is little hands were blistered, bleeding and calloused from the hours and hours of work that he had done so far. There was no rest, never any rest for Yussif who worked day and night making the sweaters, without any reward except the thought of knowing he wasn't going to be killed if he worked and worked efficiently. Almost sealed shut from the infection and bruising that encompassed his left eye, he used his good one to keep an eye out for guards who came over periodically to make sure that they were still working and not socializing. Blood started to stain the sweatshirt that he was stitching and rushed to the mark before the guard saw him and beat him. He had been through so much suffering and didn't need any more.
"Yussif, I'm tired, I want to go home." He looked over and saw Cassina, who was staring at him with a look of despair on her face.
"I know, so do I, but we can't until we meet our quota today. I only have seven more shirts to make and then I can go home to sleep."
Yussif knew that he wasn't going home; he hadn't been home in many years. All the children slept together in a shed several miles outside the factory and this had become their new home. Perhaps it would be their home for the rest of their lives.
"You're moving too slowly!" boomed a voice behind him.
He didn't dare turn around as he knew that he would be slapped or something worse, but instead continued working, picking up his pace noticeably so the guard would leave him alone. Yussif looked around him and saw the other children in the plant, there were about eighty of them, most between the ages of six and fifteen and the pay they received was dirty water to drink and perhaps some scraps thrown at them when the officers were finished with their dinners.
"The direction our company is headed is not looking promising, Winston, I'm not sure what to do about it," exclaimed Walter, President and CEO of Rivez clothing corporation.
"The Chapter Eleven filing with the bankruptcy protection court has gone through, so we're fine for the time being. We just have to come up with the capital necessary to keep us in production," responded Winston, the Chief Financial Officer of the firm.
"Walter, for some reason our clothing is just not as popular anymore, styles have changed and our company has not changed with it."
"You know, we've always had a good market in the clothing that we've had without any problems. Markets don't change that quickly."
"It seems they have, Walter. It seems they have and we missed it. Now we've lost it. I quit."
Walter stopped trying, he knew it was futile.
Goosebumps formed along Yussif's soft skin as the cold air rushed in through the cracks in the building's structure that hadn't been sealed since it was built.
Yussif hummed to himself to prevent himself from getting too down on himself about his situation. It was a mental escape; an escape from his mind. It was an escape from the pain that he had endured when he was lashed, whipped, beaten and raped by the men that worked him and his friends to death. The strong children survived, but he thought, as he watched a small child being dragged outside, the weak did not. He looked at himself in the cold metal of the sewing machine in front of him. He had gotten used to the deep, dark circles under his eyes and the scars along his cheeks and forehead.
"If you don't fill your quota tonight boy, you're going to get it, I'm warning you!" boomed the voice behind him. Immediately, he continued to accelerate his pace to make sure that he finished on time. He only had two more to complete.
"The first thing that we have to do is pay back our creditors and then worry about the shareholders," Walter explained to his executive staff who was trying to be attentive amongst the disorder that was indicative of the company at this point. Many of the staff had already been laid off and the entire workforce would be receiving their pink slips quite soon, marking the end of their service for the company.
"We need to stop our retail channels from selling our products. Also our production facilities need to desist in making any more clothing for us."
He walked wearily forward; almost zombie-lie, to the place he most looked forward to, the place he could sleep soundly. The hut in which they slept gave new meaning to shanty, and epitomized it completely. The thin wooden door creaked open as light poured over the children already sleeping from a hard, long day at work. Yussif walked over to a corner that seemed drier than the rest and collapsed, falling asleep in minutes.
Yussif woke up to screams from across the room. He rubbed his eyes and looked over to see a little boy around his age being whipped. The boy was crying, kicking and trying to run away, but to no avail. He was bound and taken away, still crying. These were regular scenes and Yussif was unbothered by them at this point. The children were conditioned not to feel too badly for the other children as they all received the same treatment. He got up, and stumbled out of the hut. He washed his face in the muddy puddle on the ground and trudged out the shack towards the factory once more.
Something felt unnatural about this day however, although it had started the same as any other day, Yussif had a strange feeling about it. He crept through the small doorway into the factory and saw the usual bustling of people getting started on the day's tasks, so he went over to his sewing station and sat down. He instinctively picked up his needle and thread and a fresh piece of cloth in front of him and began to sew.
Employees rushed around the building trying to gather their belongings before the rest of the equipment and items were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Executives watched as the building emptied out and became vacant. The last building to be emptied out was the easiest as the rest of the 30,000 employees had already gone home. Teary-eyed, the last of the executive staff walked reluctantly to their cars and drove home, knowing that they couldn't do anything further for the now defunct company.
Yussif was hard at work sewing together bits of cloth that would become a new t-shirt for some boy or girl in the western world, when he was approached by a guard.
"What are you still doing here?" he grumbled.
Yussif looked up at him, but did not dare speak a word to him.
"Get out of here you dirty kid!"
The guard picked Yussif up by his neck, moved him away from the table and motioned for him to leave by the exit door. Confused Yussif walked out the door, but then stopped, not knowing what to do or where to go next. Cassina walked over to Yussif with a smile on her face.
"The Americans went out of business," she explained. "We're free to go home now!"
"I don't have anywhere to go. I don't know where my family is," Yussif replied, his eyes filling with tears.
Cassina took him by the hand and walked with him. They walked for what seemed like hours until they reached a small hut with a fire burning outside on the edge of town.
"Don't be upset Yussif, you're quite welcome to live with myself and my family, I've already asked."
Tears ran down Walter's face as he sat at home in his multi-million dollar mansion wondering what he would do for the next several years without his precious company.
Tears ran from Yussif's eyes while a smile spread across his face. He was so happy, happier than he had been in a very long time. One day everything had been going wrong for him and he was miserable and now everything seemed to going his way. He finally attained what he wanted all along: happiness.
© 2002 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board