If You Are Exempt From Wearing a Face Mask… 

“If you are exempt from wearing a face mask, please inform…”

Reva interrupted the “pleasant-sounding” British woman’s voice over the intercom to ask her dear friend and traveling companion, Helen, “Exempt from wearing a face mask? How is anyone exempt from wearing a face mask?”

Helen shrugged, “They could have breathing problems, I guess. Can’t be walking around suffocating when you’ve already got respiratory issues, now can you?”

Reva adjusted uncomfortably in her dirty, faux leather chair, as the two had been sitting like logs at the airport for the past three hours. They had posted up in a seating area between a Pret-a-Manger and a Starbucks—sign o’ the times, one could say. She then replied in defiance, “But wouldn’t contracting a disease by not wearing a mask exacerbate the condition in question? Isn’t an ‘exemption’ from wearing a mask ultimately more damaging to these types of people?”

Helen scratched the top of her head vacantly, not really giving much of a shit about this conversation—preferring instead to sit in silence so as to accommodate what little brain power she had left at the moment. Nonetheless, to placate Reva, she answered, “You’d think.”

Reva was getting irritated with Helen’s blasé attitude about the entire thing. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

Helen sighed, increasingly bored by Reva’s line of questioning. “Does what bother me?”

“That some people are just ‘exempt’ because of some pussy claim of ‘can’t breathe’ while the rest of us have to suffer and suffocate?”

Trying not to yawn as she responded, Helen reminded, “That’s the way life goes, innit?”

Reva sneered. “Is it? Is that the way life goes, or is that how we all willingly allow bureaucracy to make it?” 

“I really can’t speak to that right now, Reev. I’m too fucking tired to care about my rights being trampled on.”

Reva became even more animated as she rebutted, “Don’t you see? That’s just it! That’s the fucking problem! That’s what they count on. Make us all so goddamn knackered with adhering to their arbitrary, nonsensical rules that we’ve no fight left in us to even think about how much we’re being abused.”

Helen took a sip of the coffee dregs from her Pret-a-Manger cup as, at that very moment, the announcement over the intercom repeated again: “If you are exempt from wearing a face mask, please inform…”

Reva seethed, “I can’t bloody stand this post-9/11, post-Covid dystopian nightmare! It’s extended far beyond just travel, goddammit!”

Helen was looking worried now—Reva was starting to draw attention. And drawing attention in a climate of this nature was an undeniable detriment. If Reva kept carrying on this way, Helen wouldn’t be surprised if both of them ended up being detained in some “secret” room. Thus, Helen did her best to placate her long-time friend with, “You know, there have been many articles put out recently on why the state of things isn’t technically a dystopia.”

Reva’s eyes flashed like a demon’s and, as soon as she finished her sentence, Helen knew it was the worst possible conciliation she could have provided, for it only set Reva’s rant off all the more. And as Helen watched Reva’s diatribe escalate as though she were a character giving a monologue on TV, she remembered the first time she met Reva. It was on a bus bound for Camden. When Helen’s Oyster card failed to work after multiple swipes and a legitimate expression of incredulity. The bus driver tried to eject her from the vehicle, but Reva, a regular enough passenger on the route to have ostensible clout, rose from her seat and proceeded to deliver an impassioned speech about having faith in “the people” and believing in the “honor system” for public transportation the way the Germans do. The bus driver heard her case with something of a gleam in his eye and waited for her to finish before replying, “If you can pay ‘er fare, she’s welcome to stay on.”

And so, that’s just what Reva did, vouching for Helen in more ways than one, and for what would not be the last time. Helen never forgot that instant of kindness that turned them into the best of friends. But it was only now, as she saw Reva’s latest polemic unfold that she could understand how that initial polemic was coming from the same place of rage. That rage itself was never “benevolent,” as Helen had first interpreted it to be from Reva. Reva—whose voice kept raising several octaves with each new affront expressed. The ability of certain others to be exempt from wearing a mask was the catalyst for her to unpack rampant systemic injustice designed to fuck over the law-abiding simps. The fools who still believed that, so long as one played the part of “good citizen,” they would be accordingly rewarded. Whereas Reva, she announced, knew the truth: only “the fuck-ups and defectives” were rewarded for anything in this backward society. 

Helen wanted to reach out her hand to Reva, to comfort her in some way and show her that it would be all right (even though she, like everyone with sentience, knew that it would not be). But Helen knew that Reva was too worked up by this point, too far gone. After all, Helen had seen enough previous examples of her choleric flare-ups and, because of this, she was aware that the only thing to do was let the rant run its course. 

It was just unfortunate that said course had to be right here, right now—in this very public and very official place. By the time Reva was done talking about how everyone is a slave to the government, the “proper” authorities arrived to escort her away. And, unlike her friend had done for her when they first met, Helen did not vouch for Reva, pretending she had no idea who this mad woman was. Helen really just wanted to get home without incident, like the rest of the “good citizens” about to board their flights. 

As she watched a thrashing, screaming Reva being restrained, the announcement once more urged, “If you are exempt from wearing a face mask, please inform…”

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