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We wear masks. Not flashy ones. No paint. No color. No choice, either. We wear the masks because we have to. One doesn’t remember the first stitching. One was young, just a child. Days old. Gross. Bare. Unequal. The first time hurt the most because it was unnatural. One would cry for their mother or father but would receive no assistance. At such a young stage, one could not even tell the mother from the father, or either parent from the stitcher. Simplicity is beauty.
As the face grew the masks were replaced. The stitchers waited as long as possible so that the strings would pull, longer, harder, making every waking moment a reminder of darker times. Then they would perform the surgery and replace the mask.
I get my tenth mask at age four. It hurt but I no longer cry. It is nothing new. I look forward to the procedure. There is a moment where the mask is off and I feel free. Air touches my imperfect skin. I know it is wrong to like the freedom but I like it anyway. I keep the thoughts to myself. Such thoughts are not welcome now.
I also hate the stitchings. I hate sitting on the board. I once asked for a bed and was slapped. “There will be no comfort here.” he said. “This is a time for punishment, not luxury.” I cannot help enjoying the moment when the old lines are cut. My skin goes to its natural place. I know it is not fair for me to enjoy my face but I do. I believe we all do but we cannot say.
Then of course comes the pain. The new lines are put in. I look up into the eye slits of my stitcher. The wooden mask leaves it all to the imagination. I have seen the mask before, since it is the one we all have, but my eyes cannot leave it. The perfectly round eyes. The jagged and carved smile, an artificial happiness mutual to us all.
But we are happy, and we must not think otherwise. These are good times, better times. I am selfish for thinking otherwise. I deserve the new lines.
The stitcher makes new holes for new lines. That way we feel new pain. It is necessary. The stitcher finishes the job and I am normal again.
There is an incident at school. Boy Ten had gone to the bathroom. Something came over Boy Ten. He returned. Disgusting. We see what we are in our terrible state. Blood runs down his body from where the mask was stitched. The color of the blood covers his clothing and makes it look different. Wrong.
He has hair around his face. It is spotty and raw. He has also washed the paint out of his hair. It is bright now, like his hair on his face. We do not know what to think of it because we have not seen such colors before. It is just bright and it is bad. He is smiling but not a wooden smile like us. It is tilted at the sides and does not go far enough up.
Teacher takes a sheet and covers his face with it. We thank Teacher. Teacher takes Boy Ten down the hall. We do not see him again. I am now Boy Ten in class.
My mother and father fight in the bedroom. I walk in and my mother is holding something. I cannot tell what it is but I know that it is not allowed. It does not fit the color regulation code. My father is telling her that but she is not listening. She says that she needs it. She says that it is unfair that she cannot have it. I go out of the bedroom and leave the house. My mother is not well.
I have heard in hushed circles that there used to be hair on the ground that grew on the surface. I do not believe such words.
I walk on the pavement, the same ground as everywhere else. There is nothing special here. Or anywhere. Over the past seventeen years of my life nothing special has happened here. Just as He intended it.
Fellow people walk down the streets with me and against me, all the same. They all smile at me and I smile back. You never know who is behind the mask. It could be friend, relative, or stitcher. I hope one day to be a stitcher. Nobody is more revered in society, nobody more just. I used to dream about being free from the mask, but I now realize that it is a part of me. The mask allows me to prosper and be acceptable.
I get home and I can hear my mother crying. She is gripping her object. She tells me to come over.
“It’s just so unfair. Why can’t I have this beauty?” I dare not speak. It is dangerous to talk to radicals. I am not safe. She cries some more. She moves her hand to her mask. I tense up. If she moves, I will have to take action. It is what the stitchers would do.
She takes her fingers and reaches into the mouth slit, touching her face. My rage unleashes itself.
“You are vile. Obsessed with this beauty. You are too weak.” I take her object and crash it to the ground. She looks up at me. I can see through her mask. I see her animal face. “You need to be taught.”
She sobs louder. “Please, not you too. Please don’t, son.” I take the paddle that my dad used to use on me when I too was thinking poorly. She starts to back away but she is not fast enough.
It cracks over her stomach and stifles her. She gags as the second blow hits her in the face. She falls unconscious as her mask breaks in two. I look away from the abomination and see my father in the doorway.
“Take her to the stitcher. Take this.” I hand him the paddle. I glance back at her. “Pathetic.”
I walk away, a true avenger of justice.