The sunset from the bridge
short story #8
Writing this was pure fun for me. The premise is that a guy and a gal find themselves both about to commit suicide and then they get talking. Kind of romantic, I know, and I myself cringed at some parts. But it was fun to write nevertheless.
The conversations come out a bit forced and I still need to rework them. I took a page out of William Wordsworth and Herman Melville for one of the paragraphs. Hope you like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
He walked to the bridge and then he leaned down past the ledge. It was a long fall. He wondered if it was going to hurt or if he was going to feel anything. The height made him dizzy and he stood back up and stepped away from the ledge. He looked around behind him. No cars were passing by. Well, this is it. It is the end. It will hurt less if I do it quicker, I reckon. He sat on the ledge and swung his legs over to the other side and he planted his feet on a small sill on the bridge’s external, so narrow such that his toes stuck out hanging yet wide enough to act as margin to separate a life from a death. He stuck his arms to the wall and he bent his head down and, seeing the waves, brought it back up to the wall.
Do it now. He could not. I cannot but I should. He turned his head to the side and he saw a form about twenty feet away and he thought that it was a ghost and then that it could not be. The figure was too real. It was a woman with her arms spread out against the wall and feet on the ledge like him.
“What do you do there?” he asked her.
She turned to him and her eyes widened and jaw dropped. “What do you?”
“I have come to jump.”
“So have I.”
“Well. How long have you been here?”
“About ten minutes.”
The woman turned away from him again and placed her head against the wall.
“Well,” he said. “Shall we?”
But they did not. They stood both with arms spread out and they were silent for a half-minute.
“It’s tougher than I expected,” he said, keeping the back of his head on the wall.
“Would you like to take a break first? It is getting quite cold.”
“We should do this now.”
“I guess you’re right.”
He watched as she looked down and put one leg out and hold it there for a moment and jerk it back to the wall. She panted.
“It will be over quicker if you just do it,” he said.
“I know.” She rested her head on the wall. “How about that break?”
He climbed back up the bridge and then he walked over to where she was and then she helped her up. She saw that she was young and that she had been crying. She patted the dirt off of her clothes and she looked at him with a suspecting face.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“I’m a student at the university.”
“The State one, you mean?”
“I graduated from there too.”
“Yes. I’m working now at the bank but I studied finance.”
“The school of business!” she said. “I study business ad.”
They sat by the ledge of the bridge and they talked of the days in the university, if she knew so-and-so, if he remembered the old practices in the university, and such. The noon sun started to shine on them.
“Would you like to go somewhere shaded?” he asked. “It is getting quite warm here.”
“It won’t take too long. Only until we are ready again.”
They ordered coffee and shared a table in a bar near the bridge. The waiter looked at them with curiosity because of their unkempt appearance caused by the wind and their ordeal.
“You don’t have to answer, got it?” he said. He rubbed his palms outwards on the table as if making smooth some invisible cloth. “Why were you planning to jump?”
She hesitated to answer and did not look at him. “Only if you want to answer,” he said. He took a sip from his cup. She chuckled. It sounded forced. She was twisting the ends of a napkin and left them in an array of shreds and balls in front of her. She turned up her head to look at him.
“Why were you?” she asked.
“I asked first.”
She smiled and this time it was not forced.
“You don’t have to answer, I said,” he said.
“Well, you know how hard it can get at the university.”
“Yeah. So you’re down because of some failed subjects?”
“Let me explain. I’m the youngest among my siblings and I come from a very poor family. My older brothers all went to work after high school to be able to help my parents. And, when it was my turn to graduate my high school, my dad talked to me and told me that I could try to take the exam to the university if I wanted to. Then when I did, I passed. Everyone was so proud of me and my parents even made a tarpaulin with my face on it to let everyone in the village know.”
They both laughed at this.
“Congrats,” he said.
“Everything went fine until I started to fail my subjects come the second year.”
“Sorry,” he said. “What year did you say you were in?”
“Officially I have a fourth year standing. But it is my eighth year in the university.”
“Yeah. Ouch. So that second year it started to become tough for me. I started failing subjects left and right.”
“Why do you fail them though?” he asked.
“I’m no good at it. I study hard but nothing.”
“But let me continue. At the start of this academic year I got an ultimatum from the college secretary. That if I fail another subject I will have to be rejected from the university.”
