Radio Ga Ga: Can't Hold Us









Track 5

Can't Hold Us




                         “Y'all can't stop me,
                         Go hard like I got an 808 in my heart beat
                         And I'm eating at the beat
                         Like you give a little speed to a great white shark
                         On shark week.
                         ... Raw.”
                                         - Benjamin “Macklemore” Haggerty



                         “My bitch a fashion killa, she be busy popping tags
                         She got a lotta Prada, that Dolce & Gabbana
                         I can't forget Escada, and that Balenciaga.”
                                         - Rakim “A$AP Rocky” Mayers



Fashion killed her mom. The glutinous desire by millions for fast, cheap clothes crushed the L1, L2 and L3 vertebrae in her mom's spine, paralyzing her below the waist. The weight of unbridled capitalism pinned her mom for five days. Her mangled body dripped blood until her organs failed and brain activity ceased.

Barshana was only four years old, but her last moments with her mom ached in her for the rest of her life. She bounced on her mom's knee, burying her face deeper and deeper into her light blue sari to savor the scent of her mom: turmeric, cumin and a joyful, flowery perfume. A smell she would never enjoy again. When she pulled the blue back, her mom smiled. Simple. Sweet. All-encompassing. She giggled and grabbed on to her mom's long black hair, nibbling at the ends, trying to consume what she could.

Her follicles constricted into goosebumps as her mom set her down and moved away. Even decades later, she shivers remembering that yearning. That coldness. But her mom's smile at the door reassured her, she would return, she would hold her again.

Just wait.

But she didn't come home that night. Barshana stood at the door, kicking pebbles as she searched the dirt, waiting for her mom's warmness to return. That night, she and her father and siblings prayed and prayed and prayed.

These humans lived at the nexus of 230 rivers and streams that flushed from the planet's largest landmass, Asia, and drained through this country, Bangladesh, before pouring into the ocean. For the Boujees, it was a far, far, far away land most hadn't heard of though they all reaped the rewards of its cheap labor. Those few who knew shook it off like the tag that bore its name and scratched their necks. Just a mild nuisance to endure until forgotten. Hundreds of millions of forgotten humans were trapped in this most densely packed powder keg, and as the land flooded, these humans became more desperate. It was here that the spark of humanity's destruction first flickered.

The misery that humans inflicted on Barshana would only compound until the reverberations would topple all of humanity.

But first!

Let me set the stage.

The Rana Plaza building cracked the day before humanity's greatest fashion disaster. The top four floors of this eight-story building had been built without a permit. In these floors, thousands toiled away on heavy machinery to create frocks and socks, straining the building with a weight that would only overflow closets and eventually be thrown away. Each year, 26 billion tons of textiles wound up in exile, littering landfills.

Press flocked to the scene. Cameras caught the building's failure. A million eyes scrutinized the instability. This external pressure squeezed the building to evacuate. The boutiques and bank on the first floor howled, demanding that the building be fixed. These businesses shuttered indefinitely and urged their employees to stay away.

But not the garment factories.

Workers were ordered to return the next morning or lose their jobs and with it, their livelihoods. Leyla smiled to her daughter, Barshana, as she stood at the door. But she felt her heart drop as she walked through the threshold, trapped by humanity's hunger for cheap clothes.

Leyla loomed thread for the high-end and the low-end. From United Colors of Benetton to Walmart, she stitched together the clothes that tore communities apart. Her nimble fingers severed teens into groups, clustered around new identities forged by fabric. Preps, goths, jocks faced off in cafeterias and malls on the dark side of the planet, opposite from where she sewed the uniforms of their discord.

As they slept, did they dream of her sweating over their bedazzled blouses?

From baskets beneath her feet, the tanks and tees parted, shipped to fortresses of consumerism, separated into shops by class and caste. Lovefool cardigans for the matronly Haught Boujees. Asymmetrical skank tanks for the Petty Boujees. Khaki catastrophes for the Brains. Cargo dickies for the Grips. Denim dungarees for the Vessels. Each wrapped themselves in cloaks of preordained uniqueness, hiding the shame they felt for their bodies.

This was fashion. A mass production of wearable identity, meant to hide insecurities.

Confession, it was I and my pop star brethren who planted thse insecurities in humans, forcing them to buy more and more and more. I told them which brands to buy. I showed them how to wear these clothes. As my waist shrank and booty grew, I infected millions with unobtainable body norms. My life was a long-form commercial for this consumerism.

While fashion clothed the Boujees, it stripped the planet. Cotton was a thirsty crop that gobbled up rivers and lakes and needed to be sprayed with poisons to survive. Toxic chemicals bleached the cotton, dyes bled these white puffs hues of blues, reds and yellows and then seeped into waterways, painting stomach linings with carcinogens. Freight ships rolled around the planet, to Europe and the United States, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as each trekked. In fact, after Big Oil, the fashion industry emitted the most greenhouse gases. Sadly, the self-proclaimed Fashion Police were too busy enforcing unrealistic body norms to arrest this worldwide destruction and large-scale torture for the brown and black women, men and children who made these garments.

When the clock struck seven that morning, Leyla hunched at her sewing machine, girding her bowels for two bathroom breaks in a twelve-hour shift.

The manager decorated the walls with ads for the clothing they made and deafened the factory floor with the pop music the purchasers of these clothes enjoyed. The women never knew if he was mocking them with these displays.

