The masks we wear, the stories they tell

I went to the bank yesterday wearing a mask. The guard was happy to see me with the mask; so were the bank officers. They were all masked, too.

I never thought I would ever enter a bank wearing a mask. I certainly never imagined only those wearing masks would be allowed into a bank.

It was just three months ago when motorcyclists were asked to remove their helmets before entering a bank as they hid part of their faces. Now, however, banks will not allow you in if you don’t wear a mask.

The other day I spotted a long queue of masked people entering the police station, and the policemen were quite at ease. In fact, over the past two months or so, policemen have advised or instructed people on the road to wear a mask.

I don’t think any policeman would ever have thought there would come a day when he would actually tell someone to wear a mask.

I suppose it is a reflection of the times. It is not just that we are all wearing masks to reduce the spread of Covid-19; more than that, I think, is the fact that robbers hardly wear masks these days. Millions are stolen by politicians and others without the need to wear a mask or carry a pistol.

We have seen so clearly in recent years how those in position manipulate the system to rob the citizens of hundreds of millions and how some banks have been accomplices to this. A robber with a mask is an anomaly these days.

One of my favourite television shows in my younger days was The Lone Ranger. At the end of the show, someone would ask: “Who’s that masked man?” “Why, he’s the Lone Ranger,” would come the reply. He was the only one wearing a mask.

I suppose if you were to update the series for 2020, you’d have to have everyone wearing masks except the Lone Ranger. And the ending lines would be: “Who’s that maskless man?” “Why, he’s the Lone Ranger.”

Superheroes, of course, wear masks – or most of them do. Spider-Man, Batman, Green Arrow, Daredevil, Black Panther, Black Cat, and the Huntress are among the legions of comics characters who don masks to take on criminals who kill on a whim, egomaniacs who want to shape the world in their image, aliens out to subjugate earthlings, and sundry other denizens of the dark.

Here’s an idea for a new comics series: a world or city where all humans wear masks and where the heroes fly or swing around without masks, with names such as The Maskless Wonder or Faceflasher.

It may seem strange, even surreal, to see everyone moving about with masks. But the fact is, we have always worn masks. It’s just that we may not be fully aware of it or are afraid to admit it.

Politicians are the best examples of mask-wearers. It is common for a politician to utter one thing before a Malay crowd and another before a non-Malay crowd; it is common for a non-Malay politician to say one thing to a non-Malay crowd and another to a mixed crowd.

We have heard ministers, even prime ministers, support or tell Malay forums or their own party members that Malays and Islam are under threat and during national day celebrations say that we are all Malaysians and must remain as one and that this great nation is a model for other countries.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that politicians wear masks only when it comes to other races; no, they wear masks even among their own race or crowd.

The audios and videos recorded secretly and released by the opponents or followers of certain leaders are indication enough. Top leaders may, and do, say one thing to their confidantes and another to other party leaders seen as rivals or not toeing the line.

For instance, a party deputy president or vice-president may say in public that he backs the president all the way but then in the background he may be plotting to bring him or her down. This is part of politics, and we’ve seen it happen in Malaysia, as elsewhere.

But this is not confined to politicians. We are all guilty at one time or another of wearing masks.

Have you ever been in a situation where the counter clerk takes her own sweet time and although frustration and anger are scrambling within, you smile at her so as not to upset her and further delay your matter?

Have you ever been in a situation where your neighbour bakes and shares a cake with you and you say: “Hmmm… so delicious” when you think the best place for it is the garbage bin and not your stomach?

Have you ever been in a situation where your friend comes to visit and his children are not only loud but are all over the place, paying no attention to their mother’s entreaties whatsoever, and how, while wishing they’d just disappear, you smile and say: “They are so energetic, so fun.”

The truth is, we often wear masks but now, with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very obvious, very in-your-face.

While the physical masks may help save us from disease, the social masks that we wear help us maintain relationships.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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