I thought this might be the final part, but turns out it’s going to take at least one more.
The boy drank both soft drinks, his and the Diet Doctor Pepper Jerry had fetched for himself. No matter. His voice cleared up, though still raspy. Jerry asked him what he’d been doing. The boy said he’d worked at a traveling carnival, that they’d failed to pay him, and he’d demanded them to make it right, and, so, they’d beaten him up and left him in a shack at a fairgrounds somewhere in Ohio. When he’d awakened, everything was gone. All the trucks had loaded up and headed on up the road. Since then, he’d spent a night in jail and one in a homeless shelter, but mostly he’d just staggered down roads and hitched rides. Now he was fairly close to home and figured it was something of a miracle.
Then he nodded off to sleep, and Jerry let him. He still didn’t know the boy’s name and where he was headed, other than it was somewhere in Texas. He checked into a Red Roof Inn just off Interstate Forty on what was apparently the north side of town. Jerry had never spent a night in Little Rock, only passed by. He just opened the door, told the boy to take a shower and get himself clean, and he’d go find a place to buy him a change of clothes since it was obvious the boy had nothing but the clothes on his back and they weren’t fit for anything but throwing away.
Jerry didn’t unpack the truck because he realized it would be tempting, and almost understandable, if the boy stole whatever he could of Jerry’s and hit the road thumbing again. He found a Dollar General store and bought a three-pack of underwear and some socks, two cheap pullover shirts and some blue jeans that were thirty-two in the waist. He didn’t figure they’d be tight, so he bought a cheap belt, too. He’d have bought some cheap sneakers, too, but he hadn’t a clue what size to get. It was all cheap, and the whole bill was about thirty-five bucks. When he got back, the boy was lying naked in the bed, under the covers. He put on the clothes, and that’s when Jerry found out his name was Nathan. They drove over to the nearby McCain Mall, where Jerry had two slices of pizza and Nathan the rest of the pie.
Then they just sat in a food court and talked. Jerry was tired, Nathan exhausted, but for the first time, he wanted to talk. He said he had a gal back home, and she’d had his baby, and there weren’t any jobs, so he’d left her living with her parents, who couldn’t stand him and probably hoped he’d never come back. He said the main thing he’d done with the carnival was deep-fry corn dogs, and he reckoned that wasn’t valued much by the son of a bitch who ran it. They’d fed him and given him a place to sleep, but after a month without pay, he’d gotten angry because he needed to send at least a little something home for Geraldine and little Roy. He said they’d whupped him pretty good, but the black eyes had healed, he reckoned, in all those days walking and riding his lonely way back home.
“How long you been doing that?” Jerry asked.
“What date is it right now?”
“Fifth day of June.”
“Let’s see,” Nathan said. “I believe I set out from Marion, Ohio, on, it was a Monday. Seems like it was Memorial Day.”
“Two damn weeks, near ‘bout,” Jerry said. “And you been wearing them same clothes ever since?”
“Till now,” he said. “Ain’t slept layin’ down much, neither, and a jail cell ain’t much of a way to do that.”
TO BE CONTINUED