terror. in my throat. burning, roaring. everyone watching me, i’m on the spot. all the eyes, inquisitive, wanting to know why i did it. i did it for the money. the money he earned, working day after day in those dark mines. sitting in front of a heavy, wooden door. he opened the door when the coal car came. then closed it quickly when the air started to come through. sitting all alone, by himself, saving energy from the oil lamp. they say he was deprived. of a childhood. of the chance to play and learn, make friends and explore. that’s what they all told me. over and over in court, at home, and at work too. but that wasn’t how it really was. only seemed like that to those who didn’t need to make the choice to send children to work. it wasn’t like the decision was easy. i had to sign and lie too. but when it comes to money, it’s no questions asked around here. so really those who could throw money in the air didn’t have the right to say anything. the darkness in the mines seemed endless, but nine hours a day got him enough to eat for the week. and at the end of the day that’s what really matters. and that’s what i tell them.
now and then
laughing. i can hear it. can feel it. it’s sounds, coursing through me. through my veins, through my thoughts. it’s distracting me, but i can’t do anything about it. it’s not fair, i have to finish my chores, only then can i go out and join my friends to play. none of my friends have chores. their parents can afford to hire help. that’s not me, not my family. here, we do it all by hand. my sister and i, we have to chip in. my mom spends the whole day in a small cubicle so she can put some food on the table. my dad, he works in the frozen section at the grocery store. once he came home, all his fingers and toes blue, like berries in the springtime. the dribbling of a ball. sounds like they started a new game. i can hear elise and maria. and maybe even eliza. what i can’t hear is the sounds of the dishwasher running. the creaking and roaring, just like all of our other appliances. they are so old now. i wish i could be outside, not cooped up in here. but they’re only chores, really, not factory work, day after day. i’m not separated from my family, thousands of miles apart. i’m just apart of a less rich family. and then, without thinking about it anymore, i go back to work.
Moments passes. My eyes hurt. My arms felt like they could fall off. I needed to sleep. I needed to stop. But working was the only way to become free again. After Mama sold the farm, she fled to the city with Rachel and Emily. John and I were left to pay of the debt. I wanted to take care of him. I really did. And that’s why I decided he go live somewhere else. He’s in school, with a family that can provide food for him. A family that can put a roof over his head. But it’s not always easy to live with the decision I made. He gets to learn, have fun with his new friends, and forget about the reason his real family isn’t behind him today. But there’s only this one thing. Every day that I spend, working in this factory, breathing in the smoke, I think what it would have been like if I could have been the one in school, whilst he be the one, working to pay it all off. “Emma!” Cassie’s warning leads me to jerk my head, and just as well, for I see three men walking towards me. They look strict and harsh, their eyes filled with hatred. They are almost to me, when I get up and run. I won’t live like this anymore. I’m done, I tell myself. And I run towards freedom.
Stuck in the Moment
She looked over at me, I could feel her eyes burning on my back. Even from the across the playground, I knew she was staring at what I was doing. It was my first day at this school, and all I had managed to do was embarrass myself during my introduction which then led me to be playing all by myself on the playground. And the only thing I could do was play with the sand. And so that’s what I did. But then when I could feel her eyes on me, my hands automatically just clamped. I stood up and brushed the sand of me. Deep breath, the butterflies in my stomach scuttling around. I turned, my back to her. Nervousness, roaring inside of me. Is this what it was like for young children leaving their childhood behind, and going to work in factories? Young children having to spend day after day in cold mines. Secluded from the outside world. The crunching of her feet as she stepped on the piles of leaves, brought me back into the moment. The crunching noises were getting louder; she was getting closer and closer. The children laughing as they jumped in the water puddles. The big kids screaming with pleasure on the tire swing. I tried to tune all these sounds out. The only sounds ringing in my ears were her steps. I tried to walk, but my feet felt like jelly, my head started pounding. Then I felt her hand, tap me on my back. I turned and saw her bright smile. Then suddenly, I wasn’t nervous anymore.