Behind the Mask

The windowpane is spotless after one last wipe of a cloth. My reflection smiles at me, relieved to have finished another week’s chores. Red and orange streaks paint the sky like an artist’s canvas on this crisp fall evening. As usual, the tall, slim man turns onto my street carrying his metal cane. His brown, round hat rests on his head, and his alert eyes sitting behind a pair of rimless glasses notice the approaching woman. She is dressed in a deep red jacket and black yoga pants. I watch them stroll towards each other and cross directly in front of my house. The disposable masks hide their facial expressions. As they pass, their encounter seems a little awkward; they make eye contact, exchange a couple of words, and hesitate before leaving each other behind. Shortly, they are well past each other. I turn back to my room, ready to binge-watch tv shows for the rest of the day. 

The Tall, Slim Man

The retired man returns to his quiet, dreary apartment. He proceeds to his kitchen and begins to boil water on the burning stove. When the kettle whistles, he pours the steaming water into his favorite purple mug along with a teabag. He sits on the firm, brown couch. The man remains sitting listlessly in place until the sun sets. Every so often, he glances at a photo that sits on a square wooden table beside him. It is a white-haired lady with charming blue eyes. You can tell she was kind by the smile lines next to her eyelids. He feels the absence of his wife now more than ever. Finally, he gets up from his seat to check his mailbox, expecting a letter from one of his friends. He pulls the screechy hinges open to reveal two envelopes: his electrical and water bill. He shrugs his shoulders, knowing his hopes shouldn’t have been so high. It had been four months since he had seen his friends. Covid-19 put his weekly poker nights to an end. Finally, bored and devoid of ideas to keep busy, he goes to bed in his hushed abode even though it was still early in the evening. The following morning, he gets ready with excitement. He hastily shoves his sneakers on and grabs his hat off the hook. Flinging the door open and hurrying out, he once again leaves for a walk, wishing for some company. Today might present that opportunity to befriend another soul and a few minutes to escape from the devastating loneliness.

The Woman with the Red Coat

The busy mother of three returns to her disordered house. She barely makes it into the door before the youngest of her children comes from the other room and begs her to carry him. She hoists him into her arms as she calls the rest of the family for dinner. Two girls come racing down the stairs, followed by their dad. The woman makes eye contact with her husband, but he shakes his head, and his eyes flicker towards his feet. Both parents don’t want their children to worry about their father struggling to find another job ever since he was laid off in April. Fortunately, the woman’s extra shifts at her restaurant kept the family afloat during these demanding months. After dinner, a surge of papers needing signatures and homework questions swarm the mother. She begrudgingly helps her kids so her husband can return to his job search in peace. Eventually, all her children fall asleep. Late nights were typical for her with the new circumstances. She enjoys a short night’s sleep before her kids’ call for breakfast wakes her up. Exhausted, she hauls herself out of bed and cooks a batch of pancakes, which receives cheers from the kids; at least her children were having a thrilling morning. She manages to squeeze in a shower and puts on the same pants from yesterday. While her kids are in their online classes, she leaves to go on a walk, escaping the mayhem and hoping for serenity. The next few minutes might present that opportunity to avoid another soul and the solace of some loneliness.

The Tall, Slim Man and The Woman with the Red Coat 

The tall elderly man notices the woman approaching. He clears his throat and adjusts his hat. Although he wears a mask, he smiles with his imploring eyes. The woman is getting closer but seems lost in the music blasting through her headphones. She lifts her gaze and lets out a weary sigh before encountering him. The old man greets her, “Hello.” She cheerfully waves back. The man opens his mouth to speak, but the woman has her gaze set forward and continues walking purposely, leaving the man with unspoken words on the tip of his tongue. 

Their affable facades mask the man’s loneliness and the woman’s strain. Every day, before putting on a cloth mask, they wear another kind of mask: a metaphorical disguise that conceals their contrasting realities. What is visible outside my window is just a glimpse of a fleeting moment of their lives.

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