The Sign

With quick steps, Charlie walks purposefully towards the public restrooms but slows to a stop at the end of the hall. The signs on the wall are clear and simple; no sophisticated, hard to decipher emblems, just two simple words in black 8-inch Times New Roman bold letter type, each indicating an entryway. On the left it says MEN’ and on the right ‘WOMEN’. Taking a few tentative steps to the right, Charlie stops short of the entrance and looks up at the sign once more. ‘WOMEN’; simple, direct, concrete. Then Charlie takes a step back and glances to the left, to the other one. Basically, it seems like the same simple and direct sign but in reality, it is a harsh word, one that evokes confusion, self-consciousness and revulsion. Shuddering unconsciously, Charlie shakes off childhood traumas of facing public restrooms and being forced to accept the ‘norm’. Trying to explain, saying over and over, “This is not who I am”, but no one seemed to understand, no one was willing to listen.

Snapping back to the present, Charlie is just about to head inside when a young mother brusquely cuts in front without a second glance, a toddler’s hand grasped firmly in hers as she hurries self-assuredly into the restroom marked ‘WOMEN’. The child skips alongside her while grabbing his crotch demonstratively; “Pee-pee mommy, Corey pee-pee now!

As mother and child walk/run into the restroom, Charlie stands there wondering with equal measures of envy, sadness and admiration at the ease and confidence with which they disappear inside. Several other women walk past and enter the restroom without a second thought. It gives Charlie the courage to also stride towards the entrance, but this time, it is a gentleman who walks up with a little girl in tow and unwittingly blocks the way. The girl is sporting two long messy braids and can’t be more than seven years old. They are only a few feet away and Charlie automatically halts as well, turns in a semi-circle and pretends to look in a different direction while eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Okay Lisa, daddy can’t go in with you, but I’ll be right here waiting for you. Just go ahead and don’t forget to wash your hands when you’re done.” The girl turns to her father with a flustered look on her face, “but I don’t want to go by myself daddy, why can’t you go with me!” The man crouches down so that he is at eye-level with his daughter, places his hands on her shoulders and gives her an encouraging squeeze. “This restroom is for girls, honey – I am a boy. We talked about this before leaving the house, remember? Boys go to the restroom that says ‘MEN’ and girls go to the one that says ‘WOMEN’. You are a girl, right?” The girl nods imperceptibly. “So, go ahead sweetie. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you come out.” The little girl gives her father one last uncertain look, while she twists her right braid around her index finger, further mussing up the already loose braid. Then she turns around and scurries into the restroom.

As the father stretches back upright, he notices Charlie standing there and smiles; “Her first time using the ladies’ room by herself.” The father suddenly realizes that he’s blocking the entrance and steps aside, “Sorry, go right ahead.” Charlie gives the man an understanding nod, “Yes…going into the women’s restroom for the first time is indeed a life changing experience.” With renewed courage, Charlie takes bold, sure steps, joining the small crowd of women heading in the same direction. Stepping inside, a beautiful, confident young woman with shoulder length, dark brown hair falling in large natural curls around an oval face stares back at her. Almond shaped eyes, the same dark shade as her hair and with just a touch of eyeliner and mascara crinkle slightly, as the corners of soft full lips painted the lightest of pinks, slowly turn upwards…Charlie smiles back at her reflection; she has found her true identity…

Side note:

Last year Wintertuin Curaçao organized their first short story competition. The topic was ‘Identity’ and it had to be no more than 750 words. Five finalists were selected from the 83 submissions they received and on Saturday the five finalists had to read their story in front of a jury of five as well as the general public. The competition was part of The Wintertuin Curaçao Festival held at our public library; a wonderful event that started in the morning with storytelling for kids and progressed into the evening with profound poems, short stories, short plays and musical poetry for adults, recited by well-known local artists as well as performers from The Netherlands. The evening culminated with the five finalists…and I was one of them! It was the first time I had participated in a writing competition and although I really wanted to be selected, I was also anxious, because I would have to read my work…out loud…IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE!

With my heart beating at breakneck speed, I stepped onto the podium. Stage lights blinded me as I turned to the public to read my short story. I kept telling myself: It’s just 700 words, it will take 5 minutes, 6 tops…you can do this! Grabbing the mike firmly, I took a deep breath and started to read…

Well, I somehow survived the reading and I still can’t believe it, but…I won! Thumbs up for Wintertuin for organizing this awesome literary festival. I hope they will continue encouraging emerging writers with more of these competitions.