I have the first world privilege of feeling anger, but you had resigned yourself to sweat and silence because the alternatives had consequences too dire.
Your shawl was red, my wardrobe was crimson.
The frame slowly took in your wheelchair; your limbs gone limp from the Rana Plaza tragedy.
Poker-faced, you said you couldn’t cry for yourself and that particular sentence made my tears well up. Surely, you know someone’s been through the worst when they can’t cry for themselves anymore?
Here, in the safety of structure, we can afford to think big concepts ― How will we question the status quo? How will we make a statement?
“Through our clothes”, we say. So in the tumult of feminism, I clad myself in clean-cut suits and graphic tees, forgetting the nimble hands that turn fabric into garment.
So, in a way, you’ve helped us empower ourselves.
But, to be honest, I don’t think you really cared. You had more pressing matters to attend to; such as making sure your child could eat; that beautiful, simple gesture of bringing a morsel of food to a child’s mouth.
In the end, I don’t know if it’s so much that I didn’t know about you or chose to ignore your existence.
How could I be so blissfully unaware of something that is so intrinsically part of our daily lives? The act of putting on clothes. An act embedded in morning routines; done to protect the largest organ of our bodies.
Why couldn’t I ask myself those simple questions: “Why is this skirt so cheap?”, “Why do I have so many clothes and yet feel so unsatisfied with them and my body and the way everything fits?”, “What is that compulsive need to buy things? - What void am I trying to fill?”.
Your perpetrators are my perpetrators too; but my plight is lodged in comfort; disguised by the idea of normalcy.
Not that I’m trying to compare our pain. I can’t pretend to know what you go through or how you feel.
After all this time, you still feel like a shadow; like stories which start with “there was once a princess in a far-away land”, only this story goes along the lines of “there was once a garment worker in a distant country”.
And instead of being a story, it’s a reality. A faint one, ungraspable, shrouded in mystery, but made temporarily vivid by screens that abound in our lives.
Truth be told, I can’t relate to you at all.
I admire your positivity. I admire the fact that you can still smile and show affection to those you love.
I admire your lack of bitterness and your courage to brave dangers. Mostly because I’d be incapable of those things. Another first world privilege I suppose.
I probably seem as distant a figure to you as you do to me.
Do you ever ask yourself questions about us; the people you make clothes for? Do you ever wonder why we seem to need so many? I wonder how many clothes you have? What does the wardrobe of a garment worker look like? I think I’d rather watch that than another video of what’s in a celebrity’s wardrobe or haul.
Your story has changed my perspective on a lot of things. It’s put all of the commodities I used to take for granted into a new light. A harsher light. Commodities have harder edges now and are heavy with consequences.
So I guess this is a thank you. For making my clothes. For sharing your story. For pushing me to make better decisions. For changing my life. I’m sorry we ‘had’ to ruin yours.