t was a small village, up where the hills are so steep you could call them mountains.
But that was something only immodest people would do.
Such as the flatlanders.
The villagers were not immodest. It did not do to be immodest. Won’t go with the duress of life in the hills.
Most of the rice fields had to be terraced so narrowly that it was impossible to plough them with a yoke of oxen. So the men did it themselves.
The huts were built with one half going directly into the flank of the hill, the other half sitting on stalks above the slope. In one part, the wind would blow through the floor planks, in the other it was always cold and damp.
Damp was everything else, since the fog never left the valley.
Such things taught you humility, Mo thought.
You took pleasure in the small things of life.
When in the morning he had to bring eggs to the widow living at the very top of the village, and he had managed to plan the rest of the day going downhill only.
When it was time to clear the edge of the forest of thornbushes, and heavy rains forced him to postpone the chore.
When he had to carry the hay for the oxen in huge bundles over small slopes back to the village, and the bundle of the man in front of him came undone at the exact place where a fountain was built next to the path.
If only there weren’t the flatlanders.
The flatlanders brought unrest into the village.
Every other day a few of them arrived, alone or in small groups. They came up the path from below. Sometimes they asked to be catered to, sometimes they didn’t. They called the hills “mountains”.
And they all went to see the bridge.
Mo found that this was the most irritating thing about them.
The bridge belonged to the village like the red butt to a pavian. Everyone knew it was there. But you didn’t talk about it.
It was a suspension bridge, with thick guiding ropes, and with bamboo canes for planks. It was fixed to the steep slope below the village.
And it led right into the fog.
Nobody knew where the other end was fixed. No one knew where it led to. The flatlanders didn’t know it either. That was why they were so fascinated by the bridge. So they went, had a look at the bridge, came back into the village and told everyone they had seen the bridge. As if there was anything else to be seen on the hill.
Immodest, that’s the word.
Mo had grown up with the bridge like everyone in the village. It was part of the lot in life you had to bear. Like the other things in life, you could either like it or not. But it was advisable to come to terms with it sooner or later. And on the hill there were so many things Mo had to put up with, a bridge didn’t make much of a difference.
But sometimes he did ask himself what that bridge might be all about.
One day, an old man came into the village. Some might call him a wise man, but for Mo he was just quirky. He was stupid enough to sprain his ankle on the way up, and needed to be looked after for some time. Since grandad’s death, there was a free bed in Mo’s cabin, and so his mum invited the man to stay with them.
The first few days were a bit awkward for Mo. Every evening he resolved to have a normal conversation with the cranky man from the flatlands. And every following day he joined his younger siblings to goggle at him from the door.
After a week, the swollen foot had recovered, and no one was surprised when the old man announced that he wanted to go see the bridge. And since he was still a bit unsteady in his footing, he asked for Mo to help him down to the sight.
Slowly they stepped down the path, the old man leaning on Mo’s shoulder. Mo started imagining the way back. The only thing to look forward to would be the break, while the old man would stare at the bridge.
They arrived at the bridgehead.
But there the old man let go of his shoulder and said it was time to say goodbye.
Mo froze. “Don’t tell me you want to step onto the bridge!” he let out.
“Oh sure, yes.”
The man looked at him sideways. “Because I want to.”
“But no one goes there!”
Mo felt snubbed by the remark.
“But think: why is it no one goes?”
The old man shrugged. “Out of habit. And because people are afraid. What you don’t know makes you afraid.”
“And why are you not afraid?”
“I am afraid all right. But I still want to go.”
“But what is on the other side of the fog?”
“Ah. That is what so many people are afraid of.”
“But where do you get when you have crossed the bridge?!”
The man raised his eyebrows. Then he turned to look into the fog.
Slowly, the bridge started to sway under his feet.
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