The Trap – Xin Hui, China

My abdomen pushed down against my bladder creating that unmistakable urge that meant only one thing. Find a toilet, and find it now!

“You should have used the restroom in the restaurant,” My fiance, Sharleen, chastised.

I hurried from person to person:”Chee so?” “Chee so?” Shaking their heads and hands they waived me off.

What did that mean? I thought to myself angrily. That was not helpful. My Cantonese rendition of toilet was perfect, or so I thought. Fortunately, an old lady on a bench understood and pointed to a small building at the edge of the lake. You can always trust old ladies, I thought to myself.

As I scurried towards the hut, I wondered if my intonation was correct, or the expression on my face conveyed my need. As I rushed in, the rank and pungent odors of excrement and urine resting in motionless hot air hit me immediately. I suppressed a gag reflex as other needs were more pressing. The sun crept into the room between small cracks in the wooded shutters. My eyes, adjusting to the barely lit room, found a small oval hole in the floor near the corner. No porcelain wall urinal or fancy white toilet with a laser eye for automatic flushing here.

In rural south China, technology, bathroom etiquette, or hygiene were not priorities. Squat toilets were simple and completely functional for my needs. Feeling a bit lucky that my biological urges were not more complex, I fumbled with my trouser buttons, stepped up to this offensive hole spewing foul odor, and took aim. Waves of relief surged through my body. I let my eyes, now almost fully adjusted to the light, wander.

The room was devoid of graffiti. Instead, unmistakable stains and smears decorated the walls. Again, suppressing other biological reflexes, I reminded myself of the brevity of my visit. Immediate needs outweighed olfactory and visual revulsions. Nervously, I looked down. The cement floor opposite of where I stood and on either sides of the hole also sported various shades of brown, black, and dark gray stains.

With disgust and curiosity I peered closer and found some stains having depth and shape. Seeing my feet too close to something very unpleasant, I edged backward. From within the depths of the fetid and humid bowels of the hole, three mosquitoes rose and approached with slow and deliberate intent. They moved as hunters approach prey in a trap. Unable to leave, mild panic overcame any previous relief I felt.

It was bad enough that mosquitoes in this region carry a potpourri of virus and bacteria, but even worse was knowing they emerged from a hole abundant with fresh and moist scatological refuse. I did not want these flying carriers of disease and God knows what anywhere near me – especially not near anything currently exposed.

I postured myself the best defensive position the situation allowed. Knees slightly bent, balanced trued, and my free hand poised to swat and kill. The wispy insects made their move. I rocked slightly from side to side. A moving target – harder to hit – I thought to myself. I consciously left my feet in place. Even though most of the floor decorations seemed dry and crusty, I still did not want to risk stepping on anything.

The attackers, undeterred by my movements, buzzed closer. Their threat required a change in tactics. A good defense is a good offense. I swatted at the two closest insects. The rush of air blew them off course. The wind generated by my forceful swing generated unexpected consequences. When the gust hit the wall, nearly twenty mosquitoes, camouflaged against the brown and black murals, became alerted to my presence.

Three mosquitoes, one handed, maybe – a whole squadron thirsting for my blood, no way. The threat was eminent, and my panic level rose sharply. I needed out of the bathroom as desperately as I had wanted in. Retreat! I summoned all bladder muscles and pelvic strength and pushed. Expunging all urine from my system as quickly as possible was my only hope. The squadron approached and I swatted and swung, frantically. This did manage to keep them at bay, but as each gust hit the wall more mosquitoes joined the onslaught.

I lost count! Hundreds of marauding insects swirled about looking to make a meal of me. Headlines dashed through my head: “Exsanguinated man found in bathroom.” “Bizarre fecal infection kills traveler.” Pushing, gyrating, swinging, and close enough to done, it was time to get out! I backed away from the hole still pushing and shaking. Stepping backwards my aim wavered creating some fresh stains. I did not care. Out, exit, evacuate! Sensing my attempt to flee, they advanced more hastily. I retreated buttoning and stumbling. Exiting at almost a backwards run, I finished fastening my trousers outside. Modesty be damned!

I looked behind me and checked my person for mosquitoes. None followed; the midday sun being too much for these delicate vampire-like insects. In the clear, I gasped and sucked in the relatively clean thick muggy air. The hot air cleansed the noxious stink from my senses. My anxiety subsided.

All at once it made sense. The people understood my question, but waived their hands as if to say: “don’t go there.” The stains were not from poor control but from frantic attempts by others caught in the mosquito trap. From that nice helpful old lady who directed me, now emitted a dry and raspy laugh. Jiggling as she laughed, she wore a giant and slightly wicked single tooth grin. I laughed as well.

“What happened?” Sharleen asked.

“You were right. I should have used the restroom in the restaurant.”

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