I breath. The scent of the city astounds me. I move. The hustle and bustle of the crowd ensues me, surrounds me. I feel. Strangers passing by, they stare, laugh, glare, as I swim against them, pushing through the others, parting the crowd, not fighting, I just have to get through.
Their eyes burrow into me, bullets, shooting me in the face, back, chest and I feel naked, exposed. I feel vulnerable.
Desperately, I pull my scarf up to cover my face, but it keeps slipping back down, disobedient as always. I reach back to grab my hood, but realise that I put on the wrong coat this morning.
The bullets continue to hit me from all angles, and now I hear the voices, mocking, ‘you aren’t one of us’ ‘you stand out’ ‘leave!’
I stumble, trip, cut my palms on the rough of the pavement and scrape my shoes on the concrete curb. My eyes are sealed shut as I absorb the pain, accept it. And then they open.
Before me is a gift. It lies on the pavement, facing me, watching me with the hollowed out, yet perfect eyes; a mask. I reach for it, pull it onto my face. Relief.
I smile. But they don’t know that. I stand. They don’t notice. Their bullets ricochet off me now, no longer puncturing my skin, no longer hurting me. I am one of them. I have my mask.
And with this mask, I am invincible.
I run through the crowd and no one bats an eye. I laugh and giggle but no one can tell. No one can hurt me, no one can say a word against me because I am accepted; with my mask I am protected from all.
The crowd parts for me willingly, people smile, allowing me to pass. ‘You are one of us’
No one can touch me. I leap and dance through the streets, singing, laughing, inhaling the scent of the city, feeling…nothing.
Not a person can touch me, they can’t even come near me. I can’t feel their warmth, I can’t even feel the wind on my face.
My mask doesn’t protect me, my mask doesn’t make me invincible. With my mask I am invisible.
I have been tricked; I’m not accepted, I am hidden. Panic. I have to get it off, remove the mask, free myself so I can once again breath the air of the city, feel the people around me, even their bullets, I don’t care anymore. Just let me feel something.
The mask is stuck. What I once thought was a loose elastic string securing it to my face is now a leather strap with a buckle, pulled tight. It won’t budge. It is fastened to me.
My breathing rate increases, I can taste my own breath as the air underneath the mask grows warm with it. I scream. No one outside can hear me. I begin to cry. No one can see the tears.
‘Help’ I shout, but it comes out as nothing more than a whisper. ‘Please, I don’t want this mask anymore…’