Strangers on a bridge

It was the most dazzling of sunsets. A magnificent explosion of a marvellous range of orange, some parts of it thick as blood, other bits as clear as the purest memory one can carry. It was a primary example of what the colour orange should be, with any other colour put beside that marvellous brightness falling into certain oblivion: it was a dazzling sunset.

She doesn’t quite recall how she got there. There was a sunset in her line of sight, which was something very entertaining to watch. From her point of view, it resembled one of those untouchable paintings you gaze at in a prestigious museum, where the desire to touch it is highly overwhelming. Her surroundings where somewhat familiar to her, a bunch of trees positioned around her, as randomly as in a painting, made of a pure green you can only find in the depths of nature itself. The sunset was quite the view to admire.

Sounds of a cramped river came to her ever so lightly as if it somehow feared to catch her attention. Her eyes followed the origin of the humming as she found the humbled river. It wasn’t much, she playfully thought, you could see right through it, even count the many rocks underneath if you dared yourself to such a task. The trees around her danced as a tender wind whispered through them, a traveller with no end, no destination – she always liked to picture the wind as a lost soul. The woods surrounding her were visited by the wind until it went away, bringing the same silence of before. It was such a peaceful location, so much quiet, steady, the river’s humming ever so delicately slowly consuming her.

Walking steps. Someone coming towards her. Heavy breaths. She took a peek to her left and an elderly man appeared, wearing fancy clothes and a hat she found amusing. His eyes locked themselves on her presence as he moved towards her, without a firm grip on his steps as if he wasn’t aware of his surroundings – he seemed to be ignoring the sunset entirely. The thought of fearing him struck her. She kept her eyes on the sunset, using it to gain courage – why she had the urge to find such determination she was afraid to know. He froze a few feet from her and simply stood there, with no intention of taking any step further. Both of them stood perfectly still for a short while, the river ever so quiet, she admiring the wonderful sunset, he admiring her.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ she dared to ask. She waited.

He seemed surprised by the words that came out of her. ‘It may be’ he replied. He still had his eyes laid on her like she was the only thing to admire, as if there were no woods around him, no river beneath him, no sunset right next to him, the bridge where they were both standing. The bridge. They both in the middle of an old bridge, one made out of rocks, fragile looking as if it could fall apart at any given moment. It carried no colour of its own, only a slight touch of orange taken from the sunset. It was such an astonishing sunset.

‘Do you have different standards for what’s beautiful or not?’ she asked, a challenge within her voice, a slight smirk even.

‘I may have, but I can only tell if something is beautiful if I could gaze at it.’

She felt sad for a brief moment. It was such a breath-taking sunset he was missing.

‘Are you blind?’

‘I have two perfect eyes’ he calmly replied, never taking his said eyes off of her. Now she was puzzled.

‘Then how can you not see it? The sunset, right there.’

‘A sunset, you say?’ she noticed an honest tone of surprise in his answer. ‘Well I’ve always seen a full moon.’

‘How can such a thing be?’

He chuckled. He had a deep voice and his laughter echoed in the bridge, which was taken away and spread onto the woods, becoming a never ending melody. He seemed to gaze towards something she could not see before replying.

‘You see what you make yourself see. I’m sure you must prefer sunsets’ he takes a short pause, peeking to an invisible view she could not witness, as if he found inspiration in whatever he was looking at. ‘Time is relative won’t you say? I mean, when it comes right down to it?’

‘You make no kind of sense.’

He still had his eyes on her. Whenever he wasn’t looking at the mysterious spot he was gazing at her. She made the decision to look back to him, despite her confusion, and as she found herself slightly more scared than before she noticed something. His eyes weren’t there, not really, not as eyes should be. A little bit of its green was there, but there was no life remaining, no light to ignite them. It was as if he wasn’t alive.

‘Do you know where I am?’ her voice was trembling.

‘Not really.’ He didn’t seem to notice her discomfort.

‘How did you find me? Where is this? Do you know if this bridge has a name?’

He chuckled once more.

‘Well, apparently, you are on a bridge with a sunset. In my case, I’m on top of a building in New York, with a full moon staring right back at me.’

She was stiff. What things was he saying?

‘Why do you say such things? You make no sense.’ She took a step towards him ‘Could you please tell me how do I get out of here?’

He took a few minutes to give her an answer, gazing at the far distance. Yet he didn’t seem to notice the sunset.

‘Time is relative’ he breathed. ‘And as you find yourself in a bridge shouldn’t you be doing your crossing?’

The river, once a humming beauty to listen to, now stroke as a fury of a sound, as in an effort to block any unwanted noise. The words of the man became muffled but she was still able to understand him. She was afraid of the path those questions were taking, the question of the stranger stroke her in an odd way.

‘What’s on the other side of the bridge?’

‘Heaven if I know. You see what you want to see, believe in what you must. Some take the crossing term more serious than others, something I personally find quite fascinating. Maybe you’ll find Heaven, or Hell. Perhaps Purgatory even. Or absolutely nothing. Or something completely new. You are a woman on a bridge. I am a man in New York. All roads lead to Rome.’

The river was the loudest noise in the world. She found herself speechless, unable to pronounce a single word. But her dying curiosity made her ask the question the answer she feared the most.

‘Am I dead?’

‘Perhaps this is all a bad dream.’

The man looked at her once more before walking to the other side of the bridge, walking to the unknown. He laid his hand on her shoulder as he walked by and appeared to squeeze her should. She didn’t feel a thing, only aware of such an act due to her eyes. He looked like he didn’t feel it too. He then was nothing more than oblivion.

She stood there. The river appeared to quiet down after the departure of the stranger, back to his smoothing humming, only now the humming was not smoothing, it was something else entirely. The silence of before was no longer present yet a troubling buzz invaded her. A struggle consumed her, a struggle she thought she had forgotten, a devastating struggle, merciless and soul-crushing. It was an unbearable weight. She only wanted to let go. The other side of the bridge didn’t look as mysterious as before. In fact, it looked quite pleasant. She wanted to know if the girl on the bridge would ever meet the man in New York again on whatever awaited on the unknown. She wanted to see Rome.

It was the loneliest of sunsets.

Filipe Afonso (11K)
April 2016