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This story was written by Kiele Tang Xiao-yin, 12, from Hong Kong International School
It is the winning entry from Young Post’s 2018 Winter Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, which each finalist will receive a copy of. Be sure to look out for our other writing competitions in the future.
It was 3am, and I was lying under a dark night sky and a whistling breeze. I was on an island with no electricity and only rudimentary plumbing, and my bladder was about to explode. The last thing I wanted to do was crawl out of my cosy sleeping bag, climb out of my tent, and walk across the pitch black campground. Still, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
It was mid-October, and the air, still balmy during the day, was now chilly. With the exception of one lone resident, Tung Lung Chau is deserted. My classmates and I were among the sole inhabitants of the island that night.
Our seventh-grade teachers had promised us that this trip would be the adventure of a lifetime. We would be camping in the beautiful outdoors, cooking our meals on camp stoves, and taking part in activities like rock climbing and rappelling. I had been super excited.
However, what my teachers had neglected to mention that there would be no working toilets or electricity. Nothing. I’m not sure whether the one other person living on the island had a toilet, but we certainly didn’t. And now the moment I’d been dreading had arrived.
If I’d had the choice, I would have gone it alone, and kept this a private matter. However, our teachers had demanded that we must go, “to the loos in twos, and you must wear shoes”. So, I had to wake up my friend.
“Talia,” I whispered, nudging her shoulder. “I have to go the bathroom.”
Talia did not seem at all pleased with me.
“Are you serious?”
“Dead serious,” I said.
We squirmed our way out of our sleeping bags, found our shoes and flashlights, and stepped out into the darkness. I was terrified.
“Come on, Kiele. It’s going to be fine,” Talia said through a yawn, trying to reassure me.
My stomach had done a little flip when I’d found how we would be doing our business on this trip. Because the island doesn’t have proper plumbing, we had to use these unflushable, squatty potties. There were a few people who, like Talia, didn’t seem to have any problem with the situation. They could cope with these disgusting holes in the ground perfectly well. For some reason, I just couldn’t.
As I walked outside, I recalled a video I once watched about toilets and clean water. It said that 40 per cent of the world’s population have to use a non-flushable latrine every day. For some, in fact, a latrine would be an improvement on simply using a hole. Because they lack access to clean water or plumbing, thousands of children die of diarrhoea, or diseases like cholera, due to the viruses and bacteria found in human waste that’s lying around. I tried telling myself if almost half the world had to do this every day – and at much greater personal risk – surely I could do it for one week. Still, this was going to be a challenge for me.
As we arrived at the latrine, I began to panic and I felt flustered. Beads of sweat were gathering on my skin, and I could feel the hairs on my neck all standing up.
“Why, why, WHY?” I felt like I was going to puke. You can do this, I told myself. As Talia nudged me closer to the dreadful outhouse, I cautiously stepped forward, one foot in front of the other. As we inched nearer, a bad smell drifted up my nose and smacked me across my face. I wanted to run as far away as I could, but my bladder pulled me closer in the opposite direction.
“Just go,” Talia said with exasperation, throwing her hands up in the air. “I don’t want
to stand here all night.”
I understood that Talia wanted to get back to her warm, comfy sleeping bag, but even she should understand that you can’t rush the process of using a hole as a toilet for the very first time. Especially if, like me, you’ve never even used a squatty potty before.
I thought back to the video, which explained how poor sanitation causes serious health issues like cholera and diarrhoea, even death. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to die – in fact I knew I as being irrational – but who knew?
“Uh,” I stuttered. “Why don’t you go first?”
I suggested. As I spoke, the words tasted like chunky, orange vomit in my mouth, wanting to come out.
“Are you kidding me?” Talia barked. “You are the one who wanted me to escort you to the bathrooms. I don’t even have to go!”
She aimed her flashlight at the latrine. “Go!”
The “bathroom” was pretty horrific to look at, even from the outside. You could smell the aftermath of other people’s digestive systems from a mile away. The stench was an assault on my nostrils. It wasn’t even a real bathroom, just two worn-out wooden stalls. One housed a stained squatty potty; the other, nothing but a hole. Flies swarmed the walls, waiting to bite my legs. There was a sink with two taps dripping water into dirty, red buckets on the floor. I’d seen my classmates exiting these stalls earlier in the day, expressions of horror on their face as they ran for fresh air and freedom. I now understood why.
I decided I had better just get it over with and go. After all, as I remembered my mother once telling me, everyone has to use a disgusting bathroom at some point in their lives, even her.
I squeezed my eyes shut, held my breath and braced myself.
I cannot recount what happened in that stall because the memory is too vivid for you, reader, to handle. However, let me assure you, it was not pretty.
All I remember were tears trickling down my face the moment the door shut. In front of me was a man-made hole that someone, somewhere, had deemed passable as a bathroom. Next to me was a beige bucket, filled with mounds of used tissues. I could see a centipede’s dead carcass floating in the water.
I could no longer protect my nose because I needed both my hands to prevent my pants from falling on the ground and into the deep, foul, depths of the hole. Meanwhile, keeping balance was a job that required my full concentration and some athletic skill.
I reminded myself that even though this “toilet” was disgusting, it served a greater purpose. In that video, I learned that poo can actually do a lot of good, like provide nutrients for the environment. In some parts of the world, poo is even used a fuel for cooking. So maybe I was kind of giving back to the Earth at this moment. I was starting to feel good about what I was doing.
“You can do it, you can do it, you can do it,” I thought to myself as I prepared for the release. As I was about to release, my mind stopped as I looked between my feet, into the hole. Lying beneath me was the leftovers of what probably was last night’s dinner, processed no doubt by one of my classmates. Meanwhile, the bottom of my shoe now was now covered in a yellow liquid substance that made my stomach churn.
I rushed back out into the open and felt a pang of longing for my own bathroom. What an upgrade it would be compared to this. I thought how I would be able to use my white polished toilet in my squeaky clean, odour free bathroom. How I could rinse my hands in my white, polished sink and feel the flow of clean, untouched water at the mere flick of my wrist. Sadly, I wouldn’t get to experience that any time soon.
Help me, I wanted to scream to God, wishing I could get as far away form this island as possible. Ugh. Just horrible.
“See, not so bad,” mumbled Talia. She was exhausted and just wanted to go back to sleep.
Was she joking? Not so bad? Was all she had to say to comfort me? I walked past her, too irritated to speak. I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I regretted coming on this trip the second I walked into that disaster waiting to happen. I wanted my home back, I wanted the good relationship I had with my bathroom back.
I had to use that bathroom many times during that week. I wouldn’t say that it got better with experience, but I survived.
I realised, however, that I’d been taking my life back home for granted: having a roof over my head, working electricity, and running water. I never thought that I could miss my toilet more than my family, but there it is.
When the trip was finally over and I arrived back home, I could hardly contain my excitement as I rushed through the front door. I ran up to each of my family members and hugged them, even though they all pushed me away, insisting I take a shower first. As I walked into my clean, polished bathroom, I saw what seemed at that moment to be the most beautiful thing in the world. It was finally there, my toilet. I ran up and hugged my sweet waste disposer for a good 15 seconds. I even flushed it just because I had missed that sweet water splashing sound so much. As, I got into the shower and felt the hot water rush over my body, I thanked God for everything I had that day.
I realised that not many people in the world get to live in a flat with electricity and flushing toilets. For some 40 per cent of the world’s population, my camping experience was their day-to-day reality – or even worse. So really, who was I to complain? Maybe the teachers had taken us on this trip for that very reason. Or maybe it was to get back at us for all the times we had misbehaved in class. Either way, this trip had been one I would never forget.