Sixteen-year-old Walter Myllymäki was perched on his suitcase outside the Milwaukee Road Depot train station in Minneapolis. His chin rested on his fist. He was having himself a think.
Last night, on the train, a thief had relieved him of the money that was, he had thought, safely stashed in his boot. One of the shifty crew of travelers sharing the train compartment, dusty fellows not unlike him, was no doubt the culprit. When he reached into his boot and found only a foot, his heart sunk to his stomach. He searched the floor around the bench and came up with air. What to do? The money represented his start in Minnesota. How disappointed his parents would be. Looking at the faces of the other passengers, he saw only strangers.
Now, finally arriving at his destination, he was greeted by a stink like spoiled fish coming in on a breeze from the nearby Mississippi River. That bad smell reached some part of his brain, even though the rest of him wasn’t quite thinking straight. After many days of travel, Walter knew that he stank too. He had no money. His belly groaned with hunger. On the river of life, floating downstream to an unknown place, he had hit a snag.
Walter sat outside the depot, dazed and confused. He needed to come up with a plan. He’d made it to Minnesota, but he might as well be on the moon. What now?
Zoom! A boy on a bicycle zipped by, his cap pulled low just over his eyes and a canvas bag of newspapers slung over his shoulder.
“Why, you hooligan! Stop scorching up the sidewalk!” yelled a man at the cyclist in English, a language Walter didn’t know.
Riding a bicycle looked like lots of fun, and Walter made a promise to himself to someday get his own and learn how to ride. All around him the world was humming with activity: the banging sounds of huge railroad cars moving about the train depot, loud voices of people going about their business, horse-drawn wagons clopping by, and, behind the depot, a low thumping of machinery coming from the mills along the river. An electric streetcar car rolled to a stop, and a crowd of passengers got off expertly, some stepping right into a fast walk before the trolley came to a complete halt. The people flowed around Walter without giving him so much as a glance.
Horse-drawn wagons were normal in Finland, but modern streetcars were totally new to a boy from the country. He felt as if he had one foot in the old world and one foot in the new.
Plop! A white splat of bird poop landed squarely on Walter’s knee, punctuating his present state of misery. A second later a bug flew in between his teeth, and he realized he’d been breathing through his mouth. Blaahh! He spit out the bug and looked up beyond the red granite walls and arched doorway of the depot, up to the top of the tall clock tower where some suspicious-looking pigeons were sitting. Walter sat too, in his own little bubble, and reflected on the day—a month ago now—when his journey began at his family’s farm.