Perhaps I was worried about being seen by another customer, although I had not seen anyone else venture into this shop. Maybe I would be recognized by someone I knew as they walked past the storefront.
Why was I trying to hide anyway? The absurdity of my brief rendezvous with paranoia impressed me, yet I did want to avoid any such unlikely situations.
I was a thoughtful shopper, and wanted to demonstrate this, despite a growing aversion to lingering further in this eccentric shop. Something deep inside warned me not to get lost in this one room shop. Another reassured me that this was the path to freedom, and I decided to try on the alternate me.
As I placed the pliable synthetic face over my actual form and turned toward one of the strategically placed mirrors to judge the look I felt emboldened. It was even more empowering than I had imagined, and I reflexively blurted out, "How much?"
"Our faces are free. One per customer." replied the man courteously.
I methodically peeled off the supple, skin-like material from my birth face, indulging in the psychological transformation brought about by my metamorphosis. I turned to the attendant with a look of suspicion and carefully held out the mask, indicating in some unspoken way that I wanted it.
"Why would you give these away?" I asked cautiously, unsure if I was prepared for the reply.
"You'll find this is highly effective except in the closest of personal interactions. Wear it with confidence."
"I would have paid for this", I protested. "Anonymity has value to me, I have money."
The patient salesman cocked his head slightly and explained what must have been conveyed a thousand times before. That which must be told to practically every curious customer to walk through the door. "We're not selling you anonymity," confided the man as if conveying a closely guarded secret, "we're selling anonymity to Bruno."
"Huh?" was all I managed in response. This was a high quality face that I wanted, but his words did not register immediately. "I'm helping to hide this other guy?"
"This man whose face you will present to the camera-laden streets of London, is the man who is paying for anonymity," he replied as he handed the Bruno to me. "This man pays for each mask we sell; up to five hundred copies in this case. Almost a hundred of him walking the streets of this city now, watched and recorded each and every day," the concealed one continued. "He's the most oft-tracked man in town. Now that is freedom!"
I peered into his eyes, his real eyes, and let it sink in. Then I stared down into the face in my hands and thought about Bruno, the real Bruno. As I turned to leave, I began to wonder if anyone was really who they seemed. We all have our masks for presenting ourselves to various groups in a variety of ways. I just went a step further and reified the me who conformed quietly and simply blended in with the crowd.
This was the turning point, see? They watch me travel the worn sidewalks and they see only who I've become for their benefit. It's just another identity I construct to engage with the world. My rebirth was at hand, and I paused to perform the ceremony.
The mask put itself over this customer's former face and turned to see the attendant's reaction, but the attendant was gone. This face turned confidently and left the unidentified store, a liberated man. He strode down the sidewalk and he wondered - who was behind the face?