Hours later, the train began to slow down. It was around noon and Zach and Charlie were hungry. Charlie’s stomach was growling so loud Zach could hear it from where he was sitting. They looked forward to getting off the train to find something to eat.
When the train finally came to a stop, Charlie jumped off and then helped Zach. Then they began the rest of their journey on foot.
They found a road and for hours the hot sun beat down on them. They became weary, which made walking down the road seem like an eternity.
“I sure hope there’s a town coming up soon, I’m really thirsty,” Zach said.
“And hungry,” Charlie added.
“Image a big ya much eat lot,” Zach said.
Charlie became puzzled at what Zach just said, it didn’t make any sense, and he appeared to be confused. Charlie noticed that he had stopped sweating and was turning pale. He had the first signs of dehydration, most likely caused by the whiskey he drank the night before. Charlie had seen dehydration before, working in the cotton fields. A farmhand had once gotten heatstroke and nearly died. He knew if Zach became delusional things would start going bad quickly. They came across an old farm when his nightmare became a reality.
“Mama, dat you?” Zach said slurring. He was delirious and hallucinating, which meant he needed lots of water, and he needed it immediately!
Charlie put his hand on Zach forehead. His body temperature was high, he needed to find a way to cool Zach down and hydrate him or he would go into shock and die. He saw some cattle in the distance and suspected there had to be water for them nearby, so he picked Zach up and ran toward them as fast as he could. He searched for signs of water. He looked for an area where cattle or birds were gathering. Zach was unconscious, and was running out of time. When Charlie came upon the summit of a hill and saw an old barn in the distance; it must have been a mile away. He had no other choice, so he raced to it. When he approached the barn, he saw a water pump near a wooden trough. He placed Zach under the spigot and began pumping the handle frantically. Within seconds, water began to flow out. Charlie kept pumping until Zach was completely saturated. Then he found a tin cup nearby and filled it. He cradled Zach’s head, brought the cup to his lips, and poured water into his mouth.
“Drink! Drink the water, Zach!” Charlie was frantic. He watched Zach closely, looking for some kind of sign. He looked for anything that would determine how this situation would go. It didn’t look good, Zach was not responding. Please Lord, please! Charlie prayed as he poured more water in Zach’s mouth. There still was no response from Zach. Then Charlie became angry. “Ya took everything from me, don’t take my friend too! Help him! Please!”
Suddenly Zach’s lips gently began to suck the water.
“Bless you, Lord. Bless you!” Charlie said with tears in his eyes. He held Zach in his arms like a child and helped him until he finished the water.
After Zach had rested in the shade for almost two and a half hours, he regained his strength. He and Charlie began to walk again for another mile or so, when they came upon a town called Lenox. It was a small town approximately five miles south/east of Memphis. The main street had several small shops and buildings. For a small town, they had all the essentials. There was a butcher shop, barbershop, post office, town hall, bank, bakery, diner, and general store among a few other commercial buildings.
Lenox was an upcoming town before the Depression began, but now, most of their construction projects were put on hold. The town was located near a train yard, which helped keep it running while other towns further away suffered. Their exports of cotton and other raw material weren’t outstanding, but there was enough to keep most of its businesses running and residents employed.
Charlie carried Zach’s bag for him since Zach was still feeling a little woozy, even though his color had finally come back. “How ya feeling?”
“Much better,” Zach said. “I can’t thank you enough for what ya did. Ya saved my life ... again.”
“It wasn’t nothing,” Charlie said. “Ya would have done the same for me.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to carry you. You’re forgetting our difference in size.” He looked up at Charlie and smiled. “I would have tried my damnedest though.”
Charlie knew Zach meant it and smiled.
On the street corner, they saw a vendor selling hotdogs and soda pop. “C’mon,” Zach said, “it’s on me, it’s the least I could do for ya saving my ass.”
“I thought ya lost all your money?”
“Never place all your eggs in one basket,” Zach said as he removed his shoe. “A tip I learnt from Lester. A little emergency money ... two bucks.”
When they approached the vendor, they could smell the hot dogs from his cart. Charlie was already licking his lips. He was starving.
“I’ll have one Coney Island and a Nehi for myself,” Zach said to the vendor, “and two Coney Islands and a Nehi for my friend here.” Then Zach turned to Charlie and asked what kind of toppings he wanted.
“Toppins?” Charlie looked confused.
“Just give us the works,” Zach said to the vendor.
While they waited for the vendor, Zach noticed a banner that extended across the street reading LENOX FAIR, JULY 3RD-5TH.
When the vendor finished preparing their food and handed them the Coney Islands and soda pop. “That’ll be a buck, fifty.”
