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I was sitting in a bathroom stall at work, minding my business, when I distinctly heard another woman also minding her business. Imagine my surprise when she flushed, exited her stall then exited the bathroom without washing her hands.

This happened not once or twice but three times over the course of three days with three different offenders.

At least, we once went through the pretense. We performed the series of motions, holding our hands under a narrow trickle of water, made a half-hearted attempt at lathering with that reticent foamy dollop.

These gestures were not really about removing invisible germs. Instead, the ritual was meant to assure one another that a basic level of hygiene was being upheld.

It was a dance; there were rules. We were in it together. We were telling that stranger listening from their stall, “I acknowledge your presence. I will make us both more comfortable by playing my part. “

It’s like the ritual of security theatre at the airport, when we’re cattled in lines, wanded and screened, all to make us feel, despite knowing it to be untrue, that there’s nothing to fear.

Roxane Gay
Bright Shiny Morning
James Frey