Two hobos walked by the side of the road, both were thirty-five, unshaven, and wearing denim. One of them was wearing a red bandana. They were on the shoulder of the road and a truck flew by them; they made no attempt for a ride. They walked single file, the sun was beating down, and the men sweated. One of the hobos stopped and wiped his face with his shirt tail. He’d been in Vietnam and his life hadn’t gone that well since. He looked up into the sun. The second hobo waited for him, a pasture was all around them. The first hobo started to walk again, he walked a ways before the second one started again. The second one fell to the ground and didn’t move.
The first hobo saw lights in the distance and felt better. He kept walking; he didn’t know where Tyrone was. He was getting on his nerves anyhow so maybe it was better they split up. Every man for himself - he learned a long time ago. He was coming to a town. Once in town, he looked for the camp. There were around ten other hobos, and drifters and vagabonds around a couple of fire pits and some lean tos made out of scraps of wood, sheet metal and cardboard. He sat by a fire and another tramp handed him a cup of coffee. One or two of the men asked him questions, and one of the men asked him about his brother who he expected any day now. The hobo answered he travelled alone. The man said his brother wore a red bandana. The hobo wanted to change the subject and asked about work and a man told him about the orchards about a half mile away. The man told him women from the church came and wanted to have meetings. He said a preacher came one time but couldn’t get anyone to listen to him. The townspeople didn’t like them much so they stayed either in camp or at the orchard if there was work. He said there wasn’t any work right now but he hoped that would change soon. There were blankets to sleep with - the old and sick got the lean tos, and you could eat from the “pot” for five dollars a week otherwise you were on your own. A man played a guitar and the music made him wistful.
He heard a train whistle in the distance, he remembered the time he hopped a train from Oklahoma to Texas. He felt hungry but didn’t have five bucks. He thought he had something and went through his pockets and found three dollars. He gave it to the man who’d talked to him and he said he could eat for three nights. He went to where the man was cooking over a fire and he told him to take a cup. He picked up a battered tin cup from the table and the man filled it with stew. He said he could fill it one more time. The hobo went back to the fire, and tasted the stew, but it was too spicy so he dumped it back. That other man was there too and he asked him again about what road he came to town on, and talked about how his brother was travelling the same way, and the hobo figured he was talking about Tyrone, but didn’t let on. The other man watched him for a long time, and the hobo was silent.
The man said he talked to his brother the other night on the phone at the filling station, and he started whittling; he shaved the bark off a stick with menacing purpose. He told the hobo his name was Thomas and he was looking for his brother, Tyrone. He told the hobo he thought he was Tyrone because he came to camp at the same time he expected Tyrone. The hobo spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders; he felt Thomas’s distrust of him. Thomas played with the knife in his hands. The hobo had the idea to tell Thomas he’d passed a stiff on the road with a red bandana, but didn’t. He asked Thomas where the train ran and Thomas pointed. Thomas played with the knife. The hobo wanted to sleep but felt unsettled; Thomas was making him anxious. He thought again about telling him he passed a hobo with a red bandana, but realized that would only make him more distrustful.
He couldn’t go back; he had to stick to his story that he didn’t know who Tyrone was. He realized he had to move on; maybe in the morning he would hop a train and go anywhere away from Thomas. That the way it was for him when there were problems – he moved on. He loved Sandy and she broke his heart and he took to wandering. He enlisted for Vietnam to make her proud and she broke his heart. The music made him sorrowful. He worked and never begged from no one; he took pride in that, but didn’t like interacting with others; it was always hurtful somehow so he kept moving. There were kind people in the world and there were devils, and he was wounded by both. There was a time when he tried to figure that out, but he’d given up. He understood there was something wrong with him, but he didn’t hurt anyone else so he had nobility. Other hobos would talk to him about Jesus and he would walk away. He had moments when he stood by a lake or in the forest when he felt connected to something greater than himself, and that would calm him, and all he could figure was it must be God in some form or other. He almost killed himself a couple of times; once in Vietnam, and a couple of times after he got home. After Sandy betrayed him he got in a bar fight and was in the hospital for a month. He saw young couples and it reminded him of him and Sandy and he couldn’t free himself from that; the only thing was to keep searching, keep searching. Thomas was staring at him from across the fire. He wanted to sleep. He stood up and went and got a blanket. He found some thick grass and lay down and tried to sleep.
He felt the coolness on his face and heard voices. It took him a few seconds to realize where he was. He sat up. He saw the back of a man with a red bandana, and knew he had to get out. He grabbed his denim jacket and headed in the direction from where he’d heard the train whistle. Soon he was in some woods and stopped running. He found a path and walked on that until he came to the tracks. His stomach was empty. He walked the tracks until he found a mail drop and waited. He didn’t know where he was other than he was in Pennsylvania somewheres. He sat off the track and waited; the sun was beating down. He wondered when Tyrone came into camp. He fell asleep for how long he did not know.
He woke and from the sun knew it was mid-day. He thought he heard something in the woods and tilted his head to hear better. He heard something rustle, then, it was quiet. He pictured Thomas and Tyrone with knives drawn tracking him in the woods. He figured a train should come along anytime now. It was hot and bright. He thought he only had so much time before the brothers found him. He flinched when he saw a snake near him; he watched it slither away. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and his stomach ached. He wanted some water. He looked up and saw birds circling in the sky, he felt light-headed and heard the babbling of water nearby. He stumbled when he stood up and looked for water. He found the stream and dropped to his knees and the stream disappeared. He was on his hands and knees looking at the ground. He heard the whistle, and told himself to get up. He got upright and went back to the tracks and saw the smoke of the train in the distance. After some more time, he heard the whistle, and saw the train in the distance. He watched the train as it got closer and closer, and it was slowing down to make the mail drop. He started to run along the side of the track. The engine went by him and he looked for an open door and the ladder to jump onto. He saw the open door and ran along with the ladder next to him until, instantly, the train disappeared. He stopped running and was panting. His senses were playing tricks with him and he was light-headed. He sat by the side of the track; sweat was on his face, and nothing was in focus. He needed food to get stronger; to be a hunter and not quarry.