Joshua Sutherland Allen

Joshua Sutherland Allen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Uncle Hubert, Part VI

The sixth installment of a story I am writing about my great-uncle.

“Where are you heading, young’un?”

            The voice that wakes Hubert up from his nap among the crates in the rickety boxcar comes from a man in his early thirties.  He is wearing a torn pair of trousers, a ratty button-down shirt, and shoes that are held together by bailing twine.  Only his hat is without blemish: a new, tan fedora that the man wears cocked slightly to the right.  Hubert wonders where the hat came from. 

            “Wherever this train is going, mister,” Hubert replies.

            “Where did you come from?” the man asks.

            “Poplar Bluff.”

            “You’ve been on this train the whole time?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Son, that had to been almost twenty-four hours ago.  This is Arkadelphia.  When was the last time you ate anything?”

            “I brought some apples with me,” Hubert says.

            “You need something cooked.  Come with me, before the railroad police see us talking up here.”

            Hubert takes the man’s hand and jumps down from the boxcar.  The sun has passed its noontime apex and is taking a southern route in its journey across the sky.  Even though it is a warm autumn day, the sun-filled sky is cooler and more pleasant than the closed up, stifling boxcar that has been Hubert’s home for the last twenty-four hours. 

            Hubert has exited the freight train into a small switchyard much like the one in Poplar Bluff that marked the beginning of his adventure. 

            “I seen the conductor open the door of that car you was in,” the man tells Hubert, “and I seen you moving around inside, trying to hide.  You was lucky the conductor didn’t see you.  He’d a called the railroad police on you.  You don’t want to be messing around with them.”

            Hubert says nothing.  He just keeps following the man through the switchyard.  They pass the traffic control tower and cross a street, leaving the rail yard.  On the other side of the street, the man lifts up a broken down barbed wire fence and motions for Hubert to crawl underneath it.  Hubert stoops down and steps beneath the fence.  When Hubert is through, the man lets go of the fence and steps over it.

            It is a junkyard.  Hubert sees scraps of metal everywhere: old ice boxes, parts of automobiles, carriages from broken down train cars.  On the southern end of the junkyard there is a fire burning.  Several men sit around the fire.  Each of the men represents a different stage of grimy body and shabby dress.  Some of the men are cooking things on the fire.  Some are asleep.

            The man motions for Hubert to sit down by the fire. 

            “I don’t think I caught your name, young’un.”

            “My name’s Robertson, sir.  Hubert Robertson.”

            “Well, Hubert Robertson, welcome to the hobo camp.”

`           The man takes a can out of his knapsack and opens it.  With his pocketknife he punctures a hole in the can, and he fits the end of a sharpened stick into the hole.  Then, holding the stick in his hand, he places the can into the fire.  When the contents of the can start to pop, the man takes it off the fire.  One of the other hobos hands him a loaf of bread, and the man cuts two slices with his pocketknife.  He pours some of the contents of the can onto one of the slices, and he places the other slice over it.  He hands it to Hubert.

            “Bean sandwich,” the man says.

            “Thank you, sir,” Hubert responds.

            “By the way, my name’s Morris.”

            “Thank you, Mr. Morris,” Hubert says.

            “Eat up, son, and then you get some rest.  We’re going to have to figure out how to get you back home.”

            “No sir,” Hubert says.  “I’m never going back home.  I’m going to ride the rails.  Ain’t nobody out here to make me work or tell me what to do.”

            “Just what are running away from, boy?” Morris asks.

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