“Have you been here before?” the woman asks from behind the desk.
I look around the office nervously. Sterile tables and chairs float like islands on the expanse of green carpet. The security guard glances up at me from his desk at the back of the room.
“No. Well… not for myself,” I say, remembering my trip here last year with Hei Nay Htoo and Tha Htaw. Blay Blay and Ga Pu were in tow since Baw Baw was still working at another poultry plant. We had to make a stop halfway to Athens because Blay Blay got carsick all over himself.
“Fill this out to complete your registration,” she says handing me a pen and packet of forms.
I sit down at one of the many empty tables and begin filling in my contact information on the top of the generic form. I hesitate at the line for college or university education. Cautiously I scrawl out, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, check the box indicating that I graduated, and then write in my major: Religious Studies, hoping this compensates for having a bachelor’s degree in the first place. I find comfort in the thought that I am only at the Georgia Department of Labor, and know the person with whom I am meeting.
A short black woman comes out from the office area and calls my name with a thick West African accent. I hardly recognize her, but know this must be Sola, so I get up to greet her. She smiles at me and asks jovially:
“So how come this time you are here for yourself? You are looking for a job?”
“I just moved in with Eh Kaw in Comer and am looking for a job at the poultry plant,” I say as I follow her into her office in the back.
“Did he start there already?”
“Yeah. I think they wanted him in H.R. but he insisted on working as a wing cutter on the line.”
“It is very slow right now. They really are not doing very much. Maybe if you go with Eh Kaw…”
“Yeah that is what I thought I would do, but he told me to come through you because usually the people he brings are given the hardest jobs. He has seen me try to cut meat before and is pretty sure I would sever a finger if I worked as a wing cutter.”
“Well, I will do what I can, but I never know when they will come to us and ask for people. You might have to wait several months…”
She points to a stack of applications in a tray: all people waiting for work at the plant.
“Home Depot is hiring right now if you are interested in that… or since your last job was as a tutor, what about this preschool teacher position?”
Feeling discouraged about the possibility of the chicken plant I let her tell me about the other job openings in her database. A middle aged white woman comes in to the office and starts talking to Sola about some video series on job searching to show for an event at the labor department. I gradually tone out there conversation in spite of my impatience and try to imagine myself with an orange apron unloading freight from trucks.
“…And this is Zac. He worked with Jubilee Partners and now he is coming to me to look for jobs,” she says with a chuckle. I smile at her co-worker.
“What kind of job are you looking for?” she asks.
“I want to work at the chicken plant.”
“I have been telling him about other possibilities, but he wants to work there,” Sola chimes in.
“You don’t want to work there,” the woman says, “I went for a meeting there once and it… it was horrible! I knew someone who worked there once who told me they could never get the smell of dead chicken out of their car! It’s not for you.”
“Are you sure you can handle it?” Sola asks.
“Well… I want to try… So many of my friends are working there and I feel like I need to know what it is like… Eh Kaw asked it of me.”
“So you just want to experience it? How long do you want to stay there? Six years? You think it is worth you just going in there to see what it is like when there are so many people waiting for jobs there?” the woman barks at me.
“It’s not for you. It’s for… who it’s for,” Sola agrees.
Who is this dastardly group that the chicken plant is for? Most Karen certainly have a knack for butchering meat and the plant does provide necessary employment and decent wages to many much more skilled with their hands than I. However, as ragged white-feathered chickens, unable to walk if they are kept alive too long, are brought in by the filthy truckload in order to please our hungry consumer society like a demon child being suckled by the boneless breast, we must acknowledge the reality that we are all being processed.
If the chicken plant vocation is intended for anyone, it is meant for the people who have taken and eaten. We the processed meat, are called to the line. We must without hesitation hop on the conveyor to our deconstruction. James writes:
Let the brother in humble circumstances take pride in his eminence and the rich man be proud of his lowliness, for he will disappear “like the flower of the field.” When the sun comes up with its scorching heat it parches the meadow, the field flowers droop, and with that the meadow’s loveliness is gone. Just so will the rich man wither away amid his many projects.
“If you really have it in your heart to work there we will see what we can do, but I am telling you it might be several months,” the woman says leaving the room.
Sola hands me an application.
“Make sure you omit your college degree on here. Can you fax this to me by tomorrow?”
“Yes. I will.”
The next day I return to the work of watching my niece and nephew in the morning for a few hours while Baw Baw goes to English class. Blay Blay and Ga Pu follow me outside of the K-House and I direct them to edible weeds for a wild salad.
“Blay Blay, can you pick the little umbrellas?” I ask, pointing to a patch of thriving cranesbill.
“Oh yeah!” he says, scampering towards the foliage, carefully snipping off the tops of the umbrellas and placing them in the metal bowl.
Ga Pu looks at the cranesbill with apparent disinterest and hops over to where I am picking violet. Her eye catches a tiny lavender-colored flower, which she delicately plucks from the ground. She hits my arm forcefully, to pull my attention from the violet leaves.
“Zac! Zac!” she calls. I finally stop pulling the leaves and look to see why she is so excited. She holds the wild pansy up in the air for me to see, eyes big with wonder. I find another wild pansy growing close by and pop it in my mouth, pleasantly surprised by the subtle burst of floral wintergreen. Her brow furrows.
“Can you put the flower in the bowl?” I say, picking more pansies, in hopes that she will follow suit. Her lips curve into a smile as she places the flower in the bowl and hunts for another. With each pansy she picks, she comes over and hits my arm again, holding the single flower up as high as she can before placing it carefully in the salad.