Westwind

Masquerade

Amanda Fung

The pumping music pounds at your lungs. It’s a drug, this place. Makes it so you can only take short breaths but hey, that’s what keeps the blood going. When the music stops, life stops.

Everyone’s got a mask—they don’t call it Club Masquerade for nothing—so there’s no such thing as identity. Eh, no one wants it anyway. Sure, it’s dangerous but it’s more fun that way. Besides, if you let the stars align in your favour every once in awhile, maybe you won’t walk out of the place empty-handed.

You’re standing with your foot propped up against the wall, head nodding to the bass. Your eyes are closed because the excessive sequins decorating the many masks in the room are reflecting the strobing lights—rather blinding when combined, FYI. Yours is a simple matte white, the only embellishments are black feathers protruding downwards, curving against your right cheek, and another few to frame your forehead. Asymmetry is in, you know.

You don’t know why you come, always come, but here you are. These people are lost, searching for a sense of self in other people [the irony] because they feel…what? Alone? Trapped? They want to be seen for something other than their face, want to abandon their past, so here they are.

But you. You are not lost. You are content with your life. You have everything going for you, your charming personality, your multitude of talents. Your family is forever loving and supportive, your friends are always there. You’re pretty much the crowd-favourite. There’s not a reason in the world why you should feel removed, dejected, hopeless. And you don’t.

So why the club? Maybe the nightlife clique intrigues you, and you want to know why you are you and they are them. Maybe you just like the music and its ability to drown your soul in its din. Maybe, despite your serenity, you still like living dangerously now and again.

Or maybe, you’re looking to save a despairing soul from this wretched populous.

When you make eye contact, you aren’t quite sure she’s even looking at you. She’s across the room, and the lights are still blinding. But you take the chance—we’ve all got to at some point—and maneuver through the dance floor until you’re face to face with the mystery girl.

You stand half a head taller than her—her hair is beautifully long, russet curls flipping every which way. The black mask accentuates her high cheek bones just so, and you think I’m done searching.

You mouth the word Hey, and she smiles brightly in return. At this point, you wish reallife had subtitles, because any attempt at speech is fruitless in such a pandemonic environment. You pull a slim spiral notebook out of your back pocket, scribble a message across its surface.

You want to get a bite to eat?

She raises an eyebrow at you, more for the notebook and the preparedness than anything else—not a quality seen much here—then laughs inaudibly because somehow you’ve found a way to be nerdy and suave at the same time.

It’s 1 AM.

You smirk at the straightforwardness but expertly counter.

Coffee then, in the morning. Meet here tomorrow at 11.

You jot down the address, rip out the page and hand it to her. She looks at you skeptically but you both know she’ll be there. [Must be your charming personality.] And then there’s the uneasiness in her eyes that prompts you to scribble something else.

Wear the mask.

And with that she nods, you nod, and you make your way to the exit. Your work’s done after all, for now anyway.

·§·

You’re sitting at a table for two by the window, patiently awaiting the girl…and your order. You stare out the glass, scan the bustling pedestrians for the telltale mask, and even though it’s been nearly 45 minutes, you’re still not worried.

The waitress who returns with your order is a slightly-older-than-middle-aged woman. She places the mango millefeuille and white hot cocoa on the table, smiles at you and remarks:

“This how you kids do blind dates nowadays?”

She’s referring to your brazen fashion statement.

“Pretty much.” You play along, exchanging a lighthearted chuckle.

She takes her leave and you calmly take the first bite of your pastry, humming gently to the soft piano jazz wafting about the background. You close your eyes, plunging headlong into the irresistible blend of fruit and flaky texture—high class food deserves high class appreciation.

Except the bell that chimes every time the door opens—it’s annoying, instinctively looking up every time you hear it, so the next time it sounds you take a blasé sip from your drink instead. It’s only when someone ungraciously sits down across you and says “Hey” that you look up.

Oh. “Hi.” You laugh. “You came.”

“You didn’t think I would?”

“You are almost an hour late.”

“I’m here aren’t I?”

