It was the growl and smack of the man in charge, ordering them all to wake up.
The day was only just on the cusp of 4 am, dark and cold, and all the children lay in lumps on the wooden floor. Those children who lingered, hugging the hard surface for any comfort it might offer, were doused in ice water from a slop bucket. She was so tired, so very tired, so she often awoke to a slap of frigid dirty water in her face. All the days had collapsed into one now, the routine barely varying. She struggled to regain her place in the waking world every morning and clumsily pulled on the prior day’s work clothes. She wore stiff ripped jeans caked with dirt and a long-sleeve t-shirt still damp and rank with sweat, a baseball cap and bandana, moist, dirty socks and heavy boots.
There was no time for anything but the most basic of things, so she quickly took her turn peeing at the outdoor pig trough and tying up her ratty hair. She lined up to get a plastic jug of water, a meat and cheese sandwich and a big ragged-edged machete. She headed out and climbed into the back of a pickup truck with a bunch of other hired kids. After a wordless ride down a maze of bumpy, dusty roads, she and the others would be dropped in a field just as another blazing sunrise would begin to scorch the brim of the horizon. An older boy would yell out their chores for the day and they would all hunker down among the rows of corn or soybean and get to work. Sometimes some of the other children would fight among themselves – but she avoided those tussles and hung toward the edges of the group, quiet and alone. She had no friends, no one to talk with, and that was fine. During the cooler hours, she used the time to daydream, but as the sun rose and she became deeply entrenched in the dusty fields, her mind would come to a panting stop under the unbearable heat.
The sun would beat her into a hunched slump. Sweat would sting her eyes and crawl down her body, pooling in the nooks of her dirty skin. A fine layer of dust would filter into her nose and mouth, making her hack and gag all day. Swarms of insects would fly and jump toward her face with every step she took. She felt their sticky legs and scratchy bodies scrambling to enter her ears, eyes, nose and mouth. She thought she might suffocate from the heat and dust and insects. She thought her tired arms might hesitate or slip and she might slice herself. She thought she would die out in the field, from hunger or fatigue or both.
But as bad as the day could be, the night was even worse. It was a time when the dark let loose all the demons in the children and they turned on each other out of angry fear and ravenous hunger. When night came, she tried to make herself disappear along the edge of the dirty crowded room and when that failed, she held her breath against every violation of her body and disappeared inside of her spirit.
She wondered often why her parents had brought her here. She usually brushed these thoughts aside, quickly – like the bugs she swatted away from her face. Because what if they did not come back for her. Then what? She dared not consider the possibility of being left here forever.