I walked into the room and everyone stopped, they looked. Their brows were heavy and knitted and they seemed to look out at me from beneath ominous thunder clouds. I could feel the tension in the air. It was like a steel cable stretched too far and about to snap, sending shock waves screeching and causing complete chaos. This wasn't good.
"Excuse me," I began. "Where's the head in this place?"
I looked around, hoping to find a friendly face, but everyone seemed hesitant or scared. It was as if they knew of some cruel punishment for those who helped strangers.
"Bathroom's just down there. To the left." A man behind the bar motioned to a hallway on the other side of the room. I nodded to him and shuffled past the sombre men, sitting on filthy stools. They didn't say a word.
- - -
The toilet was an unholy affair. What was once porcelain could only now be described as old stained bone. It was rough looking, and cracked in places and it looked as if it had come through both World Wars and maybe 'Nam, strapped to the back of a tank. There were yellow discolorations from years of men with bad aim and caustic urine and there were stains the colour of shit, which after a moment or two, I decided not to think about. There were even a few suspicious dark maroon patches, that could only have been blood.
How many teeth have fallen in this hell? How man men had decided to go back out there, finish their drinks and head home to beat the living shit out of their wives, warped on the strange and cruel powers of this sewer?
Overhead, a set of fluorescent tubes flickered urgently, desperately, as if trying to get someone's attention, begging to be put down, out of their misery. The flickering raced and I felt like a junky, strung out on too much bad speed, hopelessly tired and about to collapse. I was almost convinced.
Christ, it wasn't safe here; I felt like any minute I would be dragged down into the filthy toilet and sucked deep into the bowels of some immense, razor toothed beast. I stood where I was for a while, looking around and I tried to steel myself. I tried to make myself piss and when I couldn't, I turned and walked to the sink. It was chipped all over and stained from long use. It had a sadness that was hard to understand. I pumped the soap dispenser, then regretted it immediately. The soap was thick and bile green and smelled like guilt and sleaze and self contempt. It was the perfect final note in this cruel place and I couldn't help but laugh, a twisted laugh from the back of my throat, that echoed and rang back through my ears so sharply that I felt cold and weak. I looked around once more and left.
I hope never to find myself in such a hellish place. I may even pray tonight, something I haven't done in years. I just might pray...