Foreman likes to hoist the new ones up, see what they’re made of. Some of them have never climbed higher than a tree in their village. Back home the place is flat, flat. I’m here nine years, I know what’s what, so I tell them, don’t look, don’t look. Hold the torch in one hand, like this, and keep your eye on one screw at a time. From here to here, I show them, holding my fingers apart an inch, maybe an inch and a half. Your eye will see this much, no more. Understand?
I don’t tell them the whole story. Whole story is this: you look down, you die. You see the world has shrunk below you. You call God but no one answers. You recite the kalma. You see God is not there. You piss your pants. No one is watching. No one cares about your shitty speck of a life. The people below are specks and you are a speck. God looks down and sees nothing but tiny ants below Him. You choke. You move your legs. You scream. The building shifts, it moves, it throws you up, it throws you over. You’re done for, a chapatti. They scrape you off the pavement; they don’t even write to your family. Months later, someone will go to your village and tell the news to your people. And that will be the end of your life.
All this I don’t say. I say only what is useful.
This new kid won’t listen. Came in with a swagger – I spotted it right away, the way he moved his legs and his trousers hanging, his head loose on his shoulder, nodding, doesn’t look down when Foreman is talking, raises his head and gives two eyes to the boss. Eye for an eye. Foreman smiles. I know that smile; it means I’ll take that two-eyed look right out of your skull. Soon you’ll be like the rest of them, giving me the top of your head and mumbling into your shirt.
I have schooling, sir, the kid says. Intermediate pass.
Foreman says, Crane will take you to the top. And the kid says yessir as if he’s been given a gift. All that school, he doesn’t even know when his ass is being strung up.
Later I ask the kid where his people are. We’re on the same sleeping shift, starts two in the afternoon, the shed hot as an animal’s mouth. You can’t touch the metal rails on the bunk, you just jump onto the mattress and pray for a breeze.
He says he’s a Pahari, says it with a little edge, like I’m a Pahari, you gonna fuck with me? I’ve never seen such pride in a tribal, and I say, so what, no one cares here.