The fear behind the mask

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A discarded surgical face mask. Picture: Polly Thomas/Getty Images
A discarded surgical face mask. Picture: Polly Thomas/Getty Images

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I recently had a difficult decision to make – either drive for between 11 and 12 hours to East London from Johannesburg to see my parents, or fly down, which would take less than two hours.

This would usually be a no-brainer, but Covid-19 has turned everything upside down.

My parents are high-risk, especially my mother, and I would never forgive myself if I unknowingly became infected with the virus and passed it on to them.

After much discussion, we decided it would be better to fly due to the various and dangers of driving cross-country alone.

The thought of getting on to a plane terrified me – sitting in close proximity with scores of other people in a closed tube is not ideal if you’re trying not to fall victim to an invisible, airborne and very real killer.

I’d worked myself up into such a state by this stage that I was hyperventilating.

Paranoia set in and I began thinking about how I could ensure I was as protected as possible. I considered buying a disposable protective coverall so that I would be shielded from top to toe.

On the morning of the flight, I was panicking.

I ended up wearing a mask that covered my whole face (except my eyes, obviously), a face shield, disposable gloves, baseball cap and a hoodie. Without the face shield, I looked like I was setting off to rob a bank.

There aren’t many flights to East London, so I expected the plane to be full, and it was indeed packed, except for three seats right at the back of the plane that were reserved for “people who showed symptoms of Covid-19” during the flight.

READ: Another lockdown in Nelson Mandela Bay would be disastrous, DA warns

Not knowing this when I booked my flight and reserved my window seat (so that I could scrunch myself up against the wall of the plane to avoid the passenger next to me), I ended up in the next row.

I’d worked myself up into such a state by this stage that I was hyperventilating.

When the passenger next to me made eye contact, he clearly saw the fear in my eyes and kindly tried to console me.

I’m a nervous flyer on a good day (we’ve all seen those plane crash/hostage movies), and this was exponentially worse.

Then another setback – the air-con on the plane was not working and a part needed to be replaced. For almost an hour, we sat on the runway, trapped in that airless, stifling tube.

By the time we finally took off, I realised I’d have been almost half way to my destination if I had decided to drive.

After what seemed like days, we finally landed, but now came the worst part – I wouldn’t be able to hug my mum when she fetched me from the airport.

But just seeing my folks in real life was enough. I’m glad I went, but I won’t be flying again for a long time.

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The Dashiki Dialogues is a collection of irreverent yet relevant opinion pieces on life. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, they are a popular feature in City Press.


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