By the time we reach chapter 2 of Jamila Gavin's novel Coram Boy, we have already gotten to know Meshak and his father, Otis. Perhaps we are already appalled by Otis and feel a strong pity for Meshak. In chapter 2, those feelings intensify as we watch Otis force Meshak to bury several infants, including one that is still alive, in a ditch beside the road. The pair then travels on to Gloucester, where they stop at the Black Dog Inn. Meshak puts up the mules and wagon and cares for the needs of the children traveling with them before he joins his father in a visit to Mrs. Peebles, a “business associate.”
Meshak settles himself in a corner as Otis and Mrs. Peebles begin to discuss a deal. Otis has become known as the “Coram man,” after a hospital for abandoned children founded by Thomas Coram. People beg him to take their children to the Coram hospital, and Otis pretends to do so (or actually does so if there is profit in it for him) but usually lets most of the children die during the journey. Now, though, he has hit upon a new scheme: blackmail. Meshak drifts off to sleep right about then, and when he wakes, wanders outside only to see Mrs. Peebles receiving a basket from someone in a fine carriage. He notices that Mrs. Lynch also witnesses the transaction from an upstairs window. The next morning, Meshak overhears Mrs. Lynch questioning Mrs. Peebles about the incident in the night. Mrs. Peebles denies it, and Meshak wonders why.
Chapter 3 begins down at the docks. Otis is selling three of the boys to the navy while the little ones watch and scream in horror. They, in turn, are sold to a milliner and a weaver. Meshak slips off to the cathedral, his sanctuary, to listen to the choir and to see all the angels. Meshak loves angels, and sometimes he enters into an alternate state of mind, almost like being dead but not quite, where he is with them. He longs to stay there forever, especially in the company of one particular angel, his very own angel. When Meshak is “dead,” his father cannot wake him or hurt him. He does not have to experience the horrors of his life. On this trip to the cathedral, though, he does not enter into that state but instead surrenders himself to the beauty of the music, at least until he makes a noise and is thrown out.
These two chapters show two different aspects of Meshak's life: the terror and disgust of his existence with his father and the immersion in beauty with the angels and music. People call Meshak an idiot, but he has gifts that no one realizes, gifts that help him survive.