Ondrej Stefanik




I’m so lucky! Even if I’m lucky in an unlucky situation. The gas station has been ambushed by gangsters or lunatics and I happen to be, thank God, in the bathroom with the door locked. Safe and sound. I just hope the crazy murderers won’t need to take a piss. Unlikely. They’ll definitely take off as soon as possible. Judging from the shooting, the terrifying screaming and the quiet that followed, the lunatics have killed everything that moves. A quick hit. Maybe it was just one whacko. Actually, I’m more worried that I’ve run out of toilet paper. I hear footsteps. Shit! This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all. Someone rattles the door handle hard. My heart just jumped into my mouth.

“Is there someone in there?” asks a man. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! I’m screwed. What should I do? How does the door open? Inward? If it opened outward, I could open it really fast and bash the guy in the head. I’ll bite his ear off.

“Is there someone in there?!” he shouts and bangs on the door. I’m dead. I’m definitely dead. Shit!

“Could you please bring me some paper or some napkins? There’s no more toilet paper in here,” I say. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. On the other side of the door there’s a chilling, interminable silence. I hear footsteps again. I can’t move. My body is paralyzed. At least I managed to take a dump before dying. I can’t imagine them killing me with full intestines. That would be horrible. Footsteps again. Yuck. What an awful sound. I’m dead. Jesus, I’m seriously dead. It can’t be true! I’m going to die on the toilet. No one dies on the toilet. Not that.

“I brought you some napkins, you can open the door and I’ll hand them in to you, “ says the man calmly. He seems friendly. His voice doesn’t sound…so smart.

“OK. But I’m still not done. It’ll only be a second,” I announce so that he doesn’t sniff my fear. I didn’t see or hear anything. I’m playing for time. I’m dead. I know it. I’m dead. Maybe he’ll leave. My heart is going to explode in a minute. I have to think of something. But what? Maybe he’ll leave. I have keys in my pocket. I’ll open the door and stab him in the neck with one of them. What if he has accomplices out there? How many keys do I have? Do I have enough? Oh right, one is enough. I’m an idiot.

“Hurry up. I can’t take this much longer,” says a wise, masculine voice, urging me on. It’s a murderous professor.

“I just want you to know that I’m on your side. After everything that’s happened here, I’m with you and I will happily take your side and I won’t ask anything for it. Don’t you need anyone for some dirty work, by chance?” I ask. I ask with a tough voice. Like I’m a pretty tough guy. But the lunatic doesn’t seem tough, he seems intelligent. I should have asked him in a smart voice. How does a smart voice sound? Fuck, I don’t even know how to imitate a smart voice. Lots of things occur to a person in danger. Totally useless bullshit. No one prepared me for this. Mobile phone! Of course, I have a mobile! I’ll call the police.

“I don’t need anyone. Just move it,” the man says pushing me.

“Aren’t any of the other stalls free?” I ask. I’m wondering whether I’ve already lost my mind with fear.

“I already took care of those. This is the only stall left,” answers the man calmly. Shivers run through my body. I’ve fallen into the wolf’s den. What did he take care of? And why did he bring me napkins when he wants to kill me? Maybe he doesn’t want to kill me. Why doesn’t he just kick down the door? Why is he waiting for me to open it? I’m dead.

“What do you mean you took care of it?” I ask him, frightened.

“That’s not your business,” he answers.

“And what if we agreed that I would stay here, and you would calmly leave and forget about everything?” I suggest with the naïve expectation of a miracle.

“Except that I have to go to the bathroom. Don’t you get it?!” he says raising his voice.

“So go use another stall,” I propose.

“I’m telling you, I already took care of it in the other stalls,” he repeats, slightly peeved.

“What did you take care of? You have to shit in each stall?” I ask him. I hope I haven’t made him angry.

“It’s not your business,” he answers. What could he have taken care of? I didn’t hear anything in the bathroom, no sounds, screams or shots. I’m trembling all over, I’m passing out. I am so dead.

“I have a family!” I shout desperately. Not that that announcement has ever made a difference in the movies, but it’s worth a try. I’m on the verge of tears. I don’t have any ideas. I don’t want to die.

“Why are you sitting there for so long? Because you have a family?” the lunatic asks cynically.

“I have small children. They need me,” I say, begging for my life. Apparently I’m already crying. I don’t even know.

“I don’t think you’re going to be too useful to your family if you spend eternity on the toilet,” he advises me. He’s quiet for a moment. Maybe he left. I didn’t hear any footsteps. He hasn’t left. He rattles the door handle again.

“Come out already!” he says raising his voice.

“Please, before you do it to me, couldn’t you just bring me a Snickers bar?” I ask. I couldn’t think of anything else. I have a sugar craving. I don’t want to die without something sweet. I should think of Katherine. I know…but I’m thinking about Snickers. I’m ashamed of it. I want a Snickers bar.

