1st Prize Winner in the Adventure Category of Wanderlust & Lipstick Short Story Writing Contest
As a survivor of Tanzanian toilets encountered during a week in the Serengeti, I was, much to my husband’s amusement, cautious of all African facilities. So when we joined a busload of intrepid travelers on a South African jaunt from Johannesburg to Cape Town, the first thing I did upon arrival at each new location was inspect the toilet.
Was it clean? Did it flush? Did it have a seat? Contain toilet paper? Sitter or a squatter? The usual.
For the first six nights of our bus tour, every toilet I encountered worked perfectly. All were pristine, the water often colored with that nice blue stuff, proof positive of sanitization. Decent water pressure provided the worry-free flush experience. There were both toilet seats and toilet paper, generally the gentle, cushiony kind. I was in heaven, lulled into a false sense of complacency.
The next evening marked the start of a two day nightmare.
Dusk had arrived when Marula, our bus, actually a converted safari truck, chugged into a lodge located outside the Hluhluve National Park. We all tumbled out, and the resort manager doled out cottages, each set into its own secluded jungle clearing. Porters hauled luggage down twisted jungle paths. Within ten minutes we were settled in, sipping wine on our porch while listening to the evening serenade of birds and insects.
“Absolutely not,” I assured him with more certainty than I felt. “It’s cicadas.”
“I hope so. You know how I feel about frogs.”
After we polished off our wine, my husband set off to explore the property. It was time to make my usual toilet inspection. I opened the bathroom door, gazing in reverence at the porcelain fixtures. Someone had folded toilet paper into a neat, pointy tip. A paper strip graced the toilet lid, attesting to its pristine condition. I approached the white, gleaming throne slowly, savoring the moment, before breaking the seal and raising the lid, prepared to execute the final test before availing myself of the facilities—the grand flush.
I glanced into the bowl. With one finger frozen to the handle, I uttered a shrill squeak. Stuck to the side, exactly three inches beneath the rim, was a brown, slimy blob, approximately the size of a child’s fist. Tasting bile in the back of my throat, I slammed the lid shut. This toilet was filthy. My heart thundered in my ears. To be doubly sure, I raised the lid again, more cautiously this time, standing at arm’s length before and peeking inside.
The blob moved.
When I looked closer at the patch of slime, I discerned two malevolent beady eyes fixed on my face. Grabbing a wad of toilet paper, I poked at the blob. It immediately sprouted long legs and teeny-tiny arms ending in webbed fingers. It dove into the blue water, swam to the opposite side of the bowl, and proceeded to suction itself half-way up side.
Did I mention my husband has a frog phobia? A full-blown holy-crap-it’s-going-to-attack-me-and-I’m-going-to-die sort of phobia. The teeniest amphibian makes him sprint faster than an Olympic runner on steroids. If he caught wind of our toilet frog, I could kiss a peaceful stay in this lovely place goodbye.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. The frog had entered through the pipe, so it could exit the same way. With one hand, I pressed the handle. With the other, I waved a cheery bye-bye. Water gushed into the tank, swirled, and carried the creature away with a satisfying gurgle. Mission accomplished.
Next, I devised a plan to prevent my husband from encountering the frog. Ever. Every time we entered the cabin, I elbowed him out of the way and hightailed it to the bathroom to check the toilet—a vanguard attack, so to speak. Hey, it was only for two nights. How hard could it be?
And so the battle began.
Several hours later, we returned from dinner. Like a homing pigeon, my husband headed for the bathroom. Picturing the frog crouched in wait, I threw myself in front of him, and slapped his hand off the door handle while babbling about an emergency situation. Ignoring his look of concern, I zipped into the conflict zone, slammed the door behind me, and made sure it was locked.
Sweating lightly, I tiptoed toward the toilet, cautiously raised the lid, and peered inside. The bowl was empty. My sigh of relief transformed itself into a low moan when I realized the bastard had suctioned its way onto the lid, and was eyeballing me from an upside-down position. I banged the lid shut and thought I heard a tiny splash.
My husband’s muffled voice penetrated my panic. “You okay in there?”
“Dandy,” I lied. “I need privacy.” This was our code for, “Get lost, I have serious bathroom business to attend to, and I don’t want an audience.”
He got the message. “I’ll go read on the deck. But hurry.”
I blew out a sigh of relief. After the patio door banged shut, I opened the lid. By then, the intruder was executing a leisurely breast stroke around the bowl. “You,” I muttered under my breath, “are toast.” I flushed that toilet like my life depended on it, holding the handle down for good measure. When the whirlpool receded, the frog bobbed to the surface and stared at me with palpable scorn. As soon as the cistern refilled, I flushed again. This time the bowl was empty. Taking no chances, I flushed a third time.
It went like that for the entire two days we stayed at this lodge. Each morning, I got up at the crack of dawn and did what had to be done. Every time we entered the cabin, I claimed a greater need, and dashed to the potty. It got to the point that my husband suggested calling a doctor. But my strategy worked. Every time I raised the lid, the frog greeted me with a wide-mouthed sneer. Every time, I managed to flush it away so that when my husband entered the bathroom, he was able to do his business in blissful ignorance.
On the last day, girded for action, I opened the lid. The bowl was empty. My sigh of relief ended in a groan of despair. Always devious, the frog had hidden under the rim until the lid was fully open. Seeing daylight, it immediately scrambled onto the lip of the bowl, poised to spring. I reached for the toilet paper with trembling fingers. The frog was faster. It leaped to the floor. I danced away in panic. It followed. I hopped into the bathtub.
We locked gazes, that frog and I. It didn’t seem intimidated. With a flip of one webbed middle finger in my direction, it swaggered away, smirking, until it disappeared down the microscopic crack between toilet and floor.
That morning, we left the battleground of woman versus frog. Able to breathe freely again, I enjoyed the scenery and the abundant wildlife, none of which showed any desire to enter our toilet.
For the next two days, I did my best to bite my tongue. It was no use. The Tale of the Toilet Frog was too good to suppress. The anecdote begged for release. Over dinner, between sips of South African Cape Riesling and snorts of laughter (mine), I came clean and confessed to my husband.
After several long beats of silence, presumably because the brilliance of my solution had robbed him of the ability to speak, he narrowed his eyes until all that showed were icy blue slits. A shark-like grin spread across his face. A shiver of foreboding trickled down my spine causing me to knock back a fortifying slug of wine.
“Did you forget,” he asked in a soft voice, “that I loathe snakes even more than frogs?”
I smiled back, trying to look carefree and innocent, while wondering exactly how many snakes might lurk in hotel rooms between us and Cape Town.