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Cries behind the Walls


Cries behind the Walls
by Shenita Etwaroo

 

Gabriel had always eaten meat, ever since he was born. In fact, his father, a large, imposing man, encouraged him at every turn. As a dutiful son, Gabriel respected his father's wishes and ate up every scrap he was given, bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch and beef, mutton or pork on Sundays.

But Gabriel also developed an interest in nature. When he was six years old, he persuaded his mother to let him have a couple of kittens, Robbie, Mitchie, Snorphy, Percy, Pom Pom, Tuffy, Derby and Tigger who he just adored, playing with them at every opportunity. A couple of years later, he acquired a puppy, Lucky Chester, who he took for walks and loved with his whole heart. And he still ate meat. His interest in all things natural spread to birds, wildlife and insects, and he absorbed every detail of every TV program and book he could find on the subject. Soon, he became very knowledgeable, and spent all his summer holidays studying insects in his garden and the little creatures that scurried about on the bed of the river near his house.

Gabriel's parents liked to invite friends over for lunchtime barbecues on summer weekends, and that involved a lot of meat. It was at one of those that Gabriel met Noah, the eleven-year-old son of one of his mother's work colleagues.

As they sat down to eat on that beautiful Sunday, the sun was bright and hot, and there was just a hint of a cooling breeze. The air was peaceful, save for the chink of cutlery on plates and the hum of excited conversation.

Robbie, Mitchie, Snorphy, Percy, Pom Pom, Tuffy, Derby and Tigger, who didn't like crowds or hot sun, were lounging in the conservatory, while Lucky Chester was busy ingratiating himself with his new friends and accepting complimentary tidbits of food. Gabriel was sitting next to Noah and noticed he didn't have any meat on his plate. He asked him why.

"I'm a vegetarian," he replied between mouthfuls of nut hash and salad. "I don't eat meat or fish."

"Why not?"

"Because I like animals too much. They have as much right to live as we do."

Gabriel looked puzzled. "So what do you eat?"

"Nuts, pulses, vegetables. Loads of stuff."

"Don't you get hungry?"

Noah shook his head. "No."

Just then, Noah's father butted in. "Going on about animals again, Noah? Leave the lad alone." Then turning to the rest of the table, he added, "He's got this crazy idea about being a veggie. I don't know where he gets it from. I just hope he'll grow out of it."

"Live and let live," Noah's mother said. "And I don't know what you're complaining about, you weren't the one who had to make him nut whatever-it-is."

"That's just my point. He should eat what we all have. It's bad manners to show up for lunch and bring your own. He's got to stop. Meat's good for him. He'll never grow properly otherwise."

"That's rubbish," Noah said.

"What did you say?" His father asked, anger in his face.

Noah looked scared, but held his nerve. "I said, 'that's rubbish'. There are plenty of other foods. And in any case, eating meat's cruel."

"Now who's talking rubbish," his father replied.

"I've seen the way animals are kept and slaughtered on You Tube," he replied. "It's barbaric."

His father laughed. I know the Muslims and Jews are not too careful, but all our meat is regulated by the government, so it must be okay."

Noah pulled his Smartphone out of his pocket and quickly pressed a few buttons. "Well, take a look at that and then tell me it's rubbish."

He thrust the phone towards his father, who humored him by taking a look. About ten seconds later, his smile disappeared as he saw video film of pregnant pigs confined in cages no bigger than themselves and unable to turn around. Then he saw a factory hand hitting them with a metal rod. He felt sick and put his fork down. The conversation stopped.

"What is it?" Noah's mother asked. Her husband handed her the phone. She saw and heard little piglets having their testicles and tails ripped off without an anesthetic, before being thrown down onto a hard stone floor. "I don't think I can eat this chop," she said, pushing her plate to one side.

Gabriel's father took the phone next and witnessed live fluffy male chicks, less than a day old, being tossed carelessly into a giant grinding machine, where the light from their sad, short existence was brutally extinguished, all because they couldn't lay eggs or be fattened up quick enough for some faceless corporation to make money. The picture quickly switched to young female chickens being cruelly de-beaked, again without anesthetic. Then they were roughly shoved into tiny cages, where they would spend the rest of their miserable lives with half a dozen or more others, laying eggs, never seeing daylight or breathing fresh air, and all the time being unable to turn around while suffering from open wounds, feather loss and debilitating bone disease. Gabriel's father looked at the chicken leg in his left hand and put back on his plate.

"What is this? Gabriel's mother asked, taking her turn. The pictures of calves being violently dragged away from their mothers and killed so that the milk would go into the human food chain and not to nourish the young made her wretch. Gabriel got up to see what it was all about. He peered over his mother's shoulder just in time to see a packed row of dairy cows being roughly herded within the narrow confines of their concrete prison and being subjected to dehorning and de-tailing without a painkiller in sight.

"AAUURGH!!" he screamed, and ran away in floods of tears. "Make them stop!"

His mother handed the phone back to Noah. "Thank you," she said, amidst the stunned silence.

"I'm sorry," Noah said. "I didn't mean to spoil your barbecue."

"You've got nothing to apologize for, Noah," his father said. "But we have.
Apologize to those poor animals who we indirectly cause to suffer such a criminal level of pain and suffering, the like of which we can't ever begin to imagine. Thank you for opening our eyes."


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