When I speak of catastrophic plumbing events, I know that of which I speak.
During our time in Molybos, we lived very close to a German family with a girl around my age, and Elika and I would often walk to school together in the mornings. Indeed, we did most things together, being rather unusual figures in the primarily Greek town. Every day at lunch we would walk back to my house together and my father would put together lunch for us in the cavernous kitchen if it was raining or in the back yard garden if it wasn’t. Then we would amble back down the hill for another few hours of school, unless it was Saturday, in which case we were out for the afternoon.
One afternoon, we arrived back at the school grounds and I felt the call of nature rather urgently. The school bathrooms, in general, were avoided, since they were done in the style still common in much of Europe which involves crouching precariously in the middle of the floor aiming for a large-ish hole and hoping you don’t get something nasty on your skirt. We preferred the sit down out-houses we had at home, when possible, especially since the school bathrooms had recently been plumbed and we’d heard ominous rumours about them. Also, our home outhouse had much more tasteful reading material–six month old back issues of the Times our friend M would send us by the case.
I went in and did my business while Elika did likewise in the next stall. I noted that several students had availed themselves of the facility before me but not flushed, perhaps out of fear, or a lack of understanding. Confident in the new knowledge gained during my recent trip to Athens, I flushed my toilet with an air of triumph and watched with a sense of deep pleasure while water gurgled under my feet, whisking the product of my labour into the bay.
Elika, next door, wasn’t as confident.
“I’m afraid,” she said, after the sound of gushing water faded.
“Ha,” I replied.
“Will you come flush mine too?”
“No,” I said, “you flush it. Don’t be a baby.”
“Are you really so scared?”
“Fine,” I said, marching into her stall with the air of an expert. “We’ll flush it together. Then you won’t be afraid next time.”
I showed her the pull-chain and we grasped it together for a moment.
“Drie, zwei, eins!” I said, and we yanked the chain sharply downward.
For a moment, there was no response, and then a volcanic rumbling. Elika glanced at me nervously but I stood my ground–I was the resident toilet authority, and gurgling wasn’t going to phase me. The rumbling grew in volume, as did my concern when the gush of water didn’t appear. The California girl lurking within wondered if this was an earthquake.
There was a moment of silence before the contents of the toilet erupted over us, cascading streams of water and filth all over the bathroom stall, our school uniforms, and us. In my recollection the stream was geyserlike, although the norms of physics make this unlikely. It’s more probable that the toilet simply hiccuped, belching back some of its offensive contents.
Either way, we were covered in waste.
“Sheiße,” Elika said.