Lotte wondered if her boss would appreciate the retro arcade games she’d bought for the company holiday party. It was the cheapest gift she could get away with, but he’d be thrilled by the anime girls on the package. So would most of her coworkers at Data Crunch.
She reached into the toilet paper roll dispenser, only to find it empty. This was, after all, the only women’s restroom in a company full of guys. Who cared about keeping it supplied?
The next stall might have toilet paper, but Lotte wasn’t keen on interrupting whoever was making the ‘plop plop’ sounds. Well, she knew who it was. Only one other woman worked at Data Crunch. They’d both complained about the lack of supplies in the women’s room often enough.
“Hey, Theresa?” Lotte said, reluctantly. Theresa was probably eager to discuss her bowel movement. She had no one else to talk to, shut away in her tiny accountant’s office.
Lotte glanced under the stall wall, and saw scaly toes that ended in curved, birdlike talons. They poked out from beneath khaki pants.
Lotte gripped her arms, disgusted. What was an alien ummin doing in her restroom? They must have their own places to take dumps, in back alleys or something. They didn’t belong in an office building where humans worked. They had too many special needs; they ate alien foods and went to alien doctors.
This one probably wouldn’t speak English. Still, desperate times…
“I’m out of toilet paper,” Lotte said, enunciating each word. “Could you pass me a handful, please?”
Paper rolling sounds came from the stall. A moment later, a clawed hand appeared under the wall, holding a wad of toilet paper.
“Thanks.” Lotte stared at its papery skin as she took the wad. A female, she assumed. Ummins lived in mated pairs, which must mean they were divided into males and females, or something that approximated human genders.
As she washed her hands, the ummin emerged from its stall. It resembled a mummified midget with a fleshy beak. Its neon-pink jacket clashed horribly with its khaki pants and beaded head-cover. Rather than wash its hands, it fumbled in its pockets.
“I have visited this bathroom four times,” the ummin said. “There is a chronic shortage of toilet paper. May I complain about this?”
Female ummins had a nasal tone. This one sounded male, and had the prominent brow ridges of a male.
“Do you know this is the women’s room?” Lotte asked.
The ummin blinked its huge gray eyes at her. “Ummins use women’s rooms.”
“But, aren’t you… I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
“I’m male.” His clipped accent made the words sound brusque.
“Okay.” Lotte hesitated, then decided to risk outright rudeness. “Why don’t you use the men’s room?”
The ummin pulled out a packet and tore it open, releasing a pungent odor of chalk. He wiped his claws with the towelette inside. “I don’t use urinals.”
“They have stalls in there.”
“I get stares,” the ummin said. “There is always someone in the men’s room, and they see that I don’t use the urinals. No one speaks to me, but they wonder. I asked permission to use the women’s room. Mr. Sung allowed it.”
Lotte had been on the verge of a reply, but forgot it at the mention of the CEO. “Wait a minute. You work here?”
The ummin gave her a righteous stare. “Yes.”
“Oh.” She couldn’t think of a good response.
“I’m called Zamlek.” The ummin offered his small hand. “I’ve been here three weeks.”
Lotte hesitated, then took his hand. “I’m Lotte.”
“Vrahl, Lotte,” Zamlek said, using an ummin greeting. “You might see me the next time the server near your room goes down. I maintain the office intranet.”
“That’s unusual,” Lotte said before she thought about it. She inwardly kicked herself for the implication that ummins were only adept with their own technology.
Zamlek looked amused. “You’re unusual, too. I haven’t seen many females — I mean, women — around here.”
“Yeah.” Lotte wished it were otherwise, sometimes.
“Well, I won’t delay you further. Have you complained about the toilet paper?”
“A few times.”
“Maybe if we both complain?” Zamlek suggested.
“Maybe.” Lotte paused at the door, imagining how embarrassed the ummin must have felt when she asked him for toilet paper. Less embarrassed than he’d felt in the men’s room, perhaps.
“I understand how you feel about the men’s room,” she said. “I don’t mind you using this one.”
Zamlek tapped his beak. “Thank you.”
In the corridor, busy men hurried past, glancing at Lotte. She was used to their curiosity. Then she realized that some of them were staring down at the alien next to her.
“It is strange to me here,” Zamlek said. “My people don’t have much difference between male or female. We use only one type of bathroom.” He watched the passersby with what seemed like disgust. “This whole building is a men’s room.”
Lotte laughed. “Hey,” she said. “I was thinking about skipping the holiday party after work today. But if you’re going to be there . . .”
His beak broadened in a grin. “Then neither of us will seem too strange.”
Abby Goldsmith writes novels and animates characters in video-games. Her stories and articles have appeared in Escape Pod, Fantasy Magazine, and Suddenly Lost in Words.