She stopped talking and she closed her eyes.
“And I failed,” she said. “So.” A tear fell from her eye and she sniffled. “I haven’t told my parents yet.” Her voice became mixed with tears in her throat. She wiped her eyes with the napkin paper. “And I don’t want them to know. I don’t want them to be disappointed with me. All those years in the university, can you imagine. And I come home with nothing except eight years wasted.”
“But why take your life?” he asked.
“I don’t want to disappoint my parents.”
“But that’s not true.”
“Excuse me?” She stopped wiping her eyes.
“That’s not true. It’s not that you don’t want to disappoint your parents. You don’t want the discomfort of disappointing your parents.”
“Think about it. If you jump down the bridge you will disappoint your parents nonetheless. Don’t you realize it? And it will be worse because you will sadden them. And you will sadden your family. While you on the other hand have the pleasure of escaping from your actions. Sounds a little selfish to me.”
She kept silent.
“I mean what are grades? I graduated seventh in the batch, did you know?” He smiled a sad smile. “I did everything to get there. I didn’t have many friends and I ignored people who I thought were toxic. You know what? On the day of graduation I was bitter. Bitter because I thought I should have been in the top five.”
“Mr. Overachiever,” she said.
“Right. How’s that for hubris, huh. What was it for anyway? To get a good job?” He shook his head.
“And you know,” he said. “I got the dream job, in spite of everything.”
“Well then there you go. You got what you wanted.”
“I thought so.”
“So why are you going to jump?”
He sighed and he cradled the coffee cup in his hands. “Because the grades game didn’t stop. The numbers game. Before it was the grades and now it’s the salary. Before it was What did you get in the exam and now it’s How much do you earn. The number of digits on the salary.”
“You don’t earn enough?”
“Hah. That’s the problem. You lose your sense of enough. It’s always about earning more than the others. Who is, as they say, more successful.” He put air quotation marks with his fingers. “And you know what, I worked hard at it and then I reached it. I look back and I have a management position at the bank, and I earn more than my batchmates now, and I can say I’m the most successful.
“And yet. And yet when I made it to the top I feel empty. I’ve broken off all contact with people, did you know? I stopped going out with the few friends I had and I lost contact with my family. And all my life I’ve worked hard and this is where it ends. The peak of the mountain without exit. Just emptiness. Oh God.” He drained the rest of his coffee.
“How old are you?”
“I should be turning twenty-six in a few months.”
“Twenty-six?” She clapped her forehead as if to say he wasn’t thinking much. “Well there you go. You’re so young. You haven’t even entered the second quarter of your life. You ever think about that?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“There’s so much time left for you. I mean, your folks are a phone call away. I’m sure they’d be glad to hear from you after so long.”
“Well,” he said. He paused.
“You have a point.”
“Kind of funny isn’t it,” she said.
“It’s always easier to prescribe a medicine to another. When you yourself should be the one taking it.”
He laughed. “Well that’s one of our follies. One of many. We see our own problem up close and we judge it big. Meanwhile we see the same problem in others from a distance and we judge it small.”
They continued to talk and they lost track of the time until she looked at her watch and she saw that it was getting late. “I think we ought to finish our business now,” she said. “While there is still daylight.”
They walked back to the bridge and, seeing the view, sat at the ledge, legs hanging towards the exterior. He whistled. “Holy moly,” he said. “For a final view, this isn’t half bad.”
“No,” she said. “It sure isn’t.”
They sat admiring the view in silence. The pale and yellow sun sunk into the horizon as though devouring itself in its own fire, reminiscent of that mythological bird which in its very burning and self-consummation came the promise unspoken and godmade of its rising again. Like the black of the night slowly brimming into the day as of ink filling a page comes with it the hope of the turning of a new page, blank and fresh, of the morning sky of the next day.
“Well,” he said. He turned to her. “I don’t know about you but I think I’m going to put this off for another time. Our conversation… Well, it gave me a lot to think about. Think I’ll be heading home for now.”
“Sounds reasonable. I think I’ll do the same.” They both laughed.
“Well then. See you around,” he said.
“Yes, see you.”
They both parted. He walked a few meters then paused. He turned around and called to her.
“I was just thinking. I hope you will be open to another coffee sometime? I mean, before we finally decide.”
She smiled. “Yes. That sounds nice.”