Palolem Beach is a sleepy town in southern India. During the day I wander the shore barefoot or rent a motorcycle to explore the coast and nearby villages. At night I play cards with other backpackers, smoke hash and opium, and drink Coke with “feni,” which is a homemade coconut or cashew moonshine that is illegal outside of the State of Goa. I imagine hashish and opium are illegal even within Goa, though I haven’t asked. Sometimes I fish in the the Adriatic Sea. The night sky is majestic, and it’s made brighter still by trailing my fingers through the waters from off the side of the row boat and kicking up beads of phosphorescence. Without question the last week plus has been bliss, that is except for the slight issue with the bathroom.
I’ve been staying in the spare room at the home of Ganesh Patel and family. They charge two dollars a night. With a single bed and one pillow and linens and a semi-functional, albeit noisy, fan, it is actually more than I could expect. It even has a locking window and door. The bathroom, however, is an outhouse. Well, of sorts. The first time I used it, and the last, was a few days ago. I had somehow managed to conduct my business elsewhere until then and in the relative comfort of western amenities, i.e., toilet and not hole. But on this one occasion urgency took charge and out to the backyard I marched.
The facility is a stubby bamboo hut with a low hanging roof thatched in dried palm. A thin bamboo mat hangs by a string covering the doorway. The backyard also houses a gaggle of small, free roaming livestock, a clothes line and a well, all of which augment a pleasing sense of authenticity in my temporary digs.
There is no toilet paper, so I prepare a bucket of well water for cleaning myself. I lean the bamboo mat to one side and crouch as I cross the threshold, shaking away flies and peering into the dark while my eyes adjust to locate the anticipated hole in the ground. There is none. There are only two stacks of bricks spaced equidistantly along the thatched wall. Behind the bricks and along the ground there is a circular hole that has been cut out of the bamboo wall. The sunlight penetrates the opening and highlights the stack of bricks. I surmise that the design is intended to squat upon the bricks, do my business, clean up, and finally spill the remaining water on the refuse to wash it out the hole, which presumably fertilizes the garden.
I mount the wobbly bricks, my knees buckling as I squat down with shorts lowered and pulled all the way forward behind my ankles. It is strenuous to remain balanced, and the lack of ventilation and constant swatting at flies do not ease the effort. When I readjust my footing, stray palm leaves protrude down out of the roof and jab the back of my neck and head. I look down between my legs and the column of bricks, the sweat pouring off me and dousing my steaming pile, which is illuminated through the hole with a gentle wisp of light, the atmosphere reminiscent of a painting by one of the Dutch Masters.
My eyes have now adjusted to the darkness, and the rest of my body is contorted and near-still, having found as much comfort as can be expected while perched naked from the waist down and defecating in a thatched hut off a stack of bricks. The flies no longer bother me, it is futile to fight them. I hone in on the nearby sounds of children’s laughter, they must be Mr. Patel’s. I hear the squawking and honking of chickens and pigs, the defensive purring of cats, and the midday ocean breeze bristling through the dried palms.
A more audible snorting crescends to within earshot. The slurping and grunting continue, and I then nonchalantly peer down. Between the bricks and only inches from my legs there is a pig’s head protruding through the cutaway and into the inclosure. It is ravenously lapping up my feces. The sudden sight makes me tremble at the knees. It is hard to maintain poised while I wobble back into balance. The pig’s head pops out of the hole while I remain reeling. Then its head juts back in again, but only for a moment, and I watch from above its tongue furiously licking up the remnants before it finally exits for good.
It has since taken days to process this minor trauma. While I avoid the outhouse, I do take closer notice now of the pigs when I go out back to tend to the laundry. There are three of them trotting around, and I can’t help but wonder which of the little ones it was that forever blew my house down.