On the way home from a day trip to Waiterere Beach, my family stopped at a public toilet beside the local park. It was a day that threatened to melt the soles of your sandals if you lingered on the asphalt.
My wife Vic headed for the bathroom. I scanned the park for shelter, and spied a stingy patch of shade so far away you’d have to trek ten minutes across kindling-coloured grass just to appreciate it. Before I could point out the shade to my kids Neko and Ida – a concept that they cared about almost less than nothing – they were already halfway to the swings, in the opposite direction.
While my pale skin was slowly grilled, I pushed Neko and Ida on the swings.
“Higher!” they both ordered.
“A volcano push!” said Neko.
“A space rocket push!” said Ida.
I started sweating. I was squinting behind the darkest sunglasses I could find.
I saw a black car with tinted windows pull up next to the toilet block. A woman with long, curly hair stepped out and took a few steps towards the toilets. Her clothes were entirely black: a halter top with a jacket over the top, and what looked like either leather pants or jeans – it was hard to tell exactly, from across the field. I thought, that car must have some damn good air conditioning, because outside this woman in black seemed ill-adapted to the climate. She pushed a handful of hair off her face, and looked up at the sun like it had just called her a rude name.
The doors to both toilets were on the side of the small, concrete building which faced us across the grass. The woman started her search with the wall on the opposite side of the building to the doors. Finding no door, she turned a corner to her left, but there was no door on that wall either. I thought she was nearly there, that she’d just turn one more corner, but instead, she hesitated and walked back the way she came to the wall she started with. Then she turned the other corner, to her right, and there she found an unmarked door, probably to a supplies cupboard. Finding this locked, she stopped and frowned.
I was silently urging her on at this point. You can do it, I thought. The building has four sides. You just have to consult the fourth! It really is just around the next corner... But she turned and walked back to the car, shaking her head.
She stood beside the car, gesticulating at the man in the driver seat, who would throw his hands into the air, put them back on the steering wheel, then repeat. The man then pointed at the car door and motioned for the woman to close it, probably because she was letting all the cold air out. Instead, she just leaned on the door frame and put her head down, no doubt processing that distinct frustration of not finding something that surely must be there.
When Vic came out of the bathroom and walked round the corner to the carpark, the woman noticed her and walked over to talk about the toilet-door predicament.
Vic pointed out that she just needed to go around the corner. This woman whipped the hair off her face and rounded the corner at a trot. She did not look gracious but annoyed, like Vic had pulled some kind of trick on her, keeping the toilet location all to herself.
Perhaps it was the supply cupboard door that really confounded her. But it seemed to me that she’d given up pretty early. I mean: Did she think this small building only had three sides, a tri-wall? Does such a building even exist? She might be forgiven for finding the entrance unobvious. But it was hardly a mystery.
After the woman had left, we walked back across the field to get out of the sun and drive home.
A van pulled up, and a couple of helpers led four elderly people to a covered picnic bench, where they started to unpack some food. One guy, who looked about 60, slammed his hand down on the table and screamed. Neko, Ida and I all jumped at the suddenness of it. It was a high-pitched, anguished sound, like a child having a tantrum.
Then this guy jumped up and shuffle-ran to the swings, screaming the whole way.
“Why’s he yelling?” asked Ida.
“I think... he’s just really happy to have spotted those swings,” I said. Once we got over the initial shock of his cry, we could see it for what it was: the pure joy of this man finding something he didn’t expect to be there.
Another elderly woman from the group jumped up and pursued the screaming man, who was now half-way to the swings. One of the helpers ran with them, laughing and encouraging, and stayed to push them on the swings.
We could still hear them whooping and shrieking as we drove away.