She shook her head at the glossy sheets on the walls. These tall, thin, gaunt figures were unrecognizable to her and the women who toiled around her. Were they human? Were they alien? Were they reptilian? Why did these perfectly symmetrical models with skin unscabbed and unpocked by disease always pout? She was unable to understand what suffering these women could possibly have endured to induce such frumpy faces. How did they have dark circles under their eyes if they weren't lying awake in a state of perpetual worry as she did most nights?

As she grabs her first romper, the battery-powered radio booms that years hit “Can't Hold Us.” The bass blends with the beat of thousands of sewing machines.

“Like the ceiling can't hold us.”

As fingers flick through the monotonous movements, the women whisper in disbelief.

“This building is a trap!”

“How can they force us to work today?”

“They don't really care about us! They just wanna make sure their profits keep pouring in.”

A crack like thunder rips through the building and, for an 1/8th of a second, Leyla flew. The floor fell. The walls topple. The ceiling crashes. Half a second later, the whole building collapses. Thousands of screams are instantly crushed by several metric tons of concrete.

Minutes pass. Dust, pain and adrenalin settle and Leyla realizes.

She's alive! She screams and prays to Allah.

But she's alive.

A large chunk of the ceiling crushed her spinal column, snapping its lower lumbar vertebrae. She felt severed in two. All feeling stopped below her hips.

But she's alive!

Light waves are trapped outside the maze of concrete. But sound waves can bounce. And through the piles of rubble, sounds wash over her and she hears! For the first hour, the screams of other women echo around her. She adds her cries to their suffering, hoping this chorus will be loud enough for rescuers to hear them and come save them.

Hours pass. The wails turn to whimpers.

One by one, voices die off.

Through the night, soft sobs bounce from lips, off concrete and to Leyla, reassuring her that she's not alone.

Stay moving.

She wiggles her fingers, shimmies her shoulders and shakes her head.

Stay moving!

But. So. Hard.

Fade to black.

She awakes with a gasp.

Is it morning? How many days have passed?

As Earth turns, light from the sun breaks through a crack above her. Her eyes adjust, begging for any photons to show her surroundings. She traces the line of light and sees the arch of air she's trapped in. Skulls have cracked. Chunks of brain and blood slide through openings around her. One human head, her manager's, dangles inches from her. An asymmetrical tank top wrapped around his neck and, in the moment of impact, snapped the top of his spinal cord.

Leyla screams to the other voices with renewed horror. She aches to commiserate. Her ears throb, searching the nothingness for any sign of life.

But they've all disappeared. She stops. Only a few drops of moisture remain in her mouth. The last lubrication to glide her vocal chords and announce her survival.

Through the silence, her heart pounds. Her ears search for any vibration. Any bit of sound to suggest other survivors and perhaps even rescuers.

Hush, Hush!

She chastises her booming heart.

Keep it down now.

Voices carry...

And then---

A voice!

She hears a voice!

Carrying through the carnage! Faintly, but its there. Blood rushes to her ears.

Focus, Focus.

Her whole mind tries to understand.

She screams and hollers to it.

She pauses for a response. She can hear something, but she doesn't understand it.

What is it?

She screams again and stops. The words seem to be repeating.

That's not Bengali.

But what is it?

Maybe its international relief workers? They might not understand her words but they would feel her pain. She hunches her shoulders, shrinks her neck and howls with her last drops.

Outside the labyrinth of toppled concrete and bodies, no one is coming to her rescue. Officials in the government of Bangladesh were ashamed at how inadequately prepared they were for this disaster, so they hid their anxieties in layers of lies. The government of these people did not accept the offer for international aid. Instead, officials grabbed a small number of untrained volunteers in sandals and told them to excavate survivors from the largest structural disaster in human history. In total, 1,129 women and men died and more than 2,500 were injured by the building's instability mixed with their leaders' insecurities.

But that voice!

It calls to her again!

She hears the beat beneath the words, the bass rumbles through the rubble. And that voice again, mocking her in a language she'll never understand.

“Like the ceiling can't hold us.”

“Like the ceiling can't hold us!”

“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.”

The raps of Macklemore, the beats of Ryan Lewis and the soulful singing of Ray Dalton taunt her. For three days, she hears this same song 85 times. To keep her sanity, she tries to sing along, matching the notes but jumbling the words. She clings to this shoddy thread of humanity as she waits for anyone to save her.

On the fifth day, her body stops drawing in oxygen. Her blood stops circulating. Neurons in her brain cease to spark. Even if she were to be plugged into a power source, she would never restart.

The last thought that her mind musters, her last moment of sentience, is to curse the voice in the darkness.

“Like the ceiling can't hold us.”

“Like the ceiling can't hold us.”

“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.”

* * *

Long after the dust settled, the companies would not. Families of those killed in the Rana Plaza collapse were offered compensation from the companies who profited from the cheap labor and lax regulations that killed their loved ones. These companies offered $200 for each mother, sister, wife or daughter crushed. The life of their loved one was equal to three Benetton turtleneck sweaters or 40 Wal-Mart crew neck T-shirts. And yes, all were viewed as disposable. But for claims to clear, families needed DNA evidence pulled from the ruins proving their loved one was indeed crushed under the weight of fast fashion.

Leyla's body was pinned by 26 tons of concrete. As the weeks passed, rains bloated her body. Her hair, skin and bones fell apart and dragged through the cracks. The rest was smashed by the demolition crew eager to get rid of all remains and rebuild. Her family could never find the DNA evidence to prove she died in this catastrophe to receive their pitiful cash consolation. Their pleas before the commission were ignored and when they screamed, they were ushered out by security. Just a mild nuisance to be endured until forgotten.




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