A short story about equality.
I look carefully into the mirror as I put on my hood. I have to make sure that it fits properly over my eyeglasses, which are small and discreet. Few people still wear them, but my eyes are sensitive and contacts an uncomfortable option. Dangerous actually. I had terrible infections when I was a child. My twin sister did, too, but she finally opted for corrective surgery.
Before putting on my gloves, I have to make sure that my hood is securely fitted to my shirt collar. The clips around the back are hardest to adjust, and I usually get my husband to help me with them, but he left early today. He wanted to finish his duties at work early so that we could spend more of the evening together. It’s my birthday.
After doing my best to attach my hood, I put on my gloves. All the accessories are lightweight, made of natural cotton, and you almost forget you wear them after putting them on. That’s good, because you must wear them when you are in public.
We started wearing them years ago. I was still a small child. There was a plague at the time, the government said, and this was our last recourse. Most will agree that it worked, one way or another.
In the mirror next to the front door, I give myself one last glance to ensure everything is in place, then I leave. I have an appointment with my sister.
Every year for our birthday, we meet in the market and buy food to prepare for our evening meal. We never spend our birthdays together anymore, and there have been some years where we have been unable to find each other for our yearly ritual, but I think we have that worked out now. Since our birthday is in the early summer, we have the best selection of fruits and vegetables to choose from, so it’s always a pleasure to spend and hour or so at market with her to shop.
It’s the only time we get to spend with each other.
By now I’m used to seeing everyone else on the street wearing hoods and gloves. While we get to choose what to wear otherwise, we are still limited to high collared shirts or jackets so that we can attach our hoods, and by now most people wear simple clothing. Most times, unless someone’s proportions are drastic, I can’t tell most women or men from each other. No one is vain anymore. There is no beauty to see.
It’s quiet, too.
The silence continues as I reach the market, where it’s nearly crowded to capacity already. No one talks. They type messages into their communication devices, or directly into consoles at each market stall. Transactions are conducted quickly and silently.
My sister and I always meet at mid-morning on our birthday at the stall with fresh tomatoes. We both love them. As I make my way through the crowd I notice a strong wind picks up. I worry about my hood, and I hope that I’ve clipped it properly to my collar in the back. As the wind continues, I feel the fabric of my hood jostle on my head. The breeze passes and I feel relief that my hood is still intact, and I can see the glorious red tomatoes stacked in a stall not far ahead of me.
I approach the tomatoes and start feeling them for ripeness. By the time I find several I still feel for more. I sense someone next to me, and notice that someone else is checking the produce. This person is not my sister. Whoever it is, is too tall to be her. The eyes of our hoods meet and there is a brief nod of acknowledgement. The person quickly retrieves several of the tomatoes to put them into a bag that another person behind is carrying. They walk together arm in arm around the stall, probably to go pay.
As the tall person walks away I see another hooded person standing and looking directly at me. From the way the hooded head is tilted to one side curiously, I can tell it is my sister. I hold up a ripe tomato in front of my face as if to show her not the fruit, but my identity.
Quickly, the hood nods in affirmation. She reaches out and quickly shakes my hand and grips it with the other. We lock eyes for a moment.
It’s been a year since I’ve seen her.
After a few long moments regarding each other, we begin to peruse the tomatoes together, in silence. Then another gust of wind assails the market. This time much stronger and more insistent. Before I know it my hood is starting to flap strongly in the breeze and nearly flies off of my head. If not for my eyeglasses, the hood would have flown free. My hands, encumbered with tomatoes, are unable to quickly address my escaping hood. I feel the fortunate catch between my eyeglasses and my hood begin to slip when something hits my head.
It’s my sister’s hand. She manages to hold my hood while I can free my hands from holding tomatoes and secure it. As I quickly try to secure it, I hear a commotion behind me. As I turn around and look it is the two hooded patrons who were also shopping at this stall.
Their bag of produce has fallen. Bruised and broken fruits litter the ground. The couple, still arm in arm, have both lost their hoods like I almost did. And there in the middle of the market did the fear of the old plague once again reveal itself. Everyone was looking at the two women, standing arm in arm, faces burning red with shame that they lost their hoods. Lost their security. Lost their anonymity.
“Leave!” someone says.
The two women scurry off and my heart aches for them. Whether sisters, lovers, or friends it doesn’t matter. They have been exposed and the plague could return. And this is why we wear the hoods and gloves. They hide us, and protect us. Without them, we are seen for who we are. Unfortunately, the plague never went away. It’s potentially behind any mask in the market.
I’m just glad that I was at the market with my sister on this windy day instead of my husband. I’m also glad that my sister helped her twin brother from losing his mask. Hatred is a terrible plague. Discrimination is a horrible disease. And that’s why we hide.
No one wants to suffer from the plague. No one.