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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Firecracker

 

by Ajay Vishwanathan

 

 

 
The United Nations says, 'bonded laborers

account  for many of the twelve million people

identified as modern day slaves.'   -CNN

 


Three women squatted next to each other.
 
Morbi was an obscure brick-making town. The factory owners regarded rulebooks as more bundles of paper for dingy stockrooms. They whipped women to work in sapping conditions--even children.
 
Three women squatted next to each other, eyes filled with exhaustion.

 

Two stared ahead; one drew tobacco smoke from a beedi into her lungs.  Against a flat brown canvas, the women were dusty dashes of red, yellow, green and blue; ill-matched saris and blouses with patches of sweat.
 
Townsfolk ignored headaches, unclipped fingernails permanently caked in dirt, and repetitive cramps. Most men were insomniacs, but thankful that sleeplessness was not from empty stomachs and unwed daughters.
 
Three women squatted next to each other, well past seven in the evening.
 
The workday was not over. Kiln hours had been extended for the festive Diwali season. The demand for bricks had shot up. More money to be made--for the owners.
 
Three women squatted next to each other, rising fumes from chimney-less kilns and growing darkness stifling the last rays of sunshine.
 
The woman in blue smiled as a couple of firecrackers snaked across the sky.  "Someone is celebrating early," she said. Two more spiraled upwards.
 
Brick makers were the largest employers in town, so groans and grouses gagged in feeble throats.  "My husband said he will get a sari for me from sahib's wife tomorrow," said one in red, "usually they are as good as new, no tears." The other two nodded indulgently.
 
“Doesn't the trail left by that cracker look like a gold necklace to you?" said the woman in blue. They giggled--then, moved like jarred pigeons.
 
"Alright!" A shrill voice tore through. "Enough chitchat... get back or no rice will cook in your pots this Diwali."
 
As the women walked back, one of them turned around and looked up. 

 

Fragments of the necklace slowly dissolved into a somber sky.