Silent Vigil

By R D Shanks

“Mon the burgers!”

“D’you want a bacon roll while you wait?”

Cars honked at us continually as they hurried past. We received a couple of thumbs up. Even one friendly wave. I felt so bitter by then, however, that the few scattered smiles seemed insincere.

The residents of the flats opposite stared down at us unrelentingly. They must’ve thought we were completely mad, standing out there in the grim grey rain, but I stared right back. I’d much rather be outside getting drenched than living across the road from a slaughterhouse.

I’d been surprised to discover just how close the slaughterhouse was to the train station. It’s just off a busy road but there are no signposts pointing it out, making it easy to ignore if you’d prefer not to think about it. Wilful ignorance was clearly the chosen option for most of the drivers, who kept their eyes fixed on the road ahead. How could they fail to spot us? There must have been at least a dozen of us, or more, assembled around the road, mouths shut but placards shouting out the truths that most people can’t bear or don’t care to contemplate.

They trust us and we butcher them.

I want to live.

Your appetite is temporary. Death is eternal.

Why love one and kill the other?

This was my first vigil. I’d been briefed about how best to engage with the public: disarm them with smiles. Always keep calm. Explain yourself clearly. I understand that most anger stems from insecurity. No-one likes being forced to scrutinise their own beliefs. I remember being adamant, before, that horse riding was in no way harmful. We had all been meat-eaters once upon a time. We had all been subjected to the same conditioning. You can’t be blamed for the way you were raised, for believing that protein only comes from meat, that only dogs, cats and a handful of other cute animals have feelings like ours, that animals are here for us, not with us. But once you are faced with the facts, you need to be courageous enough to question everything you’ve ever been taught about the world. Once you’ve had your blinkers wrenched off, you can no longer continue to avert your eyes. This is happening, even if you don’t want to see it.

I was prepared for a mixed response from the public. What I hadn’t anticipated was the overwhelming hostility directed towards us. The slaughterhouse workers, who had been informed ahead of time of our peaceful and perfectly legal protest, acted as if we were the threatening ones. (Again, that bitterness grew inside me: at least I don’t make a living from slitting pigs’ throats). They shouted abuse, swore at us, and threatened to call the police.

I bit my tongue while the organisers took care of the smooth-talking. Somehow, they convinced the driver to stop, allowing us a few minutes with the pigs to say goodbye. In one small town, in one slaughterhouse, in a single morning, we witnessed two truckloads of pigs being processed for slaughter.

The terror the pigs had experienced on their journey was plain to see. Crammed in so tightly together, their bloodied ears revealed the stress they couldn’t report any other way. They were still curious, still trusting; they sniffed our hands through the bars, their uncannily human-like eyes peering out at us from the darkness.

A few minutes of peace was all they were allowed. A brief reprieve from a lifetime of suffering, servitude and ultimately slaughter.

Their screams still haunt me. They shrieked as they were chased out of the lorry. Their cries continued as the door of the slaughterhouse slammed shut behind them.

Most horrifying of all was the silence which followed too soon after.

animal rights, activism