Peace Corps Writers
No Shortage of Toilet Paper Here (page 2)
No Shortage of Toilet Paper Here
page 1
page 2

     “Why else would someone put matches on top of the bin in the toilet?”
     “Yeah. Where should we do it? In the bathtub?” I asked.
     “Right. I’ll go put on the rubber gloves and take it over there. You bring the matches.”
     And with that Amy disappeared into the kitchen and returned wearing yellow dishwashing gloves that reached nearly to her elbows. She walked over to the wastebasket, let out a deep breath, lifted the basket and held it an arm’s length away from her body all the way to the tub where she set it down quickly and gently. It didn’t take but half a minute to move the thing but she swore in her demure British cuss words the whole way. She let out one last, “bollox” when she reached down to open the lid.
     Amy looked at me with a pained look on her face. I’m sure she saw the same look staring back at her. I looked down at the box of matches in my hand. It was maroon with white letters. It simply said “matches,” no advertisements like matchbooks from restaurants and bars back home. We had a whole pile of match boxes in the kitchen next to the stove. We didn’t know for certain that the women left the matches on top of the basket as some sort of subtle code, “Please burn our shitty toilet paper. We simply didn’t have the time to do it before we left.” We, however, didn’t know that they hadn’t meant to leave that message either. We risked looking ridiculous either way and for whatever reason we choose to look ridiculous this way.
     I opened the box, took out a match and closed it with my thumb. I tapped the match on the top of the box to get a better grip and then lit it. Before the crack of the fire starting even hit my ears the match was sailing through the air toward the toilet paper.
     Amy and I stood and watched without saying a word. Toilet paper burns fast and makes a lot of smoke. There were no smoke detectors or fire alarms in our dorm. When you stand in the midst of it you don’t even notice the accumulation of smoke until you can’t see past it or breathe through it.
     I suggested that we open a window and we both turned to look at the tiny window high above the tub. Then we turned to look at the basket. The flames were licking the inside of it like a hungry child rushing to eat an ice cream cone before it melts. I climbed up onto the ledge between the tub and the wall and reached to open the window. My nose couldn’t breathe in the cool air fast enough. I could smell cigarettes being made by the afternoon shift at the tobacco plant down the street. Even that was easier to breathe in than the smoke of burning toilet paper.
     In less than a minute, the flame sunk deep into the basket and had shrunk to a low whisper.
     “I think we should put it out now.” Amy said.
     “I think it is done.” I agreed and turned on the water.
     Amy, still rubber gloved, put her arms out slightly to keep her balance and pushed the basket under the running water with the tip of her tennis shoe. The fire was out in seconds. When Amy turned off the water, we had a mess. The toilet paper was gone but there were tampons and other objects we couldn’t and didn’t want to identify. I didn’t know what to do with it now and I could see in Amy’s face and posture that she didn’t either.
     “We have to just throw it away.” I said.
     “I’m not touching it and I’m not walking outside with it. If that cow of a woman upstairs sees us with the bin she will raise holy hell.” Amy said referring to the Commandant in charge of the dorm. She had never been friendly with her foreign guests.
     “Let her. I’m throwing it away. I’m going to put the whole thing in the dumpster. That way the next person that comes will just have to put the toilet paper in the toilet. It can handle it for God’s sake.”
     Amy nodded in agreement. There was no need to tell her.
     I bent over to touch the bin and it was hot like a seatbelt in August. I flinched when I touched it. Without saying another word I went to get a pair of hot pads from the kitchen. If my friends had known that the hot pads they sent from home at Christmas were going to be used to pick up used toilet paper bins they might not have picked out such pretty ones. I returned to the bath with the lilac hot pads, picked up the basket, walked out of the dorm, threw it in the dumpster, came back in and washed my hands.
     “Let’s go get a milkshake.” Amy suggested. And we did.

Heather Carroll was a TEFL instructor as a Volunteer. She is currently pursuing her graduate degree in education with a focus in TESOL. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and baby daughter. This story comes from Heather’s book-in-progress on her experience as a PCV in Russia.

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