“Inattentive blindness”, that’s how a psychologist would explain my bizarre conduct this afternoon.
Just one more step forward, and I would have committed the greatest blunder a girl can do: Entering the men’s toilet.
It was around 4.30pm and I was in PC Cluster 4 at Block E3. I had little time to spare as I had to hand in my homework and reach the biomechanics gait analysis lab by 5pm. But first, I needed to make a quick stop to the washroom.
The university has built its toilet facilities in a way that is systematic and fair to both sexes. The male and female toilets are usually in sequential order, each on different floors. If the first and third floors have male toilets, the female toilets are on the second and fourth. It is logical and orderly. Since it’s like that in blocks EA, E1, and E6, I assumed this system was implemented throughout the engineering faculty.
Well, after this almost-incident, now I know better.
Upon discovering that the janitors were cleaning the washroom on the fourth floor, I climbed four flights of stairs downwards to the second floor in accordance to my perceived logic. On the second floor, I was standing at the very edge of the toilet when I noticed the urinals.
Shocked, I quickly reeled back and rushed down to the lower floors to get away from the disaster zone as soon and as quietly as I can. Then, I had to stop myself to calm my breathing and heightened heart-rate. While trying to digest the fact that I almost made a terrible mistake, I was wholeheartedly praying that no one saw me. It was an incredibly embarrassing situation.
When I later returned back to the scene of the almost-crime, I tried to understand why I did that. Though I know that the washrooms in NUS are colour-coded — pink for female and blue for male — I took the order of the toilets for granted. Because of this particular smokescreen, it made me impervious to other details; in this case the colour of the toilet door. This is inattentive blindness in its glory.
I can’t even write this post without wincing. I can’t stop thinking of the ‘What-If’ situations. What if I made one noisy exclamation? What if I took another clumsy step forward? What if someone was in the toilet? What if I saw something that I didn’t want to see? It would have traumatized me for life. Thinking about all these situations drives me crazy.
One plus side from this incident though, is that I can now understand what Temple Grandin was trying to say in her book ‘Animals in Translation‘. When I first read it, I was skeptical. No matter how absorbed spectators are in a basketball game, how can they not see a gorilla mascot thumping its chest in the middle of the game. I couldn’t understand it back then.
Now, I know.