Handwash Disorder

Lucinda Palme

Handwash Disorder

The sound of handwash was consistent and coarse: …splash after splash soap after soap scrub after scrub splash after splash…

Sitting in a cubicle of the 7-cubicle toilet trailer, I could hear the sound of his handwash. I saw the tall man washing his hands before entering in to the cubicle for I stood in the queue of five people – two men and three women. The ones ahead of me surreptitiously noticed the gentleman as they too had heard the sound he produced unless deaf.

Sitting in the cubicle, I could hear the coarse sound of his handwash but almost rhythmical: splashing, soaping, scrubbing, splashing, soaping, scrubbing…

After completing my urination, I came out of the cubicle, stepped gingerly towards one of the two washbasins, and opened the tap, drained my hands with water, collected the liquid soap, and washed my hands: soaping and rinsing. Because there was a tall man, who washing his hands unlike never before I had heard or seen in the factual and fictional world, I washed once again. Because he was continuing his act, I too washed my hands for the second time. This time, rinsing my hands, I looked at him with a look of ‘Are you all right?’ and it elicited a response from the tall man.

“I know what you are thinking,” he said, “this is killing me.” His height rose above the mirror placed above the washbasin. He bent his body to a curve, and was immersed in his act: …splash after splash soap after soap scrub after scrub splash after splash…

Sincerely, I asked, “What happened?”

“I picked it up, man,” he said without shifting his head but looking at his hands, washing his hands, “this thing, handwash disorder.”

“Handwash disorder?” i asked. I know there are disorders in people and syndromes like obsessive cleaning syndrome but I never heard about the handwash disorder.

“Don’t be shocked, not here,” he stressed.

This time, we glanced at each other.

If it was ‘here’ I should be concerned.

Frihamnen is the old part of Gothenburg. A hundred years ago it was one of the busiest parts of the town and the busiest port in Europe where goods were constantly loaded and unloaded from as nearer as England to as far as China. In the second decade of twenty-first century the old port is deserted except for an occasional activity. The City of Gothenburg has planned to change the portside as the riverside residential town within the city and as the commercial centre.

“From where,” I asked.

“Somewhere on the way, at Lisbon or Guangzhou or I don’t know,” he said. He came with the Volvo Ocean Race. The 11-stage sailing competition that began at Alicante in Spain. So far the race has stopped at ports of eight countries across all the continents, and the finishing point was at The Hague in Netherlands. Gothenburg was the finishing point of the tenth stage of the race and the starting point of the last part.

“Are you a sailor?” I asked.

“I’m a paramedic in the ship that follows the yachts,” he answered. The 7 yachts participating in the race attracted the attention of sailors from all over the world and also those who produced something for the sailors or boats or serviced them in one way or the other for their livelihoods. They sailed for thousands and thousands of miles for about nine months with brief stopovers at each port. “It’s a pretty town, man,” he said, and asked, splashing and soaping his hands, “are you from this town?”

“Member of sound and lights team,” I said, splashing and soaping my hands.

“That’s cool. Lot of people coming here?” he asked as he continued with his splashing, soaping, scrubbing, splashing.

“A big event for the city you know, it’s a harbour city,” I said. “The city is hosting the Volvo ocean race for the fourth time.”

“Cool man,” he said.

“For this Handwash Disorder, what is the cure?’ I asked.

“Nothing, man. Or something is there, I don’t know. I guess the cure is to go home,” he said and glanced at me, a nacreous smile flowered on his dark face. Holding his smile, he said, “My missus will straighten me up from this madness.”  Noticing me washing my hands, for the sixth time, he said, “You can stop washing, it is can influence you.”


“My colleagues are also washing their hands like this,” he said, “we don’t know who infected whom and from where.”

I rushed out of the toilet trailer but could hear his handwash: …splash after splash soap after soap scrub after scrub splash after splash…

—Lucinda Palme