Approaching a large metal gate crossing our path, my friend whispered ‘Do you think we can walk here?’
‘Well, it’s open, and there’s no sign saying we can’t’, I replied, trying to sound more confident than I felt.
Obviously, we were adhering to COVID-19 social distancing rules by finding a less-densely populated part of the city for our walk. For this reason, we wanted to reach a lake which GPS promised lay just ahead. However, the road we’d been walking on had now deteriorated to a single track leading into a shabby hamlet of run-down buildings. Looming either side of the road was a formidable wire fence, and the dilapidated shacks beyond it looked abandoned. Despite lacking any visible signs of human habitation, guard dogs barked ferociously as we passed. Pushing thoughts of Eli Roth’s Bratislava horror movie, Hostel, from my mind, we continued down the road.
Before long, we saw a tantalising blue glimmer through a gap in the undergrowth and knew we were close, but our effort was in vain as an impenetrably high fence separated us from the water. Never mind, we thought, if we walked alongside it for a while, we might find a way through. And so, leaving the road, we started down an overgrown footpath. Through the fence, we could see people sitting on a beach not too far ahead. Surely, there must be a way to reach them.
The Naked Man
Suddenly, the grass ahead shook, and a man emerged from the shadowy foliage. He was completely, utterly, naked and he was staring right at us. My friend stopped, aghast.
‘He’s not wearing a mask!’ she spluttered.
That’s when I realised we have entered a new normal because, in the COVID-19 world, the worst thing you can do is go out in public without your facemask. A naked, facemask-less man stood between the lake and us. Defeated, we went back the way we had come.
The Rise of the Facemask
Incredibly, only a month ago, life was normal. I worked in a real classroom, not a virtual world where I can’t see my students’ faces. Furthermore, I didn’t have to line up outside the supermarket or recoil when somebody passes too close. What’s more, I didn’t have to wear a facemask.
Once only seen in Asia, protective facemasks are now mandatory in Slovakia. For the first few days, it was strange to see people wearing them, but now I barely notice it. Always fashionable, Slovak women have replaced the standard paper masks in favour of a range of colourful designs: they are the must-have item of 2020. Keen to be on-trend, I have bought a few different ones from a local tailor, and I have even made a few stylish masks from old dresses.
They have become the new normal.
A few days ago, I saw an article about how Czech Police are reminding nude bathers that while ‘clothes might be optional, masks are not’.
Even Čumil is wearing one.
Keep your masks on, folks, and stay safe!