With each step, the gallon of water in his hand seemed to grow heavier. In the other, he had a large plastic bag. It was heavy and cutting into his palm, but it was worth it; the bag was filled with cans of food, given to him by a generous family at a gas station a few miles back. Like a Christmas present, he didn’t want to open it until he found a place to relax, where he could savor this special moment. This unopened bag gave him something to look forward to, which was a rare feeling these days.
Ahead, dark clouds were gathering and on the radio at the gas station, he had heard there was a chance of rain. Experience had taught him that with the rain, cold weather would soon follow and that he needed to find an overpass quickly. He liked overpasses as there was usually a flat spot near the top where he could be dry, warm and stay hidden from the prying eyes of others. Unfortunately, there were none in sight and as the radio predicted, it was beginning to rain.
Between his old heavy backpack, the gallon of water and the plastic bag, each step along the litter covered highway was difficult and growing harder as the mud was beginning to cover his worn shoes and seep inside, filling the gaps between his toes, which were making a squishing sound with each step.
Once, while walking, he had found a five dollar bill and to this day, he had trouble keeping his eyes looking ahead as he was afraid that he might step over a twenty or something. This had become an obsession for him and he found that occasionally he would become so focused that he would wander onto the highway, looking up at the last second as a car came speeding by.
At night, he dreamed of finding a lost wallet full of cash. He pictured himself in a hotel room, soaking in a warm bathtub full of white suds with bubbles floating in the air. Then he would lay on the bed wrapped in the soft blankets, warm and safe, where he would drift off to sleep; no longer afraid of being harmed by others who may discover his hiding place and take from him his precious food and the last of his possessions. He could finally breathe and be at peace, if only just for a night.
It was starting to rain harder now and he wished for some kind of shelter, anything. He was looking forward to eating soon, as through the plastic, he could see a can with a picture of pasta covered in a delicious red sauce. One of his favorites, heated or not. But not yet, he had to keep going.
He always walked against traffic, afraid of being hit from behind by a distracted driver, who was digging around in the floorboard for a misplaced diamond ring or something. Occasionally, he would look into the drivers eyes as they approached. They all had somewhere to be; someone waiting for them. He would smile and occasionally wave, but most would just look away, pretending not to see him.
The rain was running down his neck, giving him chills as it spread across his back. Lightning was filling the skies, beautiful but deadly as he was the tallest object in sight. He outstretched his arm, daring the storm to find him, secretly praying that it would.
To his dismay, it was now the middle of the night and he had still found no shelter. The rain had passed and as expected, the temperature was falling. He was in the middle of nowhere. He finally accepted that it was just going to be a long, cold night and the pasta would have to wait for the sunrise.
It was too dark to look for money now and he was able to hold his head up as he walked. He liked the break. Staring at the ground constantly made his neck ache. With an old blanket over his shoulder and a faster pace, he found he was able to keep somewhat warm and decided to push on, searching for the lights of the next town. He hoped that maybe things would be better there, that maybe something good would happen. Maybe.