In her dream Leanne found herself in a barn full of chickens. She killed chickens every day at work but it would have been impossible to kill these chickens. They were three times her size. When she stood tall she barely reached their shins. She heard a voice greeting her.
“Hey,” replied Leanne.
“Sit down,” the chicken said.
Leanne sat on a bench.
“We need your help.” The chicken peered down at Leanne over a beak that gleamed like a blade in sharp light. His red cap flapped back and forth with involuntary shakes of his white-feathered neck.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
It was dark in the barn, but Leanne could make out the sounds of the other chickens and the cawing of a hen protecting her eggs.
“Help us stage a revolution.”
“We’re trying to make a statement as part of a broader movement.”
“Us; us chickens.”
It was a dream, so it was easy for Leanne to just go along with things.
“Who are you revolting against?” she asked.
“You guys. You humans. Look, we understand where we lie in the food chain and we aren’t out to cheat Mother Nature. But over the past several decades the law of the food chain has simply turned into carnage.”
“You want us to become vegetarians?”
“That’s not what I said. We cannot force change. Real change will come through knowledge. And truth.”
“I’m not getting you.”
“We’re launching an awareness campaign. I’m the campaign manager. I’ll show you my scratches later.”
“I’m sorry? So you want me to…”
“Spread the word. About how us chickens are treated. Spread the word about the conditions we are forced to live under.”
Leanne woke up. The chicken-voice in the dream faded.
* * * * *
That lunchtime at the Bright Star Chicken Factory Leanne found a side alley amidst the many buildings of the factory. She leaned her back against a concrete wall and ate her soggy sandwiches. It was a popular spot. Other workers strung along the alley, some crouched on their haunches, others standing with one hand pressed upon the wall, the other brandishing a cigarette. Leanne ate alone but listened in on the chatter around her.
“Are you going to the practise for the dancing contest?” one woman asked her friend.
“Yes, tonight and tomorrow night. Every night we practice. After I’ve done the dishes.”
“Is Elroy still working?”
“At the pig place. Yeah.”
“He lets you go out at night?”
Everyone at Bright Star was talking about the jazz dance contest. Some whole families, like Leanne’s, worked at Bright Star, so husbands and wives worked side by side all day and danced at night. It was the second year of the contest. Last year the couple that won were two women. After the announcement and the presentation of the cup and much later in the night when the women were walking home they were beaten up and raped. Someone had thought they were lovers but it turned out they were sisters.
This year the organisers, Bright Star’s management, put in extra contest entry rules that you had to include a photograph of yourself and your partner, and that they could reject your entry on any basis. There shouldn’t be any problems this year.
* * * * *
“Can you lend me some money? I’ll pay you back.” Deirdre was wearing a pink top that sat in folds around her middle. She and Leanne were sitting chatting on Leanne’s day off work.
“What for?” Leanne asked.
Deirdre looked away, took a drag from the cigarette, pulled hard.
“What for?” Leanne asked again. “And by the way, I thought you stopped smoking. For obvious reasons.”
Deirdre stayed looking far off into the distance. She continued pulling, then blowing smoke into the wind. Leanne finally realised what the unspoken answer was, stopped waiting for an answer and looked down at the ground. She had collected three sets of wages, with the fourth fast approaching.
“How much do you need?”
“I’ve found a clinic that will do it for free. I just need to get away after. Just for a few days.”
“I’ll pay you back, Leanne. I promise.”
* * * * *
Some time passed.
“How’s Nomthi?” Leanne asked Deirdre.
“I don’t see her. She stays on the campus. She called our house the other day. She’s okay I guess. We won’t see her much, you know?”
They listened to the sounds of their neighbourhood. An old man walked past where they stood by the public telephones. He was headed to the spaza to buy airtime or milk or razors or booze. Children from the school they used to attend walked past, in their green and white uniforms that now looked strange to the girls. The air was dusty even though it had rained. The Southeaster wind was kicking.
Tell us what you think: Should Leanne lend Deirdre the money for a termination?