Train to Evanston
He felt the tracks hum before he saw the train in the distance. He wasn’t sure whether to flag it down or to hide in the hills, but didn’t have much of a choice. The only thing he’d eaten in the past two days were some wild berries and medicinal roots. He couldn’t go on much longer without real food.
He flailed his arms above his head to make himself visible. Then, as the train slowed to a stop, he breathed a sigh of relief. Through its windows, he could see the thin arms and worn faces of his countrymen.
He climbed on and filed nervously past the train men and government soldiers. A soldier muttered something as he passed and spat brown liquid that just missed his feet. He didn’t recoil or react. He’d come to expect abuse from white devils ever since he’d landed in this wretched land. Some said he’d been lucky to make it in just before the laws changed and the border had been sealed to his people, but he hadn’t felt very lucky. He’d had to scramble each and every day to put food in his belly.
He continued on to the back of the car where some fifty of his countrymen were huddled. Their faces were covered in soot, and it dawned on him that his own face must not look very different.
“Where is Old Chung, the barber and herbalist?” he asked the men, some of whom he knew by name. Others, only by face. “Does anyone know what happened to Old Chung?”
No one spoke up, but the way they averted their eyes made him suspect the worst.
Finally, Old Yau, who was learned and wrote letters for money, spoke up, “Old Chung is among the dead. They shot him, stole his money, and burned down his house.”
It was just as he’d feared. His friend and mentor, who had frequently lamented that in this land their lives were no more than those of flies, had passed on to the next world after sending him to gather herbs in the hills and inadvertently saving him from a dog’s death. Huddled in the hills above Bitter Creek, he’d seen the flames and heard the gunshots and the screams. White miners bearing guns had descended on their camp, all because they had dared to work jobs that white miners now claimed belonged only to white men.
“What will you do now?” Old Yau asked, shaking him out of his thoughts.
“Where is this train headed?”
“Then what happens to us?”
“Nobody knows. Some say the railroad will take us to San Francisco. Some say they will force us to return to the mines.”
“I won’t go back.”
“Then where will you go?”
“I don’t know, but I won’t go back to Rock Springs. Not after this.”
The old man stared at him for a while, then said, “Listen, Little Ma. I’ve watched you and know you’re a good man. If you’re up for it, I have a brother in Seattle who wrote me that things aren’t so bad there. People there aren’t as savage or hateful. If you wish to come with me… ”
And just like that, like a rudderless boat that suddenly finds direction after a storm, Little Ma decided to throw his lot in with Old Yau and head to this place called Seattle. He hoped that city would be different. He hoped that he and others like him would finally be left alone once he got there.