I've Been Working On the Railroad


A mallet comes down on the railroad track.


A bead of sweat travels down my forehead and rolls down my neck.


Another stretch of railway is laid for people much richer than I.


The warm, cruel sun beats down on the poor, restless men who build this path.


The supervisor tells us that we are pioneers of a new era, that we should be proud of our work.



The dinging of the mallets and hammers comes to a stop as the low pitched bell tolls signaling the end of a long work day.

A mass of people rushes excitedly to the supervisors office.

On a normal day, people trudge sullenly home, all they have to look forward to being the next day of work. Which isn't really anything to look forward to.

But today is the day we wait for all month. Today is the day that we get paid.

After waiting in line for what seemed like ages, 10 shiny coins and 50 bills are dropped into my hand, much less than my fellow workers who are white. Black men don't make nearly as much money. It isn't much, but it's enough.

Tonight I would arrive home late, which I know will dissapoint my wife and child.

But I have to make some stops tonight.

I stop by the realtors office to pay the rent for the month, 30 of my bills gone.

I drop into the grocery store to get food for the month, another 10 dollars gone.

I go to the thrift store to get some new britches for my growing child, another dollar gone.

I have just enough left to get my son a suprise.

After going to one final store, I run home as fast as I can. The sun is beginning to set over the top of the house as I walk up the drive, but that doesn't matter.

I hear my son call my name as he runs down the drive. I drop my things and swing him round, throwing him up in the air.

His laughs seemed to stop time for just a few moments, and it's as if he's a bird spreading his wings, and flying far, far away from here.

Flying toward a future far better that what I can provide for him. I want to give him so much more than I can, but I know that only a miracle can do that.

As he comes down, my wife stepps onto the porch. She finishes drying the last dish of a large load.

Relief is shown on her face, because she knows now that I am safe for the night. I hate to cause her worry, but I know what I brought for her will make up for it.

After discussing our days, she sees the bulges in my pockets and a strange look comes across her face.

Out of one pocket, I pull out a rock candy stick and a new toy, and hand them to my son. A look of pure joy comes across his face, and he hugs me as tightly as his little arms can. I tell him to run on inside, and he giggles the whole way.

The other pocket contains a present so special and so expensive that it has taken me 6 months to save up for.

I pull out a velvet covered box about the size of my palm from my pocket. My wifes eyes light up with a little bit of hope. As I open the box, she squeals with happiness.

My eyes well up with tears at her reaction, it is far better than what I thought it would be.

About half a year ago, our house was robbed of many prized possessions. One of them happened to be my wife's wedding ring. I know that she has wanted a replacement, but didnt want me to feel bad for not being able to provide it.

Now that she has recieved the surprise, I can rest more easily. I thank the lord for every special little moment that I get with my family in such a poor existence. In moments like these, it doesn't seem so bad.


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