Asokh came to his neighbouring city at the behest of his friend Naresh, a welder at the Metro rail site. Naresh knew that Asokh had a fascination for big moving machines. He had once surprised his master and mother by riding an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) as an assistant in an auto workshop at the age of 12. He has heard of the Harley Davidson bike but not seen it as he lives in a small village.
He admires vehicles with levers and switches the most. One day he did not report for duty at the workshop. Instead he went on a site inspection with Naresh. He spent hours watching excavators, trucks, road rollers, concrete mixers and generators at work. He keenly watched how a man in a cabin high above manipulates some levers and switches, lifts the arms and paws and lowers it to the exact spot needed. He saw Naresh with his mask shooting jets of flame into steel girders. He saw JCBs forcing their way through rubble and sweeping clear. He’d seen these machines before, but not so closely.
No longer frightened, he now he marvelled at their precision, enormous capacity to do the work of hundred of men and the tremendous speed.
“Hey, you want to be killed?” A shrill voice woke him from his reverie and Asokh jumped aside in time to avert a slap by a huge steel arm. It was a mechanical monster that crawled on its steel belly slithering over the ground probing whatever came in its way and scooping up earth or stone. But now Asokh saw that the monster was tamed, worked at the command of a youth with trimmed moustache and pleasing eyes in a sleeveless green jacket at the driver’s seat.
His cell phone rang with Naresh’s number. He let Naresh have lunch and didn’t leave the place. All the workers had retired for lunch. Everything was silent at the site under the scorching sun.
Suddenly the stillness at the barricaded site was broken by the drone of an engine. Asokh had sneaked into the driver’s seat and pressed the starter. To his surprise and joy the engine throbbed with power. He pulled another lever and the giant arm began to come down with a metallic clang till it touched the earth.
Asokh, breathless with excitement, forgot what was the next lever to pull; he tried this and that, was relieved to find the gigantic paw scooping up earth. He pulled a lever to deposit the earth in a truck. As he pressed yet another and brought the giant arm to its resting position, the engine stopped and he sensed an eureka moment.
In the silence that followed he could hear only the beatings of his heart. Then he was conscious of men running towards him and cursing. The youth in green jacket was saying, “Hey fool, what the hell did you do! You would have killed yourself. Don’t you know how dangerous it was!”
Tearfully, Asokh said, “Please, forgive me. I wanted to learn.” “I tell you boy, you can’t learn to drive an excavator unless I teach you.”
Some months later, as Asokh scooped the last rubble of what was only hours before a whole hill of earth and stone and deposited it in the waiting tipper lorry he felt happy and at peace.
Now he could go home with his mother waiting for him. He switched off the engine and on second thought took out the key lest some mischievous boy ape him.