It was 2 in the afternoon and the sun was overhead, the heat piercing through every pour of bare skin. It was his lunch break and he sat with the rest drinking water from the hose pipe sputtering it intermittently. His head was spinning; it was the third day in a row that he had gone empty stomach. His vision was blurry and he had almost tripped from the stairs on the 12th floor while carrying bricks. Thankfully the supervisor hadn’t seen, or he would have been asked to leave and that would have meant a day, followed by many more, without wage.
His father was sitting nearby. If one looked beyond the premature wrinkles on his face, he looked a lot like his teenage son. He sat at a distance from the rest, looking across the road. The side of the city they had already built. The side that had risen from the earth by his hands and the hands of his like and now adorned the skyline of the city. The side where they were not welcome anymore.
Like his son, he too had gone without food, probably for longer than three days. The sun was direct, but he did not feel it much. It was a part of life. It was only the nights that bothered him as he slept wondering if he would have the will to rise again the next day. He looked on at the other side, observing the activity, the hustle bustle, not quite understanding it. He looked at the people on the other side. They looked healthy and happy. There were people in cars or people walking with a lot of bags. There were people eating food and laughing. Everyone wore nice clothes. Everyone looked so beautiful. The supervisor had mentioned once the place was called a “mall”.
He did not know why, but he could not move his eyes from there. There was no resentment, no malice. There was curiosity and a strange reverence. Like the species on the other side were a higher breed, more evolved and by some default setting they seemed to fit perfectly in the setup he had contributed building for them, just as he was made for this dusty construction site.
The son walked up to his father. He had brought some water and gave it to his father, following his gaze to the other side of the road. He sat down hunched, knees close to his chest, arms wrapped around them looking at the mall. There was a silent rage in his eyes, as he looked at the entrance of the mall. He had been there once after they opened it for public. He still felt the ache of the slap planted by the security guard on his cheek when he had tried to enter. And more than that, he felt the ache of the humiliation. His eyes welled with tears but he did not let them escape. They had to stay until his time came.
The supervisor blew his whistle, signaling the lunch time was over. The father got up a little shaky on his feet and walked back slowly. The son lifted himself from the ground with renewed energy, but the jerk only made him dizzy as he got on his feet. He walked more cautiously to resume his work. He had to also talk to the new boy who had joined them about the night job that he had mentioned. The boy had said they had to pick a bunch of packets from some guys and deliver to some other guys. It paid more than the wage here, and it would mean extra income. He shot one last glance to the scene behind him before lifting the batch of bricks and making his way to the half constructed stairs of the half finished skyscraper.