He’d pulled freight up and down the whole continent, been in every prefecture a couple dozen times, roamed in the hills, the cities, but somehow it was always the little bumfuck nowhere towns that stuck in his mind the most. There was something soothing about the rice paddies—or in the case for most of his usual route through Shizuoka, the tea fields—that spoke to him on a spiritual level. Must’ve been a farmer in a past life. Or a really goddamn boring person. But even the most obscene field porn blended together after a few years on the road, a pastiche of green in the side of his windscreen as he drove back and forth over the New Tomei Expressway when he was headed south, the Tohoku when he was headed north. There were other, more sporadic routes, but the Tohoku and the two Tomeis made the bulk of his traffic and it was on the New Tomei he found himself today, edging through Shizuoka for his first stop.
The cowboy killers on the dash slid precariously near the edge and he stuffed them in his beverage holder so they’d stay put, not wanting to waste his precious HOS rooting through his cab in search of loose ciggies if they were to fall—which, with his luck, they would’ve at some point. He’d bought them before he went on duty and had opened the pack, but not yet lit any, figuring he could kill himself one puff at a time on his break. It was a sad thing, that being the highlight of his day.
He rewound his audiobook back a minute and a half, increasingly regretting his choice of listening for this trip. Twenty seconds of inattention and he was completely lost. Didn’t help that it wasn’t in his mother tongue to start with and that the reader had a tinge of an accent. Listen to something more challenging, he’d thought as he downloaded it. Practice your English skills, you might need them some day. And you’re going to bore yourself to sleep and die in a horrible, fiery fifty car pileup if you listen to any more of the local classics. He wasn’t about to doze off anytime soon, but he surely wasn’t doing his abused brain any favours either. The sensible thing would be to give up, find something less taxing, but conventional sense fit him about as well as a tube top—which is to say, not at all.
The truckstop loomed in his view and he gladly relieved himself from the burden of trying to unpack this particular patois. He topped up the diesel, stretched his legs, refilled his coffee, and picked at a salad to pretend he cared about his diet. Forgot to light up, but no worries. Next one, he’d do it at the next one. By the time he had started to unwind, the rolling sunlight demanded he go onward, west to the horizon. Had he been using a paper log as the fleet employed when he first started, he could’ve lingered a while longer and sped to compensate, but the damn e-log wouldn’t allow for it without getting an earful from his boss about not being a fucking GT driver as he so kindly put it the first and only time he’d tried pulling that with the new system. Lamenting the end to his brief respite from the road, he climbed into his tractor and got in gear.
At the outlet of the lot was something not entirely peculiar to him, but uncommon nonetheless: a redhead in a leather jacket standing beside a hiking pack almost as tall as he was, thumb outstretched. Using his spare hand, the stranger pocketed his sunglasses and met Sousuke’s gaze dead on, hoisting his thumb a little higher.
He had shit to do. Places to go. The company had a strict policy against giving people rides. But there was something about the man that drew him in, made him curious. Once he was certain no one was behind him, he braked and rolled down his window.
“Mind if I hitch a ride?” called the stranger, shielding his eyes against the glare of the sun.
“Where you headed?”
“Tottori. You going through?”
“No, but I can getcha close.”
“Then count me in, chief.”
The hitchhiker turned and bent to grab his pack, showcasing the way he filled out his jeans in all the right places and Sousuke fought to urge of his inner wolf to howl at that moon. He didn’t think he’d ever seen perfection, but he’d be damned if this wasn’t close.
“One second.” Sousuke stretched down to the footwell, capped off his piss jug, and chucked it out the window. Non-truckers wouldn’t understand. Sometimes you had to go but the schedule said no. He flicked the air freshener tree that hung on his shifter, hoping to give it a burst of life. “Hop on in.”
The stranger eyed the burst bottle as it spilled its golden goodness across the lot. “Sure you’re not going to need that?”
“I don’t want my trash stinking up the cab if I’m having a guest.”
“Suppose if you need one, you could always use me.”
“You’ve got a fucked up sense of humor, bud.”
The stranger gave him a vicious grin as he stepped into the cab, brows playfully tilted. “Oh, you’re gonna love me by the time we’re in Kyoto.”
That top-notch ass had a face to match and the keenest pair of bedroom eyes he’d seen this side of Kabukicho. It was as if a bored god had plucked a model from one of his fantasies and dropped him on the side of the road. He straightened up, squared his chin. “Got a name?”
“Rin. Thanks for the lift.”
He offered nothing else. First name basis it was. “Name’s Sousuke. Nice meeting you.”
As they returned to the expressway, Rin’s attention was drawn to the audiobook and his mischievous mien transformed into boyish delight.“You speak English?”
“My listening skills aren’t so bad but I can’t hardly speak a lick of it outside the basics. I guess you could say I’m learning for fun. You?”
“Polyglot.” He elaborated, “Languages are one of my hobbies. Aside from English and Japanese, I do Mandarin, Spanish, French, and Italian. Working on German, considering Arabic, but I might do Russian instead. What’re you listenin to?”
“A book. Gravity’s Rainbow.“
“What’s it about?”
“Alternate reality World War II, more or less. I can put on music if you’d prefer that.”
“Your truck, your rules.”
He switched to his playlist, hoping that his taste in music was enough to fill in the gaps when he couldn’t. He could tell that this Rin was a talker, had it painted over him in bright reds and yellows, daring him to ask something, anything, to give him the excuse to go off. “So ... You got a lot of hobbies then?”
“Languages, like I had said. Travel, as you can probably tell. Swimmin—fitness in general, really, but swimmin in particular. Those are the main ones. Runnin’s fun but it sucks ass sometimes when you’re doing long distances. But I guess you’d know all about the effect long-distance travel has on a body, eh?”
“Running and sitting on your ass ten plus hours a day are two entirely different things, but sure, let’s say I do.”
Rin laughed, like he thought it was funny. Personally he didn’t see the humor in pointing out something obvious, but his sense of humor had been out of whack for a long time, so what did he know about what was funny nowadays, especially to some hitchhiking weirdo? What little social skill he’d had prior to trucking had decayed on account of him being his only company most of the time. The last real conversation he’d had with someone? Couldn’t say for sure. Being single, he was prone to receiving offers for the routes family men didn’t want to drive, which meant going out at odd hours, sometimes for weeks at a time. Whenever he came home after a long stretch on the road, he usually got caught up on the mail, ate supper, and tucked himself in with an action flick and his old friend Jack D so he could get up bright and early and do it again. It was easy to go days without talking to another human being, months without having chats longer than two lines.
“How’s it going?” “Fine.” or “Here’s your destination and trailer for the day.” “Okay.”
The movie producers would be banging down his door any day now, begging for the rights to his life story.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t like being around other folks, he just rarely had anything to say. Enjoying their company had always been enough. But for the sake of his passenger, he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to try being sociable for once.
“You a fan of the sand dunes or is there another reason you’re headed that way? I was under the impression the only things down there were ‘jack’ and ‘shit.’”
He was almost embarrassed to hear himself speak—to attempt wit, at that—but Rin responded as amicably as before, “It’s where I grew up.”
“Visiting family then.”
“Naw. Just have some business to take care of. Momma passed a long time ago, back when I was a little boy. Murdered. Daddy drank hisself to death cause he couldn’t cope. Granny raised me and my sister but she died of old age couple years back. Sister’s still alive, just not sure where.”
Cringing inwardly, Sousuke remembered one of the biggest downsides of talking to people: the bad things were as liable to come out as the good. “Sorry to hear that. Did they ... catch the guy who killed your mom?”
.... There is more of this story ...