Welcome to QWF series ‘Chronicling the Days’, specifically for this strange uneasy time of coronavirus and pandemic, of social distancing and self isolation, of lockdown and quarantine.
In April 2020, we invited writers in Quebec to submit a story – of a single day at this time, because while we’re all living through this time, we know that we’re not all living through it in the same way. To stay connected – to know how we’re getting on. Every story valid.
Submissions have now closed for the series but we’ll be continuing to publish the pieces throughout May. Keep an eye for them here, or join us on the QWF FB Community page, and let the authors know if their words resonated.
This piece is by Mariam S. Pal, writing on Monday, April 20, 2020.
My masquerade begins. I wipe off my red lipstick, adjust the mask’s folds up over my nose and down onto my chin. I‘m careful the elastics do not get ensnared in my earrings as I slide the straps over the backs of my ears. Wearing a mask in public is my new routine. Exiting the car, I look around. Many faces are covered.
Masks are part of the new pandemic parlance. The Rolls Royce of masks? The N95! Does anyone alive not know what “P.P.E.” stands for? Sewing homemade fabric masks is the new hip lockdown hobby. It’s cool to have a sewing machine. I heard there is a worldwide shortage of elastic. Mere months ago it was a rare sight to see a mask-covered face on the streets of downtown Montreal. Today, they’re everywhere, even my suburban Canadian Tire parking lot.
A final check in the car mirror. My mask, which I sewed myself, has turquoise polka dots and navy blue bows on it. It goes with my outfit. A pandemic fashion statement. It’s cold for mid-April so I’m wearing a hat. The bottom half of my face is obscured in fabric. My eyes, framed by glasses, dominate my face.
The woman in the mirror looking back at me is a little unfamiliar. She looks like she is wearing a niqab or even a burqa. Although I am a Muslim, half Pakistani and have spent a considerable amount of time in Pakistan, I’ve never worn, or even tried on a veil. So this is how it feels. A little suffocating.
Waiting for my garden soil and mulch, my mind goes back to last year. The news was all about Bill 21, now Québec law, which bans religious face and head coverings by public sector employees. In 2020, secular face coverings are worn for health reasons, backed up by science.
Masks are increasingly part of our daily pandemic lives. As of today, you cannot board an airplane without one. I wonder, what does the woman who wears a niqab do? Remove her religious face covering and replace it with a medically mandated face covering?
I smiled at the harried Canadian Tire clerk who brings my purchases to the car. Why doesn’t she smile back? But then I remember she can’t see my mouth. I think of veiled women I’ve encountered in Pakistan. They are experts in nonverbal expression, using their eyes to convey messages. In the pandemic era, is this a new communication skill I should learn?
My car smells of cedar mulch. I slam the trunk closed and thank the clerk with a pandemic farewell – stay safe! Driving away, I turn on the radio and catch the Québec premier answer a journalist’s question at a news conference. “…. Face masks are not part of Québec culture….”