Short Story

Tower Crane

He was up there, hands alternately gripping the metal frames, feet blindly feeling for support. There was only a strip of cloth covering his groin. His buttocks, bared for the first time in his life outside the privacy of home, were hot with consciousness. His rear was a person; it had feelings of its own, it didn’t want to be exposed like that.

Get clothed, slip in and out of crowds, in the market, at the train station, be a shadow, be a ghost.

Remove all your clothes, try to climb a tower crane, feel achingly who you are.

His torso, ordinarily well-covered with clothes every day, was fair and smooth, as if he had drafted a Caucasian epidermis on that part of his predominantly brown body. A phantom neckband cut across his collarbones. His face was dark and pockmarked. Beyond the false sleeves, beyond the pale knees, burnt limbs. Years of toiling under the sun did that to his body, the highly-contrasting pigmentation. Two different persons seemed to have been sewn together to form his nakedness.

He looked below: Mallets, wheel barrows, drills, resting in silence. CAUTION: HARD HAT, SAFETY GLASSES, WORK BOOTS, WORK GLOVES MUST BE WORN IN THIS JOB SITE—a signage read. Bright yellow helmets piled up on a corner opposite the entrance to the fencing surrounding the wooden barracks where workers take a rest. Green vests were hanging limp from cables tied to unfinished columns like tired banners of patriotism. He looked at his right side, marveled at the tall buildings. At his left, an expanse of corrugated roofs, the red-orange color of iron oxide, and dark tarpaulins of transient living. It was very similar to his two-colored complexion, this neat demarcation of the urban face.

The clinking noise of the climb lingered from the base of the tower anchored to the ground by giant screws, up to a triangular beam almost scrapping low lying clouds. His aim: to cross the length of the horizontal arm at the top, and stand at its edge, where, used in hoisting materials up and down and to and fro the tower crane, a hook was dangling in the air like a fish bait.

Six meters above the ground. He heard a buzzing sound. He paused and looked over his right shoulder.

First it was a black dot in the horizon. A balloon, an angel, or, perhaps, a fly. It grew in size as it approached him. It was a star-shaped object with a tiny propeller on each of its arm. It hovered a few meters from him. The winged device had a small circular mirror at the front; through this eye, people in different time and place were watching him. He was sure of that, they had told him about it. His one hand gripping a rung, the other he used to make a hand gesture to the airborne nuisance: four fingers folded, thumb sticking out—OK! It glided in the air, wobbling a little in the current, as it monitor the progress of the ascend.

I EXCHANGE STIFF SMILES WITH PEOPLE I MEET AT THE OFFICE AS I DREAM OF ARSON

I exchange stiff smiles with people I meet at the office as I dream of arson. My very first thought when I saw the tall window near my seat: how will I use my swivel chair to break it in case of fire? I don’t have to jump to my death. I must live. My internet search queries: “Steps to evacuate a building in case of fire”…“High-rise fire safety tips”…“Flammable liquid”. Never use the elevator. Crawl to the nearest exit. 

My job is to watch people die from a distance. There is a wide computer screen where I can watch world news like God, snug in a soft-padded seat, hand deep into popcorn bucket, monitoring the consequence of His own absence in this planet. In different parts of the world there are mass shootings and melting glaciers. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just yawn. I know what human beings are capable of doing to one another. Faking a daughter’s terminal illness to raise charity money. Killing one’s own parent for insurance money. Using little children for sexual satisfaction. Punching a random stranger on the streets. The cycle of news is as fast as the blink of the eye; so moral outcry can’t keep up with it, and, like a faucet, can be turn on and off in convenience; for example, when it’s your birthday.

There’s a long conference table where things that are not essential to life and death and being as a manifestation of a supreme reality are discussed. The faces around the table are stupid, and the stupidest of those faces is mine. “Do you have any suggestions?”—they turn to me. Yes, set this whole room on fire now. Of course, I will never say that. I am quiet and shy and nice.

For twenty five years, ever since I’ve learned to recognize a self separate from the others, I’ve been quiet and shy and nice—while, at the same time, harboring a mental seed of chaos. Prim in clothing, well-behaved, while approving of the use of dynamite. The so-called civilized people turn to entertainment. They love the spectacle of massacre, of zombies in feeding frenzy, of cities burning. They have to relieve the itch for destruction. I am not alone.

Questions: Do the laws of the land punish mere fantasies of a fiery mayhem? Do religions trace this idealization of the petrol bomb to the Devil? There is only one reason why I haven’t acted yet on my desire of conflagration after all these years: I don’t like the hassle of carrying out plans in real life. Consider the long supply chain of our wants, crossing international borders, starting from the bowels of mining camps, ending in air-conditioned malls. I just want to lie here on my bed. I just want to dream of fire in peace.

At my funeral, ten or twenty of people would have looked at one another in silent judgment: Elena was quiet and shy and nice when she was alive! Ay sus, the platitudes—not knowing they could have had burnt to ashes long ago hadn’t for my laziness.

THE TOWER CRANE WAS A SKINLESS APPENDAGE OF A BEHEMOTH, A FEMUR JUTTING OUT OF THE CONCRETE HIPS OF THE RISING COMMERCIAL ENCLAVE

The tower crane was a skinless appendage of a behemoth, a femur jutting out of the concrete hips of the rising commercial enclave. It was a toy of an unseen real estate god. There was nothing more to the tower crane other than the endless cycle of assembly and disassembly. Its utilitarian existence was no different from the man’s. For the man was climbing it out of necessity. He was now nearly halfway through the tower crane.  At its center the operating cabin was deserted, an empty heart.

The papers, there were just too many words on them. But he remembered the numbers specified on them. Money. Views. He nodded off in the middle of the meeting, eye lids heavy, the lawyer’s words sounding like a string of infant prattle. In the end he had been able to produce, with a hard grip of the pen, in fat strokes, his name on the corners of the papers.

The man rested. His legs were hard and numb.  His face sweaty, pores aflame. He was thirsty. Someone, please, set the world on fire.

This eye of the winged device: people in different time and place were watching him through it. He was sure of that, they had told him about it. His one hand gripping a rung, the other he used to make a hand gesture to the airborne nuisance: four fingers folded, the middle sticking out—FUCK YOU!

DO I SOMETIMES WISH I COULD SET THE WORLD ON FIRE? YES.

Do I sometimes wish I could set the world on fire? Yes.

A romantic relationship with a guy ends as soon as he is close enough to me to discover I masturbate to riot. I bore him. I can’t stop talking about mobs blind with anger. I make him watch video clips of violent uprisings around the world as a condition before giving him a head. I say to him: I wish to be in any place where my cocktail of inferno will be a part of social change, not just something I keep to myself. He say, Oh, God. He leaves. I’ve been praying for a revolution in this country, so I could join in and make something of my perversions. I watch the news: A laborer died after falling from a tower crane during a paid exhibition. This is it, I say, the start of people’s revolt. But the corpses just piled up every day, one after another, and the tower crane is still intact up to this day.


Greth Barredo works in a media intelligence and data technology company in Pasig City. When not glued to a computer screen, she spends time feeding cats (those ungrateful creatures) and biking around the neighborhood. She lives in Marilao, Bulacan.  You can reach her at gretbarredo@gmail.com

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