The Bridge

I stopped at the tea shop on the bridge over the Gayatri river. It was still early, and I had at least an hour to kill before I could meet the contractor. I was reasonably sure that he would give me the slip today as well, and there was no harm in taking a chance. I ordered a tea and sat down on the small bench overlooking the river far down below. In a minute or so, the tea stall owner came out and handed me a steaming steel tumbler. I took a sip, almost burnt my tongue, and placed it on the bench. While I was waiting for it to cool, I looked along the bridge, and idly followed the straggling traffic of mopeds, and cyclists, and even the odd bullock cart trundle across the bridge. I turned to the tea-wallah and said, “This is a strange place to have a tea stall. Do you get much business?”

The tea-wallah looked over at me, wiped his hands with a cloth that hung from his shoulder, and said, “More than you’d think. It’s a very popular place, especially at night, when there’s nothing else open. My regulars alone give me enough business to keep my head above the river.”

He laughed to himself for a second, and then turned back to his work.

I looked across the bridge, and immediately noticed a short man in a striped shirt climbing onto the railings. I half said, half yelled, “Oh shit, he’s going to kill himself”. The tea-wallah looked up, took in the scene with a glance and said, “Ah don’t worry, that’s Ramu, he comes here every month or so, threatening to kill himself, but it’s all a show, really.” It didn’t look like a show to me, he was climbing to the absolute edge of the bridge. There was hardly any water in the river at this time of the year, but if he did fall, he would most certainly fall to his death, cracking his skull open on the rocks just below the bridge. I watched in alarm, but it looked like the tea-wallah was right, Ramu was just hanging on to the railings and yelling that this time he would jump, that this time the world had gone too far. I debated whether to go there and see if I could be of some help to Ramu, but the tea-wallah interrupted my thoughts,”I wonder what his excuse is, this time. I’ve heard him give so many reasons, and I wonder if he’s going to come up with something new this time.” I said,”I think I heard him say something about a bill.” The tea-wallah said, “Well maybe it’s the water bill” and laughed. I smiled, there had been no water supply for three days in the city now.

I watched Ramu for a while, but other than continuing his haranguing, he made no obvious move to jump. I allowed myself to relax slightly, and turned my attention to the tea. It was almost cold now. I finished drinking it, and paid the tea-wallah. I got onto my bicycle and headed onto the bridge.

My mind was already thinking of what I would say to the contractor, if I found him. I hoped he would be there today. As I passed the spot Ramu had been hanging on to, the early afternoon rays of the sun flashed into my eyes. I turned back to look, but I could not make out if he was still there.

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