After Zach had paid the vendor, he took a bite of his Coney Island. He thought it tasted like heaven on earth. He hadn’t eaten in hours, and it made him realize how much he missed Blanche and her cooking. Then he turned to see how Charlie liked his hot dogs. He noticed that Charlie was just finishing the last one, and then downed his Nehi soda pop in two gulps.
“Holy cow,” Zach said. “Ya always eat like that?”
“Eat like what?”
“That was fast?”
“Better check your fingers,” Zach said.
“In case ya ate one of them,” Zach said laughing.
Then they continued walking a few blocks when suddenly Zach stopped and started to rub his stomach.
“What’s the matter?” Charlie asked. “You okay?”
Zach moaned and then let out a loud, hearty belch. “Ah, much better,” he said looking relieved. He looked up and saw Charlie’s expression. “Oh, pardon me.”
“Good thing that didn’t come out the other end,” Charlie said.
“Oh, that will come later,” Zach replied with a smile.
“I can hardly wait.”
When they reached the corner, they saw a sign outside near the front door of a hotel that read ROOMS $1.25 PER NIGHT.
“Too bad I spent the last of my money on the Coney Islands,” Zach said, “it would have been nice to sleep in a comfortable bed tonight.”
“Wait, I got five dollars,” Charlie said. He remembered the money Mrs. Huck gave him. He removed it from his front pocket and gave it to Zach.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Zach said.
They crossed the street and entered the hotel. Neither of them noticed the other sign in the window that read NO BLACKS. At the front desk, a young, scrawny clerk hunched over the counter. His face was buried in the comic section of his newspaper. He was oblivious to Zach and Charlie’s presence. Charlie stood and watched the clerk chew his gum. He thought he resembled a deer chewing cud. After a few seconds, Charlie cleared his throat.
When the clerk lowered his newspaper, his jaw dropped when he saw Charlie towering over him. He looked regretful and began to spit out the words, “we don’t, um ... we don’t allow bla-blacks.”
“He’s with me!”
The clerk looked stunned wondering where the voice came from. He noticed fingers at the edge of the counter. He leaned over slightly and saw Zach looking up at him. “Oh, there ya are,” the clerk said. “You’re a little fella ain’t cha?”
“What was your first clue, genius?” Zach said. “We need a room, two beds. That wouldn’t be a problem now, would it?”
The clerk looked up and saw Charlie peering down on him. He already managed to insult both men within a minute, so he opened the registry book and spun it around. “No problem,” the clerk said. “Just sign in, I’ll get your key.”
Zach signed the registry and handed the clerk two dollars. The clerk handed Zach their key and their change.
“Ya room is number twenty-one,” the clerk said. “It’s just up the stairs and down the hall to the left. Bathroom’s at the end of the hall. If y’all need any fresh towels or anything just holler.”
If we holler, this dumb bastard will probably jump out of his skin. “Much obliged,” Zach said.
When they got to their room, it didn’t take long to see it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton. The ceiling fan had thick dust on the blades, and it had only one bare light bulb that worked. Mold was growing in one of the corners where the wallpaper was peeling. The window curtains didn’t match, and one of them had a large hole in it. There was also a mousetrap in the corner behind a chair with worn fabric.
Zach crossed the room and climbed into one of the beds. He stretched out his arms and legs. “Hey, this ain’t too bad. It’s much better than the old mattress I used to sleep on.”
The floor squeaked when Charlie walked to the window. Through the dirty glass, he could see the fairgrounds. “After we rest a while, ya wanna to check out the fair?”
Zach didn’t think there was anything special to see at the fair. He figured that they probably had the typical petting area and a few rides for kids. He thought it was no big deal really, but then he thought, maybe Charlie never seen a fair before. “Sure Charlie, that sounds like fun. Maybe we can grab a bite too.” He figured the hot dogs probably wouldn’t satisfy Charlie for very long since he had a healthy appetite.
Charlie crossed the room to the other bed. He removed his shoes, got settled in and let out a long sigh. After a moment, he rolled to his side and leaned on his elbow. “Zach, all we got is a few dollars now. After we eat, we’ll have even less. What we gonna do for money?”
Zach sunk his head deep into the pillow and closed his eyes. “Don’t worry, Charlie, I gotta feeling something will come up. We got each other and I’m sure we’ll find us a way to make a few bucks. Just close your eyes and relax and leave the financing to me. We’ll be okay.”
“All right,” Charlie said. He trusted Zach. Then he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He tried to clear his mind of everything that had occurred since he ran away. He started to think about Max and missed the way he would nudge his hand with his nose. He always did that whenever he wanted to be scratched behind his big, floppy ears. Max was Charlie’s only companion for years. When he turned to his side and faced the wall, he thought of Max not being there and then his eyes began to water. “I miss ya Max,” he said softly. Then he closed his eyes and after a few minutes he fell asleep.