“And what is it you think I’m going to do to you?” the man asks and starts to laugh. His voice has stopped sounding intelligent. He’s a lunatic! Now I’m sure. That’s a crazy man’s laughter. I text all my friends asking them to call the police right away. It’s life and death. A matter of seconds. My hands are shaking. I can’t write the text properly.

“So what do you think I’m going to do to you?” the lunatic repeats.

“You won’t do anything to me, right? Because I have a family. They need me. I don’t have any money on me. And I didn’t see anything or hear anything. Like I wasn’t here at all,” I say, convincing , insisting, begging, whining.

“How old are your children?” he asks me, like on a TV quiz show. He’s got me now. I don’t have any children. I’ll tell him they’re really little. Maybe that will work. Just to be sure, I’ll tell him that I have a son and a daughter and that my son is in a wheelchair.

“My son is five and my daughter six,” I say making it up. But what if this lunatic has lost his family and can’t stand people with families? Then I will have really fucked up.

“Tell me their dates of birth,” the lunatic challenges me. This shocks me.

“My son is in a wheelchair and needs constant care. I love him,” I say, instead of giving their dates of birth.

“When were they born?” the lunatic continues, undaunted. The wheelchair ploy didn’t work.

“I can’t recall under pressure like this,” I say avoiding him. Sweat is pouring off me. I’m losing it.

“Doesn’t all that sitting on the toilet hurt already?” he says and laughs again.

“Go away and leave me alone. I’m begging you!” I whimper, crestfallen.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here until you come out of there,” he answers and I believe him.

“And what if the police come soon?” I say threatening, trying to save myself.

“What for? Are they going to prohibit me from taking a shit?”

I think about how to get out of this situation. Keys in the neck? A kick in the head? A prayer? My phone rings. I turn it off. It could provoke the lunatic into a quick attack. In any case, I don’t understand why he doesn’t break down the door and put a few bullets in my skull. He’s a psychopath. He’s having fun. He’s simply having fun with me. I could use that Snickers. Why do I have to think about Snickers before death? I have nothing else in my head. What kind of a person am I?

“What kind of a person are you anyway?” asks the lunatic.

“Excuse me?” my throat is dry. I have no throat. I have no arms or legs. I have nothing. I have no Snickers. Why did I collect all those points for gas when I’m going to kick the bucket any minute? I have so many points that I could get a whole crate of Snickers and a screwdriver too. Jesus! I knew those points were just a gimmick. They knew I wouldn’t get shit. They knew they’d kill me.

“It seems like you’re an unhappy person. Isn’t that true? Learn to be happy in your unhappiness like Alyosha Karamazov,” says the lunatic. Alyosha Karamazov? Shit, who’s that? His scar-faced accomplice from the Russian mafia? The Russian mafia, just what I need. Now it’s clear. That’s why his voice sounds smart. It’s not a smart voice at all, it’s a Russian accent.

“Where do you work?” he asks, continuing with his interrogation. I don’t know why, but it seems to me that the answer to this question could liberate me. But I have a bad feeling that if I tell him I work in a bank, he’ll crush me with the door and stomp me into the ground. I have to think up some respectable, noble and impressive profession. Maybe he’ll feel sorry for me. I could be a priest. They don’t kill priests. They don’t have the balls. What if he’s an atheist? Think quickly. Something with children. Yes! Something sacrificing, something that isn’t work, but a mission. And just to make sure, some other neutral work as well, something that’s not offensive. For example, a physicist. I always felt sorry for physicists. The fact that they know so much, but not everything. Those poor guys. People don’t murder physicists. I would never hit a physicist.

“I’m a physicist.”

“A physicist?” asks the lunatic, as if he’d never heard the word before.

“Yes, but only part-time. The rest of the time I take care of orphans,” I let out quickly. I hope I’ve just given an Oscar-worthy performance.

“How do you take care of them?” the lunatic asks with interest. I feel like his voice is calmer and kinder. I’ve warmed his heart. The mind can be crazy, but not the heart. I’ve chosen good work.

“I take them on walks and stuff,” I answer. I guess I should have told the truth, that I work in a bank. I know every corner of the place. I should have offered to help him rob it. A bunch of money. What an idiot I am.

“Come out of that toilet already,” says the lunatic vehemently. He’s lost his patience. The orphans didn’t make an impression.

“Now it’ll really be only a moment…really.” At that moment I burst loudly into tears. I’m at my wit’s end. All the tears I’ve ever held back in my life are now pushing massively to get out. They’re mixing with sweat. They could easily wash the floor and the window with me. I’m sitting eternally in a salty steam bath. They’ve locked me in here for life. What about my heart? How are you doing? Are you beating at all? Where is my spit going? How long can a person live without saliva? All the water in my body has changed to tears and sweat. There isn’t enough left for saliva. That disgusting pig is going to wring me out like a wet rag.

