If we perceptibly ignored her, it’s probably because she wanted it. Our factory was an open space and anyone could talk to anyone. In fact, the only hindrance was our tall bulb-eyed menacing supervisor Mr. Mustafa, who towered above everyone else even with his guttural voice. She wasn’t unattractive either; I considered her white sparkling eyes quite appealing. I still don’t know why he had never learned her name.
‘Ma’am get the spool’
‘Ma’am, you aren’t listening. Keep off the needle section’
‘Ma’am, get out of my way!’
She never whimpered like most of us.
Tanada, she was new and probably the youngest of all of us. Then, we had few women in our factory, perhaps, because we worked 12 hours per day for a meagre $1.
Mr Mustafa had taken the factory to be his slave working assembly. It was no secret that he owned a ‘crocodile whip’ which he used for the errant ones. First, he called them behind his glass office, which overlooked our upper floor, then whipped them with the ‘whoosh’ sound to confirm the pain. I always saw him approach. It is those who were downstairs that he got by surprise.
But I knew Tanada scared him, perhaps, because of her dexterity. Perhaps, because the country had become sensitive to women matters.
It was nightshift. I didn’t really have a lot of work so I rolled my gaze downstairs and Tanada as usual had arrived early, pedalling diligently at her machine.
Suddenly there was loud bang behind her and Mr Mustafa’s spiky voice.
“Ma’am this was no accident”
“But sir, I didn’t…I don’t know who…..”
“Ma’am “, he was getting louder, “Move into my office NOW!”
All work had stopped, he had never been this angry. The lights dimmed suddenly, and then went off a few seconds later.
Shrill screams and then the lights came back.
He was now pushing her upstairs into the office, and she was crawling on her belly. We watched from our corners, feigning busyness; frightened. Inside, there were more stifled screams before another silent moment.
Minutes later, she scuttled out.
“Me? No! No!”
Her clothes were tattered and blood trickled from her left palm. But she looked alright, so we rushed into the office instead.
He wasn’t dead but his table was rammed to the edge and the huge factory control board beeped ominously. We had scarcely helped him up when shouts came from the North Section.
“Fire! Fire! “
And the inferno that ensued was like the symbol of a new beginning. Everyone knew it had to do with the office incident but the evidence could not add up.
They could not arrest Tanada, she was defending herself.
Both the incident and the fire featured in the 9.00 o’clock news. The company photos were there, and the damage, and Tanada too. I think they were saying about how bad it is in the factory. I didn’t understand the English of TV people, but I knew we were going to have a new factory, and new equipment, and new overalls.
Demoted, Mr. Mustafa now works in our South section a few yards from my table.
Tanada, she is even shyer now, but we are all glad she is with us and our new supervisor, Mrs. Rebecca has brought relief to our night shifts, especially with the coffee breaks. There are no more whoosh-whooshes from the glass office and everyone now says hello to Tanada, subconsciously though. We men would never admit it openly, but we admire her bravery, talking about it in hushed tones.