He applies for the job overseas because he has always lived in Toronto, almost always in his parents’ basement, where he lets dust bunnies gather against the walls. But look how the toilet shines, he points out to his parents and guests—the espresso-coloured porcelain forgives. He gets the job offer. Two days before the flight he gets headaches, a sore throat, the runs. He fills two luggage cases and leaves the rest of his belongings hanging out of boxes that his parents will fill, seal, and store.
At dawn he lands in Taoyuan, Taiwan, and buys a curry bun from a convenience store next to and across from two other convenience stores. He doesn’t sit at the window wall to enjoy the air conditioning and the cheery tune of the automatic doors. Taipei, as the train brings him to its center, overwhelms him with its abundance of green things and concrete things growing lushly skyward. By early afternoon his bowels are in distress. His online friends whisk him away into the Maokong mountains, where they share high mountain tea and an early Christmas meal full of oysters, e-ah, which he’s always avoided for their texture. The sun sets around their clear vinyl tent. Lantern lights draw him down one of the stone paths crisscrossing the side of the mountain. It ends in a row of squat toilets—his first. Someone approaches from behind during his purge. They were, he learns later, making sure he doesn’t stumble when straightening back up.
First morning in Osaka, Japan: He slides open two sets of wooden doors and gapes at the enormous machine of a toilet. A mecha, its heated seat—another first—delights him. Every icy morning in the empty inn he lingers on this seat. Outside and across Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, he tries each washroom he sees. On New Year’s Eve he rushes through the trees outside Osaka Castle, realizes his error and reverses direction, and at the last second darts into a tiny subway station. There the toilet plays the sounds of a mountain brook and songbirds at him before cleansing his rear with a long, warm spray.
Multiple flight delays extend his layover in Dubai, UAE, long enough for him to risk lining up for the washroom. The white man before him walks into a stall and walks out faster, muttering. He enters the rejected stall. A hose next to the toilet! The word exotic comes to him. Might this be too exotic for him? Not wanting to walk out like the previous man, he reaches for the hose.
His first apartment in Düsseldorf, Germany, comes stocked, so he doesn’t visit a cleaning aisle until Easter, when he discovers Toilettenpapier is wet wipes, and toilet paper from the cheaper supermarkets comes printed with hearts or owls and/or infused with almond milk or lavender oil. His eyes and nose drip simultaneously as he sits, a Thinker immersed in his phone on the toilet, a minimalist, floating thing. Is this toilet Bauhaus? he constantly asks himself. After experiencing 12 + 24 + 12 rolls he settles on the combo of white feathers and camomile. Klopapier, thick and coarse, is culture shock to his nether region.
In his second year he still doesn’t possess the words to describe what is happening to him. The proctologist asks questions from behind a desk; he asks the proctologist to walk over and examine him. A couple of days later he receives CT scans and good news that he tells his colleagues, or at least the other tech guys, who in turn tell him about their polyps, their hemorrhoids, their fissures. Their foreign tendernesses.
In Hamburg, the hovering toilet in his apartment traps minerals from the hard water, leaving brown deposits that he douses with frog-branded cleaner biweekly. He will have bowel issues for two more years, when they culminate into a diagnosis. He plans to order a high-tech Japanese toilet online when he feels more settled, maybe in five or ten more years unless he misses his mother too much. He dreams of its jet streams caressing and purifying his skin, never a startling temperature.
Monica Wang has writing in Electric Lit, Southword, Augur, and The Bureau Dispatch, among other publications. In 2020 her flash won The Sunlight Press’s fiction contest; in 2021 she received scholarship offers to two creative writing MA programs. Born in Taichung, Taiwan, she grew up in Taipei and Vancouver, Canada, and is now working on her first novel at the University of Exeter.