There was a time when wearing a mask on your face when entering a bank or financial institution would raise eyebrows and get a person immediately detained by security, and almost assuredly arrested by police. Customers in the vicinity would react in fear for their own safety, likely scrambling and racing to get away from imminent danger. Someone behind a bank teller's booth would probably be pressing on a hidden panic button but panic and chaos would permeate rapidly all through the immediate area anyway. People would be crying or begging or praying, or conducting all three activities in the same instant, because someone walked in with a mask on their face. Danger! Danger! Danger!
Then the world was changed by a virus that rapidly spread its malevolent tentacles throughout the human race like an eerie science fiction movie, except it wasn't a movie, it was a real virus racing around the world, killing thousands of people daily. Since the onset of said pandemic, masks became a worldwide face addendum. Restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, churches, government buildings, - and yes, even financial institutions - absolutely everywhere new procedures, policies and rules swiftly became prevalent with the same message - cover your face, masks are mandatory here. Refusing to wear a mask could result in a large pecuniary penalty. Even though the courts had not yet established procedures and precedents by which to penalize offenders, the warning still loomed.
Vaxers and anti-vaxers became new terminology, which simply translates into vaccinated or unvaccinated. Discussions and debates about the pandemic became the normal dialog between people to the point of controlling most conversations.
In the local greasy spoon, where Eduardo always made the best soup every day, Emily and Melanie were sitting at a table for brunch before shopping. It was their usual Saturday tradition to grab a quick bowl of soup and a bun, and then spend the rest of their afternoon at the mall, since the re-opening of stores and public services, post-pandemic.
"We're double vaxed now, we did it last summer; my whole family did it together so we're perfectly safe", Emily dabbed her napkin to her mouth, her head bobbing back and forth in her typical cocky mannerism when she voiced her very important opinions. "I just don't understand why we all still have to wear masks when were double vaccinated. It's a pain in the butt, quite frankly. This virus is not going to control my life anymore" she announced. "I'm so over it now", her blond curls bounced back and forth and she rolled her eyes with impatience.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable sitting there with Emily in the tiny coffee shop, Melanie glanced around her to see who was listening to them, or rather who couldn't help overhearing her friend express her very important view. "Aren't you worried about catching it?" Melanie asked Emily in a quiet voice, almost a whisper, fidgeting and bracing for Emily's retort. She knew this was a risky conversation to embark on with her friend in a public place. Emily always thought everyone should know how she felt. "I don't think masks are a bad thing. I feel like it protects me from catching the virus and maybe from spreading it if I do get it."
Emily dismissed her friend's ridiculous notion with a wave of her hand in the air. "Everything will be perfectly fine" she assured her. "Hurry up and finish your soup. I want to go shopping now. Let's go!" she demanded her friend, at the same time pulling her mask back up over her face.
Melanie was also double vaccinated. She was vaxed because she thought it was the right thing to do for her health and safety, and also her moral obligation to the world in order to gain control of the pandemic that had taken over. Pushing her soup bowl away, she too pulled her mask over her face so she could walk past other people in the coffee shop, to the exit door.
Later that evening, the neighbourhood pub was fairly busy - as busy as the new health regulations permitted, that is. Fifty percent capacity was the new rule. People were chatting quietly amongst each other at various tables spread strategically apart from each other throughout the room, and the masked server was busy rushing around trying to keep up with people's thirsts. Pool balls clacked against each other and thudded against the side-bank of the pool table, a soft swishing sound every time a ball sunk in one of the pockets, while each player stood back from the table social-distancing from each other, another new pandemic expression, while waiting for their turn to pocket a ball or two. Their bantering and camaraderie could be heard over everyone else in the room.
"I'm not getting vaccinated ever" claimed Vincent loudly and proudly to his buddy sitting across the small square table from him. "Nobody has proved them safe yet so screw that" he declared. He picked up his beer and swilled the rest of it down, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, then pulled his mask up from under his chin to cover his mouth and nose because he wanted to walk across the room and use the bathroom. The new rules were very weird. His decision was final not to get vaccinated and solely based on his own interpretation of the endless information being fed to the people via top health doctors and political ministers from around the world, whose voices droned on and on everyday at 6 o'clock on the evening news on the television, and then again at eleven. New pandemic vaccinations had created a great divide. The world had changed. It wouldn't be for much longer that Vincent would be allowed in the pub because of his refusal to get vaccinated.
Yuri sat in his usual perch stirring his rum and coke with a short yellow straw, tinkling the ice against the glass, his face covered with his mask as always. He never took his mask off even though the current rules dictated he could when he's sitting at a table. He often he sat alone at that same table in the corner of the room, occasionally a friend would join him, but most times he was solo observing the activities in the bar and throwing the odd comment into a conversation he'd been eavesdropping on at another table. He'd even mastered a way to drink his beverage with his mask on his face, which he thought was clever and funny. He smiled to himself although nobody could tell he was smiling because he never took his mask off. He simply cut a hole in his mask and stuffed the straw through the hole. Very clever Yuri.
On this particular evening someone new to the area came into the pub and was immediately attracted to Yuri. "Do you mind if I sit with you?" she coyly asked him.
"Sure", Yuri replied, "although I don't think we're supposed to sit at the same table since we're strangers, but I'm double vaccinated, so if you are too, then I don't think it's a problem", he said. "The bartender doesn't necessarily follow all the rules anyway."
The two strangers exchanged names, "I'm Yuri", and "Hi, I'm Stella", but they didn't shake hands because that was discouraged nowadays in pandemic times. Stella got comfortable and took off her coat and her face mask. She noticed Yuri did not take off his mask and after a few minutes curiosity got the best of her. "What's with the mask? We're allowed to take them off while we're sitting at the table. You don't take yours off?
"No" he replied. "I usually leave it on but I guess .... Well.... they say a picture says a thousand words" and he yanked down his mask, exposing his Port-wine stained face, waiting for her reaction to what she saw. Stella looked at him, suppressing her surprise, the diagonal line that ran from the corner of his left eye and down the side of his nose, jutting across his mouth and chin, ending just under his chin. The line divided two colours of his facial skin, pasty white and deep purple. She composed herself and nodded at him.
"I've worn this mask all my life" he said pointing to his bare face. I've always felt a little different from everyone else, and it's caused a lot of emotional distress in my life, but now with the new pandemic rules, I can wear a real mask and be normal like everyone else." he laughed. "I can be "mask free", for once in my life, so I leave it on."