It brings to mind soldiers and hunting. Or else those fish you saw at the bottom of aquariums, hidden in plain sight amongst their vibrant counterparts. Or maybe it isn’t always so matter-of-fact. It can be in movements or in words, in that instinctive need to bear resemblance to one’s surroundings.
Camouflage. More than a mess of disjointed shapes in forest colours. It is a light-hearted evasion passed off with a hollow smile. Derived from the French word ‘Camouflet’, it means ‘whiff of smoke in the face’, a deception. More than concealment: it is survival. Synonymous with disguise, mask, cover. Things which we use to obscure or alter appearances so that other things are lost to view in the background. Not that protruding pattern worn when you were young and with that unmindful confidence all children seem to possess: Here I Am.
Those irregular patches of dull colour now turn neon in your mind, shining fears through your skull like spotlights. The disguise is the clenching of your shaking hands, and it slips at the same quality in your voice. Not a cloak of invisibility or a country garment but a long-running bluff revealed in many cornered moments. This is the means by which animals escape the notice of predators, if the predator is the eyes of everyone around, and you the prey.
There is a plant called Lithops, lithos meaning ‘stone’, and ops ‘face’. Known as the Living Stone plant, it blends in with surrounding rocks. Crush it, it breaks; cut it, it bleeds. Effective only if undetected, it is the stone-faced counter to Medusa whose glance petrifies onlookers. Laughter is a principal form of camouflage, a weapon to deflect all wounds. Make a joke, laugh: move on. Everything is okay save your hands curled into tight fists as if for combat, their fight only against your mind. They’re watching. They’re not. You messed up. It’s okay. No, it’s not. Nobody is paying attention. You’re blushing, you’re twitching, you’re doing that thing awkwardly, they’re watching, you-. Okay, you’re right. Laugh before they can, let them laugh with you. The war with your thoughts goes unseen, but your uncomfortable actions do not. Like any bluff, sooner or later it must be exposed.
Simultaneously stretched like elastic and wound like a ticking clock. The world speeds up or slows to a halt, rises to a crescendo in your head or sinks into a desolate silence where your breathing feels loud and out of place.
What you want to say goes unsaid, or comes out muddled like your mind. You cannot control your doubts which spin and flit around, unavoidable and illogical as tiny lights and just as distracting. The façade fades with your red visage and glassy eyes which dart around. You focus on holding your pieces together and adorn your camouflage. Pinch your hand, arrange your features. Laugh.
They spur you to dance and you wish you would, but reflexively you feign a headache, watch them leave, wait to disappear. Their backs retreat and quickly blend in with others and time is ticking, ticking. Your self-built barrier is worse than the fear so you stagger to your feet and follow. Sweaty palms are wiped on stock-still legs which ache to leave, straining against the rational voice that says no, stay. So far removed from that childlike assuredness which let you wear camouflage without restraint or veiled reason.
Your spine will not let you stand straight. Every inch of you tries to face inwards, to be smaller; invisible. You feel eyes on you like individual chisels, heartbeat accompanying the message: I Am Not Here.
(Based on the article ‘Mimosa’ in Oh Comely)