I’d only just sat down really, and I certainly hadn’t started doing anything worthwhile, when I heard the knock on the door.     ‘Y...


   I’d only just sat down really, and I certainly hadn’t started doing anything worthwhile, when I heard the knock on the door.

   ‘You’re in my cubicle,’ the voice said. It was a deep voice, belonging to a man who sounded like he was probably fifty or sixty, authoritative and wise.

   I didn’t answer for a long time. A part of me hoped that if I stayed quiet, and completely still, he’d move on, walk away, assume no one was home like religious salespeople would. But he didn’t move, and the tension built, and my neck and face filled with the hot blood of embarrassment so that I could feel them turning a fiery red, and I gave in. ‘…Excuse me?’ I said.

   ‘This cubicle is mine. You’re in my cubicle.’

   I looked around, silently begging the walls of that tiny little space to help me, not moving a muscle for fear of making even the quietest of sounds. If this man was correct, if this was his cubicle, what was I to do? Give up everything that I came in here for, all that I hoped to achieve, and bequeath it to him right now? Awkwardly squeeze past him, standing there with his angry face on, waiting for me to get out of his way? I couldn’t, surely; I’d die of embarrassment as soon as I swung that door open.

   So I sat there a while longer, not making a sound. I looked at his feet under the door of the cubicle. His shoes were black, shiny, expensive-looking. The trousers which sat on top of them, just the right length, were pressed beautifully, the crease as precise and straight as if it was ironed in by Jesus himself. If this man was anything like his ankles and feet, I faced a formidable foe. I suddenly felt very dizzy.

   And it must have been this dizziness that commandeered my mouth, because I became aware of it saying to him, ‘Aren’t there any other cubicles you could use?’

   ‘Of course there are other cubicles,’ he replied, ‘but this one is mine.’

   I knew there were other cubicles. There were about eight empty cubicles when I came in, and none of them looked any less special than this one. If I’d known someone was going to do this to me, I would have chosen one of the others. I didn’t come here for trouble, I came here to do my business and then leave. I certainly didn’t intend to steal anything from anyone. If ownership of cubicles can even be claimed.

   ‘Can you wait a couple of minutes?’ I asked, as I heard the squeal of a door hinge from outside. I would have relished the chance to imagine that that squealing door signalled his exit; but his shoes remained there, standing firm, pointing at me accusingly from under the door.

   ‘No I will not,’ replied the voice, ‘get out of my cubicle!’

   ‘Your cubicle?’ A new voice replied, coming from far above a new pair of shoes, which were brown and equally shiny, topped with tan-coloured, equally beautifully-pressed chinos. ‘This is my cubicle. Always has been.’

   ‘I beg your pardon?’ Replied the first voice.

   ‘This is my cubicle! Who’s in there? Get out of my cubicle!’ The new man rapped his knuckles on the door a few times.

   ‘This is not your cubicle, sir. This is mine, and you have no right to bash on its door so.’

   And so it continued, for a gruelling few minutes. I sat in mortified silence, now at the centre of a heated row that I caused just by sitting down in an open-topped cuboid. There was no way I was getting anything done with all this noise, all this pressure, all this misunderstanding weighing down on me. I said, ‘Excuse me, chaps?’ and I said, ‘I’ll really just be a couple of minutes,’ but they weren’t interested in me anymore, just the locked cubicle and the intruder inside it and the battle over who could claim it as their own. And then another voice joined, furious that its owner had entered a room where his cubicle was occupied and there were two more men fighting over it.

   I started to wonder what was so special about this little cubicle, seemingly so identical to all the rest. I hurriedly, quietly began to check under my feet, all over the walls, behind my head, to see if there was anything in here that might hold the key to the mystery; but there was nothing. It really was just another cubicle like all the thousands of others I’d been in over the years. I couldn’t see a single thing that would make it so hotly sought after.

   But by the time I’d finished looking for reasons, there were ten more voices outside, and the number was still growing. They cried out in indignation and rage, spite and sadness, each one next in line to hold dominion over that little box I was sitting in. There were insults and accusations flying everywhere, and the noise in that small, tiled room was unbearable. In the melee, I was sure I even heard some punches thrown and caught with gusto. So finally, I decided to give up my occupation.

   I wasn’t going to achieve anything in there anyway. Not with that noise outside. So I stood, and I pulled my trousers up, and I did up my belt, and for the sake of appearances I pulled the chain; and finally, I took a deep breath. My heart was pounding, a thousand beats a second. I was terrified of the mob outside that door, sure that I was going to be ripped to shreds as soon as I left; but there was only one way out and I didn’t want to be seen as a coward, so I was going to face it like a man.

   One more deep breath, in and then out, and I turned the little lock, and pulled the door open.

   At the sound of the toilet’s flush, the mob had been silenced; and now, they stared at me with rage on their bulging, red faces, completely without sound, as I took my first step outside of the cubicle. Some were fat and old, some were slim and young; some had beards like monster truck tyres around their faces, and some wore no hair at all on their heads. Some had others’ collars in their white-knuckled hands, and some were frozen in a pose of mid-throttle. But they all stood completely still in the tableau in which I found them, and watched me in silence as I sidestepped around their huddled mass to the sinks, to wash my hands and leave. I’ve never felt so excruciatingly observed.

   But when I reached the sink, every man in the crowd abandoned his staring, and made a dash for the cubicle, taking his chance to mark his territory and prove to everyone in the room that what was rightfully his was rightfully his, and no one else had any chance of taking it from him. The struggle to fit into that tiny box was manic.

   Faces were pushed away by desperate hands and hands were pulled back by desperate stragglers, as twenty or thirty men tried to force themselves into a space barely big enough for one. The hinges on the door creaked and the water in the toilet bowl sloshed, all of it heaving under the strain of hundreds of stones of human trying to squeeze their way in. I cringed, imagining the pain of being in the middle of that ruck, and took a step back.

   And then, the inevitable happened. With a crash and a smash and an almighty splash, the walls of the cubicle gave way, the toilet bowl cracked, and every man in the mound was scattered across the floor like so many bowling pins. They’d destroyed the thing they were fighting over, and now all that was left was their hurt pride, shattered dreams, torn clothes and a broken cubicle splayed across the floor like a deconstructed cardboard box. The ruckus dead, the fight over, the men looked around them with dejection and broken-heartedness weighing heavy on their features.

   Some of them picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, slowly and painfully, preparing themselves to live life without the cubicle. Some of them stayed down, sobbed into their sleeves, wallowed in sadness. Some just stood up and stared at the hole where the cubicle used to be, scratching their heads and wondering what had come over them. Some were too injured to do anything at all. They were all quiet now, no longer arguing over who might have owned that space, just trying to recover from the loss they’d suffered. It was the saddest sight I’d ever seen.

   After trying to console some of them and failing, helping some of them get up onto their feet and others seek medical attention, I left that toilet, and haven’t ever returned since. To this day, I don’t know what they all saw in that cubicle. All I thought it was good for was taking a shit.

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