By Amado Muro El Paso Boarding the Texas and Pacific freight train at Sweetwater I found an empty boxcar and swung from the car top through the open door. No one else was in the car and in the flare of a match I found a heavy woolen blanket in a corner. It was cold that night and dark clouds drifted low, whipped along by a slashing west wind that sent sand fogging into the air. When the cold penetrated my clothes I wrapped the blanket around me and I lay in a corner listening to the heavy exhaust of the three engines and the clacking of the wheels over rail joints. As the night got colder, I was glad the blanket had been there. I slept. At Odessa the brakemen looked into the boxcar and found me. The flash of their lanterns woke me and I blinked when I opened my eyes. There were two of them and they smiled and asked if I’d had a rough ride. The TP was an easy road to beat then and a hobo could easily make the three divisions between Fort Worth and El Paso in one jump. On the TP no rail bulls would make me get off and wait for the next train. All I had to look out for was policemen. The breakman told me the train would stop at Odessa for about an hour. The prairie wind, fuller now, was still keening in from the west and the moon was getting low. It must have been between two and three o’clock then. It I I Call PCK, Before You .Pack FOR SAN ANTONIO I Enjoy real money-saving value, and relax at the ALBERT MOTEL 96 N.E. Loop Expressway Adjacent to San Antonio International Airport Color TV in every room Restaurant & Lounge Heated Pool Family Plan Free Parking ALL AT MODERATE RATES RESERVATIONS: CALL TOLL FREE I American Express Space Bank 800 -AE 8-5000 ins nimim m Students . . Jet-Away to Europe THIS SUMMER FOR AS LOW AS $200″ individual travel with confirmed space; no restrictions; ticket valid for one year. For further information contact: DALLAS TRAVEL, INC. 211 N. Ervay, Dallas 75201 I did not want to get up, but the brakemen said they were going to set off all the empties. It was a work train and more cars would be cut at Toyah and Sierra Blanca. Only sealed cars and tri-levels were going on through to El Paso. ITHANKED the brakemen for letting me know about that and then jumped out of the boxcar. I walked fast down the tracks toward the head-end of the train, and I heard footsteps following me. I looked back and one of the brakemen was looking into the rest of the cars, and a tall, swaybacked man was following me. He was wearing a slicker, and I heard it rustling with each step. He had a bandanna tied around his forehead and he moved in uncertain, jerky steps like an infant traversing a wavering course from chair to chair. He kept his eyes on his feet A recent Mentor anthology of chicano writings says Amado Muro has produced more good short stories than any Other young chicano writer. Muro, however, does not consider himself a professional story teller. He lives in El Paso where he works for a railroad. 10 The Texas Observer MIMI= ON Me NM MN MN IMP MN MN Homeless Man and the chalky rock of the roadbed. I waited for him to catch up. His eyes were watering, and he looked pale and shaky. He spoke in Spanish, a greeting. I said, “Muy Buenas noshes, senor ” and smiled at him. Then I said something more in Spanish, a question, but this time he shrugged and spread his hands. For a long time he stood very still looking at me, and I could see he did not understand. Then he spoke slowly in English, trying to find small words I would understand. “You go?” he asked, and pointed down the track toward the west. “Si senor,” I said. “El Paso.” He took his ragged hat off and dusted it across his legs, and then put it back on his head. “You want coffee?” he asked, making a motion at his stomach to be sure I would . understand what he meant. I realized he thought I was a wetback. So, in accented English, I told him I would like coffee. He seemed pleased because I spoke some English. He smiled without parting his lips and then said he knew other Spanish words beside “como sigue,” but they were mostly swear words. “I learned some Spanish from hearing Mexicans talk in the farm labor camps,” he explained. To repay him for inviting -me to have coffee, I offered him the blanket I had found. When he realized I was giving him the blanket,’he turned his pockets out for me, offering me what he had. He talked brokenly in English to himself and kept offering me tobacco, a carpenter’s trimming knife with a broken blade and two pennies Then he smiled and said “gracias cuate” again and again and he took the blanket and led me to a wood fire burning between two piles of bricks on the prairie near a rusty spur track overgrown with wee dstalks. THERE WAS A bed of red coals in the fire with ashes banked up around them to keep them from rolling out. Nearby was an old cottonwood with storm-broken boughs and strewn around it were a few cracked and broken vegetable crates. The tall man went after a crate. He came back and scrapped the embers together and placed the crate carefully on the fire. The fire crackled. It turned yellow and light filled the jungle. By then the wind had sloped to the northwest and had flattened to an even blowing. Mesquite trees and bear grass clumps that had bent over and sprung up now leaned one way under a steady pressure. The wind’s chill crawled under
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