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I’m awake, yet I feel unconscious. Like after a bad hangover, a really bad hangover. My eyes are slowly getting used to the harsh bright lights as I feel my hands around the rough cement floor I’m on. I don’t know where I am. I try to stand up, but I’m too weak and confused to gain enough balance. I sit against the wall and stare at the woman sitting by the desk in front of me. She looks Indian, Filipino, maybe?

“Where am I?” I say in my groggy voice.

The woman looks as confused as I am. She says something in a foreign language and slowly walks towards me. I freeze in panic, then frantically try to look for my phone. My pants don’t have pockets, and it’s not in my suit, and it’s not anywhere besides me. I’m done for. The woman gets close to my face and asks, in a weird accent, “Are you okay, lady?”

I breathe out. “Where am I?” I ask her again, slowly this time, hoping she’ll understand me this way. She nods her head, still with that confused expression.

“Come, come”, she says, helping me get up.

Once I’m up, I detach from her sweaty palms and try to find my way out of this place, my heels falling from my feet with each step. I’m sweating like crazy and the only fan here looks old, broken, and blows out hot air. There are no doors, at least none that I can see. The place reeks of fish, smoke, and a certain spice I can’t identify. At the end of the room, I find a small corridor with a staircase to my left and a large window to my right, stretching up all the way from the ground to the low ceiling above. I halt towards the window. It’s dusty, and some of it is covered with yellowing plastic. I can’t see much outside; just the first-floor view of a deprived street, scattered with junk and brownish-gray puddles across what seems like infinite gray buildings. I can’t tell what time it is because the sky is packed with thick gray clouds. I try to scream to the one scooter driving across the faulty road, but there’s no use.

“You are okay?” I hear the woman asking again.

“How do I get out?" I ask through gritted teeth. She just stares at me. I stare back at her in anger and turn around from her to walk up the stairs. I can’t be hesitant. I need to get out. I try to hold onto the non-existent handlebar and almost fall on my back, so I grab the gritty stone wall with my nails and walk up the rough, lanky corridor.

I reach the second floor and try to catch my breath, but the room is filled with an even stronger, pungent smell of some sort of spice I can’t recognize. I look around to see the small, crowded room with dozens of brown-skinned women sitting at their tables with their sewing machines and a pile of fabrics next to them. I don’t think they noticed me; I don’t know if they should. “How the fuck did I get here?" I scream. They have definitely noticed now.

Looking up from her desk, one woman asks, in that same annoying accent, “Is everything good?”

I can’t take this anymore; my best option is to jump out the window at this point. I make my way down and lose my balance again, but this time it’s not just my vertigo and faulty heels. The ground starts to shake beneath my feet, and I fall face-flat on the hard cement floor. I look up to see the LED lights’ wiring snap in sparks and disconnect from their place, falling down and breaking just inches from my face, causing a small fire to break out. The blood from my forehead drips down on my lips, and the taste of metal blends with the smell of dust and smoke that surrounds me. Then I snap out of my brief shock to hear the screams. The sounds of bloodcurdling wailings are getting closer and closer as more bodies crash down from the collapsing floors above me. I don’t need to know their language to understand how they are crying for help from the depths of their stomachs. I can feel it in mine too. The second layer of shock wears off, and I start to feel the pain of a thousand bricks crashing into me, suffocating me, until the metallic taste in my mouth turns acidic and the screams turn to ringing in my ears. All I can see is dust, until I can’t see anything at all.

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I think I’m in heaven. Or hell. I have to be somewhere because I’m still breathing and the screams have stopped, though I can hear the buzzing noise of the lights above me. I open my eyes. I’m in the same building. Same cement floor, same harsh lights, same pungent smell that now I think is way better than any smell of blood, dust, and smoke that seems missing right now. What the fuck is happening? I get up unsteadily and gasp, still trying to take everything in. The same woman is sitting at the same desk, and she asks me the same question as before:

“You are okay?”

I jump towards her and crash on the desk. The woman is taken aback, but I’m still able to grab her shoulders and scream at her face to get the fuck out. She picks up the desk phone and tries to call someone. She looks petrified, but not more than I am. I rush upstairs. Every woman in that same crowded room is now looking at me; they probably heard my heavy breathing.

“Leave! Everyone must leave this place!” I yell, shivering and whimpering.

