San Jose, CA
2021, Junior, Creative Writing
Footsteps heavy with exhaustion, the mother walked into the tiny bathroom. It was the only bathroom in the apartment. In the corner was a simple, white sink. There was barely enough counter space for the toothbrush holder, soaps, and lotions. No matter how much she mopped the grout between the tiles on the floor, vindictive dirt still remained in the cracks. The toddler always hated the way the flickering fluorescent lights created shadows that danced ominously in the mirror. The landlord had promised to re-grout the tub two months ago, but the mother knew that it wasn’t on the top of his list. Crammed in the corner was a toilet and her son’s red, potty-training stool, which she was constantly shifting to avoid kicking it.
Following their nightly ritual, the mother knelt on the bath mat, shaped as a gray shark baring tiny white teeth; she had had to buy it after her son, eager to have it as his own, had tried to pull it off the rack. With her son standing shivering behind her, the mother pushed back the shower curtain almost mechanically and twisted the rusting knobs. As soon as he heard the rushing sound, her little son’s mouth twisted into a pout.
“It’s going to be okay,” the mother coaxed reassuringly.
She wasn’t sure if the dim lights were the problem, but the water did not look clear as it pooled up at the bottom of the tub. For a few weeks, the water had smelled a little different, but today it looked a little different, too, with a slight brown, murky twinge. Sighing heavily, she emptied the tub and took out a rag from the cabinet beneath the sink and carefully scrubbed the porcelain surface, making sure that dust wasn’t the culprit.
She turned on the tap again, but the water was not any clearer. And there, again, the hint of a musty, almost sulfurous smell. She caught a whiff of the unpleasant odor and bent down to investigate. “Ugh, what is that?” she said, verbalizing her visceral reaction.
“What is that?” the two-year-old echoed.
“It’s nothing,” the mother soothed. “Why don’t you play with this?” she said, handing him a faded rubber sea dragon that had navigated the raging waters of the bathtub one too many times.
The toddler moved the dragon in loop-the-loops in the air with one hand while scratching the raised, red rash crawling up his thigh with the other.
Thinking that perhaps the pipes leading to the shower were rusting or contaminated somehow, the mother filled a cup with water from the bathroom sink. She waited for the air bubbles to settle, but the water retained its cloudy color. She quickly walked to the kitchen, turned on the sink, and checked that water. It too was cloudy.
While walking back to the bathroom, the mother took out her phone from her pocket and called the landlord. She was afraid the call would go to voicemail, but the landlord picked up after three rings.
“Hi Phil, this is your tenant in apartment 22A. Sorry to bother you, but the water here seems a bit strange. Is there something going on with the pipes?”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not the pipes, it’s not our building, it’s all of Flint. The city assured us the water is fine. They switched the water source, and it should clear up in a few days.”
“Ok, thank you. Have a good night,” she replied, pushing back the voice in her head that told her something wasn’t right. Surely the city wouldn’t give us dirty water, she reassured herself.
The mother returned to the bathroom. Fighting the toddler’s struggles, she refilled the tub, making sure to add extra bubble bath to mask the smell, and placed him in the water.
“Do you want Nessie?” the mother asked, picking the plastic sea dragon off the floor. “Yes,” the little boy responded with a nod. Playfully, the mother plopped the sea monster beneath the bubbles.
Little did she know, another monster was already lurking in the water, flowing insidiously into their bodies.
My story emerged out of a conversation with a teacher, and she mentioned the Flint, Michigan, water crisis that started in 2014. As I read about the events, I was shocked by the initial decision to switch to an unsafe water source just to save money. It also struck me as incredibly unethical that a company like General Motors had the money and resources to opt out of using water from the Flint River, but less fortunate people living in the region did not have that option. In Flint, many adults and children experienced physical symptoms such as rashes and headaches from lead poisoning and even Legionnaires’ disease. I wrote a story about a mother stuck in this situation to highlight some of the struggles and injustices that people faced during this crisis. I believe that access to clean water is a fundamental right, and yet people in our country and all over the world do not have clean water to drink. I want to work to ensure that people, specifically those who are economically disadvantaged, have access to the same clean water that I do.