Factory Traditions

By: Daania Tahir

Laurel School, Ohio, USA

 

My name is Gem

I am 11 years old

I have no family

I was born to work

These are the thoughts that I wake up to, that pound in my head like a marching rhythm as I make my rounds at the mill, the weight of each barrel threatening to collapse my body at any minute. It took some time for me to be able to strip myself down to these four sentences, but it wasn’t long ’til I realized that they’re all I am anymore. The bags under my eyes are embedded in my skin, are just another feature of my face that reminds me of my duties. The sunken cheekbones, hunched spine, splintered hands— all just symptoms of a factory worker, of a sickness that plagues us all day and night, a sickness that can’t be cured. My mother passed away a year ago, so I was shipped off to the factory to spend the rest of my days making a meager amount of money that’s of no use when you live in an alleyway. A few pennies doesn’t do much when you fall asleep next to rubbish and wake up to rodents scurrying past and envy their energy. The walk is far too long— three or four miles off— but I learned to stop my fussing long ago. Complaining lost its zeal. We work bare, no trousers or shoes, vulnerable to the bone and susceptible to salacious stares from the men. I’ve learned to avert my eyes and ignore their lewd smirks, but I still quiver. Newcomers often wail, their agony echoing for days until it fades away and joins the rest of our beaten souls. The strenuous labor takes a toll on our fragile bodies, but we are compelled to work no matter the loss of our youth. If we do not, we are whipped; slashed until our skin is numb; shaken and scourged until we are slapped back into the fine, working machines we are supposed to be. We are not allowed to break. My mother told me that she named me Gem because I was one. “Bright and intuitive,” she’d say, “clever and gifted, flames and embers roaring inside.”  She said my spirit was too radiant for the insipid factory to dampen it.

But it was enough. The harrowing labor silenced my roaring flames to a dull ache. The screams of anguish painted over my vibrant spirit to match the grey monotone of the factory. My heart was scratched and shredded until all that was left were a few tattered remains:

My name is Gem

I am 11 years old

I have no family

I am born to work