“How many friends do you have on Facebook?” asks the lunatic.

I don’t answer.

“How many would miss you?” he continues, calmly making conversation.

“Why do you have to shit at this moment?! Why?! If you didn’t have to go, you would simply leave, run away, if… if… if you didn’t have to go…I have a lot of points collected… if…” I wail desperately. The psychopath interrupts my speech, if you could call it speech.

“If it were this, if it were that. Do you know that some Indian tribes didn’t know the word if? They didn’t have any conditional forms at all. That’s why they didn’t have any insurance companies,” the lunatic is teaching me something and, of course, I don’t care at all. I cannot even produce one word. I should have made friends with him. Reached out to him. Created a positive relationship with him, an emotional connection. Something like the Stockholm syndrome, or the other way around. Asked him about his family, work, the color of his skin, his hobbies and such. Actually not in that much detail. Then he would think I could identify him better and he’d off me just in case. I should have asked him what kind of wine and beer he likes, what football teams he roots for. Something general. I would, of course, be a fan of the same team and have the same favorite film. The police would never find him according to his favorite film. I should have made friends with him. Idiot. But taking a crap is too short a time to create a friendship.

“Are you still there?” he asks. I think I’m going to throw up. What kind of fucking turbulence is this? Are we falling? We’ve lost an engine. That idiot has flown into a storm. I’m dead.

“Where should I be, you sick, demented asshole?!” I yell at him. I’ve lost my mind.

“I don’t remember us being so friendly,” the lunatic points out, surprisingly.

Hooray! I’ve got an idea. I’ll stick my head in the toilet and flush until I drown. I have another idea. I’ll stand up, pull up my pants, buckle my belt and see what happens next. At least I won’t die with my pants down sitting on the toilet. That would be a great picture in the newspapers. That’s how the world would remember me. That is, at least until they’ve finished their coffee while reading the morning papers.

“Why are you so quiet? Did I piss you off?” the lunatic asks as if he were asking for forgiveness. I’ll kill him!

“I brought you those napkins and now you’re cussing me out so vulgarly. And you know what? I can hear that you’re doing pretty badly. Don’t cry. I’ll bring you that Snickers bar. I’ll be right back.”

I hear him leave. His departing footsteps sound lovelier than the Moonlight Sonata. This is the moment in life one calls the last chance. I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll run out of the stall and bolt to the car or wherever’s easiest. Maybe he won’t hit me, won’t catch up with me. It’s now or never! I can’t pull up my pants. I’m shaking like a vibrating massage chair. I quickly kick off my shoes, take off my pants and fly out into the hallway in my underwear. I grab a mop that’s leaning against the wall. If I have to fight, by chance, I’ll break his back with it. I run frantically into the station, knocking over the Red Bull drink display, I slip and fall on the hard floor, right on my face. I clumsily stand up again and stumble toward the exit. I don’t feel any pain. A stream of blood is running from my broken nose. I’m out of it. I whack an elderly woman with the mop. An elderly woman? The woman starts to scream hysterically. Just to be sure, I kick her in the knee and fall on the ground again. Two men pick me up off the floor. One rips the mop out of my hands and the other twists my arm. I get slapped a couple of times. The customers in the station look at me in shock. No one is dead.

Everything is spinning around me. The floor is made of clay. I feel like throwing up.

“Where’s my Snickers?!” I scream at the whole station. The clerk looks at me in terror, his mouth wide open. Everything is getting blurry. The man lets my arm go and grips my neck hard. A scared little boy takes a Snickers bar off the shelf and hands it to me. I stick it into my underwear and then pass out, or I die. I don’t even know which.


ONDREJ ŠTEFÁNIK (b. 1978) Bratislava, Slovakia. Graduated from Faculty of Philosophy at Comenius University in Bratislava. His first book was the short story collection Pštrosí muž (Ostrich Man, 2011) about “taming the Kraken, love, anger, voices in your head, toys and unfathomable darkness”. His first novel Bezprsté mesto (Fingerless City, 2012) is “a contemporary urban novel and a crime fiction”. “Man on the Toilet” comes from Pštrosí muž (Ostrich Man, 2011).

About the Translator:

JANET LIVINGSTONE was born in Brookline, Massachusetts in the U.S. and has lived in Bratislava, Slovakia for 14 years. In 2003, she began translating from Slovak to English and has worked on film scripts, subtitles and dramatic works, including: Communism by Viliam Klimáček; and House of Silence and The Gilded Red Cage by Silvester Lavrík. The latter premiered in New York in 2010 and was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to rave reviews. She also translated the book Master your Stage Fright by Slovak violinist, Bohdan Warchal. Her latest translation projects are the novels The Best of All Worlds by Slovak-Swiss author Irena Brežná and Juliet and the Other One by Gabriela Revická.

Read more work by Ondrej Štefánik:

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