The Mask

'Can you please take your mask off?'

I'm sitting leisurely stretched out on a bench in the afternoon sunshine when this voice comes drifting down from above me. I'm in town getting new tyres for my car, and have got time to waste, so I'm enjoying some rare downtime. Having wandered in and out of a few shops, without stealing hardly very much at all, I'm wearing the regulation Covid-mask required now for entering premises. In spite of the big signs on all the doors and shopfront windows, politely requesting all customers to be considerate, do the right thing and cover their faces, when lining up in the post office, of all places, I hadn't failed to notice that at least one in every four or five people were not wearing a mask. Judging from the way they were greeted casually by their first names by the staff behind the counter, they appeared to be locals.

Beware the local yokel, because they will always be above the law. Tadating-tating-tating-tating. There goes the banjo in the background ... As a local AND as a banjo player I take great exception to that. The majority of all those people here milling around me are locals, and, by the evidence of their face coverings, they don't feel the need to place themselves above the rules.

As always, it's the very few that spoil it for everyone else. There's a killing disease going around. You get it from being breathed on, and, in terms of minute particles of moisture suspended in and travelling through the air, from what essentially amounts to being spat on. One easy way to avoid passing it on to other people, if you're unlucky enough to get it, is by putting a barrier between your breathing orifice and the wider outside world. That same barrier will protect you from getting it from anyone else. While for the last 18 months there have been wildly conflicting reports from all corners of the world regarding the severity of the disease, with claims ranging from "a negligible little cold" to "a feeling akin to trying to carry an elephant up a set of stairs covered in mud with one hand tied behind your back and with the world's worst hangover", notable first-hand survivor reports describe it as "having your lungs filled with glass". To my mediocre non-medically trained puny layman's mind that sounds like a good thing to avoid getting, especially if all it takes is putting a two-dollar thing on your face for five minutes.

But somehow and somewhere, there are people who take great exception to this. They claim unreasonable and unwarranted invasions of their privacy, and a violation of their civil rights as an individual. How their inalienable personal freedom and rights include passing a potentially deadly disease on to any number of random other people is not overly frequently expounded upon. 'Hah!' they are fond of saying, as they push their tin foil hats a bit further back on their heads for a good old scratch, 'It's a conspiracy! It's a scam by The Government to take away our freedoms and control us! You're being sucked in! It's part of the world-wide dictatorship that's coming!'. Eyes often roll back in the head of the person uttering these things, and it not uncommon for them to start speaking in tongues, which, when translated, are supposed to proclaim that the End Of The World Is Coming, And It's All Your Bloody Fault. Upon closer examination however they often more closely resemble the sounds made by a five-year old trying to imitate a particularly impressive motorbike, with their two front teeth missing. The fact that, upon questioning, these people who profess a total and absolute lack of faith and confidence in the government of the day imposing these harsh, undemocratic and unnecessarily punitive laws also turn out to be the ones who voted for the bastards in the first place, is often failed to be satisfactorily explained. 'Yeah nah but, ... mumble mumble ...,' they will elucidate, when pressed, before rallying magnificently with a loud, proud and triumphant '... that's exactly what they want you to think! See?!'.

It has to be admitted that this is a cast-iron, rock-solid, waterproof argument. If nothing is as it seems, because They want you to think It Is What It Is Not, and if you are smarter than Them, and work out They Are Lying, than any evidence proving They Are Not Lying will be merely rejected with a sneer and a knowing shaking of the head, more often than not accompanied by a conspiratorial tapping of the nose with the finger. Should however it come to pass that seemingly irrefutable evidence comes to light that proves that, in actual point of fact, They Were Indeed Lying From The Very Start, Naughty, Naughty, then this will do no more than to prove that they just want you to think they were lying, and that you were right to think they were wrong in the first place. And so it goes around in self-perpetuating circles. Pass me the tin foil please, I can feel the radiation building up around my head.

Remember, it's not just because you're paranoid that They're not out to get you. And They are an organisation of breathtaking breadth, width, depth, reach, influence, perfidy, malevolence and audacity, including everyone and everything from Wikipedia, the Nobel Peace Prize Selection Committee and the International Condom Manufacturers Association, right through to the the State Advisory Board For Small And Insignificant Rodents, the Cleaning Contractors For The Coles Carpark, and the Easter Bunny.

'Can you please take your mask off?'

So look up from the innocuous book I've been reading, a treatise on The Secret Sex Life Of Trees, Their Kinky Desires And Their Filthy Personal Habits. It's a page turner, and, sitting still in the sun, I had been getting drowsy and had been half nodding off.

I swivel my head, praying-mantis-style, to take in the fella addressing me like this. He's tall, rangy, pale-faced and malnourished looking, with long dreadlocks, and dressed mostly in black. In the split-second it takes to assess these things, in these situations of confrontation where a potential opponent is sized up and his measure is being taken, with the brain processing input at a level infinitely faster than, say, a middlingly obese and asthmatic poodle waddling towards a bowl labelled "food", I realise two things. 1) I had spied this character a little while before outside the pub, where he was at the time busy rolling a smoke and generically standing around looking unhealthy; and 2) he's a fuckwit.

A quick check to the top of his head reveals a surprising lack of tin foil hat. However, The Wearing Of The Tin Foil Hat, while being perfectly capable of being manifested in physical reality, is also and potentially even more so, A State Of Mind.

The fella stands there and stares at me.

'Can you please take your mask off?'

There was only one answer.

'Fuck off!'

He fucked off.