The ready-made garments sector in Bangladesh has grown into a $20 billion business that accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s exports. The industry has created four million jobs, most of which are for women. This industry has helped millions of young girls from poor families break out of a life of grinding poverty.
Asha sighed and stretched, arching her back away from the sewing machine. The morning light was poor, the room was already too warm, and she could feel the sweat gathering on the nape of her neck, trickling through the tendrils of hair that had escaped from her braids. She wanted to take a minute to braid it again, but her fingers were already starting to hurt, though she had six hours of work yet to go, and the mere thought of weaving her fingers in the thick black ropes of her own hair exhausted her. Her fingers were always swollen now, and she knew by the end of the day it would be painful to touch anything. Better to just ignore the small discomfort of her hair. Asha bent back towards her work and the ring on the chain around her neck swung briefly forward, glinting softly in the dim light.
That ring! She couldn’t believe it. Of course she couldn’t wear it; nobody was allowed to wear jewelry on their hands in case it got caught in the machines. And then it felt somehow terrible to put a thing of such beauty on her ugly fingers. Most of all, she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to her parents about Pachai. He loved her, she was certain. The ring must have cost him a fortune, not something he would have bought unless he meant it. And she loved him, too. But the promise they’d made each other had so many steps and turns, a complex dance. First to make some money by putting in extra hours. Then to marry. Find a place together. Start working for themselves, quit the jobs at Rana Plaza, and finally be free. She believed in it. But she was afraid if she told her parents, it wouldn’t come true, and she needed it to come true.
Ugh, this horrible, ridiculous sleeve. Again and again, folding the fabric around her finger, running it past the needles. Fold, push, fold, push. Sleeves were tricky and she usually liked the challenge, but the ruffles were so much work and so inelegant. When she had her own shop, she would make only beautiful clothes. Clothes from good fabric, clothes that would last more than a few months, clothes that people would want to wear. She felt the thread tighten painfully around her fingers and tears leapt into her eyes. Focus! Asha told herself. This isn’t work that does itself, no matter how simple and repetitive.
Asha knew that some people thought that she didn’t know the work was bad. Khaleda, who worked at the other end of the row, was constantly telling her that she needed more spine. “We can’t let them push us around!” Khaleda said. She spoke of unions, worker’s rights, protection. “This building is a disaster” and “they only care about profit” as if Asha was too stupid to know that. Of course they only cared about profit. What else would they care about? Not beauty, clearly; this hideous flower pattern was bad enough, and then nobody cared about lining up the images along the seams. Broken flowers. And the fabric was flimsy, good for maybe a few months before it would start to stretch and tear. And some woman somewhere who made 350,000 taka a month would spend money on this! So who was stupid? If Asha had that much money, that would be sixty times her salary. She would pay for the wedding herself, no need to ask her parents. She could pay for it in just one month! Then she could open her own store, and she would make and wear only dresses that would last for years, good fabric, where the patterns aligned on the seams, and no silly ruffles. The idea that someone with money would want anything less baffled Asha. That the bosses wanted to take money from such fools made sense. People like Khaleda just didn’t understand. This morning on the way in Khaleda had pointed at the cracks along the front of the building’s facade, but Asha wasn’t worried. She saw the news crews yesterday, too, same as Khaleda. But the bosses wouldn’t let the factory fall, because that would be a loss of profit. Besides, Asha would lose a month’s pay if she didn’t work.
At 8:57 am, on April 24, Rana Plaza collapsed. The upper four floors, built without a permit, were completely destroyed. Only the ground floor remained intact. Over 1000 people died and 2500 were injured.
Sabbir loved the new orange helmet. The mask made it hard to breathe so he had pulled it down to his chin, figuring he could pull it up if something smelled bad, which sometimes it did. It had been seventeen days. He and Rafi had flashlights and they were moving through the wreckage, listening for any sounds, watching for any movement. His flashlight caught a glint of metal near his sandal. He bent down to look, but it was just a simple silver ring on a broken chain. It must have come off someone during the collapse. He put the ring in his pocket and swung his flashlight around to catch Rafi in the beam. “They’re all dead by now anyway,” he said. Rafi nodded, and they walked out across the rubble, back into the daylight.
*In response to a writing prompt, I wanted to see if I could learn about something I didn't really know about and then write sort of standard fiction about it. Dunno, it's a stretch.