by: berf

One head rose precisely at 5:30. It shook, and its owner slowly rose. Blinking sleep from his eyes, the adolescent set to his daily task of shaking his bunkmates awake. Within minutes they had all awoken and were dressing in preparation for the day, their movements stiff with sleep and cold. The boy then walked to begin assembling their breakfast, which consisted merely of bread and a small, off-colored chunk of cheese. Soon, the rest of the small bodies all filtered into the kitchen for their sustenance. Quiet murmurs and an occasional yawn were the only sounds of conversation in the small, dingy room. Finally, the four children had finished eating and they left through the front door of their apartment. One secured the lock and lead the way through the main hallway, down stairs and out into the morning light.

It was mid-fall, and the air was quickly becoming nippy. The largest boy, standing at five feet and four inches, pulled his companions close to him in an attempt to shield them from the weather. They walked along the sidewalk at an excessively brisk pace, but not one stumbled or faltered over the familiar cracks and crags. They came up upon an unassuming brick building and quickly filed in. They ascended several flights of metal stairs and turned into a narrow corridor. Taking the lead again, the tallest boy navigated to the end of the hallways, and stopped in front of a thick, chipped door. The group entered, the last swinging the door closed with his face blank.

The room was cramped and dim, and it had several small tables shoved in crooked rows throughout. Upon each table sat a large pile of coarse cloth, in various colors, as well as several random spools of thread. Three sewing machines took up every table, children sitting in front of some, their fingers working through the yards of material. A stool stood in the corner, with a man perched upon it, his long legs folded up and his eyes sharp and gleaming, giving him a birdlike appearance. A threadbare carpet and curtains completed the room, and to the newcomers, it was the perfect prison.

Soundlessly, they made their way to their usual spots. The others that sat beside them seemed to take no notice of their presence, and didn't acknowledge their arrival. The man eyed them each as they sat, and they responded with silence. Soon, the room was occupied with the additional mechanical ticks and chimes of the sewing machines.

The minutes flew by, then the hours, to the veteran laborers. The weeks of work had numbed them, and their arms moved automatically through the cloth, rethreading their machines when necessary. Their minds could wander this way, which helped to ease the pain in their fingers. The steady, unyielding presence of the birdman prevented them from relieving their weary minds through speech, and each second was wasted thinking about places they would never go and pay that would never rise above a quarter dollar a week. Their existences served only to continue the system, and when they erred or ceased to function, they would be replaced.

Finally, the clock struck the hour, but it was little relief. The trudge back to the house would be bitingly cold, especially after sitting in the small room with warm bodies in close proximity. The machines were turned off, and finished garments were deposited into boxes. The tallest boy had once entertained the thought of sewing so shoddily that the clothing would fall apart at the slightest use, but now the spite was overruled by common sense. He finished his duty and stood by the door, waiting for the other three he loved with. Once they were all gathered, they departed as a unit, not eager for the cold but spurred on by the thought of escape. Breaking into the chilling air, the boys each gave various barks and yells of happiness. They began chatting incessantly, talking about whatever they could think of, and even the largest, who was by far the most mature, could not stop himself from being giddy. This was the same reaction everyday, and each boy cherished tit as long as they could before the cycle would start again. It was their one beam of light which could cut through the fog of their daily lives.