Bridge


#wordprompt March 2022. Image from WordPress Wordprompt post.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Sun City

“I don’t want to go on it. I want to go back.”

My sister and I exchanged a look then considered the rope and wooden suspension bridge over the narrow stream below. Our grandmother—our Auma; short, hefty, and the stubbornness person on earth who still craved adventure—stood solidly in front of the bridge that swayed almost imperceptibly with the aftereffects of the family that had just crossed. Auma could face the terror of escalators with a helping hand but not this.

The walking trail wasn’t long, winding behind the Cascades Hotel, but it was getting hotter now that it was almost midday with the spring weather feeling more like one of South Africa’s baking summer days. We stood at an impasse in the stinging sunshine.

My sister tried reasoning with Auma, a tricky thing at the best of times. “But the way back is longer, Auma. The end of the trail is just a little way further. And it’s getting hotter.” She wasn’t worried about water or energy with the bottles of Aquartz in our daypacks and some Bar Ones, Lunchbars, and Tex chocolates, too.

“No.” Auma seldom raised her voice. The lower it got the more she’d sink into her stubbornness. “I’m going back.” She turned, her lower lip sticking out in her determination.

My sister sighed. I grew more exasperated. I knew my grandmother; the immovable object to most irresistible forces. Getting her across the bridge and out of the heat fast required more than reasoning. Often, it was best to let her have her way.

I was about to offer to walk back with Auma when my sister, always the daring one to push boundaries, stepped on the dreaded, well-kept, Indiana-Jones-meets San Francisco-replica bridge. It clicked then, those movies my gran was addicted to was probably one reason for her fear. Every time the heroes and heroines stepped on those swaying bridges, they broke or were cut!

Auma turned back to the bridge, concern for her eldest grandchild overriding her withdrawal. Her face clouded. She was going to scold, then would sulk for days!

My sister walked on, heedless, and stopped in the middle. “See! It’s safe. It only sways a little,” she said, her impish grin recalling all the times she’d caused my mum and Auma’s hearts to almost stop beating. She jumped a little in her hiking boots and the bridge swayed more than ever. She held onto the ropes. “See. It doesn’t even sway much.”

I frowned. She wasn’t helping matters. And Auma was likely to have a heart-attack one way or the other. Everyone would blame us, most of all Auma! But we had to get her across that bridge. The walk back would be bad for her in the rising heat. Across the bridge, trees shaded a cool, beckoning trail.

My sister walked to the other side and waved us over, demonstrating the safety of the bridge completely as Auma and I watched. I could sense Auma really wanted to cross that suspension. It wasn’t my favourite type of crossing either. I pushed that thought away trying to figure out what would erase all those movies’ conditioning that a rope bridge, once stepped on and probably around the midpoint, would unravel faster than a bad plot.

“Come back!” Auma gestured with the well-known wave of her arm. My sister moved forward reluctantly, then paused. Another family had come down the shady trail and approached the bridge. My sister, always the rebel, waved them on.

On our side of the bridge, Auma and I debated while the family’s kids giggled and their parents’ smiled on the adventurous bridge.

“We’ll go together. I’ll hold your hand just like we do on the escalator and lift,” I told Auma.

She pursed her lips, frowning. I took it as a good sign. She was considering the fun crossing again. It would be a real adventure—a first in her long life. “But how’m I going to go now?” It was her mumbly thoughtful voice. The bridge was swaying significantly.

“We’ll wait till it stops swaying, then go slowly so it won’t move so much,” I suggested.

“Okay.” My gran’s sudden decisions always surprised me. It would be crucial to move quickly before she changed her mind again.

The family passed us with a greeting. My sister stepped onto the bridge to head back.

“Wait!” I called. “We’re coming over.” I held out my hand, and Auma tucked her hankie into her bra then placed her small hand in mine.

A few seconds later, the bridge was steadier and we took our first steps onto the wooden planks. The bridge didn’t sway.

Auma took another tentative, brave step with me, then another.

“See,” I said. “It’s not so bad.”

Auma chuckled nervously.

The bridge swayed at midpoint but it didn’t break; it didn’t unravel.

A few more steps and we reached my grinning sister and thanked the next family who’d patiently waited for our crossing to be completed.

We praised Auma for her heroic efforts as we took a breather in the cool shade before setting off on the next stage of the trail. She smiled and chuckled, pleased. She’d done it! She’d crossed a suspension bridge—just like Indy!

She crossed another unusual bridge that day—concrete circles in an artificial pool—but high on her accomplishment and with her courage and sense of adventure still present, Auma stepped lightly over them, giggling like the little girl she’d once been.

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