"Slaughterhouse" by Jamisha Montague
During the Spring 2021 semester, Jamisha Montague participated in HAL’s Environmental Justice/ Environmental Racism working group. Jamisha and her cohort created final projects that reflected those themes. Read Jamisha’s short story below (click here for an audio version), and click here to learn more about Jamisha and the themes behind her story.
"Slaughterhouse" A short story by Jamisha Montague
April 3, 2021, 10:00 A.M.
“It is April 3, 2021. And I, James Cock am interviewing Brianna Smith, a former director, about her time spent working for Koala Bear. So, Brianna, can you tell us more about your time at this company?” James said whilst lighting a cigarette and sternly looking into her vibrantly hazel eyes.
“It was...interesting, to say the least. I worked here for one month and quit after my second paycheck. I could not fathom participating in such a heinous act…. Murder. That’s what it is. Murder.”
“Murder?” James questioned.
“Hmmm... okay.” He paused, ashed his cigarette and allowed the words to marinate, “Can you tell me about your first day on the job?”
“The day was March 3, 2014. It was hot and muggy. My curls stuck to the back of my neck, mixing the olive oil from my strands with my sweat. Perfect for the first day at my new job. The building was shaped in a T. The right and left wings house offices and meetings and the middle was the slaughterhouse. Upon entering the brown bricked building, I was introduced by a stench. So intense I almost fell to the ground. Everyone appeared immune to the smell, and bustled past me without a ‘hello’ or ‘Are you okay.’ I was clearly choking.”
“And, no one stopped?”
“Interesting,” James said while pulling from his cancer stick; his translucent hand holding onto it for dear life. “What happened next?”
“I walked to the counter, informed the receptionist that I was a new worker and she mistakenly thought I worked in the slaughterhouse. So, she took me there... I saw it. With my own eyes. Everything.”
“Did you accidentally tell her you worked there?”
“No, I did not James. She actually never asked me for my position. I followed her assuming she knew how to do her job.” Brianna responded. Her left foot began to tap. She agreed to do the interview because she believed people must know what’s going on within this corporation and others alike. And here she is. A black woman. In a room. With a white man who is desperately trying to manipulate her words.
They stared at each other for a minute. Within that minute darts flew from their eyes trying to establish dominance over the other.
“So, you followed her to what you label, ‘the slaughterhouse.’ Brianna, can you describe what was there?”
“A lot of black people, which is probably why she believed I worked there... Big machines. Two huge ceiling windows that hovered over the workers… barely allowing fresh air in. Smoke exiting the machines into the lungs of the workers and occasionally out of the windows. I was astonished.”
“So, no one was being slaughtered?”
“Why call it the slaughterhouse?” He interrupted.
“Because how can anyone work in such terrible conditions and not die from exposure, James? It’s damn near impossible. Within the warehouse, which is approximately 16,400 square ft., why are there only two huge ceiling windows that barely open?? There’s zero air filter in the space… so all of the contaminated air is being released into the lungs of workers, who are predominantly black and brown, and also the local neighborhood. Slaughter... indeed.”
James’ face scrunched into a ball. Out of his five years working for this company, he never interviewed someone like Brianna. Blunt. Stern. And, too knowledgeable… so much so, it could tamper with the company’s image.
“I think that’ll be all Mrs. Smith. Thank you.”
“Thank you? That’s all you have to say?”
“Yes. This meeting is over. I’ve heard enough, you may go.”
“Wow James. You’re enabling the company. You have the power to print, to stop this and for justice to be served... But instead you ignore, like everyone else. Because you, a white man who commutes to this black and brown neighborhood every-single-weekday doesn’t have to deal with family members dying from cancer because of the pollution from this company, or a young sibling being born with birth defects or even losing your uncle because he worked strenuous hours for this company because he needed money to provide for his family.” Brianna rose from her seat, “You,” she said pointing at James, “will never understand.”
She allowed a minute to pass for a response but realized she’d be better off eating bricks. She exited the room and didn’t bother to close the door.
April 21, 2021, 8:37 A.M.
“We are now reporting live in front of the headquarters of Koala Bear in Atlanta, Georgia. 75 percent of the building collapsed due to a fire. We currently have a witness here who knows what happened. Sir, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what occurred?” A reporter from Channel 16 News asked while hovering the microphone into the man's face.
“Hi, my name is James Cock and I set this building on fire. Enough is enough. There will be no more slaughtering of black and brown communities and it is up to the people to rid the environment of companies like Koala Bear. Join me, and let’s fight for a better community.”
“Sir, you just confessed to millions of people of burning down a multi-billion-dollar company.” The reporter said, astonished.
“Yes, and they have killed millions of people. They pollute the air. Have terrible working conditions. Tell me,” James said, and stared intently at the camera, “why were there only two windows, in a 16,400 square foot warehouse? And the windows barely opened. To hell with this company.” James said, while walking out of the shot and didn’t bother to explain himself any further.