The Unwilling Contortionist
Aasha Mehreen Amin
There are two things that one usually dreads while travelling. One is having to go to a bathroom from hell. The second thing is having a seat at the end of the plane near the smelly toilets next to an unknown travelling companion from hell. Most travellers have gone through one or both such experiences, except of course the lucky few who have never even seen an economy class seat let alone sit in one. Sometimes the level of nastiness that one endures makes one a good candidate for sainthood.
In the case of the first dreaded scenario, there is good old Dhaka airport (a safe way to describe it without arousing controversy). The floors are quite shiny these days and the walls devoid of oily stains nice carpetted floors, spacious halls, glass windows and so on. But this is where the beauty ends. If you are flying out to anywhere and are not a business class passenger you will have the privilege of visiting some of the most filthy toilets in Dhaka airport history. A few years ago while travelling, the bathroom at the waiting area after immigration gave me a shock. It was like being in a horror movie. The toilet seats were broken, soiled or just nonexistent, there was no toilet paper, no water one toilet had a broken flush, the other one was so overflowed that it would be suicidal to try and figure out if the flush worked or not. All the basins had blood and I looked up in horror to see the female attendant smiling her smile, lips and teeth full of blood. Of course it wasn't blood but betel juice but the image was nonetheless as gory and repulsive. When I asked why the toilets were in such a state she just laughed (I would like to say maniacially for more dramatic effect but that would be stretching the truth). I did the only thing there was to do. Run away from the grotesque scene.
Recently on another trip it was almost the same story. Everything was so eerily familiar. The toilet seats were broken or non-existent, there was no toilet paper, two had no water and the third one was beyond description in terms of filth. The floors were wet and sticky... I could see there was no blood in the basins but no sign of the bloody-mouthed attendant either. The stink was unbearable so again I did what I had done a few years ago. I fled.
Nearer to the departure gate is another women's washroom. Here the scene is marginally better. Of course there is no toilet paper, there is water although the spray tap is leaky and broken, the toilet seat is soiled...same old story. Outside I found the culprit, the female janitor and two male janitors eating sweets of all things! It was like those confusing, disturbing dreams where you can't find something, in my case, a clean washroom, and have to encounter hostile and strange faces. Dazed by their inscrutable complacence, I demanded why the bathroom was in such a state, to which she glibly said: I just cleaned it and gave a new roll of toilet paper. It was a futile struggle so I again, ran away.
The expression to be in a rock and a hard place perfectly describes the passenger who has been doomed to sit right in the middle of a three-seat middle row. It means being virtually imprisoned. Usually you will be wedged between two tall, hefty people who don't know where to put their limbs in the tiny seats that should be called 'kiddie class' instead of 'economy class'. If this kind of luck is a regular thing for you, be sure that you will not get the meal you want as it has run out, the last one was taken by your neighbour. As you contort your own body in the attempt to not touch thy neighbour, everything will start falling off of you, your pillow, blanket (it's always freezing up there), the earplugs, the block of butter and little bun, the toothpick, sugar, salt and pepper you wanted to save and sneak into the bag for later. If you are trying to eat your meal as you pull in your elbows and use the instruments like your upper arms have been glued to your body, it is most likely that the fork will fly off, never to be found, the dressing will spill onto your snoring neighbour (that counts as a stroke of good luck) and the lamp chops will be so tough, it will be like sawing off aluminum steaks and bits of it have sort of flown into - ahem - your neighbour. Unfortunately he/she is no longer snoring but staring at you in disbelief and horror. In this case the second most dreaded experience applies to your neighbour.
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