If I could use an animal to describe who I am, I’d say “a lamb” — sissy, soft spoken, slow to anger, blah blah blah. . . But I am totally aware of the fact that there is another personality lurking behind that supposed gentleness, always ready to devour my prey when necessary. The claws had come out a couple times in the past and coincidentally it has always happened in a public washroom. Yes, I think you know where this is going. I turn into a lioness when people abuse the only accessible stall in a half-empty washroom.
It all started when I was still a student in University. The accessible stalls in my school were particularly luxurious, featuring their own sinks and vanities. One fateful afternoon, I was quietly waiting for a stall to free up. According to my observation under the door, the occupant was someone who managed to walk comfortably in high heels and worse, she was busy checking herself in the mirror. I was losing patience as my class had already started. Though I was mad as hell, the little lamb was silent under the knife of the slaughter. Then, another girl came out of her stall and noticed the situation. “Is someone in there?” she asked. “Yes.” She knocked the door with fierce passion: “Excuse me, someone needs to use this.” Within 10 seconds, the door was opened. The person came out, said “sorry,” but not to me, to the other girl. Though I really appreciated the help, I decided that I would never again let another person stand up for me. I have a voice of my own and sometimes I have to roar.
I became increasingly confident and unapologetic when confronting people in similar situations. The most memorable encounter took place when I was watching Les Miserable in an elegant theater. During intermission, I took the elevator to go to a lower level where the designated accessible washroom was located. This washroom had a wheelchair sign on the door. There was absolutely no excuse. As soon as I exited the elevator, I saw a nicely-dressed lady leave the line to the inaccessible bathrooms and walk toward the only accessible washroom. I sped up and tried to reach it before she did, but I was too late, she shut the door right in my face. I was boiling inside like a pissed-off volcano, about to explode lava all over the place. All the women lining up outside of the washroom saw what happened. They were expecting a scene. All of the sudden, waiting in line with a full bladder wasn’t a chore anymore. While waiting in my line, I was thinking hard about various ways of making her the most miserable character of the play. Finally, she came out, there was this “uh-oh” expression on her face. “Sorry.” She said it sheepishly. To be fair, she meant it. I said nothing but slammed the door really, really hard in a theatrical style. There! I exited the scene like a drama queen. It was sassy and classy at the same time. …
Two weeks ago, my best friend told me about her recent conflict over an accessible stall. She said this lady came from behind and got into the accessible stall right in front of her eyes, as if she was completely transparent. “WHAT!!” Immediately I had an image of this lousy piece of work — high maintenance, lots of makeup, repelling amount of perfume. … “What does she look like?” I wanted to confirm. “She is middle-aged, South-Asian, probably new to the country.” It shattered my expectation. “Hmm … perhaps, I should not take it too personally,” my friend said.
Afterwards, it got me thinking, could it be possible that some people had no idea what or whom an accessible stall is actually for? Thinking back, prior to my injury, did I ever abuse an accessible stall? I used to be very ignorant about people living with disabilities and I didn’t know how much those extra spaces meant for someone who uses a wheelchair. Also, judging by the fact that I was a little apathetic toward the disability community, I would say, I probably abused and misused the accessible stall without even remembering it. I was just lucky that I didn’t bump into a grudge-faced lioness waiting to tear up my day.
Since that conversation, I decided to be more forgiving and gracious toward people in circumstances like that. Perhaps a gentle reminder of what an accessible stall is for would be equally educational and memorable. Perhaps a lioness could settle with straw and grass because she’s a little lamb at heart.
Nancy Xia lives in Toronto, Canada, and sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 18. Though the beginning of the journey was difficult, she endured and was able to see the silver lining of her injury. She says being a person with disability has humbled her and helped her see this world with a different perspective. She is now grateful about life and takes every day as a blessing. In recent years, writing has become her interest and passion. She is a blogger, a regular contributor of various publications, and is excited to become part of New Mobility and share her interesting encounters with everyone in the community.