“You are.” The two of you share an eloquent glance, and to anyone else but yourselves it would seem you have known each other ad infinitum.

Hours pass, and doesn’t time just fly. The dinner crowd is starting to pile in, and you’ve heard some passersby whisper what a cute couple you and the-still-mystery-girl make [others simply rubberneck.] For a first date—if it could be dubbed as such—it was rather enjoyable. Sometimes you sat in comfortable silence, and sometimes you engaged in a rousing conversation about your writing or her art.

The two of you decide to stay for dinner—you might as well—and you pick up the tab, as a gentleman should. At the end of the night, 10 PM to be precise, both of you find yourself in the exact same spot as you were since 11:45 earlier that morning. It’s late, you know—the polite chiding of the employees clearly reminding you of the fact. You have to get going and so does she, but before either of you make a move to leave, you both decide you’d quite like it if you could meet again sometime.

And you do.

Two more, four more, eight and still many more times the two of you meet again, all the while your identities continuing to remain an enigma. Truly, it’s rather laughable—it seems you know almost everything there is to know about this girl…except her name, not to mention you have yet to acquaint yourself with the top half of her face. [And vice versa, of course.] You’re satisfied with all that you know about her but nonetheless, you ache to obtain that last bit of information. You wonder tirelessly whether she feels as you do, but you can’t be the first one to break that shell of anonymity. She’s already confided that hers is a questionable past and never has anyone offered her the level of trust and affection you do. Even now, it feels as if she’s only just started to let her barriers fall—let anyone get close to her—so if she’s not ready to disclose what she might consider to be her most prized possession, you’ll wait.

It’s the 37th meeting—my, it’s been awhile—and you’ve agreed to meet at the pier, by the blue lamppost. You’re leaning against it, just like you did against that wall of the club many a day ago, when a cute brunette skips up to you and beams. Just beams. You think for a moment she’s scrutinizing your always-out-of-place mask out of bewilderment, expecting an explanation, but then she says “Hey” and you’re…you just… and…

“Hi…” You trail off, staring at this girl incredulously, at a complete and utter loss for words, to say the least. You continue to stare at her smiling visage and you can’t help yourself anymore—you take her face in both your hands, feeling the beautifully silken skin beneath your fingers.

“Hi.” She says again, and you suddenly realize that maybe now is just as good a time as any, to remove your guise as well. It’s become a part of you now, and her too, but you’ve been patient and it’s about time. Reluctantly, you take your hands back, slip your thumbs under the mask to rid of it once and for all, but she stops you and for one split second, your heart sinks.

She doesn’t want to know… You panic.

And then the dread dissipates—you were a fool to worry in the first place—as she takes your hands away from your face, because she wants to take off your mask for you. She does so with a touch that could rival a mother’s, and as her fingers graze your forehead, you know you’re not going to be able to keep a straight face for much longer. She places the whole of her hand against your cheek now too, mimicking your earlier actions, and you smile into the gesture.

Before you can even think twice, the two of you dissolve into a chaste kiss—but you’d be darned if it wasn’t also the most heartwarming and meaningful kiss in the history of ever.

You hold her in an embrace that is just short of crushing her—how else can you assure yourself that she won’t slip through your arms, that she’s actually here, that this is actually happening? You both stare into each other’s eyes in the way that would make any hopeless romantic swoon, and any cynic want to hurl—but you don’t care because it’s only about the two of you, has always been about the two of you.

There’s no doubt you’ve saved this soul from destruction, but now that you think about it, maybe you’ve saved your own as well.

Well, well.

·§·

You’ve finally moved the last box into your new home and you heave a great sigh of accomplishment. You swipe your sleeve against the top of your forehead, turning just in time to catch her skipping toward you—just like that day. You deftly sweep her off her feet and carry her over to the couch—you can’t wipe that smile off your face, could never when it came to her. She sinks into your body, you rest your cheek on her head, inhaling the sweet scent of the moment. You marvel at how it all began with those telltale masks, how they are now hanging lovingly above the mantle, and all the while, even if you know there’s no such thing, you can’t think of anything else but the words: And they lived happily ever after.

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