The first few moments we stood looking as the water swelled and coughed, while virile water lapped and kissed the bottom of the metal.
The small eyes on my little brother’s face were looking across the stream at the long line of our cattle that had all crossed to the other side and the smell of their wet hides came to us, their tails flailing as the herd began climbing the steepness from the stream.
“Will we cross?” his face seemed to ask me without his speaking.
I said only, “Mh.”
Something told me he understood how powerless I was.
“Will we really cross?”
“Mh, this one might kill us,” I said inwardly.
“So today Mama and Baba will not find us,” his face seemed to tell me. “We will die here in the dark.”
I licked my lips – they were both dry in spite of the cold and the rain – the way all helpless creation does when we discover our own limitations.
I accepted, again inwardly, saying only, “That remains the only tangible possibility should we try to cross.”
The lion in the water grew dark and muscular. The rain was just stopping, its thin needles still slashing diagonally landing on the spacious rock which we stood on.
No footprints had soiled the metal. It meant no one had come from the shops and crossed. We stood on that spacious rock waiting for just such people to arrive so they could hold our hands and lead us to the other side of the swelling stream.
We were wrong. They knew that the stream had swelled angrily the way it usually did, and they now took the detour, going kilometres and kilometres along the main road so they could come to our village, Odiya, which for us stood just on the other side of the stream.
How sadly alluring the shortcut was; and I, being the older, feared going round like that because night was going to swallow us on the way, the cattle had crossed and gone, and they were going to enter the homestead without us.
Something stirred and we both looked behind us. There was no one – we had heard our own ears.
“Will we cross?”
I said inwardly, “But someone will arrive and take us across.”
There was no one.
And then the orange disc of the sun winked at us from under the thick western clouds. Birds chirped, running home. Mosquitoes were gathering on our calves. We were slapping them. Water began shaking the slippery metal, telling him let us go now. My little brother was crying for Mama and our warm kitchen.
I squatted, shaking.
“Climb my back.”
My little brother did.
“Hold my back hard – did you hear?”
“Eee,” he said, still crying.
“We are crossing.”
The water roared. My knees were weak. The soles of my feet were slippery and wet. The slightest slip on the metal bars could have plunged us into the vortex of the dirty rage and the world knew how both of us had no chance as our heads were sure to hit the rocks and crack and we drown in the flip of a lizard’s tongue whipping a fly. The metal trembled, but it was still there for me to see. I could also dimly see the thick wire which the villagers had used to marry and wed the metal to the large rock, so that the footbridge would be found even if she had eloped with the water that yanked her away every rainy season.
My little brother clung onto my back. The first bar was slippery. I steadied, something like the fingers of a ribbon wall shielding us from tumbling and falling in the mouth of the liquid lion under the footbridge. The roar came again. The force splashed water onto my calves. My head spun. I knew we were no more. Someone cried on my back.
But the ribbon hand still shielded us.
Just when my last heel left the last bar we heard the metal footbridge clanging on the rocks as she wished us luck…