The old man stood, leaning on his pole in the bow of his small craft, gazing intently across the wide river at the massive structure. Dozens of men were crawling all over it like so many ants on a stick.
He remembered a time when men weren’t so proud - a time when they accepted there were things they didn’t understand, things they could not do. Now it seemed as though there was nothing they wouldn’t attempt. They seemed to believe there was nothing they couldn’t succeed at.
Construction on the bridge had begun a few months earlier, slowly at first but then seemed to gain momentum as they reached further and further across the river. The old man couldn’t help wondering what would become of his way of life if and when they finally succeeded in reaching the other shore. For years he had made his existence in these waters, helping people from this side to the other – so many years he could not even remember how many. The years may be gone, but surely he remembered every face…
His mind drifted back to the workers on the bridge. Three of the men were maneuvering a large beam into place while three more stood there watching, seemingly just waiting for something to go wrong. Always death was waiting. Always men seemed much too willing to assist. So unthankful, so dissatisfied, never content with what they had. And then, just like that, they’re gone. There had been several deaths on this bridge already since construction had begun. Just a few days ago he had witnessed one of the men fall to his death on the rocks below – a young man with a pony tail and some silly red shirt with the word “GAP” emblazoned across its front. That was the point, really. There’s supposed to be a gap. A few more tragedies like that one and they might just give up on the whole idea.
So many years ago when he had begun this job he never questioned the wages, never bothered to ask about benefits or pension plans or anything like that. There was no such thing. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a raise – come to think of it, he’d never had a raise. Back when he started, passage was purchased with a single coin, and now, still a single coin. Sure the coins had changed over the years, they’d become fancier, presumably more valuable, but at the heart of it, really just a testament to the stinginess of family and friends.
He’d never complained about the wages, he was busy enough and had more of those damned coins than he even knew what to do with, but still, if that bridge were to actually reach the other side that would surely take a cut of his business. He hadn’t heard what the plan was – whether there would be a toll gate or some sort of bridge keeper. Either way it would be hard to undercut his rates. He’d managed to keep his overhead extremely low over the years and he really wasn’t planning on purchasing any new equipment, although if the competition proved stiff enough he may have to upgrade his rickety old boat…
The men had managed to get the beam into place and had moved on to another, less exciting job as evidenced by the lack of other workers standing around watching. Why they were taking this kind of care and building a structure as sturdy as this down here the old man couldn’t possibly fathom. After all, it’s only one lane, and nobody brought their vehicles down here. The bridge would only carry foot traffic as far as he could tell. Then he noticed an orange sign posted on a nearby dock. A building permit. Down here?
He cursed under his breath. In all his years, even he would never have foreseen this kind of human arrogance. It was enough to make him lose his lunch, if he’d had any. What was next? Guided tours? He wondered if they’d given any thought to how they’d keep travelers from coming back across once the bridge was finished. Didn’t they realize that passage was meant to be only one way? There was no returning from the other side. Did they really think they could cheat Death? So typical of man’s government, trying to own everything, attempting to control everything - even after they’re gone. Oh well, it really didn’t matter much anyway. He’d have them all eventually and he really didn’t think he had much to fear from that ridiculous bridge. Things had a way of working themselves out.
A flash of red caught his eye and the ferryman turned just in time to see the next customer approaching. The young man’s pony tail moved with the gentle breeze as he held out the coin and stepped into the boat.
Posted by Ken Hiebert. Posted In : Stories