Gerald grimaced against the glare of the sun as he stared down the teeming street. The faces shifted rapidly across his frame of vision, the calls of the hawkers drowning out any chatter on the street that the clatter of the vehicles trundling by did not. He bit his lip as his stomach was lanced by a sharp pain that shuddered down his bowels and threatened to spill out at his feet.
“Everything okay?” Ariel said.
“Yeah,” he said, exhaling slowly and relaxing his tense muscles, hoping nothing dislodged itself in the process.
She laughed. “That bad, huh?”
“Fucking menu del día. Never should’ve eaten that.”
“I warned you,” Ariel said.
“Oh god,” Gerald said, clutching at his stomach. “Now is definitely not the time.”
“You still up for the museum?”
“Not like we’ve got another day. Bound to be a bathroom in there anyway.”
Ariel led the way along the uneven cobblestone street, past the Incan wall with its massive many-sided stones, to what had once been the Archbishop’s palace. Now it was a museum filled with works of cusqueño art from the colonial period, though there were still Church offices on site. The archbishop continued to attend there on occasion. They had bought a ticket for the museum the day before at the cathedral on the main square and now they had the ticket punched and were offered an audio tour, which Ariel accepted, procuring headphones for both of them.
They went from room to room of the palace, which had been home to an Incan priest prior to the Church taking it over, following the conquest, listening to their audio guide drone on about the minutia of the art work on the walls. It all looked much the same to Gerald, paeans to God, Mary and Jesus, intended to educate those new to the faith by placing these foreign symbols in familiar contexts. Thus, there was a guinea pig, corn and potatoes being served with every image of the Last Supper. One example of this would have been enough to make the point, but the paintings seemed to proliferate throughout each room.
Gerald had to allow that the paintings were incredible, though he always found the baroque effects left him cold. He was especially unmoved on this day because of the rather tenuous state of his stomach. It was a matter of when, not if, he would need a bathroom, and he had yet to see a sign directing him to one.
There was a courtyard at the building’s center, with a garden filled with flowers and trees, as well as a random assortment of colonial artifacts left to brave the elements. Leaving Ariel to listen to the audio guide, he passed around the entire courtyard looking for a sign for the washrooms, but did not see one.
“For God sakes,” he muttered to himself. There had to be one.
A security guard stood at one corner of the courtyard, looking studiously indifferent. Gerald approached him. “Hay un baño acquí?”
The guard did not bother with a reply, shaking his head no. Gerald turned away, his stomach choosing that moment to roil in agony again. His innards felt like a ship lost in a storm, with no sense of where they might end up or whether or not they would be cast asunder. He had to stop and wait, to be certain it had passed, before he could safely go on.
Wandering back into the rooms, he found Ariel engrossed in a painting depicting a scene of a procession through the streets, mirroring the life of some saint or another. A representation of a devil or demon could be seen in one corner, though his face had been blurred beyond recognition.
“They removed the face because it was some important noble. His enemy had it done,” Ariel whispered to him, though they were alone in the room.
“Well, we know all about that,” Gerald said. “No baño,”
“We do indeed. No baño?”
“Are you going to be able to make it?” A hint of concern now, along with a bit of anger.
“Of course,” Gerald said, wincing as his stomach told him otherwise. I’ll just have to improvise, he thought, but did not say.
They continued on, Gerald doing his best not to think about his churning stomach. Each time it lurched he would close his eyes and clench himself, hoping to somehow hold back the flow that threatened to burst out. More than once he was certain he had failed, only to realize, with a sort of giddiness that all was well. For the moment.
As he listened to the audio guide droning on about archbishop’s offices, he made a decision. He couldn’t wait until they returned to the hotel. There had to be bathrooms in the archbishop’s offices. They took shits the same as everyone else. Hopefully.
He went back to the courtyard, glancing to make sure the security guard was absent, and ducked through a door he had noted earlier with a sign that said “Oficinas.” He found himself in a corridor lined with offices on either side. Not a bathroom in sight.
“Goddamnit,” he whispered through clenched teeth. Sweat formed on his forehead.
He reached the end of the hallway and followed it right. More offices. Maybe they didn’t shit like everyone else, Gerald thought to himself. It was no longer funny. Every step felt like it could lead to disaster.
It was only at the end of hallway, which turned another corner into a secluded alcove, that he discovered the washroom. He burst in, not even bothering to check if it was the men’s or the women’s, and threw himself into a stall. His fingers seemed incapable of undoing his belt or unzipping his fly, even as his body surrendered to the inevitable. He didn’t even have time to sit on the toilet before it burst out. Liquid agony. Everywhere.
When it was finished his relief was ecstatic. Every muscle in his body seemed to unclench. He wanted to weep. Even as he luxuriated in this bliss, his stomach grumbled, promising more struggles to come.
He would deal with those when they came. For now, he had work to do. He slipped out of the washroom and went back down the hallway, until he came to the door he had noted his first time by. It was locked and, after a quick glance down the corridor to confirm he was alone, he set about opening it with his credit card. The telltale click came a moment later and he slipped within.
The room was some official’s office, though it was not immediately obvious who. Gerald did not know and did not care. He went to the filing cabinet that stood in the corner and knelt at the bottom drawer. It was locked as well, but a quick search of desk drawers produced a key. The drawer was crammed with files and Gerald picked through them carefully, until he saw the name he was looking for.
He pulled the file out and slipped it under his shirt, returning back the way he had come. When he emerged into the courtyard there were a few tourists taking pictures who looked at him strangely. Gerald ignored them and wandered through the rooms until he found Ariel.
“Everything good?” Her tone was light, her nervousness only betrayed by the slightest tremor.
“Yes, but we should get moving.”
She nodded and smiled. “Not going to make it much longer?”
“No, I’ve lasted about as long as I can.”
They passed through the final rooms to the front desk, where the security guard idled, chatting with the girl at the ticket desk. Ariel returned the audio guide, while Gerald waited outside. When she was done, they started up the street to the city’s main square, disappearing into the crowd.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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