It was the middle of the night and they were squeezed into a toilet cubicle on the fifth floor of a building in the city centre. Joel and Andrew were both drunk, trying to stay quiet yet worried that silence wasn’t enough.
Torchlight played against the door, a voice asked for identification, and the hard leather sole associated with security officers tap-tapped its way towards them. This was not how this night should have gone, after all they were respectable businessmen.
The sequence of events that would lead to them holding on quietly to each other started a few hours ago. It was just past 7pm and Joel had just finished his work for the week, last report finalised, last e-mail sent. So he turned to Andrew.
“Bring that bottle here,” Joel said.
“And here I thought you would never ask,” Andrew replied.
The liquid burned its way down Joel’s insides, and released the tension and stress that had gathered in his forehead. The benefits of drinking vodka were as immediate as its consequences were imminent.
“I just needed to finish this up; the rent’s not going to pay itself,” Joel announced.
“This is true, and cheers to your industry.”
Mishaps and misery
Andrew and Joel had been friends in high school, and became inseparable while in university where they shared the same dorm though they were taking different courses.
All through their mishaps in university and misery in employment they had promised themselves that one day they would have the simple pleasure of having a drink in an office that they paid for themselves.
“Those rents though, we should have our very own toilet for the price we pay,” Joel complained.
“You’re on this again?”
As regular as the taxman every month, Andrew whined about having to share a toilet with everyone else on the floor.
“It’s the tragedy of the commons up close,” the lesson from one of the few lectures Andrew had attended came bubbling to the fore. “You know about that right? The reason public goods are always so dishevelled.”
“It’s because nobody claims ownership of them. That is why communism didn’t work. If something belongs to everybody it must also belong to nobody, and that’s who will take care of it, nobody. So, these toilets we are forced to share are a race down to the pit,” Andrew pontificated.
“Yes, I agree we pay enough rent to make sure the toilets are clean.”
“Not enough for cleaning every hour. This building is practically an extension of the street, everyone comes up here. Every office has keys, three stalls for all of us. But I have a plan.”
“You have a plan?”
And out of his backpack came a screwdriver fitted with different heads, a set of skeleton keys, a long pick, and locks and latches similar to the ones fitted on the toilet door.
“We go in there tonight, take out the door knob in the middle cubicle and put this one in. Trust me it’s…” Joel explained.
“No need to sell it. It seems like a crazy plan, but I’m tired of the commons too, you know.”
They polished off most of the bottle, and then went upstairs to the toilets. Joel insisted on picking the outer lock even though they had all the keys.
The spindle went into the hole where the key should. Joe breathed deeply as he navigated the rod, feeling for the catch of a spring and then releasing it, turning the spindle deeper, then another release and he pushed it open.
Joe passed the screwdriver to Andrew who put in the second screw-head. Three revolutions each and the screws lay in the palm of his hand. Carefully he pulled off the body of the door-knob and laid it aside. A metal plate faced him, and he popped it out. Then he turned his attention to the part of the lock where a metal triangle jutted out. Turned it twice and it was loose. He pulled it out and handed it to Joel.
A sweep search
Andrew popped the part they had brought with them into place and felt it latch on. He took out the screws from the other lock to set it in, only to discover that he did not have the right tools to do this. He needed a star to set it right, and a cross to screw them in. A quick search in his bag showed that he had forgotten to carry the different types of screws.
“I figured there would be different screws, so I packed the screw-driver but I forgot to carry the actual crosses.”
“Hey, wait. Why don’t we get some from a computer and then replace them later?”
So they trooped downstairs, pried apart a computer for its screws, and went back to the toilet door.
It was then that they heard the security guard approach speaking on his walkie-talkie:
“There’s suspicious activity on the fourth and fifth floors. Do a proper sweep search,” the voice on the other side of the radio instructed.
Maybe if they weren’t so drunk they would have remembered that as rent-payers they had every right to be there, but all they could think of was the mess at the door and the suspicious-looking paraphernalia at their feet. Working quickly, they jammed the knob back in, changed the screw-head to a cross and turned it, closed the door behind them and stood on the water closet.
The guard kept making sweeping movements with his torch. Then he came towards the door they were hiding behind.
“Anyone there?” he asked.
He took out a pair of keys and inserted one. It wouldn’t fit. He tried another and another.
“Nothing to report on this floor, over.”
Just as they caught their breath the guard said, “I know you’re in there, I even know what you’re doing. I can report this and have the lock changed back tomorrow, or you can just slip me something to look the other way.”