Issue 57 Feb 2018
Phillip squeezed the brakes of his bike and skidded to a halt outside the shop. Hanging in the window behind an assortment of dusty antiques was a mask made of black leather with bulbous glass eyes and a curving beak. An alien probably – perfect for the costume competition at his homecoming dance. The theme this year was outer space, and with something like this, he might actually win.
Chaining his bike to a railing, he went into the shop to find out how much it was. The place was small, but crammed with exotic looking goods – wooden furniture covered in elaborate carvings, leather-bound books with raised bands on their spines, taxidermy animals in glass cases. The light was dim and a faint smell of damp hung in the air.
Phillip moved along the aisles and spotted a counter at the back, where an old man in spectacles was reading a book. Dressed in a suit that was at least two sizes too big, he had a tangled grey beard and pointed ears. Being careful not to touch anything, Phillip moved towards him. His arrival seemed to have gone unnoticed, so he coughed politely.
The old man looked up from his book with a start. “Can I help you?”
“I’m interested in the alien mask in the window,” Phillip replied.
The old man opened his mouth to speak and then gave a loud sneeze. He wiped his nose with the end of his beard. “Sorry about that, I have a dust allergy.”
Phillip raised his eyebrows, around at the grimy surfaces around him. Could there be a worse place for someone with a dust allergy to work? “About the alien mask...”
“It’s a plague doctor mask, actually,” the man interrupted. “It once belonged to the commedia dell’arte in Italy. Have you heard of the commedia dell’arte? I can sell you a book about them if you’d like.”
His back to the sunshine, he shifted the weight of his backpack between both shoulders.
“Are your ears made of rubber or something, dork?”
He kept walking. I noticed the stares when he came by, then whispering. I turned in the opposite direction.
Busy. I’m busy…..
He was still there; I couldn’t deny it. I tried to pretend I couldn’t hear the taunts aimed at him. Somehow the fact that he was actually the one who couldn’t hear didn’t make what I was doing feel less like a crime. No, it made me feel more like a criminal for doing nothing to stop what was happening.
Busy. I’m busy….