After hours of walking in the sweltering heat, with vehicles speeding past ignoring his sign and tires spinning ever more dust into the hazy air, the guy had reached a forest. He ducked beneath tree branches hoping for relief from the sun’s piercing rays. Sunlight speckled the leaves around his feet and stubbornly ignored his attempt to seek shelter. In the meagre shade, he could feel heat radiating from his light beige skin and knew it meant a developing sunburn. He breathed in heavy air which clogged his throat and made him cough. Retrieving his water bottle, he plopped the tablespoon of liquid it contained onto his parched tongue, then dropped it into his sweat-drenched backpack.
At the sound of a car approaching, he emerged from the trees. His sign, a tattered piece of cardboard, was perched against his duffle. The driver spared not a glimpse and sped by. The guy tossed his backpack beside his duffle and stared at the empty expanse of asphalt stretching on either side of him. A breeze fluttered damp strands of light brown hair in front of his light hazel eyes; he pushed them away and sighed, then trudged into the forest.
A thicket of blackberries and raspberries overtook the path a short way in and he greedily emptied the nearest branches. Maneuvering around the thorns, he ate until he was full and then eased himself from the bushes. On his way back toward the road he felt less restless, his hunger temporarily satisfied. The sun dappled the maple leaves and the pine boughs, then fell onto a cracked box beside the trail.
Curiosity piqued, he knelt beside the wooden box; two of its rough slats were split in half and dirt was caked onto the corners. Brushing the slats clear, the guy revealed an eight and a three painted on one side. He pulled the box from the bushes and set it beside his duffle. Even with the cracks, he could not see what was inside.
As he stood to stretch, a car slowed and pulled onto the shoulder of the road. He waved to the driver and they waved back. The driver, a tall man, approached in long, quick strides. He smiled in greeting and extended his hand, pausing in mid-air.
The smile faded fast and his hand retreated to his side, his gaze locked on the wooden box. Without a word, the driver turned and fled to his car.
Specks of dirt hung in the air as the car’s taillights grew dim.