Friday, November 12, 2010

THE TRAIN HOPPER

He never liked being described as a hobo.  He was a train hopper in his mind.  He hopped onto trains and took them to small towns that looked promising for a few weeks work before hopping on another train and riding to another town.  Although it was illegal to ride trains in this manner, the people who worked in the yards manage to leave at least a few doors open in the box cars so that he and other train hoppers could at least have a chance for a ride.  They considered it doing a good deed to keep the hoppers warm and safe.

He had been hopping trains for almost thirty years now and he still was not tired of it.  He had been from one end of the country to the other, although he preferred the northern plains to other parts of the country.  He had shared rides before with other hoppers and had never had any trouble.  One reason for this is that he stood six foot and 4 inches tall and he was in very good shape.  One look at him, and a would be thief would reconsider his plan immediately.  He carried a medium sized duffel bag which contained two sets of cloths and various canned goods and tools.  This little kit had done well for him making him prepared for almost any job that may present itself to him.

One spring night as he was settling down in a corner of the dusty box car, three other hoppers climbed aboard.  They looked him over and decided it may be wise to be pleasant to the big muscular man in the corner.  They asked him if it he would mind sharing the car with them for a couple of days.  He didn't mind as long as they didn't bother him.  He made it part of his philosophy to never get into others business and never let others get into his.  It had worked fairly well over the years with only a few minor scuffles that didn't amount to much.  The three newcomers settled down in the opposite corner and whispered among themselves as to not to disturb their host in the car.

It was two nights later when the train was stopped to add a few more cars onto it that the two boys climbed aboard the car.  They looked over at the loner and then at the three gathered in a corner and and without asking just sat their cloth bags on the floor in the third corned and laid down to take a nap.    The three men who considered themselves no longer guests of the box car but residents were angered over this breech of protocol among train hoppers everywhere.  They talked to each other in hushed tones that slowly got louder and faster as they tried to decide what the best way to handle this situation was.

The train started moving and the two boys were still in the car.  One of the boys sat up and posed a question to the loner about his belief in Christ and religion.  The loner just sighed and sat back to close his eyes as he felt the train starting to rock below him as he slowly started to drift off finally falling into a sleep that was not destined to last for long.

It was the yel;ling of not giving a damn about religion or God or anything else that awoke the loner.  His eyes came into focus just as one of the three threw a fist into the gut of one of the boys.  It was the beginning of an exhibition of the worst kind, the young missionaries taking a pounding for their beliefs and not fighting back.  The blood began to flow from the boys and soon both of them seemed to be lifeless as they lay in a pool of their own blood.  They were very still and the loner could not even hear breathing coming from the two boys.  The three men started going through the sacks of the young missionaries and grabbing what food they could find as the loner just sat and watched the end of the event come to pass.  One of the three suddenly got the idea that they had better get rid of these bodies or there could be questions asked, more questions than a small pool of blood stain on the floor of a box car would bring up.  The three men slowly picked up each of the boys and swung them out of the fast moving train into a terrain that wasn't very clear.  It could be water, soft grass or rocks.  They couldn't tell nor did they care.  The kids were gone and the three had some fresh food to eat.  After a few minutes one of the three picked up a bible and through it out the door as well.  The lone train hopper shifted his body a little and fell back asleep, not giving what he had just seen much thought.  The boys were gone, the three were pleased and it was back to a quiet normality of quiet as he fell asleep.

It was a month after the night of the beatings and possibly killings of the young men when he noticed a police car drive by.  In the back he could make out the faces of two of the three riders that had beat up the kids.  Fairly soon after that another car came whizzing by with the third  part of the trio in the back seat.  He wondered what the police had found.  He had been working in a warehouse, helping to get it organized for the Christmas season and had planned on leaving the following Monday, hopping another train to whee ever it took him.  That Friday afternoon found him at the courthouse to see what the men had been taken into custody for.  As he sat there he looked around the room and saw one of the young boys that had been on the train that night staring at him.  Suddenly the young man stood up and pointed his finger and yelled that the loner had been one of them too, that he had helped kill his friend on the train that dreadful night.  The lone hopper felt his blood drain from his head and felt sick all at the same time.  There was a bustle of chatter among the prosecutor and the police and the judge and eventually they came over and put him under arrest, assigned him a lawyer and stood him up with the other three men.

He did not talk to his lawyer.  He did not talk to anyone.  His jail cell fit him as comfortably as a box car had.  He kept rolling through the pictures in his mind from that night and over and over saw himself sitting there watching the beatings and watching the bodies go flying out of the side of the boxcar.  He decided it would be best to just keep totally silent and that was what he did.

The trial did not last long.  There was the account of the young missionary of what happened that night, the account of officers who found the young boy wandering around in a daze and then the account of finding the body of his friend.  The other three tried to throw up a weak defense that seemed to try to place most of the blame on the loner but it didn't hold up.  It was obvious to everyone in the court room, particularly the jury, what had happened that night.  The lone hopper did not put up a defense, instead deciding to continue not to talk to his lawyer and not to speak of what he had witnessed.  It took the jury less than an hour to come to the decision of all four men being guilty of murder and being placed on death row.  The loner let the words sink into his soul of what it all meant.  It meant he was going to die.  Somehow he was good with that, resting easy for the next two days before they transferred the four to the state prison to await execution.

The four men were put into adjacent cells on death row.  The three began trying to figure out how to appeal their misfortune while the loner laid quietly on his bunk resting and waiting for time to drift by.  One of the three called him a fool for not defending himself, for not saying he had nothing to do with it and because of that he was sitting here waiting patiently to die for something he had nothing to do with.  They asked him how he come he was even here when all he did was watch what happened?  How could he accept that.  Then the loner said the only words to the three or anyone since he was arrested.

"It is because I did nothing that I am here.  I deserve it.  I should have stopped it but I sat and watched and then fell asleep.  I have no quarrel with the state or you or anybody.  I did nothing and for that I must pay.

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