We were mopping, all 12 of us, the same clean floor that no one had walked on for weeks, likely months, except to mop it. I imagined the lights flickered and dimmer than they really were. My overactive imagination projected the mood on to the overbearing fluorescent pouring from overhead. That’s the only thing I could come up with to someone stimulate my mind. “Clean,” I hear Slave Boy 8 announce. I was Slave Boy 11. 8 stopped and leaned on his mop until the rest of us finished our sections. An echo of “Clean” resonated as each respective Slave Boy finished their assigned section of the floor. Each taking a brief moment to rest against their upright mops to wait for the last Slave Boy to be done. When all sections were cleared, we walked through the factory floor. We only saw it empty. God only knows what they made, if anything at all. The machines seemed unused each time we passed them.
Many of us Slave Boys had advanced degrees, but were of little use here. A relief to some. No pressure to perform, or answer to bosses, or take any accountability as most of us dealt with a decade ago. Back when we thought progress was still possible.
We marched into the factory break room. Not our break room, but for the factory workers that presumably ate lunch there in the day. It was as large as the production floor itself. “Clean,” I announced as I wiped up the last tile in my assigned section. I leaned on my mop, and wondered 8 was contemplating as he was already done as well. I imagined he wondered what I was thinking. Then wondered what he thought I might be thinking of, if he indeed was like me and thinking what I was thinking.
“I didn’t audition for this,” said Slave Boy 6. It was true, none of us had, not to be Slave Boy. We were all given respectable interviews when we signed up so long ago for various other jobs. Proper questions of “How would you describe your work ethic?” and “Why do you want to work at Vanderland Technologies?” I forgot about all that until he broke protocol to announce his disappointment. I had forgotten about disappointment as well.
Slave Boy 6 dropped his mop and walked across the freshly cleaned floor. I could see disappointment show up in many of the others, because of the footprint tracks 8 left as went for the door. I decided it wasn’t a bad thing to do and followed him out.
There were no armed guards, no barbed wire fences to keep us there, though I sometimes imagined there were. Slave Boy was the official title of our position after all. We were free to resign at any time if we liked. But it never came up as long as I worked as a Slave Boy. There was simply nothing else to do. I thought, as I followed Slave Boy 6 out of the compound, this would be the beginning of something new. I imagined 7, 9, 3, and the rest joining us one by one. Chanting in protest even as we exited. Though protesting what I wasn’t sure of. But that didn’t happen. When I reached the main gate, I looked back. No one was behind me. I looked ahead down the path. Slave Boy 6 looked back as he walked as if to say, “You’re on your own. Don’t follow me.” He had no intentions to lead us all to salvation. He had no intentions at all but to leave. I had no idea where I would go. It was dark and the drizzle began to dampen my clothes. There was nowhere for me to go either.
I turned back to the factory, soaked and beginning to shiver. The other Slave Boys were waiting for me on the factory floor. Slave Boy 3 handed me a mop and said, “You’re number 10 now.” We proceeded to the restrooms.