Signs of our times

MY bladder was near to bursting. The first accessible toilet I found was locked. I was not sure if someone was inside but I was not about to hang around to find out. The next one I found was also locked. When my wife tugged at the door lever, a female voice called out from inside, “Ada orang.”

We waited. A young woman walked out after a short while. We noticed the ladies’ toilet was closed for cleaning. She must have been forced to use the accessible one. My wife quickly went in with me. Even though I was wearing adult diapers, it would be uncomfortable going around in a wet one.

I usually spend between 10 and 20 minutes inside the toilet. It takes some effort for me to pull my pants down and wear it back. With my wife’s help the time is cut down by more than half. After I was done, I got my wife to take a photo of the sign on the wall that had bothered my sensibilities the entire time I was in there. It said, “Flush after use.”

I felt embarrassed that a sign had to be put up to remind me to do the needful when it should be an automatic action. The janitor saw us lingering around and came to have a closer look at what we were doing.

I asked her about the sign and if people really don’t flush. She told us she checked on one a few days ago and found the toilet bowl full of faeces. And that was not the first time. Even with the sign, people still don’t do it. She had a look of disgust on her face when she recounted that incident. I felt disgusted too on hearing that.

She had no idea if it was a disabled person or otherwise but that is irrelevant. Any rightminded person wouldn’t do anything like that. It is unthinkable that in our civilised society, there are people who could simply walk out after emptying their bowels without flushing. The cistern could be operated with just a push of the button. I could even do it with my weak hands.

People who leave the toilet dirty and unusable for the next person should be ashamed of themselves. Public facilities are open for use free of charge. As far as possible, they should be left in a condition that we would like to find them. No one in their right frame of mind would want to use a dirty toilet unless it was an emergency or they are left with no choice.

I have come across signs with pictorial instructions on how to use the toilet facilities properly. Isn’t proper toilet etiquette something we learn from our parents, in school, and as we grew up? I believe these signs were put up after the toilets were repeatedly damaged or left in a mess. Putting up these signs costs money and building managers would likely prefer not to incur extra costs if it wasn’t necessary. This is also an indicator of the mentality of toilet users, and it is not a good one.

Another sign I often come across reminds people not to squat on toilet seats. This act not only soils the seat but is dangerous. I know of a friend who did exactly that. She slipped and one foot got caught in the bowl which had to be broken to release her trapped foot. The accident fractured her ankle. She had to use crutches for a few months after that.

I don’t know about other people but each time I come across a sign saying not to litter, not to spit, and not to do this and that in public places, I feel like a small kid who has to be repeatedly reminded to behave myself. If everyone has civic consciousness, we would not need these ugly signs installed all over the place.

The other thing that irks me is smokers who disregard huge ‘No smoking’ signs in public places and puff away and tap the ashes all over the floor even though a smokers’ corner is allocated just a few steps away. The same goes for self-service fast food restaurants where diners would leave the tables littered with used wrappers and cups.

The question is would these people, who vandalise and misuse public facilities, do the same at home? In most probability, they won’t. They would flush the toilet after every use and not throw rubbish all over the house. Why then do they think doing otherwise in public places is acceptable? Just because there are janitors and cleaning crews doesn’t mean one can make a mess and expect them to clean up afterwards.

People who use public facilities should have a heart for the janitor. They have to spend long hours repeatedly cleaning and sanitising the toilets. The salary is meagre and this is not the most pleasant of jobs but they chose to do it to earn an honest and decent living.

We can make it easier for them and for other users who come after us by being conscientious and considerate. If we want to be treated like adults, we have to act like adults. Perhaps then, we would see less of such signs.

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