Earthquake

kirkomstrom

It was 5 o’clock in the morning. I lay in darkness of the room awaken by strange sensation. The night was sticky and still, and full moon accompanied by blinking pearl of lonely star beamed in the open window. A moment later neighbors dog gave low howl of misery and supplication, and distant wails of other dogs echoed it.

It was some time before my morning shift at the plant, and still seized by odd feeling, I got up to prepare a cup of tea. Electric bulb hanging down from ceiling of kitchen on the long cord lighted up paint washed walls and shining spherical teapot at the table. Bulb was moving back and forth, as if swayed by wind. Then I realized with mixture of exhilaration and dismay it was earthquake and ran out in the yard, as people in seismic zones normally do being not sure house would stand stronger shoves. However, all was still around, and minute later peacock in nearby yard crowed his solemn greeting for coming dawn. It was only slight wave – not more than three units on Richter scale that day, and inspecting plaster of our old brick house later, I found only one new crack.

I packed my working costume and took overcrowded bus to industrial part of the town, feeling myself more wretched than usual. What especially saddened me was barbed wire on the high wall around the plant, and as long as you found yourself behind the wall, you could not leave it on your own will until the end of the shift. It looked very much like 8-12 hours of imprisonment.

After finishing high school, I had no great choice of jobs around, and oddly enough applied to machine building plant, which declared shortage of working force. There I was after ten years of compulsory education, which brought me at the top of the class in high mathematics and literature  by antique machine drilling wholes in bulky metallic cylinders. At first, it intrigued me to know how all these machines worked, as many mechanisms intrigued me before. I also felt proud being the only woman of 17 years old who operated revolving lather. But job was really hard.

As some workers damaged their fingers and limbs in process of fulfilling social norm at this plant, it was forbidden for turners to ware any gloves, which would inevitably increase chance to lose hands inside of the machine. Therefore, palms of turner were covered by numerous cuts caused by metallic shavings and looked greenish black, as machine oil penetrated the skin and stayed there as tattoo for years. After a few weeks of work all body of turner looked green, oil and its steams came trough overalls and shoes; and when you looked at your feet in the end of 12 hours shift they resembled extremities of rhinoceros being dark and swollen in the ankles.

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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