Weeing and Time

Not all toilets are created equal. I was changing trains recently in Bordeaux and had an hour to pass. When I went to use the toilets, I was confronted with 2theloo, who promise on their website that their Toilet Concept will ‘give customers the ultimate toilet experience’. With an empty purse I asked the guardian (one of three) whether I could access the toilet for free. We accept card, she beamed at me, then her face darkened when she realised I’d have to use chip-and-pin. I paid the €1 and 2’d myself to the loo.

2theloo at Bordeaux St. Jean prides itself on the commodification of the body’s waterworks. To the left of the turnstile, the shelves are stocked with neon-coloured toilet roll, condoms and tampons. A soft drinks vending machine, which also accepts credit cards, vends. As I queued, a male toilet attendant paced near the sinks, rolling his eyes at the evolving line, muttering that there was no such queue in the males. Each door lock was slid to red and yet he rattled each one to double-check the occupancy.

The last time a stranger had actively taken an interest in how long I spent in the toilet was in 2014. I was working in a call-centre situated near a valley outside Cork City which I took to calling The Valley of Tears. There were the live tears of colleagues, routinely fired at their desk for their ‘poor attitude’, not meeting targets and low-level drug-dealing. My time came too when I was called to the office, the office being an adjacent desk of a Team Leader, where I was invited to perch to receive my judgement. It had come to the attention of management that I used the toilet too frequently. I started to prepare my excuses. It’s my bladder, I made the shape of a pebble with my thumb and middle finger, it’s just tiny I squeezed out.

That I have a body did not register with the Team Leader. It’s the tears, I offer. You know they say the sound of running water makes you want to go more frequently. All day long, people are crying on the phone asking me where their money is. The body still didn’t register. I’m asked to sign a PIP: Personal Improvement Plan to address the frequency and duration of my WC visits. I quit several weeks later after receiving a circular email inviting me to a work coffee morning to raise money for a suicide awareness charity. Coffee is a diuretic I start to write in the reply, then change it to regret, inform, you, sincerely.

One explanation of the queues in public female toilets is that they offer a place of private mourning: lacrimal cum urinal. The Irish word for toilet–leithreas–derives from the Old Irish for separation and isolation. Female liquids have always been exiled; their blood, urine, tears­–secreted. Our sexual glistening, on the other hand, is celebrated. We are adored when wet, moist, soaking but the liquid must be prompted by an outside force, be transparent and above all shouldn’t stick around too long.

In a toilet, we can exist just as a sound. I worked on a capital trial in Louisiana just before returning to Ireland to work at the call centre. Public crying was a privilege of the victim’s family, not the defendant’s. During recess, I used the courtroom toilet and heard wailing in the cubicle next to me, interrupted by a fuck (same human, different voice), which I took to signal that the toilet paper was gone. No request was made. At the hand dryer, I met the defendant’s mother whose son was facing the possibility of execution. I wanted to ask her how she did it: queue for the toilet, the courtroom coffee, the Subway sandwich, all while remaining bone-dry in public.

There is no ‘we’ in weeing. Martin in the female’s 2theloo made that clear. As I sat on my rented seat, the door rattled every few seconds. I decided to make myself comfortable. I thought of the visits to the loo when I’ve contorted my pelvis to control the sound of my flow or covered my mouth to dampen the sound of crying or kept flushing to drown out the whole noise of me. I’d entered 2theloo because it was natural as breathing but as I sat there, I realised I didn’t need the loo, nor to cry, nor to hide. There was only me and still time.

-Paris, 11th October 2022

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