems.

I had had a double espresso and yogurt for breakfast. These felt like the best choices … at the time. My friend Aimee and I were in Egypt — Cairo, to be exact — and we were going to head off to Alexandria. By train. Even if the morning had seen the digestive forces working at full speed and we had hit a minor bump. Specifically: explosive diarrhea and the resulting death of my Wet Seal thong, my underwear and my leggings.

But that was then. Morning was a distant memory and now Aimee and I are safely on the train, last row. Without a worry in the world.

Three men are crammed behind us in the space between our row and the wall, and two are in the aisle pressed against my seat. I don’t feel many stares, but still I feel … anxious. I am eye level with one man’s waist, his crotch. He’s overweight. I notice his undershirt stretched against his extended belly, spilling over his waistband. Belly. Stretched. Belly.

Then I feel what is nothing if not a wholly renewed sense of anxiety: the urge to use the restroom. Paranoid from the morning’s event and knowing that 1) I don’t have another pair of leggings to change into, a necessity in Egypt for modesty, and 2) I don’t want to bring my backpack into the tiny, not entirely clean train bathroom and set it on the floor while changing underwear for the second time in three hours, I abruptly place my belongings in Aimee’s lap and ask the crowd of men where the toilet is, “Hamman?

… what happens next is not a pretty tale and before the shame sets in too deep, I’ll tell it, in all its graphic glory, because I need to expel this story from my brain.

They point behind me, in between the train cars, and I squeeze through the crowd. When I reach the bathroom, I thought all of the men are asking for money. I am annoyed and confused because none are bathroom attendants. They are regular passengers. Finally, after seeing me exasperated and probably with a great sense of fear and urgency in my eyes, they say, “OK, OK,” and wave me in.

In hindsight, I realize they were making the Egyptian hand sign for “wait,” which looks very similar to the Western hand sign for money. So, I see now that I must have cut the line.

But what happens next is not a pretty tale and before the shame sets in too deep, I’ll tell it, in all its graphic glory, because I need to expel this story from my brain … much like my body needing to expel its contents in rapid, liquid form. Double espresso and yogurt for breakfast, thought to be my friends, are now formidable enemies.

I enter the bathroom, lock the door and head for the toilet. The seat is covered in urine, so I decide to air squat. With not a second to spare, I roll down my thong and leggings and … shit my brains out. It goes on for eternity. Even the moments I think it’s over, it isn’t. And it feels amazing, in only the way relieving yourself of stomach-cramping diarrhea buildup can.

So there I am, butt in the air and going for it when, after what feels like a solid (liquid?) two minutes, I stand up and reach for the pack of tissues I am so grateful to have on me. I turn around to throw it in the toilet and … I don’t believe my eyes at first. I don’t believe my eyes because the sight in front of them is so confusing. Apparently my toilet air squat — never my forte — had been askew and I had voided my bowels all over the toilet seat and down the side of the toilet.

I turn around to see myself laughing in the mirror. I look absolutely and totally crazed.

In one massive liquid puddle, it starts to slide down and spread. I am horrified and paralyzed. I look at it and try to decide what to do. I grab a couple of my precious tissues, hesitant to use them all for fear I would need them again later.

This was hour one of our three-hour train ride.

So, I grab two tissues and prudently wipe up the seat and the inside of the lid. Then I look at the situation spilling over the side and on the floor, and throw my hands over my head and laugh.

I turn around to see myself laughing in the mirror. I look absolutely and totally crazed.

At this point my measly three remaining tissues couldn’t even begin to address my bodily equivalent of the BP oil spill. Moreover, how was I going to open the door and face all the people waiting for the bathroom who let me cut the line?

I stand there for another minute or two, too embarrassed to bring myself to open the door. Eventually I have no choice. I struggle to get the door to unlock and leave. I look at the man outside the door, turn my head toward the bathroom, turn back to look at him and shake my head.

He looks concerned. I repeat the motion and then, defeated, squeeze my way back to my seat, where I proceed to tell Aimee I’d hit a low point. Humiliated, I could only stare out the window. I hear a couple of laughs from our nearby train neighbors and then block everything out. Maybe they’ll think it’s from someone before me. I suddenly wish we were farther up in the train car so we could escape, if not the memory then the proximity.

It could be worse, I half-heartedly tell myself. But the truth is, I find the situation both shameful and hilarious.

I also feel the need to go to the bathroom again, but I’m too embarrassed to return to the same one, and equally embarrassed for people to see me seek out a different one. There is no game plan but in the end, we could call it a draw: Rachel – 0. Egypt – 0.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.