The first thing you notice is the scent. Before you have even stepped onto the production floor, the smells of the factory hit you. Oil, grease, and cleaning fluids, combine to form a perfume that hangs in the air. You have been inside of many of these places, in many different countries, and the odor is always the same. You could say it was the smell of labor, but you have not earned the right.
The sounds are the next things to hit the senses, the hum of machinery, the thump of presses, mix with the ever present beep of a fork lift somewhere in the distance. Voices die in the noise, so you bend close to the speaker as he shouts above the din. You catch every third word, and nod as if you understand. Even if you heard the words, you would not fully understand what it means to stand there amidst the clamor for hours, days, and years until the sounds blended together into a beat as comforting as a mother’s heart.
Your eyes dart around to find your bearings. Everywhere you look is a maze of machinery, bodies, and metal, stacked and placed according to a design you cannot decipher. Tagged, numbered, inventoried, everything has its place, everything but you. As your eyes adjust to the swirl of light, and movement, you see the eyes. They are looking at you. Impassive, but curious, like deer in the woods, they watch your movements through the forest of steel.
You stop at a station, and your guide gestures, and explains where the man ends, and the machine begins. You put out a hand to shake, and touch flesh the strength and texture of wood. You know they feel your weakness. There amidst the jungle of machinery is a locker, adorned with photos, and a few stickers. Look close and they tell the story of a life outside of these walls. They serve as a reminder that they live apart from the machine, although it is easy to believe they are always here. Three shifts a day, the hum and rattle of metal hardening them until they stiffen like statues.
You think of the statues in your own past, Mother’s, Father’s, Aunt’s, and Uncle’s, who stood for days at their machines, and dreamed of escape. They bought your freedom. You look into their eyes, and feel ashamed. What have you done with it? Where has your education taken you? You talk, and calculate for a living. Your words and math hold the fate of many in your hands. A few words, and string of numbers and someone would come and cut them away from their machines. The wires cut, the hoses dangling, as the machine is boxed up and sent away where someone hungrier will be yoked to it.
You do not deserve such power. You have not earned it. Their eyes stare back at you, and you look away.
They know why you have come, and they say