Smoke and Ashes
Rozina counts every day for six months running. Her family starts working long before the sun rises even when her small kids are remaining in the deepest sleep. She feels bad about calling them for work but like every day she cruelly has to do it. Everyone comes to have breakfast when the rice is still in the process of cooking. She rapidly waves her hand and lets the fire rise. During this time she quietly thinks about their time in the village that is far far away from this isolated brick field. She recalls her abandoned home and acutely feels a need to see the village sooner. But her urge quickly vanishes when she also remembers those days of starvation. Jalil sleeps in the bed that is made by gathering brick after brick. Rozina tried to hide those bricks by a flowery bed cover. Razina and Jalil have been married for ten years. Along with their five-year daughter and six year old son her family comes to work in this brick filed for six months in every year.
The houses that have been built by brick field owners are home to 100 brick field workers’ families. Just like Rozina they are living in hope of returning to their village one day. No one decorates their house. If a family buys any new item it goes into a box and it remain there until they get a final call to go back to their real home in the village. Rozina’s red bangles, her daughter’s new shoes, boy’ toy; everything goes into the trunk. She also keeps some precious things of her mother-in-law who dies last year from tuberculosis. Everyone says her mother-in-law died because she worked in the brick filed. Rozina does not believe it. Once the whole family strived for three days and no one died that time. Death is written by fate. This brick field is a way for them to survive; a way to feed themselves and their children.
The sound of songs awakens the brick field locality. The brick field workers start working. They are used to listening to songs from their mobile phones. The rhythm of the songs motivates them to work. Rahmat Miah has been working in brick field for seventeen years. The day he started understanding life he found himself in the brick field. During childhood he used to help his father for transferring bricks or lining the piles. Till today he does not do any work other than working in brick field. After carrying 5000 bricks he can manage to earn 200 taka for doing the bazaar shopping for his family. Sometimes he could save a little amount after cutting all costs. But his body does not help him much. Every month he has to take leave for 4-5 days because of illness then he has to spend out of that precious savings for food or medicine.
Men, women and children everyone remains busy in the brick field. Sometimes when the sun goes up in the overhead a few older men or women fall to the ground. Then they get an hour break. They have to carry or shift or line up 5000-10000 bricks every day. However they loudly chat in a half an hour break. They smoke and talk about the economy and the politics. Women generally rest in silence and sometimes go to their quarters to do quick house chores. Children work continuously. It seems that working is some kind of important game. Small Minara who is just four years old collects coal from the brick field. Why does she collect coal? After a long silence she replies boldly, ‘This is my job’.
During the one hour lunch break they eat a lot. Three plates of rice and lentil is their daily lunch menu. Men who are living with their families eat with them; those who came alone to the brick field eat in groups of men. A few go to take a quick nap. This is a kind of moment when they will not speak or hear a single word. All are tired, very very tired. Life goes on; work starts again after break.
Smoke and ashes blow everywhere. Workers’ bodies turn black in smoke and ashes and their feet turn black like coal. Still they continue to work in a dreamless brick field. In the middle of this Rozina dreams to go back to her village. Rahmat tries hard to save a few pennies, the children continue to collect coal. Very Far from the town the workers of the brick field continue to work to build our urban world.