“Excuse me sir, do -“
“Already am,” I mumble under my breath. I have my story, if anyone will stop long enough to listen to it. I’ve boiled it down to bullet points, I can get it out in less than a minute now.
But this is not that version.
“Are you coming or what?” The old man called to me.
I shrugged, the too big coat I wore almost falling from my shoulders with the motion, the duct taped together strap on my weathered backpack preventing it from sliding too far.
“Well, you better make up your mind fast kiddo, this train’s leaving, with or without you.”
I gave one last longing glance backwards, told myself that if dad was there, I’d go back with him.
“Suit yourself,” the old man said and stood.
“No wait,” I called to him, running and hurling my backpack into the moving freight car.
“Here,” I’d later learn his name was Tobias Shade, or ‘Lampman,’ held out his hand, which I grasped and held on tight as he pulled me into the boxcar.
As I knelt there on the hay strewn floor of the railcar, Lampman slid the door shut behind me, but not before a far off shout reached my ears, or was I imagining my father calling my name. I tried to look back, but the door had already slammed shut.
The old man held out his hand and introduced himself.
“Nice to meet you sir,” I shook his offered hand, feeling the calluses, “I’m Caesar Ingram.” I said with a smile.
“That won’t work, will it Hayseed?”
I looked around for the first time, light peeking its way into the car through the spaces in between the slats, illuminating nearly a dozen other people huddled in the darkness of the railway car as it chugged along.
“Don’t think so,” a man with a wispy beard the color of hay stepped forward, lighting a lantern that sat on an upturned crate. “Caesar Ingram you say?”
“Uh, yes sir.” I squirmed beneath his careful scrutiny, causing him to laugh.
“Whadoyoutinkof Sarin?” His breath reminded me of my father’s, after a beer or two, when he would get in my face to yell at me. I shrunk from the man known as Hayseed and glanced at the door again.
“Give the lad some room.” Lampman pushed the blonde back into the corner he had come from.
“Ignore him, he’s harmless, but he has a way with names, don’t he.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“Then it’s settled, Sarin, let me introduce you to the rest of my family.”
“Your family sir?” I regarded him again, his ebony skin, his nearly bald pate.
“Bah, they’re who I spend my nights with, and they help me out when I need it, that’s what family is, right?”
“I uh, guess, sir.”
“If you ain’t going to call me Lampman, at least call me Tobias.”
“Why Lampman sir?”
“Cuz I didn’t like Lampshade,” he said with a chuckle that brought a laugh that turned into a hacking cough out of the dark corner Hayseed had disappeared into.