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The Intimidation of the C People
When you’re not allowed to look at anything else, the cracks in the sidewalk prove to be interesting spectacles. The prospect of observing profiles of human faces is a fleeting hope in a world of masked features that never experience the warmth of sunlight. Faint, shallow breaths arduously escape as I struggle to push air through my lungs. The hot plastic of my disguise singes the skin off my face, one vulnerable cell at a time. Living has become a laborious chore, a burden rather than a gift.
Unfortunately, the cracks in the sidewalk lead better lives than any of us. Perhaps life would be better if we all lived as inanimate objects. Cracks in the sidewalk are inanimate, but they decide which parts of the cement to split, and at what time to diverge. None of us wearing the mask possess the opportunity to decide anything.
Another epiphany strikes as I study the worn, beaten path the sidewalk provides. Even a sidewalk portrays personality. Some are grainy and some are smooth. Some are cracked from age and prevalent exploit, while others are sheer perfection from disuse. But those of us who wear the mask, those of us who bear the letter C, we are all the same. We possess no defining characteristics other than those no one sees. The ones they destroyed with the letter C.
At one time, my parents told me stories of the world when they flourished in childhood. They told my brother and I stories of beautiful people who shared the world. Back then, the masks didn’t exist, and the letter C was only a whispered rumor. The letter C was the most shameful letter of the alphabet, but today it is the most demeaning. My parents said before I was born, the world consisted of different “cultures”. I don’t understand the word because it pertains no meaning to me. My mother said it was a word used to describe the values of a group of people. In my confusion, I only understood that at one time people were different from each other.
My father whispered that these different “societies”, he called them, rarely agreed about anything, but they made the world a stunning place. At one time he compared the world to a palate of colors, but I didn’t know these colors existed. My father explained they are different tints of what we see now.
I looked at him and frowned. “What do I see now, daddy?”
“Darling, you only see shades of grey.” I couldn’t tell for sure, but it appeared water was trickling out of his mask.
I extended my arm to touch the wetness. “Daddy, what are these?”
“Sweetie, these are tears.”
“Tears?” I asked doubtfully.
“Yes, honey, tears. They come when you’re sad.”
“Yes, darling, sad.” Her father said quietly.
“Daddy, what is sad?”
“Why, it’s an emotion, pumpkin.’
Daddy turned away from me then. He wouldn’t answer anymore of my questions.
Walking down the sidewalk, I contemplate the obscure word. I repeated it over and over in my head until it droned together into a consonant sound. Emotionemotionemotion. I thought if I replicated the word enough times I would understand what it meant, but dismally the foreign word failed to keep my mind from noticing how itchy my mask had become. I painfully endeavor to ignore it. I need to ignore it until I arrive home, and then I can sneak off my mask and itch and no one will see. No one will see under my mask. No one will see I’m different. My daddy told me we’re all different, but they force us to cover the contrariety up.
“ They want us all to be the same”, daddy admonished. “They believe the world performs better without identity. They constructed this world deprived of emotion, this world of conformity,” he had spat, “because emotion drives people to disagree.” For a little while he seethed in silence, but eventually continued. “They took away artful expression. They stripped the human race of its ability to be diverse.”
My itch is burning fervently, and I realize I can’t wait for the safety of home. No, no, I can’t make it home without tending to my itch. Stealthily glancing through my eye holes, I observe a few C people milling around staring incandescently at the sidewalk, but I see none of them. Hesitantly, I reach and lift up the bottom of my mask. I sigh in relief and begin to itch, but instantly pounding footsteps accost my eardrums. It’s one of them.
I whimper behind my mask and cringe away from the hulking form cowering over me. One thing even the mask can’t change is our voice. His voice rang out in a guttural grunt. “Don’t.” I tried to meet the eyes behind the mask, but I am too distracted by the bold “I” stitched to the chest of his shirt. I heard my daddy whisper their names once. They’re called intimidators. I also heard him mutter something else, the “conformers”. I don’t know what he meant, but he was talking about us.
The memory intrigues me to look down at the letter C stitched to my shirt. I don’t know what a conformer is, but I know the word begins with the letter C. I also know the word intimidator begins with the letter I. They are our intimidators and we are their conformers. Surely, that’s what daddy meant.
“Leave it there.”
For the first time, I did something different. I took my mask off, and since we are conformers, everyone nearby did the same thing. They took their masks off too. My eyes were assaulted by a wave of brightness. I blinked, and squeezed by eyes shut. When I opened them, everything I saw was different. So this is color, I thought. Fervently, I scramble with the stitching on the front of my shirt, and drown in satisfaction when a sonorous rip resounds. I fling my letter C away from me like the infectious disease it is. In eagerness, I turn to the enlarging crowd whom no longer bear their disguises. They were all different! One person had slanted eyes and dark hair. Another had dark skin and even darker eyes. Yes, I thought, this is what it is to see in color.