This is the story of how UM's masks turned me into a (very short-time) stalker.
The first time I saw her, she was sitting a few rows away from me on the train that I always take when I go home from university. Instead of reading my Spanish book on Civil Rights, I got addicted to a podcast and spent the 15-minute train ride listening to Anushka Asthana's calming voice (from the podcast Today in Focus, one of my favourites) and staring around me. I stared without really registering what I saw - forgetting the faces, jacket colours and shoe sizes as soon as I saw them. But then I saw one thing that awoke me from this podcast trance: a mask. Not just any mask. But a mask that looked a lot like the one we all got from Maastricht University at the beginning of the academic year. I must be mistaken, I thought. The girl who was wearing the mask was sitting fairly far away, and the likelihood is so small, this must be a coincidence. I let it go.
The next week, the same thing happened. And now I saw the mask up close: it was indeed the mask that UM was distributing! Could it be? The girl who was wearing the mask exited the train at the same stop I use and walked just a few meters in front of me. Nonchalantly, or at least so I tried, I said 'Maastricht' while calling a friend, a bit louder than would be normal, just to see if she reacted. She didn't. But that didn't mean anything, right? My friend, the one I was calling, told me just to ask, but that seemed a bit awkward to me. How would you even start a conversation like that: "Hey, you don't know me and I don't know you but I recognise your mask!". Not sure if that is the start of an epic friendship or a restraining order.
And so, I decided to investigate further. Which was quite hard, because she was walking rather fast and I decided to take the stairs instead of the escalators to compensate for my couch-potato existence. Just as I was becoming desperate about my detective skills, not knowing how to eavesdrop on a conversation that someone wasn't having, and not wanting to pass the line from curious to insane, I received my golden clue: an Inkom 2018 bag. Unmistakable.
I haven't talked to her yet, though I do see her regularly - she has class two classrooms next to mine on Wednesday afternoons (which, I must add, I found out accidentally, not because I was still on the lookout). I still feel an inkling to walk up to her and tell her about our mask-sisterhood. Though in the end, it doesn't quite matter how, if at all, this story continues. I had my fun playing detective in Madrid based on the potential recognition of the UM mask. And weirdly enough, knowing that I could potentially recognise UM students (and staff) around the world based on their mask is exciting - like a worldwide scavenger hunt.
Jesler van Houdt