by Stephen Heister
Understand how it can happen. When people forget who big brother is. When people concentrate only on their own lives. Looking to advance only their own interests within a system that is inherently evil. I suppose there will always be those that struggle. Lashing out at whatever or whoever is closest to them. But who will pull against the reins of a faceless evil?
Allie ground his cigarette into the black concrete with his shoe. He knew he was going to get fired. So following the company litter policy hardly mattered now. Though they would probably mention this very infraction in a case that was already prepared against him.
He glanced up at the camera that was watching him near the back door and then looked back down at his feet, at the thick, black boots that he had gotten from the black-market not three weeks ago. No labels on them, no logos; they were perfect. He had finally found a match for the rest of his clothing: also label-less, they were extraordinary in their ambiguity.
He had been unable to find undergarments at the fair, from the old man that had sold him his jeans and his boots. But he remembered the happy night he had spent with a sharp knife carefully slicing out the labels and brand names. He felt free in these shoes.
That’s why they would fire him. Wall-Mart employees were expected to wear their branded clothing. It wasn’t a written rule, but it was accepted. It made his overseer look at him a little closer. They hardly every fire anyone any more. They just get demoted, up and down the “chain of command.” But Allie was already the lowest-level night stocker you could become. There was little else that they could do with him.
It happened so quickly, his descent down the corporate ladder. He had always been quick in the Wall-Mart-funded schools; his dad was a fairly influential district manager; he had even been running up large debts on high-interest Wall-Mart credit cards for a while, hoping to qualify for financing on some nice Wall-Mart condos near work.
Meeting the little old Chinese man had changed everything for him. He should have know that it was a death sentence listening to him. Hearing the stories of China and of free enterprise. Unconnected systems, and the freedom to move about. It wasn’t spoken as though those freedoms were lost here. But Allie knew that they were. The corporations had moved in. Everything belonged to Wall-Mart. You worked there so you could live there and eat there and buy your clothes there. Everyone claimed free enterprise, but the reality was that after Allie was fired he would have no place to go. There were no real jobs left that hadn’t been farmed overseas, or disappeared completely within the conglomerates.
No this stain of failure to conform would follow him like visible piercings; the only employer out there was Wall-Mart. To reject them was to reject the system.
The camera lens focused on him again. Through the speaker on the wall his manager spoke to him.
“You’re late coming off your break”
“Sorry, sir, I’m on my way back in now.”
“Would you come to my office, Allie.”
Was this it? Was this the death stroke that would end his frustrations and at the same time end any chance he ever had of succeeding in this twisted system? He walked slowly up the twisted stairs the upper levels. Passing the wall of achievement, the posters showing Wall-Mart’s penetration and domination into every known marketplace. Wall-Mart Steel Wall-Mart Food Processing Wall-Mart Fast Food Wall-Mart Restaurants Wall-Mart Manufacturing Wall-Mart Housing Wall-Mart Financial
Allie laughed at the amazing truth. His life was a circle. He only worked to be paid. He was only paid to buy products. The product came from the same people he worked for. What was the point? Why not just put them all in chains and feed them rice? He felt like his life was over.
He knocked slightly on Mr. Harbinger’s door. The camera lens outside the focused on him.
“Come on in, Allie.” The voice behind the door said. Allie walked into the large room and nodded slightly at Mr. Harbinger, surrounded by his monitors. His father was also there.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
“Son, Joe asked me here so that we could talk to you a bit. He says that your work is slipping. You’ve been demoted four times in the last six months. You’re wearing those... rags to work. Is there something going on son?”
“They’re not rags. I like them.”
“Allie,” Mr. Harbinger was speaking, “You’ve been a good employee before, lately your late to shifts, you’re disrespectful. It’s like you don’t care anymore. Tell us what’s going on.”
They wanted to pull something out of him he could tell. What was there to say?
“I hate it here, I hate Wall-Mart. I hate everything about this place.” Allie felt tears well up in his eyes at his unexpected lashing.
“This place is evil, I am always watched, always controlled. I am tired of being controlled.”
His father’s eyes widened first in surprise and then in anger. “Where are you going to go son? There is no employment out there, you have nothing to sell. No real-world skills. Just what they force fed you in school. What, are you going to run to China?” So they had been watching him closer than he realized. This knowledge only made him sob more. His father was a company man, to the only company left.
His father sighed, “I am going to let you in on a little secret Allie. There is no free China. China is only a factory, as far as the eye can see. Where do you think all of our consumables come from? Where do you think the food that goes into you greedy little mouth comes from? There are no farms in this country any more. It’s all grown overseas. Shipped here by Wall-Mart. Everyone does his or her part. They produce and we consume. This is the nature of the system.”
“It’s wrong. We are slaves.” Allie spoke the dirty word that had been rolling over his tongue for days now. His father looked shocked, Mr. Harbinger’s checks grew red.
“That’s far enough, young man. The company has been nothing but kind to you. We have given you enough chances to understand your place in the system. There are no monsters for you to slay, there are no mountains for you to conquer. You want challenge. Now you’ll have it. You are hereby terminated from your employment with the company, with a five-year re-evaluation term. You are also banned from our stores, and your credit is erased. Lets see if you can survive begging in the streets when you realize that they’re are no other jobs to be had.”
“Now Mr. Harbinger, please. This is my son. It never takes five years for them to come to.”
“That hardly matters now. If he is so sharp and able he will have no problems.”
Allie stood up slowly. He felt as though a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. He was worried about tomorrow, but he no longer felt that he was in league with Satan. He walked outside slowly. The sun was shining.
Allie’s father sat in Mr. Harbinger’s office, he pulled two long cigars out of his coat. He handed one to Mr. Harbinger. “We need to re-evaluate the education processes. We are losing too many of our children.”
“Oh he’ll be back.”
“Yeah, I know. He is too soft to stay out there. But still... It’s hard.”
“I know,” said Mr. Harbinger, “but it is the Company process.” He spoke “the Company” in a revered tone as they sat smoking their cigars.
Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Heister