Some years ago I stayed a night as a paying guest in a house on the San Blas Islands.
The San Blas Islands are a group of semi-autonomous islands off the coast of Panama.
So, I had part of a room and it was curtained off from another part where one of the members of the family slept.
The owner of the house took me through the rules of the house and pointed out to me a very small key that was hanging on a nail on the wall. He explained that it was the key to the toilet.
Then he took me outside and pointed to the toilet in question.
It was on a jetty – a rickety wooden jetty that stretched out into the sea and ended at a little sentry box way above the sea at the far end of the jetty.
The light was fading quickly and I didn’t want to make my way out over to the toilet in the dark, so I set out with the key in my hand and walked along the jetty, conscious of how quickly night was falling.
I fumbled with the lock and put the key carefully in my shorts.
I am not sure what I was expecting when I opened the door, but the toilet was just a hole in the floor.
That was fine with me, but I was conscious of the little key in my pocket as I crouched down.
I crouched there for a while, all the time conscious of the key. I didn’t want to lose it, so I stood up carefully – making sure that there was no chance the key would fall out of the pocket of my shorts.
I closed the lock and then started laughing quietly to myself and continued laughing all the way back to the room.
I left the next morning and I didn’t ask the owner of the house the question that was on my mind.
I didn’t because I didn’t want to risk insulting him. He obviously thought the key was important.
But the toilet was just a hole in the floor, so why the key and the lock?
It seemed hard to believe that someone would claim exclusivity over a hole in the floor high over the sea.
What was he guarding? Did his neighbours go out in the small hours and use his toilet and deny him the opportunity to use it when he wanted?
These are questions to which I will never know the answer, but I can enjoy the memory.