Our apartment, which is about ten years old and which we own, is if not the epitome, then at least a pretty good example of shoddy workmanship. According to those who know, the foundations and basic construction quality are sound; but when it comes to the plumbing, the painting, the woodwork, even the plastering of the wall, it leaves a lot to be desired. I never thought I’d have cause to be grateful for this.
Typically, I sneak in my shower in after the twins’ bath and before their lunch. I say “sneak in because I have to be pretty quick, else they’ll fall asleep before eating lunch, which is a headache for me.
Today had been a typical day thus far, so I went into the bathroom as usual. What was new was that I decided to bolt the door from the inside – I haven’t done this so far, when if I’m alone in the house with the twins, so that they can see me and not feel worried. Today, I thought they’re well adjusted enough to not notice if they don’t see me for a few minutes, and a few minutes of privacy while bathing is always welcome.
No sooner had I shot the bolt from the inside, than it occurred to me that perhaps this was a dangerous thing to do. The reason is, the bathroom door has a latch on the outside as well, which is just about within reach of the twins if they stand on tiptoe. It’s the sort of bolt that slides into a hole in the frame and the twins have figured out how it works, though it’s not yet in the list of limited activities (such as come, go, give, take) that they can carry out on instruction. We have the same sort of latch on the other bathroom door as well as on the two verandah doors, but the only one the twins can successfully operate is the one on the verandah that opens off their room. On the other doors, thanks to shoddy workmanship, the alignment of bolt and hole is not perfect, so you need to hold the door (sometimes very firmly indeed) with one hand and shoot the bolt home with the other. This is thankfully still beyond their abilities.
Unless, of course, you helpfully bolt the door from the other side. I had never checked this (never having tried to bolt the door from both sides at once) but apparently bolting the door from one side causes the bolt on the other side to become perfectly aligned. Just as I bolted the door on the inside, I wondered whether this would actually make it possible for the twins to bolt it from the outside.
Before I could so much as complete the thought, I heard the bolt outside neatly slide home.
I hastily unbolted the door from the inside, hoping the bolt had missed its destination, but tugging on the door only confirmed my worst fear – it certainly hadn’t.
I immediately called out to the twins, hoping they would obligingly undo the action, but that would really have been asking for too much. I didn’t even know which twin was responsible for imprisoning me – when I stepped into the bathroom, neither one was in the immediate vicinity of the door (which just shows how fast kids can move when faced with an opportunity for serious mischief).
At first, I told myself it was only a minor matter, I’d be out in a few minutes. But slowly, as I looked around the bathroom, realisation dawned: it was very possible that I’d be stuck there till evening!
There was absolutely nothing in the bathroom that could be of the slightest help in my predicament. No phone – who carries a cellphone on them when going for a bath? No pointy metal object that I could slide through the crack where door met frame and try to manipulate the bolt. I tried to use a tube of shampoo as a wedge (why does shampoo come in tubes nowadays? it used to come in bottles), but it was completely useless. I could not see any way that bath soap, detergent, mugs and buckets, or a bath towel could be of any earthly use in persuading the bolt to slide out of its home.
I tried to think things through. I wasn’t expecting any visitors. If anyone did ring the doorbell, it was unlikely they’d hear me shouting from the locked bathroom. There was a window, but our downstairs neighbours would be out, their house empty but for their two dogs. I was due to attend an online meeting at 1 p.m., but my unexplained absence would likely occasion only mild surprise, not alarm. Amit might call at some point, but if he couldn’t get me on the phone, he’d simply surmise I was busy with the kids and forget about it. If I couldn’t find a way out on my own, it looked like I’d be stuck here till 6.30 or so, when Amit would (hopefully) come home and let me out.
To top it off, I was nude, with only a bath towel at my disposal. Even if any alternative manner of rescue could be found, I wasn’t sure I’d want to be rescued by anyone other than Amit.
Meanwhile, the kids needed their lunch, their tea-time milk, and their various diaper-changes.
The worst part was that this scenario was not entirely unforeseen. Amit and I had discussed what we could do in such a situation, and had agreed that we probably needed to get the bolts shifted up on the doors, out of reach of the twins. We just hadn’t got around to doing it.
After thinking everything through, I decided there was nothing for it but to apply brute force. Pity that I’m not (in my opinion) much of a brute – Amit would certainly have yanked the door off its hinges at the first try. It took me several desperate attempts before something gave on the outside and the door opened a crack.
But only a crack – I wasn’t home and dry yet, but at least things were looking more hopeful. I tried slipping my hand through, but the crack was much too narrow. So I applied myself to pulling the door with renewed vigor. All that happened was that, with the next tug, the handle came off into my hand!
This was not so good. There was nothing else substantial enough to tug on on this side of the door. True, I could use the detached handle as a level, but it didn’t look like it would stand up to much. Luckily I could curl my fingers around the edge of the door and tug on that directly, but I didn’t think it would be as effective as the door handle had been thus far. All the same, that’s what I did, bracing myself against the wall with my left hand and tugging with my right.
And a few minutes later, the second set of screws holding the bolt in place came out with a loud pop, sending the bolt skittering on the floor a distance of several feet – and I was out, free.
Which is why I say, sometimes you have to be jolly grateful for shoddy workmanship.