On raiding the resurrected old PC in my room, I found this piece of writing from over a decade ago. I remember writing the first draft of the story during a train journey, tweaking it a million times after returning home and then stowing it away. Here it is. Kindly keep in mind that I was a tiny teen when I wrote this.
The Emu Workshop
I have heard our elders say that kids from other parts of the world dreamt of becoming astronauts when they grew up. It was like a universal dream. But somehow our town seemed to have been left out of that universe because every kid I knew from over here, dreamt of only one thing and that was to work in the Emu Workshop.
There was something tragically romantic about the Emus. Years ago, when they first moved into our town, they were a mess. They came with their trailers and settled in the town dump. They were too timid and scared to step into the town; and we were too hesitant to venture into the dump that had by then become their domain. I do not remember what caused this fear of ours. Maybe it was the uneasy feeling of seeing birds that could not fly. But the chickens in our backyard had never freaked us out. Maybe it was their long necks. It was so long ago at a time to which my memory fails to stretch. But I do remember how they found a place in our hearts.
It was the Great Fire of ’39. It swept over our town and did not leave much behind. The Emus rushed from the dump and fought bravely beside us to bring the fire down. But it was beyond us. All that was left of the town was smoke and ash.
The Emus rose to the occasion. They took us under their wings and gave us shelter in their trailer homes. They helped us build a new life and a new town; the town was as much theirs as ours from then onward. In return we built them the Emu Workshop.
The elders never told us what exactly the Emu Workshop was. The mystery surrounding it added more charm and glamour to it day by day, and gradually it attained the status of the ‘ultimate fantasy’ among the kids of our town.
The Emu Workshop looked just like any other factory. It stood next to the railway line, some distance away from the station and near the warehouses. At night we used to sneak out from our houses, through the windows of our bedrooms and take the road to the Workshop. We would scale the walls of the Workshop and sit in line, like crows, staring dreamily at the blinking lights coming through the closed ground glass windows. Hours passed by as we simply sat there as if under a trance. When it was past midnight there would be a change in the working shift. The doors would open letting out tired Emus in overalls and goggles. Some fresh Emus, all set to work through the night, enter and the doors would close behind them.
We would wave at the Emus and some of them would wave back at us. There was Inamu the Emu. He looked quite fierce but he was the friendliest of them all and we almost worshipped him. Sometimes he would come over to us and cackle; all of us would giggle. After the Emus leave, we would start staring at the blinking lights again.
The distant whistle of the Express was the signal to break out of our trance. All of us would jump down from the wall and flee to our homes. The next day always dawned late. Those days the school bus seemed to be the most elusive thing on the planet.
It was one of those days. The school bus had gone even before I had woken up. As I was dragging my feet to school, a motorbike came to a halt in front of me. It was Inamu on his Harley and he was offering me a ride! What happened after that seemed like a dream sequence in slow motion. I zoomed past my flabbergasted friends and landed in school like a hero. I was voted the luckiest hitchhiker of all time and I even had my own fan club though it lasted for hardly two weeks. All the kids were in frenzy. They were devising ingenious ways to get the ride of a lifetime. Some of them even stormed an election rally holding placards saying ‘INAMU FOR MAYOR’. I found all these a bit far-fetched because I knew the only thing that could help you in getting that ride was pure undiluted luck and even I could not find that luck again.
As days passed by, we started finding out more about the Emu Workshop. We found out that working there was not just a mere fantasy. There were in fact non-Emu jobs with complicated titles. As kids we never understood what they really meant. We just knew that these jobs existed because the Emus were really bad at Maths. That was more than just a ray of hope. It seemed like bright sunny days of possibilities were lying ahead of us.
Many years have passed since those days. I lock the door behind me and take the road to the railway station. I walk past the ruins of the Emu Workshop with my eyes fixed firmly on the ground. I look up only when I reach the station and find my colleagues waiting. Soon the Express arrives and we scramble to find seats. It takes us to the city where all of us have great jobs; fancy jobs that none of us ever wanted as our dream went up in smoke a few years ago.
There was another great fire. But this time it did not touch the town, instead it brought down the Workshop. Oddly, none of our elders showed the humanity the Emus had shown us when we needed it the most. They just stood back and held us also back, and watched as the Emus tried to brave the flames. Many Emus lost their lives in that futile effort. Inamu was one of them. The next day when we woke up, the Emus were gone leaving no traces behind except for some ash and broken dreams.
As I get down from the Express at the city, I see that a new trailer park has come up. It was not there when I took the train home yesterday. I walk towards the place and try to find some familiar faces. As I stand there and stare, I catch the empty gaze of an Emu that passes right through me as if I was a long-forgotten spirit. Slowly with a sinking feeling, I walk away to live a stranger’s dream.