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Putting on A Mask Again

Wearing a mask is part of Japanese culture. Everyone wears a mask casually; it prevents spreading and inhaling nasty viruses, it adds humidity when breathing in dry winter air, and it conceals half of the wearer’s face when they don’t have time to put on makeup. For these reasons, I love masks.


I had to give up this habit when I came to the U.S. No one wears a mask unless s/he is participating in medical procedures. If I put on a mask in public without wearing a white coat, people might think that I bring pestilence to the earth.


My two years of mask-free life was over when a new colleague came to our office. His desk is assigned next to me. Since I am at the end of my project, and he has just begun his, we both have quite a lot of paperwork. The problem is, he smells offensive. To describe the smell is challenging; rotten ham doesn’t fully define the complex odor he gives off. It is a combination of unwashed body and clothes, and a finishing touch of stale, oxidized oil he somehow succeeds in wearing as a natural perfume.


He is not a chatty guy; when I talk to him, the only word he utters is, “I know.” I don’t know what he knows and how he knows, or what else he knows, but it seems impossible to reach him further. “You could smell better”, is the least offensive remark I could come up with, but if I say this, I am a bitch. Besides, I guess that his reply would be, “I know”.


If I would be scorned by pointing out the truth, what about his offence to my nostrils? Shouldn’t it be punished? Maybe not. Life is not fair. That’s why I resumed wearing a mask. I’m Japanese; I don’t need reasons to wear a mask. I don’t think I antagonize our relationship as colleagues. My reason for doing this is not insulting the malodorous colleague; I simply miss the Japanese mask-wearing culture. I’m afraid he is not capable of sniffing out perjury.






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