City of Masks
Marc Lowe


There is something in the air. It makes people sick, makes them suicidal. They cannot inhale too deeply for fear that it will drive them mad. The people wear masks, white masks over their noses and mouths, covering up the orifices in their faces so as to keep the demons out. They walk about the city like this, their visages hidden, only their dark brown eyes and black hair left to meekly define themselves. They are like ghosts, seemingly alive yet already dead. Can this really be called living? Is this really life?


They avoid looking at or brushing up against another, for to do so would mean certain death, would shatter the other's fragile body into fragments. Those eyes that do not look are ringed in purple-black, reddened, vacant. Hollow eyes, glazed over, not focused on anything at all. As they wander about, fearing the air they breathe, they forget that they are human, forget that they are made of flesh and blood and bone. They might as well be floating five feet above the floor, might as well be lying in a cold grave, stiff as a board.


This is the City of Masks, where no one dares go anywhere without first covering up their faces. They do not speak, do not communicate except through vague, slight gestures. They only nod or bow slightly to express something, but mostly they just walk, walk anywhere, no apparent goal in sight, no particular direction in which to go. Watching them is like watching zombies on a movie screen, like watching comatose patients try to move about. Without their masks, it is doubtful they'd be able to do anything at all.


What separates them from us is this: They are unawares, while we see it all clearly. Yet it is true that we, too, are afraid to breathe the air. That we, too, wear white masks over our noses and mouths. That we, too, do not look directly at our fellow masked men, avoid brushing up against them, touching any part of their bodies for fear that something bad might happen. But we -- we are focused, we are cognizant, we can reflect on the situation with an unfettered mind. We are awake! aware! alive! We are free!!


And yet do we suffer. And yet do we not see things clearly. And yet do we forget we are flesh and blood and bone. It is all a pack of lies! We are no different than they, they no different than we! Our masks hide not only our faces, they also hide our fears; we are afraid, we do not sleep well at night, we do not look at each other, touch each other, love each other. No one in the City of Masks can ever be truly awake or aware or alive. No one in the City of Masks ever escapes. Are you listening? Do you hear me? Hello?


There is something in the air. It makes people sick, makes them suicidal. They cannot breathe, cannot think. They stumble about, their white masks plastered to their pained faces. I stand and watch the spectacle through the lens of my digital camera. The shutter clicks, clicks again, then again and again. Soon, I am standing alone in the middle of an abandoned city street, waiting for you to return, to tell me through your white mask that it's all right, that the air is clean, the water safe. Exhausted, I lie down, play dead. I wait.