Groggy and bleary eyed, you stumble down the dark corridor with your arm on the brick wall for support. You’re drawn like a moth to the little circle of light at the far end. Turn a corner, step over the threshold, and put up a hand to shield your eyes from the blinding light. Overhead, six fluorescent tubelights shine mercilessly, lighting up the world in a brilliant white glare. Though your eyes are shut tight, muscle memory kicks in and guides your feet to the first door on the left, which usually serves you well. You open the door, but stop in horror when you see the snake: long, brown and coiled on the tiled floor.
Panic stricken, you search frantically for fangs and a forked tongue. But then your initial feeling of shock is quickly subsumed by an overwhelming urge to vomit as you spot the disposable razors thrown in the corner and take a closer looker at the coarse, tangled mass. You’re almost wishing that your encounter had been with a fanged killer than someone’s unwanted body hair when you catch sight of little yellow droplets, sprayed in a wide arc over the seat and floor. You smile, grimly; apparently schoolboys can be savages even when they’re not stranded on an island. You prepare to leave. On this rare occasion, door 1 has let you down. But you’re resilient, determined to find a way out of this bizarre real life version of the Monty Hall problem.
You push the next door open and breathe a sigh of relief. No carpet of body hair on the floor, and no urinary splatters on the wall. But then your jaw drops and you stare at the seat in disbelief. For in front of you, symmetrically stamped on the seat through a thick layer of mud, is a set of shoe prints. The zigzag groove pattern of the soles is clearly visible, and the prints point neatly towards the door, as if planted in a state of complete serenity*. You try to vocalize an appropriate response to this absurdity, but no words emerge – only a weak gurgling.
As you stare uncomprehendingly at the scene before your eyes, a shooting pain across your pelvis knocks you out of your daze. With no time for caution, you rush to the third cubicle and yank the door open. Just before you turn your back to the wall, you catch a glimpse of the water at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Light glints off translucent, centimeter-long fragments – like toenails.
Feeling nauseous, you take a seat. Little drops of water leak from the shower on the wall. They trickle slowly down the channels of grout between the grey tiles and down to the floor where they silently form a puddle. In these small hours, the air is filled only with the continuous humming of the tubelights, punctuated at intervals by the dripping of a leaky faucet.
Without warning, everything goes dark. The faint vibrations that run through the walls – signs of the building’s electric life-force – die away. The resulting silence is suddenly shattered: a loud expletive rings out from the cubicle to your left. You almost fall off, startled to find you’re not alone. You feel your sphincters tightening instinctively: nothing makes things as difficult as the knowledge that every sound and splash you make is guaranteed to be heard by another living soul.
So you just sit there in the dark, lost in your thoughts until the lights flicker on some time later. The air is so humid that breathing takes an effort. Every deliberate intake is uncomfortably unsatisfying, like trying to sip pulpy orange juice through a straw that’s too thin. The beads of sweat that have formed silently on your forehead form little warm rivulets and flow down your temples. Meanwhile you think of the law building, and wonder why it was built. You think of Ayesha Mumtaz, and her frightening rampage against the city’s eateries. You think of the Fantis in your back pocket as they fall out on the floor and realize how nice it would be to get change. You think of the swimming pool that’s probably never going to be built, and of life’s disappointments. You think of your email, drowning under the weight of a hundred olx-like advertisements. You think of Tip-Top, and how they’ve returned your underwear burnt to a crisp. You think of the computers in the labs, and wonder why their keyboards are always so sticky. You think of the PDC chef you saw scratching himself at lunch. You look to your right and peer closely at the muslim shower’s head. Embossed on it is what looks a lot like the LUMS logo.
Acrid smoke fills your nostrils and knocks you out of your reverie. Your bronchi twinge and asthma threatens to stir from its slumber. You might not be president of a society, but at a job interview you can proudly tell them how LUMS prepared you for life by offering you all kinds of experiences– such as the curious one of simultaneously defecating and inhaling second-hand smoke. Time to wrap things up.
As you wash your hands, you catch sight of yourself in the mirror. It is before these instruments of vanity that traditional notions of masculinity undergo a paradigm shift. Thanks to the valiant efforts of John Abraham, all sub-continental men can now look good without feeling ashamed. These hallowed toilets and porcelain sinks, with their leaky faucets and permanently encrusted mucus stains, offer all a profound lesson. For all his intellectual achievements and lofty aspirations, man is ultimately little more than a slave to his body – forever obliged to answer nature when she calls. In its mysterious workings, the natural world is indiscriminating: thus at the end of a long and tiring day, professor and pupil alike must submit meekly to the tell-tale rumbling of their tummies, and collectively experience the anguish of discovering that Zakir’s chapatis really don’t contain all that much fibre.
As you leave, you turn and look fondly at what is, in all honesty, the source of much of your happiness. You’re sad that it’s time to leave, but you smile. If the French toast at breakfast is as soggy as it’s been the entire week, you’ll be back in a few hours.
*discovery duly credited to Osama Qureshi