After delivering his load in Toronto, Mark headed for Scarborough in the east end of the city where his Aunt Mary had her home. Parking Mother Load on a residential street wasn’t allowed, so he parked his truck at a nearby shopping plaza a few minutes’ walk from her home. By the time he arrived, his Aunt Mary and her sister – the mother of the young man he was going to be helping – were both waiting for him at the front door.
“So nice to see you, Mark,” his aunt said. “This is my sister Darla.”
Mark gave his aunt a hug and shook the other woman’s hand. “I’ve heard so much about you,” she said. “All of it good.”
Mark liked her already. He followed the women into the house and was fully expecting to see the young man sitting in the living room waiting, but there was no one there.
“Where is he?” Mark asked.
“He should have been here by now,” Aunt Mary said. “We’ve called his cellphone a bunch of times but it goes directly to voicemail.”
Not a good sign, Mark thought. But he wasn’t about to dampen his mood. “That’s alright,” he said. “I’ve got time for a visit if you don’t mind some company.”
The faces of both women lit up and the somber mood changed in an instant. “I’ll put some coffee on,” his aunt said as she left the living room headed for the kitchen.
“So, you’ve been a truck driver for how many years?” Darla asked.
Mark had to think about it. “Close to 20 years now,” he said, thinking has it really been that long?
“I can only begin to imagine the places you’ve been to and the things you’ve seen.” There was a hint of envy in her voice, and perhaps a bit of envy for all of his travels.
“I guess so,” Mark said. “I never really thought of truck driving in that way. Usually I’m just looking at roadway, but yeah, I have been a lot of places.”
In minutes Aunt Mary returned with coffee and cookies and the conversation began to flow.
“Never mind the places he’s been to,” said Aunt Mary. “Tell her about the time you helped the police uncover an international smuggling ring.”
“Which one?” Mark said. He realized his response made it sound like he had a big head, but he didn’t really – it’s just that there were two rings he helped break up.
“Or the time there was a hitman out to kill you because you were going to testify against a mob boss.”
Mark smiled and let out a nervous laugh.
“I didn’t know truck driving was such a dangerous job,” Darla said. “Maybe this isn’t the right thing for my son.”
“Aunt Mary’s just being dramatic,” Mark said. “Most of the time the most interesting thing that happens is I make it to my destination on time without any problems.”
Darla smiled, only slightly reassured. Just then, the front door opened and a young man carrying a duffle bag over his shoulder stepped inside. Great, Mark thought.
He was probably in his early to mid-20s with a slim build and the outlines of several elaborate tattoos on both arms between the wrist and elbow. He was unshaven and his hair was long and dishevelled, but that wasn’t the worst of it. No, the thing that struck Mark the most was the black T-shirt he was wearing that read: “I brake for boobs.”
“Hello,” he said.
Mark gave a little wave, prompting Aunt Mary to jump out of her chair and make introductions. “Mark, this is my nephew Kevin. Kevin, this is Mark Dalton, the man who is going to teach you to drive trucks.”
“Dude,” Kevin said.
“Nice shirt,” Mark said.
“You like it?” Kevin said, nodding.
“No, I don’t.”
“Well,” Kevin continued. “I’m going to be driving a truck, right. I thought I might as well look the part.”
“You don’t look like a trucker in that,” Mark said. “Not at all. Don’t you have something with a collar?”
“Then you can wear one of my shirts for now.”
A shrug. “Okay.”
“And about the hair?”
“What about it?”
Mark hesitated. Long hair wasn’t a problem…if it was clean and well kept. Truck driving was a profession, after all. “When was the last time you combed it?”
“Yesterday, maybe. I dunno.”
Mark was about to say something else, but his aunt broke in and said, “Kevin, would you like some coffee?”
Mark decided to ease up on the young man a bit and give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he probably had no idea what he was getting into and there was no use in going too hard on him all at once. Kevin put down his duffle bag and entered the living room, taking a chair on the opposite side of the room from Mark. As Aunt Mary poured a fresh cup of coffee, Darla leaned toward Mark and put a hand on his knee.
“Be as hard on him as you see fit,” she said. Then, she turned to look at her son while she continuing to speak to Mark. “Kevin knows this is his very last chance and if this doesn’t work out he knows he’ll be on his own. Period.”
The young man’s head dropped and his eyes looked to the carpet.
“Isn’t that right, Kevin?”
Wow, thought Mark. It looked like this really was Kevin’s last chance. Still, it put Mark in a difficult spot, holding the young man’s future in the palm of his hand.
“You know,” he said, “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. I’ve trained new drivers before, but they were usually motivated to get into truck driving. They all wanted to be truck drivers. You sound as if you have no choice in the matter.”
“Oh, I have a choice in the matter,” Kevin said. “I either learn to drive a truck with you, or I go to jail and wait for my trial in custody.”
It was a choice of sorts, but not exactly what Mark had meant. He was about to say something when Aunt Mary came out of the kitchen with a big plastic container in her hands.
“Here you go,” she said.
“What’s this?” Mark asked.
“My special chocolate chip cookies for both of you to enjoy on the road.”
Mark sighed. Kevin wasn’t the only one who had no real choice in the matter.