A few days later, the cot vacated by Zero suddenly was filled. The newcomer was the complete opposite of Zero in every way possible. His name was Alex, but that was the first and only time the name Alex was used. He was twice the size of Zero and spoke as much as Zero kept quiet. His unkept hair with matted curls covered his face. Every time he spoke, he twisted his neck in a figure of eight which momentarily dislodged the locks of hair from his face, revealing a grubby complexion and a weather-beaten craggy face. He looked as if he has already spent several hours in the sun. He dumped his bag by Zero’s cot and bounced onto the sheets. The cot groaned and squeaked, threatening to break at any moment. He wriggled uncomfortably on the bed moving his arms and legs in an abnormal way.Zig zag, X-Ray and Arm Pit saddled up to him and there was a brief moment of silence before Alex filled it.
“Hey there. My name is Alex …..” his voice trailed off as X-Ray raised his hand. Alex could already tell that X-Ray was the leader of the boys and decided it was best, at this moment, to defer authority to him.
“Nah …” replied X-Ray with an air of disrespect, “you don’t look like an Alex … more like a Worm.”
The other boys sniggered at X-Ray’s suggestion. Stanley stood, straight faced, not sure if he should laugh along too.
Worm looked at X-Ray and for a split second the air was filled with a thick blanket of tension.
“Hiya worm!” said Zig Zag, “it’s nice to meet you.”
“Howdy worm,” chorused Arm Pit, “welcome to the club!”
“Hey Wormy!” echoed Magnet, “you better not snore.”
Worm looked towards Stanley.
Stanley wondered how Zero was doing out there in the desert all alone without water. He would surely be dead by now, but he tried to keep any negative thoughts from infiltrating his mind. He missed Zero badly.
“What say you, Caveman … are you going to welcome Worm to our band of brothers?” ordered Magnet.
Stanley spat on the floor and walked away.
Worm slept badly that night. He tossed and turned in his cot. Stanley knew this because he slept badly too. Every toss and turn registered in his mind as he wondered if Zero had managed to find somewhere to rest for the night. Before long, it was 4:30am and time to get up. As the first rays of sunshine broke through the clouds above, shovels were already hitting hard rock and muscles were straining. The 45th hole was the hardest. Worm was just breaking ground on his first. He hadn’t had to complete an entire hole for several weeks, but with Zero now gone, Stanley was left with the simple realisation that he was going to have to work extra hard today.
It was Worm. Caveman ignored him and kept digging. Time spent on chatting was wasted energy.
“Yo, Caveman, it’s worm… I have a question,” his voiced trailed off.
X-Ray was between Stanley and Worm and had been eavesdropping on their stunted conversation.
“Hey Caveman, you gonna answer Worm?”
Stanley sighed. The last thing he wanted was another confrontation with X-Ray. “What is it?” he replied with annoyance and hardness in his voice.
“Is the first hole the hardest?” asked Worm
Stanley remembered asking this same question. He thought back to those early days, remembering how weak, how scared and how unprepared he was.
“Go on,” snorted X-Ray, “tell him which hole is the hardest.”
For the briefest of moments, Stanley started to feel sorry for Worm. He could tell Worm wasn’t a bad kid, but he had replaced his best friend and yesterday that sent shockwaves of anger pulsating through him. Today, after reflecting, he realised it wasn’t Worm’s fault.
Caveman started to speak. “The hardest hole is the next one you have to dig.”
Worm stared in confusion. The other boys nodded in agreement. Worm had a lot to learn.
By midday, the sun was at its peak, beating down upon those senseless enough to be outside. 6 senseless boys dug as if there life depended on it. Their water was almost gone, but the distant sound of tires on matted sand sent each boy reaching for their water bottle to drink any remaining drops.
“Finally!” bawled Zig Zag in mock anger. He clambered out of his hole and the other boys did the same. Worm, unsure of what was happening, followed suit. The boys staggered into a rough formation behind Zig Zag. Worm got into position, behind Stanley.
“Well boys,” said Mr. Sir as he stepped out of his truck, “I hope you’ve been digging hard today.” Alex muttered something under his breath. The words were muffled but Stanley, being so close to Worm, was able to make out exactly what he said. It made him smile.
Mr. Sir saw this and walked over to Stanley and Worm. As he walked towards them, the sound of him crunching seeds became louder.
Stanley was starting to panic. Mr. Sir did not appreciate any cheeky back chat or inappropriate behaviour.
“Caveman … and whatever your name is,” he said gesturing towards Worm.
“His name is worm,” shouted Magnet, who then regretted it immediately. Mr. Sir was in a particularly foul mood today. It was better to lie low.
“And what is so funny?”
Mr. Sir’s bared his stained nicotine teeth - small crumbs of seeds stuck between teeth and gums.
“Nothing Mr. Sir,” replied Stanley.
Mr. Sir turned towards Worm and pointed a finger at his chest.
“And you … worm. What was so funny?”
Worm paused. This was his first encounter with Mr. Sir. Stanley hoped Worm wouldn’t do anything reckless, anything that would get himself or Stanley in trouble. Stanley had just got himself out of Mr. Sir’s back books. He didn’t fancy going back onto half water rations.
“I said that this shovel is a ground-breaking invention!”
There was a roar of laughter from the holes as 4 boys laughed. 2 boys kept quiet. One adult reached for his gun and loaded a bullet.