“What do you mean?” says the only woman who has talked to me here before. I look at her green eyes with so much pleading, but I shake from her gaze once I see him. A child stands behind her purple saree. I push myself away from the dizziness and run to save him, my heels falling off my feet. He starts to cry once he’s in my arms as I run back downstairs.

“Stop it! What are you doing?" his mom shouts at me, but she stops before the stairs.

“This place is about to collapse!” I scream, like the hundreds of horrified screams I heard here before. “Where is the exit?" I shout; she seems to be the only one here who understands me, but now she’s too stunned to reply. I can’t waste much time. The window must be weak enough for me to break through. So I bang my body over and over against it, the child still in my hands. With shreds of glass scorching through my suit and into my flesh as I cover his head with my hands, I manage to fall through onto the pavement outside. Mud gets in my face, but it still tastes better than blood.

The child breaks loose from my embrace as I’m trying to get back on my feet after being flattened to the ground.

“Mama!” he’s wailing. I beg that this will be his only wail to come, but my hopes shatter with the rest of the buildings’ windows when a large stone falls right on my back, pinning me again to the ground. I can’t move; the air is slowly being sucked out of my lungs as I watch the boy reach for his mom through the pile of stones and rusty steel rods blocking them apart. The horrendous screams are back again, screams of agony so deep it felt like the entire earth shook. But through the many painful screams stabbing my ears and my heart, I can only hear the helpless cries of the child watching his mother crumble under the fallen ceiling. I wish I could scream; I wish I could not hear it all, but I can only watch while my sight is getting dark.

“Mama!” His cry is so hoarse that it can cut through his throat.


And then I find myself again on the cement floor of that building. As if I wasn’t just watching a child witness his mother being brutally squashed to death in front of his eyes, right across from me, right here. As if I wasn’t the reason he couldn’t hug her in their final moments.

I watched every movie with this sort of shitty time-loop trope. Groundhog Day and such. I know the drill. You wake up on the same day over and over, and you have to find out why you're stuck in it while you die every single time. But unlike those movies, I can’t afford to fuck around and try to sleep with my ex or run around naked. I know, I can’t believe this either, I would too think this is just a nightmare if the pain and hurt I felt each time didn’t feel so real, too real. I can’t bear to live through those horrors again of people’s bodies crashing down on me, splatting their blood on my face, before I myself also experience their pain of being crashed under what feels like a ton of stones. I can’t do it all over again.

I get on all fours and get up as fast as I can; there is no time for being dizzy and unbalanced. I reach the desk and shout at the woman before she can ask me anything. “Call an ambulance. Call the police. Where is the exit? Is there an exit?” She looks shocked. I don’t have time for this. I decide to go straight to the one person here I’m convinced can almost understand me, so I head to the second floor.

“Where is the emergency exit?” I shout, begging that she would understand me.

“There is an exit down here, what happened?” she answers, mumbling.

I have no time to be relieved. “We need to get everyone out of here, come on!” She doesn’t move a muscle, the women around her stare in confusion. “Do you understand me? Now!”

“We can’t leave, we have to work," she says with a smile.

I plant my face in my hands, and I’m biting the inside of my mouth to keep it shut from desperately screaming at her that she and everyone around her are going to die. Making her panic won’t work for me; I have to think fast.

There must be a reason I’m here in the first place, right? This is how it usually works with those stupid time-loop plots. This has to be the key. I just need to focus and find out how I can stop this entire building from collapsing. It must be me, and it must happen now, right now. I breathe in deeply and look around for clues. The women have quickly lost interest in me and are already back to sewing whatever they’re sewing with their machines. Shirts, pants, bras... I look at the shirt the woman I just talked to is sewing, and I notice the tag she just sewed on it. ChicLux.

“That’s me!” I point at it and say, “I work for this company!”

“Oh, that’s great,” she says with a humble smile, the kind of smile you give to a child. I know she doesn’t care, but to me, this might be a serious lead. It can’t be a coincidence that the factory I’m trapped in is producing clothes for my company, right? I try to dig more, as calmly as I can, though my breathing just gets deeper and deeper.

“So, how long do you work here?” I ask.

“About 6 months, I have to take this job because of my kid,” she says. Then he appears, his head shyly peeking from behind his mom. That same head I watched get smashed to the floor, his blood staining his dark hair, the same hair he’s using now to hide his face from me. She says something to him that I can’t understand, and he goes back behind her. I think she called him “Kazi”. I smile at Kazi, and tears start to swell up my eyes. I must focus; I can’t watch him die again.

