“It’s perfect!”, she gasps as she tears the gift wrap off from around the packaged pen in her little hand. Anna’s eyes swell with joy, seeing a lifetime of stories within the small pink instrument she holds ever so tightly within her protective grasp. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she showers her beaming parents with hugs and kisses, utterly grateful for their interest in her passion to become a writer.
Hope radiates from within the pen as it promises to fulfil her unconventional endeavours. A tear rolls down Anna’s right cheek as she begins to recognise the meaning behind the diamond which is propped on top of the pen. It is rare yet strong, and so are writers like herself. She quickly glances over the back of the package, the words: ‘MADE IN CHINA’ written beside the barcode. She gives the label no further thought; everything is made in China, it is the cornerstone of merchandise after all.
This pen is an emblem of novel beginnings; Anna commits to never let it leave her hand. As she frees the pen from within the confined plastic packaging, invincibility traces her mind; like she has been freed from the burden of pursuing an alternate career path which does not align with her interests. Sounds from the television interrupt her thoughts, a spokesperson from the Chinese Communist Party is being interviewed by an Australian news agency.
“As I’ve said before, we are not harming our Uyghur people, we are simply helping them become better citizens of China.” He speaks. “Then how do you explain this evidence?” The interviewer challenges, as pictures of torture cover the screen. Shivers travel down Anna’s spine as her attention falls on a woman being separated from her twin children, two boys crying out of fear. Her face fills with anger as she attempts to break free from the chains holding her back with her frail arms, painted in blood. Anna quickly grabs the remote and turns off the television, unable to witness such torment.
Anna’s eyes fall back on the pen in her lap. As the warm Australian sunlight reaches the pen’s diamond, a prism of rainbows escapes from its interior. She smiles down at the most beautiful birthday present she has ever received, completely unaware that she found hostage in another person’s prisoned conflict.
The moment they engulfed my frail figure within their lethal embrace; I knew my fate was poisoned.
“It’s not your fault.” I murmur to myself, “It’s… not… your… fault. It’s not”, the silent whispers leave my trembling lips, entering a world tainted with cries and conflicts, death and dismay. It has been a while since my skin glistened under the blazing sun and I smiled freely, strolling through life on my own accord, in full control of the path I led. It once felt like the ink which writes out my destiny would never run out; it was limitless and I was free. I could manoeuvre the pen in every direction, writing down my experiences and sketching out my dreams. Now it feels as though the ink has run out, ending my life with a full stop. Am I living or is this mere survival?
My natural identity as a Uyghur Chinese is a threat, so they forcefully burnt the humanity from within me and turned me into a living corpse. Day and night, I laid in a prison cell, draped amongst sixty-two other women. Last week they sterilised me, an effort to repress my kind. The week before they left me wailing on a tiger chair, weighed down by rusted steel chains as they snatched my twin sons from within my embrace. This week I am a slave for the global merchandising industry.
The chain scrapes over bruises that are yet to heal, tying me down to a chair and inhibiting any chance of escape. Six thousand Uyghurs sit beside me in this caged warehouse, skilfully crafting goods that the world will soon cherish. I cautiously polish the diamond, propping it on top of the thin pen; a light rosy pink with gold detailing. I twist the pen to make sure that it is in working shape. This twist… mirrors the frightful twist I felt in my stomach when a guard ripped my hijab off my head last week. Little did he understand, his act also stole the beliefs I held since birth, my identity, my safe haven.
Gruesome flashbacks of my cries from within the confined prison cell invade my mind as I slide the pen into its translucent packaging and restrict it in place with a cardboard lining, similar to how the heavy metal chains restricted my frail body in place. For the rest of the world, Uyghur concentration camps do not exist… we are translucent. The Chinese government reject any rumours regarding our struggles and remove our existence from the world map like a dead fly scooped out of a teacup. I notice the scratches that already cover the newly packaged pen, then I look beneath the table to the fierce red scratches which blanketed my skin and let out a hysterical chuckle, refusing to process my tormenting reality.
I pity these pens; they are weak, carrying a weight much greater than their capacity with dainty gold arms. Diamonds. I’ve come to despise them. I recall university, where I learnt that corporate greed made diamonds a rare luxury. In the same way, the Chinese government’s greed to maintain xenophobia against the Uyghur minority caused the extinction of my people. We were now rare.
An inviting crack in the brick ceiling lets a trickle of sunlight shine through, directly onto the diamond of the packaged pen in my hand. The light refracts in countless different directions; forming a prism of rainbows. It reminds me of the glow which once radiated from within me, when I was a fortunate mother of two young boys, happily married and filled with ambition. Now, smiling is a foreign affair. Thoughts of my children added colour to the grey-scale life I live now, they are my rainbow; the rainbow which is now forever confined within this irritating diamond.
I place the packaged pen on the conveyor belt, the machinery above sticks a barcode on its back: Metal Pen Diamond Pink ‘MADE IN CHINA’. The advertisement is quite ironic; do the buyers know that the Uyghurs who help create their pens are packaged as numbered products themselves, dehumanized until every bone in their body yearns to die?