THE EARTH PASSED seven times in its ellipse about the sun and Hob grew taller than the spades his father taught him to dig with. A day that started much like any other found the boy at midday ten meters down the shaft and shovelling. He was as lean and brown as beef jerky and he scraped at the earth and rock until he formed a pile and then he forced the iron blade beneath it and lifted it up and deposited it in the bucket next to him and the receptacle was nearly full. He shovelled in a last pile, to save him from parental quibble, and he reached for the rope–pull that hung down the side of the shaft and tugged upon it three times.
Up above the slave bell tolled on the poles and piping of Delfan’s mineshaft headgear and the prophet came hurrying across the sand. He placed his feet for purchase and grasped at the handle of the winch and grumbled as the bell tolled again.
Impatient little tadpole.
Delfan sweating and winding and cursing until the bucket comes up into the mouth of the shaft. He takes the rope and swings the vessel out across the sand and tips it onto the pile of rubble. He turns back to the shaft and sees his son emerging up the rope ladder and scrambling out and scraping his knee.
Shit, says Hob.
He sits on the sand and he bends forward to suck on the wound.
Watch your breadhole, says the father.
Hob lifting an aggrieved head.
I talk as I’ve been taught.
Jack Delfan staring at his son.
We be gone down another two feet, says the child.
Delfan frowning and peering into the bucket. Reaching in to scrape at the soil adhering there, bringing a finger out sniff at it. To work the earth between thumb and forefinger, testing, whispering.
There’s a hint of dampness here …
Jack Delfan giggling and chortling now.
A hint of wetness.
He runs across to the pile of rubble and kneels and leans in close and sniffs at the last deposits.
I swear on the book I can smell it. I can smell it, Hobblet.
Jack Delfan capering in the shade of the rapture tree. Reaching up to take down the Qhilika. And drink deep before plugging the bag again. Bellowing at the horizon.
You bastards. You doomed bastards.
May I drink father?
Jack Delfan staring startled at the boy. Then pointing to the rusted water drum next to the tree trunk.
I mean, may I have some Qhilika. For celebration.
A boy does not drink fermented beverage, says the father, until he has become a man.
How do I do that?
Until you come of age.
When will that be?
Eighteen years. Not seven. Not eight. Eighteen.
I thought you cared nothing, says the boy, for their rules.
Delfan advancing towards the child. Speaking low and quiet and clear.
Get your spindly arse down that hole and caress the shovel with your pink little fingers.
Hob lifting a hand to examine his grimed and callused palm.
Or I shall remunerate your hide with the lash, says Jack Delfan, and by the holes in the sky you will turn into a man one fine ultraviolet day. Until then, you dig.
A confrontation there in the desert. Parent and child with eyes locked together and then Hob turns to go back to the mouth of the shaft.
The boy halting to listen.I'll go down. It's your shift above.
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