The Way It Used To Be - Chapter Seven: Trapped

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July 9th 2005
Published: May 28th 2008
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Today is the one day when I have come to appreciate the kindness of others, no matter how bizarre the situation.
Before heading out for a final stroll about the Kazimierz, I grabbed my towel for a quick shower, soon to be on my way for a quiet evening without too much hassle. The bathroom is a windowless, narrow chamber with a ceramic tub and toilet; there is very little room to maneuver. The only door in and out has no window. The door is of solid wood and very heavy. Everything took its normal course: turn faucet on, get wet, apply soap, rinse, shave, etc. Nothing major to report. However, events took a sharp turn for the worse after my shower when I turned the door handle, only to realize that the lock malfunctioned; the lever no longer gripped the interior bolt to open the lock. I spun the lever around, but quickly realized I was trapped inside.
Varying thoughts ran through my mind as I continuously failed to open the door. The proprietress said she would not be back to visit until morning. The new occupant in the apartment upstairs had gone out for the evening. I looked around to see no ventilation grate, no way of escape. Pensive, I remembered watching MacGyver as a child. What would he do? I had no sharp metal objects and saw only soap, a toilet brush, and toilet paper. Not enough to create a homemade bomb, unfortunately. I could not budge the door; the room was too small for me to run and to dislodge the lock open with a budge from my shoulder.
It is as this point I know I am in trouble and become despondent. I sat on the tub edge, thinking they’ll find me three days from now and I’ll be in the newspaper. “NAKED AMERICAN LOCKS SELF IN BATHROOM. TAKEN TO HOSPITAL FOR OBSERVATION” the headlines would read. Soon thereafter, I cared less about my soon-to-be fame and picture in the paper, as mild panic started to set in.
On the other side of the bathroom door is the entranceway to the apartment. Immediately to the left is the door to exit. Five minutes pass. I listen carefully and hear footsteps approaching to the apartment right next door. The sound intensified. Whoever it was, was coming closer. Could it be the landlord to check up on something? My still-unknown flatmate upstairs? Oh, please let it be one of them!
A key went into a lock, but the insertion was distant. Damn! It was next door! With my fist, I violently banged on the door. “Help! Help!” The footsteps paused for a moment as if maybe he or she heard something, thought nothing of it, entered the residence, and shut the door.
OK, this was a plus. I have one person within thirty feet of me. How to get their attention? The ceramic tile to my left abutted the residence on the other side of the hall. This time, in Polish, fists pounding against the wall. “Proszę! Proszę!” Even the multiple, staccato and percussion thumping resulted in nothing. Why, in my free time had I not studied Polish like Ukrainian? Why had I not learned the term for, “I am stuck in the bathroom and I need help”? Surely, that must be in the back of my guidebook in the glossary of Polish terms.
Five more minutes passed. This was not looking good.
I continually pounded the door as hard as I could. “Proszę!” A far door opened and I heard someone come across the hall and approach the main door to my apartment. “Proszę!” once more. The voice of a young woman uttered something in Polish.
“I need help!”
“What ees problem?” I fell to my knees in gratitude. She speaks English, I thought to myself. I bruised my right knee on the side of the tub.
“The bathroom door is locked!”
But she assumed I had a problem with the entrance to the apartment. “You go window. Throw key.”
“No! I am in the bathroom! The shower!”
“OK.” It was the kind of OK that indicated she didn’t understand my predicament and required time to process. “You door have window?”
“OK.” No, not OK, I said to myself. I was annoyed, but could not direct this at her. “You give me telephone number landlord. I call.”
“You don’t understand. I’m locked in the shower. No window. I have no clothes on. The door is broken. Kaput!” She understood “kaput”. In my thirty-four years, I have never enunciated the English language more clearly than right there. I sounded more refined than a headmaster at a fine Oxford-style finishing school.
“Oh!” she replied.
Two things happened next. The first, “You wait. I get help.” Great! I knew I would eventually get out. But it would take time. I heard her take off downstairs.
The second was uncontrollable laughter.

For the next ten minutes, from time to time, she would come back and check on me. We exchanged words through the door. Once dripping wet, then dry, I was now again drenched in sweat from the condensation and humidity inside the stuffy room. It was almost raining from the steam that was now settling.
My heroine attempted to open the door with her own keys, knowing full well she would fail. “I call house leader.” I concluded that house leader was the building superintendent. Good. This is progress.
Then she paused. “But maybe he not in Kraków right now.” Is she torturing me, toying with my desperation?
“And if not?”
No answer.

Twenty minutes pass. Then a noise. But not just any noise. It was a memorable one in my life. You know what I am referring to. There are those sounds you here that stick with you for years after they take place because of the sentimental impact such sounds or music had on you a that moment. Here comes the Bride. Pomp and Circumstance. “The Red Sox Win the World Series!” “Sir, congratulations! It’s a boy!” You know, those kinds of sounds.
For me, it was the approaching murmuring of a grumpy and complaining building superintendent, trudging up the stairs. More than just that, it was the beautiful music emanating from his hands, the clanging of dangling pieces of cut steel. The key entered the outdoor lock. He was in. Then, we worked together to open the bathroom lock. The door opened and I sprung out, unconcerned with my lack of clothing or napkin-sized towel.
The woman, my savior, was a cute (most Polish women are awfully cute), twenty-year-old. She stood out in the hall next to her nineteen-year-old girlfriend, unsuccessfully controlling their giggling. I profusely thanked her. By this time, the super was gone back to his soccer match somewhere. “Give me five minutes. OK?”

At least I can say that I got two young Polish women to see me naked on this trip.

As I dressed, I noticed that the laughter had not ceased. Rather, it was spreading. It went something to the effect of sounds of giggling, then the pitter-patter of feet, knock on a door, Polish conversation with a chuckle or two, followed by a momentary silence.
Then would come a violent outburst of laughter. This proliferated. Pretty soon, I poked my head out the window that faces the inner courtyard. Laughter was coming from all the units. Many people were getting a great deal of amusement at my expense.

I knocked at her door. We chatted. I complemented her English, which she had now applied in a real-world situation. I gave her a lapel pin as a memento, and I was ready to end this episode. But she stopped me from going down the stairs. “You alone in apartment, yes?”
“Why you lock door? No one home.”
“Well,” I had to be honest. The humiliation has reached the point that it did not matter. “Yesterday, I was showering, the door unlocked. I did not know there was a resident upstairs. That person did not know about me. As she left, she passed the bathroom, door unlocked, and opened it to use it, only to find me. Showering. She was a seventy-two year old Swedish woman.” It must have been like seeing a chubby Chewbacca for the first time.
The two women laughed uncontrollably. I said goodbye. I escaped through the courtyard and made my way to the street. As I opened the main gate, more outbursts could be heard behind me.

I had promised myself a beerless night tonight. I am now on my third pint.


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