by Zainab Khan
I was in the Delhi Metro in the late evening on my way home from college. I’d been feeling a little bit queasy ever since the morning. After lunch however it had only worsened. When I had left college, it was nothing more than a slight throbbing pain in the top of my stomach. In the stifling heat of the jam-packed Delhi-Metro however, it got much worse. My stomach was gurgling and the pressure I was feeling became far too noticeable.
For about half and hour I stood there, bolt upright, gripping the rods above me with white-knuckled fists, and crossing my legs in a double-twisted vice-like grip as tightly as I possibly could. Still, it wasn’t enough. As the sweaty bodies around me packed closer and closer as we pulled off from another station, I felt the pressure grow beyond my control. As we pulled out of the station I made up my mind to get off the train at the very next stop: my dignity depended on it.
The moment the train pulled in at the next station, I clenched my sphincter as tightly as I possibly could, took a deep breath, and elbowed my way out past the dozens of sweaty people cramming their way into the coach. One aunty’s arm caught me directly in the centre of my stomach as she barrelled past me. I felt a sudden squirt gush out of me, dampening the back of my underwear, and was forced to stand there, utterly motionless on the middle of the platform, grimacing obscenely with my plazzo-clad legs crossed until the wave of pressure subsided somewhat.
As soon as I was capable, I stormed towards the bathrooms in the far corner of the station, stopping one or two times more for some spirited leg-crossing sessions whenever the pressure caught up with me. Finally I reached the bathrooms only to find that the Women’s loo was firmly locked. Bolted. With a heavy-set lock clamped over it’s latch.
Right next to it however, I noticed that the Men’s loo was still open. Fully functional and plying, complete with a very creepy fellow listening to old Bollywood songs outside the door and collecting money from patrons who wished to enter. I approached him and asked him, “Bhai, Why is the Ladies shut?”
He turned to me and very casually responded,”Haan, hum aat baje pe band karte hain. Uske baad mein ladkiyan nahi aata (We close it at 8. Women don’t come after that).”
On any normal day I would have given it to anyone who said something along such blatantly sexist lines to me. At that moment however, I was a ticking time bomb. I asked him if he could open the loo for me and he replied that he didn’t have the keys with him as it was with a female member of staff. Upon inquiring about her whereabouts, he replied that she’d be back, ‘soon’.
I stood there awkwardly for the next five minutes. Waiting. I was in dire straits. My legs were beginning to sweat in the sultry summer heat as a result of them being constantly crossed. I felt the small damp patch behind me growing minute by minute with each spurt that my sphincter just couldn’t restrain. I felt like a pressure cooker.
Meanwhile, the creepy man outside the Gents, was visibly ogling me. He was very obviously enjoying the whole situation. Every couple of seconds his eyes would drift up from his phone screen onto my writhing figure. On more than one occasion I gave him a shouting but he quickly averted his eyes back to his phone and ignored me. I would have left if I could. At that stage however I knew that any movement more than a dozen or so steps would be the end of me and the beginning of a ghastly public humiliation that I’d never be able to live down. And so I stood. And waited. And waited.
As the pressure neared it’s final stages and I as covered with sweat and my knuckles were white, I knew that this was the end. I couldn’t go on. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the gleaming white light of the Men’s section and, more importantly, the silence and lack of motion inside that accompanied it. Knowing that my time was up, I resorted to my final emergency solution. I walked up quickly and confidently to the creepy man at the door and spoke,
“Bhai, main under jaa rahi hoon. ”
His eyes widened with shock and misogynistic horror at the notion and emphatically shook his head while rambling off an incomprehensible tirade. I was at my limit, the end of my rope. And this wasn’t where I wanted to be when I lost my grip (that was preferably somewhere with four walls, a roof, a hole in the floor beneath me, and a faucet). With one hand on my stomach I shoved my way past him and barged into the empty Gents bathroom. Still shouting, the man followed in behind me.
My walk turn into a trot. My trot turned into a jog. My jog turned into a desperate dash. Oh God! Please God!! Don’t let me loose control! The blinding white light reflected off the tiles mingled with the overpowering stench of urine that hung in the air to present to me the horror that stood in front of me. The irony of the Gods.
A row of shining urinals. And one clearly baffled man in formal clothes voiding his bladder casually into one. Not aware in the slightest of my suffering. Not aware of my anatomical needs. Not in the slightest disheartened by the lack of even a single cubicle in this ‘bathroom’.
And it was there, in the midst of an ammoniac cloud, with a man shouting angrily behind me and a man serenely urinating in front of me, that my sphincter finally gave way.
It happened so quickly that I was still shouting back teary eyed at the ‘supervisor’ (Aka: Creepy Guy) when I felt the trickle give way to a torrent. It quite literally gushed out of me. It ran down my legs, soiling my zebra striped palazzos in the process before dripping off my ankles and into the ever growing pool of filth and humiliation that I found myself standing in.
Both men were speechless. The Creepy Guy, probably fearing action on my part, turned his back and made a retreat for the door. I just stood there, shocked and helpless as it happened.
Luckily for me, not all men are completely insensitive. The middle-aged man who had been urinating at the urinal, reassured me and offered to buy me a spare pair of pants. Naturally I refused the offer a fair number of times before he made me realize that I really had no other option.
When he returned back he gave me a pair of cheap black leggings that he’d bought from a street vendor on the road above. After handing them to me he turned respectfully to leave. Before he left I asked him why he had been so helpful and kind to me.
With his back towards me he told me how ‘This’ (As he poignantly referred to it) had happened to his teenage daughter last year when she had gone out with her friends to dinner despite feeling ‘stomach ache’. He implied that an accident of this magnitude had occurred while she was on the bus home but that there was nobody there to do for her what he had done for me. Provide a change of clothes.
I felt sickened by the man’s’ story. A teenager, forced to soil herself because of the lack of availability of a washroom. And, to add insult to injury, being forced to make her way home in the very same clothes. As I sat in the auto home in my clean new black leggings, I reflected on the absurdity of this situation.
We need to make a change.