One of the things about toilets here is that often the pipes aren’t quite strong enough to deal with toilet paper. Thus, if there’s a wastepaper basket in the bathroom or stall with you, it’s a good idea to throw your toilet paper in there instead of the toilet.
Last week, I absently deposited a paper towel in the trash of a restaurant that will go unnamed. I turned to flush the toilet but never made it. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected movement. A brown, furry creature precipitated itself out of the trash and onto the floor.
Now, this was not my first time seeing a rat. They often tempt fate and run across my path late at night while I’m driving. I’ve seen them fighting in the gutters in Malaysia. Once, I dissected a rat. I’m not bothered by them. They get big in Southeast Asia and they’re probably carriers of disease or something1, but they’re avoidable.
They are not avoidable when they’re shut in a bathroom with you. They are not avoidable when they are throwing their bodies with reckless abandon at the door, effectively leaving you with no escape route.
I am unashamed to say that I cowered somewhere near the vicinity of the toilet bowl, staring at the rat and forcing myself to think. What I wanted was a pattern to the rat’s movements so that I’d know exactly where to step as I fled across the room and pulled the door open. Of course, the rat had no intention of behaving predictably.
I edged around the toilet bowl, eventually bringing myself within arm’s reach of both the door and the rat. Hesitantly, I reached toward the door.
Unfortunately, the one possibility I hadn’t considered in my adrenaline-ridden state was the one thing that actually happened. The rat didn’t run through the now-open door. The rat didn’t run back toward me. No, the rat got stuck between the door and the wall. I could hear it scrabbling around back there. The door bucked on its hinges.
I made a break for it, darting out before the rat could figure out how to slam the door or turn around.
I felt pretty proud of myself until I met the eyes of one of the waiters who happened to be standing outside the door. He looked at me like I was vaguely crazy.
“There’s a rat!” I said.
He continued to look at me like I was crazy.
I took this as a sign that he didn’t understand my accent. “A rat!” I pointed.
He got it this time. He looked into the seemingly empty bathroom. “Where?”
“The trash,” I said.
Brave soul that he was, he ventured further into the bathroom.
The rat, sensing his approach, shot out the door.
I, without even thinking about it, attempted to scale the wall, supporting myself mainly with my fingertips, which rested on the little row of tiles running behind the sink. In any other context, I probably would have been impressed at my ability to prop myself up in a corner, both feet off of the ground. I was, however, more concerned with the rat as it darted past me.
The waiter came back out to find me in this state. He again looked at me like I was crazy and said something.
I was in no mood to listen. The rat had not run over my feet and really that was all I could ask for. I turned, leaving both waiter and rat behind me, and walked shakily back to the table where my boss from the US and my junior fellow waited. I lowered myself into my chair and said nothing.
1I have no idea about this, actually. However, my seven-year-old self would like to remind you that, at the very least, they spread the Black Plague.