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The Stroller
Dollar Joe Chapter 1
© 2021 James LaFond
Candice—all of 85 pounds—boarded the train with Janine—all of three months old—in her left arm, dragging her fifty pound carry-on and Janine's stroller stacked on top through the baggage compartment, where nobody in their right mind kept their valuables, and made her way up the stairs that bent to the right, no wider than her narrow shoulders. Just as she was wondering how a fat person would ever get up these narrow stairs like a sardine squeezing into a tin can for one, to get to that promised seating deck above, where her and her babies could recline in comfort—the dang stroller slipped from her little hand, breaking off a press-on nail and worry reflected from her in words echoing town the tinny stair behind her, “Jamal!”
Fortunately, Jamal had good reflexes for a three-year old and ducked down low as the stroller tumbled over his head, bouncing off of his tiny shoulder—all of thirty pounds—and held onto his own 25-pound carry-on, not letting it fall. “Good,” she said, bring it up—we in peoples' way!”
Jamal then stopped and looked up at at a grungy looking blonde man, with that homeless cast about him, the boy momentarily staring at the man's one messed-up eye, like he had had the socket broke with a bat and the eye itself looked kind of sunken and dead, though it was there.
The man then motioned for Jamal to continue up the stairs with his right hand as he bent and picked up the stroller with his left, not carrying luggage of his own. Up they went into the seating deck and down the way to the front of the car where she had been told to sit on the right.
This train stuff was so hectic, and being a lone women without a man or a job and having to leave her baby's daddy's hometown who got his shiftless ass locked up, because her waitress job was forever gone from the disease, she just had to deal with this three days of mess on trains and in stations to get home to Mama.
She got to her seat, with Janine, letting the man rack her luggage as Jamal climbed up on the aisle seat and stood and looked at the man smiling—without his mask on!
She yanked his little butt down onto the seat and hissed at him, “Mask!” and he rooted for it in his pants pockets, at the same time smiling up to the dead-eyed man, who was all of thirty, but rough for his years, and said, “Thank you so much, sir!”
He nodded and mumbled, “Thank-ye, miss,” from behind his bandanna and turned to walk to the back of the car, where it seems like they had seated all of the lone men. Only people traveling together had to sit next to someone. She saw that he had a worn backpack of a military type and his cloths were as ragged as most of the other men in the back of the car, most of them older and alone, in their forties, fifties and even seventies.
This made her sad. No man and woman on this whole train journeyed together except for the strange looking white folks whose women dressed in pioneer dresses and bonnets and men wore blue shirts and black vests and hats.
“Miss, miss,” came the voice of authority above her and she looked up with a smile and was so glad her mask did not slip down beneath her nose like it did in the station which had got her a talking to by the woman behind the counter.
“Yes sir?”
The red-headed Amtrak man then pointed to her baby Janine and said something that the lady in the station had not said, “Miss, every passenger must be masked—mask the baby.”
She wanted to cry—how do you keep a mask on a baby?
What if she gets SIDS in her sleep?
The man kept going as she tried to figure this out.
Could she rig up one of her mini-pads as a mask?
How would it stay on?
Would it be too thick to breath through?
God only knew it made her coochy sweat.
Then, behind her, because thank God she was in the front family part of the car, with a Mexican girl and her mini-masked baby across the aisle form her, one of the older bonnet women, seated next to her Abraham Lincoln-bearded man, without saying a word, handed her a little tiny baby mask made of thin material. She was saved.
“Thank you, miss—thank you so much!”
Then she fitted the mesh-like baby mask, like it had been made from a Muslim woman's veil, over Janine's tiny mouth and strapped it to her little ears and Janine looked up at her like she had lost her mind.
“I know girl, things are getting weird.”
dollar joe
plantation america
song of the secret gardener
honor among men
logic of steel
time & cosmos
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