Very cautiously--almost as though asking permission with each step--he comes forward and holds out a hand. We shake. He has a strong grip, callused skin. I hand him back his weapon, and he nods thanks as he slips the strap over his shoulder.
"One last thing before you go," I say. "Are there doctors in Holme?"
"We got a couple," says Sven. "They can deal with most things. Why'd you ask? One of your people sick?"
"Sort of." And then, figuring that if I'm going to trust the guy I might as well trust him all the way: "She's pregnant, actually."
Sven frowns, but a small smile tugs at the corner of his lips. "We can handle it," he says. "We had a birth a few months back, so the kid'll have company when it comes. And we need more children. Society's all a bunch of crap if there isn't a next generation to pass it on to."
"Yeah," I say. I think back to before I met Lisa, the dark days spent running and hiding and waiting to die in the ruins of the city. "Yeah, that's true. You've got to have something to live for."
There is a moment of silence between us. The whole encounter has lasted no more than an hour, but it feels good to be with another human being in this empty world, to not be alone. I'm reluctant to part ways, though I know it has to happen.
"Right," says Sven at last. "I'm going that way." He points down the road. "No time like the present."
"Good luck," I say. We shake hands again, and then Sven quickly turns and starts to walk. I watch him go. He's a good way off before he turns.
"I'll see you in Holme, David," he calls, grinning. I wave, and he turns to walking again. Within a few minutes, he's gone from view.
I blink. Now, finding myself suddenly alone once more the whole encounter with Sven seems unreal, little more than a dream. I'm standing in the middle of a cracked and dirt-strewn road in a silent village. I'm the only human being in sight. Everything that was just said, everything that just happened is known only by me and Sven.
I feel disorientated. To go from solitude, to an intense and world-changing conversation with another human being, and then back to solitude again is dizzying. I become aware that I'm holding something loosely in my left hand. Looking down, I find that I'm clutching the small fold of papers that Sven handed me not ten minutes ago.
Consider it an invitation...
I tuck the papers securely in my pocket, and then turn back towards the aluminium trailer full of supplies that sits outside the shop. I think of Lisa.
Get back to the farmhouse. That's what's important. You can't do anything until you get back to Lisa. That's your priority.
I nod to myself, then pat my pocket to check that the map and other papers are still secure there.
I'll see you in Holme, Sven.