There was something about that truck driver that piqued the hitchhiker's interest. And it wasn't just because he was the only one leaving that parking lot in the right direction.
Part of it was perhaps the driver's reluctance in having a passenger. The hitchhiker enjoyed being somebody's first, he liked to think that changing someone's mind was making a difference.
It was like prying open a door that should've never been locked. Encouraging a person to open up and proving to them that the world was, in its very nature, a good place.
"So, how does this usually work?" the driver asked. "Am I supposed to ask you where you're from?"
"If that interests you, sure." The hitchhiker smiled. He had some fascinating stories in his arsenal and he loved sharing them with anyone who cared to listen.
"It doesn't, really. That okay, too?"
"...sure, yeah!" the hitchhiker was stunned.
They rode in silence for a while. Finally, the passenger decided he wouldn't have it.
"What do you do when you're not driving?" he asked.
"Not much." The driver paused for a second. "Do people just tell you things about themselves?"
"Yeah. I think it's cool to talk to a complete stranger sometimes. It's like two worlds becoming one for a few hours, exchanging experiences, enriching each other."
"Okay, I can see how that might be enticing for some."
And that was it for another hour.
The hitchhiker looked around the driver's cabin. Like most, it had a little space behind the seats where the driver slept and lived during long hauls.
There were photos of people, with and without the driver, pinned to the walls and hanging from the small lamp on the ceiling. It was also squeaky clean.
"That's one well-organized cabin you've got there."
"Thanks, I guess. Military service will do that to you."
"You've been to the army? Have you been to an actual warzone?" The hitchhiker asked, eagerly. Perhaps the driver had a story worth collecting, after all.
The hitchhiker paused. He read about wartime veterans, so it occurred to him that he should proceed respectfully.
"You... I know some soldiers don't like to tell wartime stories..."
"No, I don't like telling wartime stories."
The passenger fell silent for a second, but then remembered he did find an opening during this exchange.
"Well, that's still a mighty impressive house on wheels you've got here." He blurted.
"It should be. I live here." The driver replied.
"You're on the road a lot, then?"
"As much as I can. This cabin is the only place where I feel at home."
"Oh... But then what about the people on these photos? You look real close."
"Yes. We are." The driver fell silent again.
Just as the hitchhiker was trying to come up with another conversation starter, the driver continued.
"The woman on these photos. Pretty, isn't she?"
"Yeah, definitely! Are you guys together?"
"We used to be. That guy on those other pictures, he's my best friend since elementary school. They married when I was on my tour in Afghanistan, last year."
It suddenly dawned on the hitchhiker that all photos in the cabin had some combination of those three people - the driver, his ex and his friend.
"I really loved her, I still do. I love both of them, to be honest. They had a streak of bad luck recently."
The driver talked slowly, but surely. He made up his mind to open up and share his story with his passenger.
It was the hitchhiker's turn to be silent, as he searched his mind to come up with a reaction that would feel appropriate.
He decided to shut up and let the driver do the talking for now.
"The woman, my ex. She had a miscarriage. It broke her."
"Oh my God..." The hitchhiker finally let out.
"She wants to run away with me. To give what we used to have another chance."
The hitchhiker could only gasp. No words seemed to fit this gap in the conversation.
"You see, we're from a small, conservative town. My ex, she's from a seriously catholic family. A divorce, a relationship with her ex-husband's friend, it just wouldn't fly over there."
"I can't let her do it to herself. And I can't do that to my best friend. I love them both more than anything. That's why I live on the road." The driver finished his story.
"God... I... can't even imagine..." The hitchhiker said.
"You're lucky you don't have to."
They rode in silence for hours. Until it was time to part ways.
"Should I drop you off at this lot over there?"
"Yeah, that would be great. Thanks for everything." The hitchhiker paused for a second, but decided it's his duty to at least share some helpful words.
"And I really hope things will finally work out for you. Time has a way of untangling even the worst of knots."
"You think?" The driver looked out through the windshield for a second, then turned to his passenger as the truck came to a stop.
"That miscarriage," he said. "The baby was mine. We didn't plan it, I didn't know about it, and then I went on my tour and who knows when and if I was coming back."
"My friend, he's always loved her, so she married him as soon as she found out. In our town, in her family, a child needs a father," he went on.
The hitchhiker was already outside the cabin. He listened, his mouth agape.
"I own a gun, you know. Back home. I just don't know which one of us three I should start with. My friend, her, or myself? Just one shot could solve everything, you see that, don't you?"
"I... There must be another way! At some point, things will work out, they always do!"
The driver smiled.
"You were right, it feels good to talk to a complete stranger sometimes. Take care."
The door to the cabin slammed shut. As the hitchhiker tried to collect his bearings, the lorry slowly rode off into the pouring rain.
By the time he thought that maybe he should write down its license plates, he could no longer see it.