Dreams A short story
He has begun to tell me their stories. Middle-aged men with gaunt faces and downcast eyes. Random anecdotes from “back home,” the places they had to leave behind. The dreams they’ve had about us. Our bodies. The sounds. The feel and smell of the blood.
They told him they’d been waking up in sweats every night, and they didn’t know what to tell their wives. They wouldn’t want them to get worried. And they needed to keep the job. I can only imagine their voices, brittle and tight with self-pity, as if it had yet to occur to them that things may actually be a lot worse for us than for them.
One said he’d known the job would be tough, but he’d thought he would get used to seeing us. But the more he’d tried to shut the thoughts of us out of his mind, the more they had invaded his mind. And now it was too late, and he felt lost. He said he wished he had known, though at the same time he didn’t have a clue as to how he could have gone a different route. He needed to support his family. He needed the money. They all needed the money.
Some of them had quit sleeping altogether – he said they wouldn’t mention it but he could tell from the paleness of their skin, and the rhythm and echo of their pounding footsteps, which had gotten louder and more impatient as the months went by. Most of them stopped talking and started shouting. Their touch became rougher and more mechanical. Nowadays, he says, the only times they show emotion is when we don’t perform the way they expect us to. He says he is sorry I’m going to end up over there, too. He says he’s glad he got to leave. “The mood is better over here, for sure.” He nods to himself, as if he still needs to convince himself that this is true.
“In my dreams, you’re speaking to me… like we’re the same, you know?” he whispers to me, turning around to make sure no one can see him talk to me. And for a second, he looks into my eyes, and I see his clearly for the first time – twitching and bloodshot from exhaustion, grey and wet with the clarity of despair. And I feel bad for him for a moment before rage starts creeping up in me again. But I could never express any of it in a way he’d understand.
* * * * * * *
It all began when one day, one of the workers came and took me somewhere I hadn’t been before. For a confusing second, I allowed myself to think he might be setting me free, and I felt lightheaded. The possibility of sudden freedom stirred up an unexpected fear. But I realized it wasn’t freedom I was afraid of, nor was it change. Rather, I was afraid of the absence of change, now that I had seen a glimpse of it. But then I saw his glazed eyes and the sagging corners of his mouth, and all of my irrational hope dissolved. He raped me. I got pregnant. My body knew it before my mind could accept it. I didn’t know whether to feel less alone or more so. My heart was filled with dread and hope. I knew I needed to protect myself, and any trace of hope was dangerous, but I couldn’t help it. I started dreaming of a brighter future. My child was born and taken away from me. I couldn’t stop crying for days. I didn’t know it was possible to feel this much pain. I’ll never know what happened to her, but something tells me I’m better off not knowing.
At some point, the man came and sat in front of me, and began to stroke my face. It confused and scared me. I looked up at his rough face, and I noticed that his cheeks were wet with tears, though I did not feel any pity, even when I heard him whisper “I am sorry, I am so sorry,” over and over again, his pathetic sobs eventually drowning out his words. But all my compassion had died.
Every time he heard me cry, he came over and tried to distract me. He began to share his dreams with me. He had dreamed this place had been on fire, and everyone had run off and left us to die. But he had come and saved us. He had set us free. It made me feel strange, listening to him talk in such an intimate way, his voice thick with emotion. I knew I could never trust him again, though I could tell that he was the only one who hadn’t lost the capacity to see how much we were suffering. But he betrayed me again. He watched wordlessly when a younger and more efficient man came and took me to the other room. It was a horrifying déjà vu. Again, I got pregnant, and again, I was filled with an aching love and knowing dread. Again, my child was taken away from me. And my pain was not numbed by the fact that it was the second time.
The sense of threat is becoming more tangible, touching me, teasing me, tyrannizing me. At some point soon, someone will lead me into the other room again, and all of this will happen a third time. Or I will end up in the other place, the one he told me about… I’m beginning to think that waiting for the inevitable is worse than the inevitable itself. They have been using me from the beginning of my life, and I will never know anything else. Yet in my dreams, I’m aware of things I have never known.
I can soak in the warmth of the sun and smell the scent of the earth. I can taste the grass and feel the chill of the wind. I can watch my children grow up, and feed them with the milk they have been taking from me.
So I keep dreaming.
(posted on 16/08/2015)
I keep wondering: what would animals tell us if they had a voice? How would they like to be seen? And how do they see us? Can we develop and inspire more respect and compassion for all animals through creative expression? I certainly hope we can.
Last month (September 2014), I attended a reading by Gretchen Primack at the Toronto Vegetarian Festival and listened to some of her amazing poetry. During the next days, I felt inspired and produced these simple little poems. I wouldn’t call myself a poet, but I’m hoping that Gretchen – and you – will appreciate my effort anyway!
We are the same
We are the same
We are the same
We are not the same
And when your choices are truly choices
and your body no longer contains
the parts of other bodies,
and your skin is no longer covered
in someone else’s skin,
and your eyes are no longer shut, but facing
every truth you would rather ignore,
and you realize that you are finally
making choices that reflect
who you really are:
this is when
your body will begin
to glow and shine and smile
as your soul recovers.