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  • Ray Monde

Masks of quarantine: does hiding your face liberate your soul?

There are only 20 passengers on the plane from LAX. We’re shepherded along together, six feet apart. At passport control, a long darkened glass door blocks off all passport control. This is what closed borders look like. We’re escorted through an empty airport, handed off between police and army personnel.

They don’t tell us where we’re going. I’m grateful as the bus turns towards the city. Offloading on Sussex Street, we’re escorted by the airforce who carry our luggage to our rooms and secure the door behind us. I can’t leave this room for 14 days.

I have a lot to be thankful for. My room has a window that opens to fresh air. Side views to Darling Harbour and Sydney Tower. There’s a galley kitchen, washing machine. A knock at my door. Opening it, no one’s there. Corridors empty. Just a brown paper bag of food at my feet. This knock-and-run happens twice a day, every day until I get out.

I don’t know why I put the brown paper bag over my head. But it reminds me of the mask I wore every time I went outside last year. Reminds me of the barriers we built between us and it. The threat of COVID-19. In the end, the mask became a kind of comforter. Even at home, I would find myself pulling it up over my mouth and nose to quell feelings of anxiety.

I tear up some paper I have to create a mask. A quarantine mask. The end result is frightening; a Danish, tear-streaked ghoul. Next day, one of my oldest friends from high school sends me a pot plant. I cry as I bring it into my room – and I make a green man mask to talk to the plant. Next day, another brown paper bag, another mask. And another, and another and another.

I set up a tableaux wearing the mask. It’s weird. It’s liberating. I realise I can be anything and do anything with this mask on. And it makes me realise, that the COVID mask I had been wearing all year, actually wasn’t a hindrance. It brought me freedom.

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