I hate my apartment. I hate the mismatched floor in every room, the red kitchen counter, the broken tiles in the bathroom. I hate that every time it snows or rains I have to pray it doesn’t start leaking in my closet again. I hate the mousetraps I have to keep buying, the bed bug spray that is probably poisoning me because I use it so often. I hate how the doors all look crooked, how the floors aren’t level, how my egg rolls to one edge of the pan when all I want is a perfectly circular fried egg cooking in the middle of the pan.
I’ve been living in this same apartment the whole time that I’ve been in New York. My dad helped me find it and sign the lease. When I was looking for an NYC apartment, while still living in Dhaka, no one seemed willing to agree to a Skype call or to even ask questions over email.
“It’s not a great time to be going to America, that’s for sure,” my father grunted as I surmised my failure with the apartment hunting to him. “They hear your last name, they see the country, they look it up, they see Islam and they want nothing more to do with you.”
“I don’t know if that’s completely true Abba, it’s New York, it’s supposed to be very diverse.”
“That’s what they want you to believe. Pssh. I’ll find an apartment, you work on getting your documents and things ready for school.”
He did find an apartment. He didn’t tell me much about it, just that it was a one bedroom flat in a two-storey house in Queens and that the landlords lived on the first floor. He showed me the neighbourhood on Google Earth, and I marvelled at the almost-perfect grid-like structure of the area. I noticed there was a Starbucks two blocks away from where I would be living in a few months and that felt so exciting, so American.
The landlords greeted me when I arrived, a middle-aged Bengali-Hindu couple (call us uncle and auntie). The first words out of their mouths were “The bathroom is being fixed, it’ll take two days only. You can use ours for now.” They then insisted I have dinner with them before going upstairs and unpacking, which was very kind considering it was 3am. I was tired and would much rather have just gone straight to bed but I didn’t want to come off as ungrateful to them. They were incredibly talkative and while they didn’t expect the same of me, it was exhausting to just listen to the unending stream of words gushing from their mouths.
It’s a special kind of claustrophobia that you feel when you don’t have access to a bathroom in your own apartment. You become incredibly aware of your own body and movement, of how certain positions put more pressure on a full bladder, or how much space actual shit takes up in your belly, especially when you’re trying to wear your good jeans. I’d never noticed, until then, just how often I use the bathroom, or how painfully my bladder reacts when I don’t pee immediately. The boarded off space felt like a giant red button with a “Do Not Push” sign on it and every impulse in me wanted to just push the damn button.
But it was only two days, and I managed to get through by using the toilet at the Starbucks nearby and showering at the local gym. I came home at the end of the much-awaited day two, grateful to have a new bathroom to use.
“It’s not ready yet, it’ll be five more days. We thought we might as well redo the sink and add a bathtub, nice idea, yeah?”
Five more days.
I couldn’t even outline a gym-Starbucks-shitting schedule in my head for that duration. It was hard enough managing it in the two-day frame, but going a whole week without a bathroom in my apartment felt impossible. Coming home from a long day and not being able to pee in your own bathroom WILL make anyone cry from frustration, I promise it.
My landlords began to feel like conniving side characters on a bad soap opera, and I felt my patience wearing thin. I’d felt embarrassed about using their bathroom the first couple of days but then I just got pissed and decided that taking a shit in their apartment was exactly what I should be doing. I started walking into their apartment and banging on their bathroom door and using up all their toilet paper and as the end of the week drew nearer I felt better and more capable of setting some rules with them.
I went to bed feeling in control, eager to have my bathroom back in a couple of days.
And then I woke up at 4am with a bladder so full that I could hear the fluid inside me sloshing around as I got up to use the bathroom downstairs. Each step felt like a wave was trying to break open a weak dam, and when I found their door locked I rang the bell and—no one answered. I was certain that I would explode, if I tried to hold it in any longer. I’d seen men peeing into soda bottles in various comedies on TV, but I didn’t have any bottles lying around and I don’t think my aim would have been very good.
What I should have done was gone outside, peed in the bushes. But it was late and I started to panic, so I headed back upstairs. I looked around my room with no idea as to what I was looking for. I felt little droplets wet my underwear and began panicking even more, when I remembered the stack of sanitary pads that I’d kept in my closet. I always used to joke that they felt like diapers and I hoped in that moment that they would prove to be useful as such.
I peed right there on the floor of my bedroom, and it became apparent very quickly that pads are in fact NOT useful as diapers in any capacity, at all.
I sat there, literally steeped in my own filth, and began laughing hysterically. I couldn’t imagine my life ever getting to a lower point than this, and there was comfort in there, to know that if I moved past this night and this incident, I’d effectively be moving past the worst point of my life.
I cleaned up immediately, discarding the clothes and underwear in a trash bag and washing the floor with Lysol. No one ever has to know about this I told myself as I mopped a second time. When I was finally done the sun was almost up and my room smelt sterile. I went to sleep feeling— liberated.
Nifath Chowdhury is a writer living in Queens, New York. She has an MFA from Columbia University and has been published in Six Seasons Review and Disconnect: Collected Short Fiction. Follow her on instagram @nifathkarim.