“Listen,” I tell her, looking her straight in the eye. “We don’t have much time, you must tell me more about this place, anything you know about it that can make it coll— anything around here that may be unsafe.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean,” she says with such an innocent voice that I can’t get mad.

“Is there anything that may cause this building to collapse?” I finally yell at her, gesturing with my hands to get over the language barrier.

“I don’t know! I mean, if you look around, you can see this place is not the best. This building is probably very old and-"

“And what?” I scream at her. At first, I don’t understand why she stopped talking, but soon enough, I start to feel the floor shake under my feet.

“Get out! Get through the exit! Now!” I shout the loudest I can, rushing her to make it through the stairs in time, but it’s impossible with everyone panicking, screaming, and running around, their tables and machines falling and breaking, fabrics flying everywhere. “Close your eyes,” I tell them, as calmly as I can. I have no other choice. I sit them down and hug them so tight to make sure they aren’t going anywhere. Right when I start to hear Kazi cry, I open my eyes to signal to him to cover his ears and close his eyes, just like me, but as I open them again to make sure he does it, the floor shatters and we fall down.

Sadly, the first floor isn’t that far down enough to kill us on the spot, so I have to witness it all once again. Everyone is flat on the ground, Kazi is curled up under his mom’s embrace, and I’m lying next to them. I’m trying to move every aching limb just to reach him when a steel rod falls down and right through my abdomen, impaling me and setting me in place. I scream out such a horrendous scream that it covers up the other horrors around me for a second, but then I notice the blood gushing out of my mouth, spilling slowly towards Kazi and his mother, still in their curled-up position. I can’t see anything through the dust and smoke everywhere, but I’m begging that they don’t open their eyes. And so I’m reminded that I should not keep mine open too; I close my eyes. It’s just the sounds now. Just the sounds of hundreds of mothers crying and screaming because they won’t see their own Kazis anymore, crying from the pain and the torture that this old building unjustly puts them through. I would rather concentrate on those sounds than deal with the agonizing pain of my flesh being slowly ripped apart. But judging from the screams, I wonder how many more women are feeling that pain right now, right around me, right here. I have no choice but to join in their dreadful screams.


I wake up again, painless, but still screaming, still crying, and hitting the floor hysterically over and over again.

“Please get me out,” I quietly beg the woman at the desk, knowing she probably can’t understand me and can’t help me anyway. Knowing that, with my luck, if I get out, the door will probably fall over me and keep me under it while the building collapses on me all over again. So I just cry for whoever may hear me. “Why? Why?” I scream, walking back and forth across the room, tears running down my face that are so sore from crying. And then I see it, behind the desk that woman is now hiding under, my phone. I jump onto it like a wild animal devouring flesh.

11 missed calls, 120 unanswered texts, all from today, all from Ethan, my colleague. It takes me 4 minutes to try to get a cellular connection, to try to call him, to curse him because he won’t pick up, and all that while I keep crying and crying and crying until I hear his voice.

“Where the fuck are you?” he shouts at me.

“I don’t know, Ethan, I don’t know! help me!”

“What? Are you okay?”

“I don’t know where I am, I need help, I need help!"

“I can’t hear you, hello?”

“Ethan! Please!” I’m begging him, screaming at my phone as if it was him, shaking it in my hand.

“Your connection is so shitty... Look, I don’t have time for this. The board wants to delay this safety meeting again because you didn’t show up today."

“Safety meeting?” I whimper.

“Hello?”

“What meeting?!” I shout, frozen in place, my voice echoing through the room.

“Hello?!”

“What meeting, Ethan?” I ask as directly as I can, as if no tears are running down my face.

"Finally, I can hear you properly... Anyways, it’s that meeting that the insurance company for our factories scheduled... regarding the unsafe conditions our factory workers are under... blah blah blah… remember? There was supposed to be one last month, but you asked to delay it for today. Hello? Can you still hear me?”

I can hear him, I can hear everything, I can hear the screams again, I can hear Kazi’s bloodcurdling cries that are about to come, the sound of everything around me breaking, everything is crystal clear now. And once again, as the tears start to fall, I stare through them at the first brick that falls and hits my head, the first of many more to come.

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