Before the Lockdown, I was a waitress in my Local Garden Centre Restaurant, having just graduated with a Psychology degree. Life in the restaurant was always vibrant and filled with customers- some regulars, some new but always flourished with people. Now, upon returning after Lockdown, the customers that we do have, dine in masks as well as the masked waiters serving them.
I leave for work, wearing my cotton, blue face mask before catching the bus to sit among socially distanced individuals, all wearing unique, decorative coverings. Rather than being ignored by people on the bus, everyone glances at each other with a reassuring nod, as an aid of solidarity as we embrace the new ‘normal’. Remembering my face mask has slowly become just as normal as picking up my phone and purse upon leaving the house but naturally, having cotton draped across your mouth, held by a string, takes time to become acclimatized to.
Upon arrival at work, I’m already dripping with running make-up from the bus journey but knowing that I’m going to be wearing my mask all day, it’s a relief that customers won’t be able to see the mess that lay underneath the mask. Ten minutes into serving food and my glasses steam from my warm, exhaled breath, mix this with the heat from a kitchen servery and you get a personal facial sauna. I quickly wipe my glasses and in that split second, I have my vision back briefly before; “Table 42, food is ready to go!” and it’s back to the quick chase.
I carefully walk to the table carrying a tray of food, and in the hope that my glasses don’t steam up again in the time that it takes me to walk from the kitchen, I attempt to exhale my breath to a minimum. I deliver the food to the customer and speaking louder than usual to be heard under my mask, I enquire whether she needs anything else. But as she questions me again, unable to hear me, I begin to realise the impact face masks have on communication. Most customers can hear you or will overcompensate communication through eye language rather than lip-reading but occasionally, communication is misunderstood, resulting in incorrect food orders. Although when I am heard, the facemask ordeal only encourages engagement in conversation, bringing out a sense of togetherness that might not have been there previously.
After a long shift and clammy bus journey home, a cool breeze embraces me as I finally take my face mask off and what was once a cotton pad draped across my face is now a sweaty, damp, painting of my foundation. After each shift of wearing face masks, the more my acne is increasing, and staff complain of sore throats and ears from the string rubbing against it. It gives me the perspective of how doctors feel wearing masks over 12 hours while saving lives; meanwhile, the only thing I’m saving is customers food from getting cold. Nevertheless, I would much rather feel the discomfort of face masks than allow for innocent beings to spread COVID-19 or worse become seriously ill from it.