It's a Hard-Knock Life

I’ve made it! After traveling fifty miles in that infernal horse-and-buggy; over ridiculously sloping hills and down precarious back roads, I was able to make it to Manchester. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Percy Roswell. I’m seventeen years old and a former cotton weaver. I was born in a small town on the outskirts of the Western Midlands and have worked in the cottage industry since I was twelve. With no father figure to guide me, I was forced to raise my brothers alongside my mother. My siblings saw me more as their parent rather than their equal. In addition my mother had grown too ill to work and my four brothers were far too young to accompany me, and so I decided to venture forth in hopes of supporting the household. I was told that Manchester’s factories held a better life for my family. I can only pray that this city will bring me back home safely. But I know from what I have heard that prayer is but a fool’s dreams and that factory life is harsh, everyday is a struggle, and the living conditions are despicable.

The next morning, I awoke with the sun and prepared myself for the long twelve hour day ahead of me. I arrived at the Crosby’s textile industry at eight o’clock sharp and from the moment I entered the doors to the time I left; I was convinced I had stepped into the belly of hell and that Satan had me by the collar. The employers insistently nipped at the ears of the fumbling girls and boys with malicious warnings, badgering them to work faster. But what appalled me the most was when in a rush to gather more materials, I ran head-long into a little girl -about seven- (with mutilated hands and nubs for toes) at work untangling one of the machines. She immediately begged me not to tell, but to tell what... I was never able to ask. As the work day progressed I found it hard to fathom the surreal environment around me. It is utter rubbish that children are hired solely to move between these hazardous machines on the simple principle that they are small enough to fit. Children. Some even younger than my littlest brother, how sickening! I was soon to learn that many of these children were treated as animals, often beaten, starved and overworked. Working for mere pocket change (five pences) and in hopes of fewer working hours, children here are deprived of a solid education. At eight o’clock I packed up my things and was about to head home when I stumbled upon two twin brothers, Pip and Ralph. They looked up at me with grimy little faces and frowned. I noticed their tiny figures were contorted and bent in the most painful of positions. Trying not to stare I quickly nodded and readjusted my cap. “Cheerio mates!” The words came across half-hearted and lifeless. I added a meek smile and went to open the door. Mentally recapping on my long day I had found that life is much more grueling and dangerous here in the factory than back home. At that moment I felt very alone and cold, and maybe even a little doubtful of my new life as a factory worker.


The next few days proved to be the worse forty eight hours of my short life in Manchester. I was quick to realize just how far the employers, the blood-thirsty demons, were willing to would go. It is a Sunday and I had been relieved of work today, and so I decided to wander the streets of my new home. But what I discovered sent my head reeling, and made me want to run and hide—to escape from this filthy hell. Children played kick-the-can openly in the streets and little girls running about screaming uncouth nonsense at the top of their lungs. All seemed normal dare say even whimsical until the Crosby’s factory doors slammed open and a small body was thrown to the curb. It was Pip and he looked horrid. Bruised and battered, his small grubby face was littered with large whelps. He stood after a moment, knees shaking in the process as a scrawny bloke exited the building after him. The man seemed to be talked to him- more like yelling at him- about some one thing or another. I foolishly inserted myself into a risky position as I stood between the two, but I had to protect to Pip. It was the only thought my brain would allow. In an instant, the boy cowered behind me to seek shelter from the crazed fool. I felt my stomach tightened at the trembling fingers on my jacket, and yet I still stood my ground. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t even get a punch in—let alone a word. Before I knew it, it was over and I was on my bum, holding my throbbing head. Pip was on the ground a few feet away from me curled in a tight ball, and the man was nowhere in sight. I struggled to my feet as Ralph; Pip’s brother came stumbling out after him to console the shock-stricken boy. I too approached the child and helped him up, asking fervently about his condition. He nodded and braced himself against my hip as he pursed his lips close to keep from crying. Later that night as I was paced about my boarding room, I tried to make sense of the violence I had witnessed and experienced earlier today but to no avail. Finally too tired to wrack my brain any longer I slunk into my bed and leaned over to blow out the candle burning beside me. But I was far from sleep and so I resorted to memory lane in hopes of dreams finding me peacefully tonight. I pictured myself home, it was summer and the sun was just showing her first rays of light. I recall a time when I was playing stickball with my brothers while my mother and father were busy at work weaving that week’s cloth from the merchants. Life was much easier back then; the world wasn’t set upon a child’s shoulders but balanced by two capable adults. But seeing children crammed into disease riddled factories and expected to work like dogs for mere pennies… it is disgraceful. It’s hard to believe, I’m nearly an adult myself now. What happened…? Good lord, what happened! Nowadays the children are the family’s support not the parents, who rightfully should be. Turning over, I buried my face in the mildew-reeking pillow and try shut out the cruel world. Little did I know it would only get worse from here.

It has been three months now and life has been far from kind to me. Just the other day, I found out the joys of pickpockets with their tricky words and nimble fingers. There are no organized law enforcement to speak of - the idea of a uniformed police officer patrolling the streets in order to prevent crime was considered too Frankish and an affront to the Englishman’s liberty. I have been exposed to the unimaginable filth of Manchester; its streets are filled with mucky sludge and I can’t bear to say but, human waste. That’s not even the least of it! The air is absolutely vile, thick soot from the burning coal (used to fuel the factories) blankets the town, turning day into an inevitable night. The pollution has gotten be to so foul that the yankees have commented on the smug on their arrival, calling it black by day and red by night. I can tell you; this mockery would have never happened if I were back home. Home was a place of peaceful and boundless adventure. Where you could always expected quality instead quantity. Life had more to offer and families weren’t simply tore apart by such a frivolous thing like money.

Two years have passed and I have taken up residence in a local shanty provided Crosby’s textile industry. I was able to make enough money to bring my family to where I am. My mother’s condition has worsened and I fear she won’t make it another year. Two of my brothers have now joined me in the workforce, together we have barely been able to make ends meet. It’s hard to believe it has been two whole years since I’ve started. I look back at the beginning and I see a scrawny, frightened seventeen year old and I laugh. I have come so far from being a boy to a man. The factory life has toughened my mind as well as body. The differences between my old home and this city have shaped who I am today. The living conditions I have had to live under for months have changed my life forever.





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eaglesnester said...
Oct. 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm
wonderful !!!keep writing !
 
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