Waving the White (and Brown) Flag
February 12th, 2001
The diarrhea spray is permanently ingrained in my mind. The scent molecules forever embedded deep within my nasal glands.
How does a skid mark go from the drain to the toilet seat? I still ask myself that every day. The odor was like rancid milk united with the bold essence of human excrement. What was even more surprising was the bloody brown chunk smeared across the back of the seat.
It was my first day off in nearly four years. It’s the first day I’ve had alone with my wife since we got married. She doesn’t understand my schedule.
I try to explain to her what it means to be fulfilled. To give your life to natures calling.
The look in her eyes tells me she questions whether it’s worth sacrificing our marriage for. I don’t tell her that I often wonder that too.
When the world needs you, how do you find time for the heart of another? I try to justify to myself without believing.
The call came in at 8:34 PM. “Six foot skid mark, 21st and broad.” The voice on the other end of the line is out of breath‘s and distracted. “It’s ugly.” He tries to continue but the phone goes dead before he can get the next word out.
My wife knows the look on my face. “I’ll have to take a rain check on that movie tonight.” It’s a rhetorical statement. She closes the door behind me without a word or a kiss.
The stagnant air is thick at the scene. I can feel a humid draft of diarrhea sticking to my skin.
There’s no air conditioning in the vegetable stand. This place doesn’t look big enough to have a bathroom.
The skid mark is still fresh. A soft voice whispers behind my ear. I turn to see an apron splattered with diarrhea.
I keep my position kneeling by the toilet. “Are you the owner?”
“This is our family business. My grandfather started it 87 years ago when he moved here from India. We’ve never had an incident like this.” He gestures towards the bloody diarrhea chunk.
I stay silent, hoping he’ll continue. How does he have so much poop on his apron, if he didn’t do it? I silently speculate.
“We never let customers use the bathroom, but he really had to go. He’s one of our best customers.” He continues. “My nephew said he did not even wash his hands on the way out.”
“Who are they?” I pointed towards the crowd gathering in the corner.
“Four generations of my family.” he explains. “We all help out with the business.”
The steamy air inside the once vibrant family business feels suffocating. I can tell some of them have been crying.
I look back at the diarrhea spatter on the wall. Something doesn’t feel right. I’d better call my wife to let her know not to expect me at all tonight.
The family gathers in front of the mosque outside. I can sense them studying my every move, searching for a sign on my face. Hoping I have answers. But I don’t.
I know they can tell by my posture when I hang up the phone that my wife didn’t take the update well. If she only really understood the importance of what I’m doing, I tell myself.
By now, the entire family is on their knees praying to Allah. The once proud grandfather is slumped in his wheelchair. He looks defeated. The wrinkles in his withered face say it all. How could life be so cruel?
Chants of Allah echo in the city street. Approaching the steps of the Mosque, I see tears on the pavement. “Don’t get up.” I gesture toward the statue of Allah. “The heart, much like the stomach, craves a variety.” They seem to understand what I’m saying.
“Take off your slipper.” I motion toward the heavy looking matriarch. She keeps her kneeling position but looks behind her to see if I‘m speaking to someone else.
The toilet paper on the bottom of her slipper flutters in the street light. A nearly perfect skid mark waves majestically like a flag in the city breeze.
“I feel sorry for what you have caused for your family. I avoid looking in her eyes. I’m fearful she’ll notice the trace of compassion I feel. It’s an emotion that doesn’t come easy for me.”
She’s collapses onto the stairs. A tear drops to the pavement.
I continue. “Even Allah cannot erase a skid mark such as this.” Her eyes are teary, yet vacant. I peel the toilet paper from her slipper to dry her eyes.
Those eyes remind me of my wife. Suddenly, my instincts to comfort the family are replaced by the urge to repair the damage I’ve caused at home. “I have to go. There’s someone else who needs me.”
“Please, bring your wife some vegetables from our stand.” The owner drops his plunger and gives me a melancholy glance. “You will not be forgotten.” He shines an avocado with his apron and places it in my bag.”
I force an artificial half smile. “You might want to consider closing your stand — Just for the night.” I clarify. “Even Allah rested on the seventh day.”
I don’t know if he’ll listen to my advise, but his eyes show me he understands.
Dave Alexander is Chief Investigator and Lead Detective at www.ShitterSleuth.com.