It was my own fault. I had been too obstinate, too prideful–and now I suffered the consequences. “I told you so… …” I could almost see the four dreaded words forming on Dad’s lips, a ghost of a smile on the barely upturned corners of his mouth. I bit my lip and shut my eyes tightly. It was hopeless, for I could hear him quietly making whooshing noises with his mouth in the adjacent seat. It was all I could do not to strangle him. Of course, whenever Mum looked over, he was a darling angel. When he wanted to, Dad could be the most impossible man on earth.

Suddenly, Dad switched tactics, opting for a more  overt approach. “Would you like to hear a joke?” he offered, simpering sweetly. “Thank you very much, but I would not like to—” I said pointedly through clenched teeth, but the monster cut me off. I clamped my hands over my ears and tried to talk over him, but the other passengers glared at me and shushed me in the most coldly polite fashion. He told the joke anyway, and I let out a little giggle. It was too much, and my bladder gave a little.

“Darling, are you alright? You look a little pale,” teased Dad. I shot him a murderous look. “You think you’re so funny,” I breathed softly. He stared straight ahead with a deadpan expression, but you could see the twinkle in his eye. I hated him. “Soiled pants or not, another word out of you and you’re a dead man.” I threatened, but the rascal stayed silent. I counted his taciturnity as a small mercy.

The next twenty minutes were pure torture. It took all of my willpower to concentrate on not thinking about the immense cystic pressure. I used the twenty minutes to contemplate the irony of the situation. I also developed a powerful religious inclination in that length of time, throwing myself at the feet of every deity I could think of to deliver me. The gods were silent.

Finally the coach pulled off the motorway and trundled slowly into a rest stop. It was as if the bus driver was deliberately taking his time to pull over, but I kept my counsel, for the old crone behind me was giving me the evil eye. I decided the seconds I could save were not worth bothering the driver. At long last the coach door lurched open, and I leapt down the aisle. I thundered towards the restroom, the long-anticipated answer to the call of nature firmly within my grasp. Alas, it was not meant to be. As I rounded the corner to salvation, I sunk into the miry bogs of despair. A long line of equally hapless damsels snaked from a lone door, and one had just only scooted in. I could only hear the joyous grunts of sweet release from the outside, and I lost heart, and in my despair, I gave up.

It was at that moment Dad decided to show up. “Woe is me,” I said bitterly, hanging my head glumly. Wordlessly, he folded me in his arms and handed me a bag containing a fresh change of clothes. “Not a word to Mum,” I sniffled after a moment, and he nodded mirthlessly, miming zipped lips. Neither of us wanted to have to explain it to her.

It was a bizarre event, not to say the least. It was kept strictly between the two of us for a matter of years, before Dad leaked it one fine day after he had had one too many drinks, after which it entered the annals of infamy amongst our relatives. I for one thought often about it in the days and weeks that followed, at first with much embarrassment and resentment about the whole affair, and far more objectively later on. With the advantage of rose-tinted hindsight, I eventually learnt to see it as a rather harmless episode. Certainly, I should have been more prudent and visited the toilet before a long road trip. I could have exercised more restraint, bearing with the thirst, and even though I have buried the hatchet with Dad, I still think he was partly to blame for my indignity, for there is such a thing as going too far.


This essay was originally written for the question: Write about a time when you did not succeed in an endeavour. How has it impacted your life?