"Three Nails" was originally published in Dactyl Magazine.
“I’m actually kind of afraid of spiders. I think I have a phobia,” I said, knowing full well he wouldn’t understand the word.
“What is this word fffoo-bee-a?” He drove a nail into the wood.
“It’s an extreme fear of something. I have an extreme fear of spiders. They have too many legs,” I said. He should understand that.
I could see his eyes fumbling through his mental index looking for the words he needed. Looking pleased he shot back with, “You should go to Africa. They call it The Land of No Spiders.” He waved his hand across the air between us like a magician.
“Who calls it that?”
“What?” He struck another nail cleanly into the wood.
“Who calls it The Land of No Spiders?” I pressed him.
“What calls who?”
“Never mind.” I was pretty sure he knew what I meant. “There must be some spiders in Africa. Nasty ones too, I’ll bet.”
“Maybe two spiders in Africa,” his broken English was slow to mend. He struck a final nail into the lumber.
“You mean two types of spiders, Burhane,” I was pretty sure that was how you say his name.
“No, two spiders. One lives by the river and it big like…” he pulled his brown hand out of his work glove and motioned for me to do the same, “big like your hand. The other spider I only see once. It was big,” again a pause, “like a house.”
He pretended to look focused on the task at hand but looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I smirked. He laughed, “Okay, okay, there are three spiders.”
His laugh sounded like it should be coming from a much larger man. If it weren’t for the ring of gray hair around his head I would think he was a young boy wearing his father’s coveralls. He pushed his helmet up so he could see me and gestured for some more lumber.
“So what did you do in Africa?” I asked.
“The same thing I do here. I build houses.” He ran his glove along the polished claw of his hammer. “I love Africa. At night when it not so hot you stand on hill and you look out at land. If you reach out I think you touch God.” He was hammering a new set of planks together but I could see his mind was somewhere else. “It was very hot during the day. We not have water or breaks or many tools.”
“You didn’t have tools? It’s kind of hard to build without tools don’t you think?” I chuckled and waited to hear that exotic laugh again.
It never came.
“There were maybe twenty workers. We shared a few hammers, nails. We use our hands or rocks for many things. When we finished the house there is about fifteen of us left,” Burhane’s hammer tore through the air and exploded onto the head of another spike.
“What do you mean left?” My grip on the wood loosened and it fell to the ground. The noise seemed to startle him and he came back to the moment.
He picked up the fallen wood and offered it to me. I held it in place again. He lined up three nails to the side of it and began nailing them into the board. I decided to let the moment subside.
“Burhane, you only need to use two nails, y’know? It’s faster. It’ll hold.”
He smiled. “I use three,” he answered, “because I can.”