Monsterous Bridge

Monsterous Bridge

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

The test paper stared at me.

6. Monstrous Bridge

 The test paper stared at me. The unanswered question crossed its arms at me. It probably also called me a birdbrain.
Why would I even CARE to remember what leader exiled who from Guloc two hundred and forty-three years ago? My head was a wobbling ship and I steadied it with my hands.

“You have got,” Memah Lina glanced at the hourglass on her desk and I chewed the tip of my pen. “ten minutes remaining.” With her hands linked behind her back, she resumed pacing in between the rows of boys whose noses were buried in their papers. So diligent!
My legs bounced more violently beneath the wooden desk. In my side vision, Jaraan had been shooting glances at me that stirred my curiosity. Perhaps he was trying to help me! I could not turn my head until Memah Lina sauntered away from our seats. Jaraan seized his chance then, a lighting bolt of a movement to pass a scrunched letter from his palm to mine. 

With the quietness of a cat, I smoothed it and read the scribbled words:

Why did you not study?

~ Jaraan.

What a spectacle that Ulian boy was. All that stealth and grave secrecy for the purpose of delivering a motherly lesson. There was no hope for me now. I heaved a sigh and the crumpled paper accidentally made the sound of a crunch in my fist.

“What is going on back there?” Memah Lina’s head snapped in my direction and I smiled at her politely. Her eagle eyes had missed it by a hairbreadth. I had already shoved the ball of wrinkled notes in my mouth.

When all the papers had been submitted, the boys streamed by Jaraan's desk with rowdy questions:

"Was it easy? Did you catch me signalling the answer for you?" one boy asked with an amiable grin. 

"Did you find my notes useful?" a sturdy pat on his back.

"I hope you get the highest score! I can feel it." a slap of a hand palm against another.

"You were so calm during the test! I wish I had nerves of steel."

Jaraan's response was a tactful, dimpled smile.
"Thank you. I hope the best for you as well. I did not look at the notes, because cheating is a sin. Even if Memah Lina turns her back, the gods are still watching."

The classroom smelled of sweat, mouldy bread and rotten-sweet flattery. I removed myself from my seat and I slogged out into the playing ground.

On the day of our school trip, we trekked the eastern forest rail on our way to the earliest temple built as a monument for Lady Melusia, the goddess of earth and Lord Tambier's wife. I waited painfully for Memah Lina and her long-nosed assistant to start unraveling the tedious tale of the weeping worshiper so that I could slip into the back of the crowd then disappear in the forest to play. I faced no hardships executing this plan every spring. However…

“Jaraan, darling, get a move on!” Memah Lina beckoned him from the other side of the bridge, “What’s holding you behind?”

A few minutes earlier, each boy made unique efforts to demonstrate to the Memah and her right hand what a breeze it was to cross the stream;  Sinan hopped across, Nimer danced his way, Karam closed his eyes with a smirk and Ojen waltzed backward. Fareed and his two minions sought no interest in flaunting while Raon prayed in stutters for safety and staggered across the bridge, detesting every moment.

Jaraan and I were the last to cross. But the trouble was, his legs were planted in the grass. And the bigger trouble: the monstrous bridge he feared was a log of wood… 

“Move.” I murmured. 

“I can’t.” he swallowed nervously. 

I stepped ahead of him, but paused again at the sight of his dignified posture in the face of the murmuring stream, the gnarled log and the horde of boys that watched him like curious owls. 

“Beya, Jaraan!” Memah Lina called less patiently, “You’re hindering everyone!” Ulian boy lowered his eyes and head in embarrassment.

“I can’t, Memah!” I whined, “The tree trunk doesn’t seem very safe. Look! it’s rickety!” 

 Jaraan’s long, thick eyelashes lifted and he shot me a nervous glance. My eyebrows made the slightest twitch, only for him to see. 

Memah pinched the bridge of her nose and steadied herself against the trunk of a nearby tree. 

Now, don't misunderstand, Memah Lina was old enough to have grandchildren, wisped and softened by age like the edges of a stone smoothed by the passage of water. But she was not someone you would offer a hand to cross the road or climb a rocky hill. Memah Lina could walk the entire forest trail, east to west, only stopping to enegrize by the river bank. No one had ever heard Memah Lina sound a single cough or a sneeze. Legend had it that she devoured an abundance of fish. Some say she swallowed the fish from head to toe. Raw and squirming still.

“It’s just a log, Beya.” Fareed sighed tediously, motioning the stream, “Get on with it.” 

“Memah! Memah!" I pointed at Fareed, "I have a genuine fear of bridges, and he mocks me!” His face hardened but he did not rage. I was delibrately provoking him and just as I had expected, Fareed had been keeping his distance. Not because he feared me but he did not want to offend a certain someone.

“Oi, Beya,” his fists balled and he looked like a bear on two feet, “You better eat your own words or I’ll make you eat them.”

“No, thank you.” I exulted, patting my stomach, “I already had a large breakfast this morning." 

“Enough! Both of you!” Memah Lina stormed, “Jaraan, just leave him behind. He’s bound to follow like a pup. Come now!”

I clasped Jaraan’s arm with a gasp and he stiffened. 

“He won’t cross until I cross. He promised me. Did you not, Jaraan?" I raised Jaraan’s arm in the air as if he were a winning champion and he did not resist, "Friend in need, Memah!"

“And just when will you decide to cross, pray tell us?” Memah placed a hand on her hip and braced herself for a silly response. But I caught her off guard.

“Never.” I shrugged. She opened her mouth to belt me with a comment but I raced her, “But we’ll take the deep route around the marsh and meet you at the gates of the temple. How does that sound? And don’t worry, we won’t look the boy-eating beasts in the eyes.”

“So be it.” she surrendered, “Don’t forget to say the prayer of the lonely traveler on your way. And do not wander.” she warned us with a long  finger. 

"And stay away from the Mad Herbalist's hut!" her voice echoed behind us.

I moved aside a curtain of vines from our path and before Jaraan had the chance to spout grateful nonsense, I struck like a knife.

“What did you say to Fareed?” I asked accusingly.

“I told him to leave you alone.” Jaraan confessed, a hint of a stammer betraying his composed voice, “I told him if he wanted me to forget about the forest chase, he ought to treat you with more respect or leave you alone.” 

“I did not ask for your protection!” I shot, stumbling over a thick tree root. It sunk half in and out of the dark forest floor like a treacherous snake. We stopped. I turned to him, my eyes menacing. 

"We are not friends." I pressed more coldly, "You helped me once and I returned that favor.”

“Alright.” He was wearing that face again. 

The army of pine trees, tall and erect around us whispered and murmured with the passing wind. A twisted oak watched us from a distance, like a hunchback memah disapproving of our quarrel.

“I heard the teachers talk about you, ‘Pehami boy’." I bobbled my head mockingly, "You don’t fool me.”

“I did come from Peham.” he reasoned, “But it wasn’t my home.”

“Liar!” my voice echoed across the thicket of evergreen,“My father told me. You came from an island in the Southern sea. Where the air is hot, salty and sticky and people walk with no clothes.”

“That is also true.” Jaraan swallowed, his voice thin. The filtered sunrays through the leaves above cast a blend of shadow and light over his face. Like a trapping fishnet. Even though his eyes did not run from my gaze like liars do, it hurt to listen to him.

“Do you think you're better than us, the village boys? Because you've lived in the city of the gods? Because your father is a merchant and you've traveled so far and you've seen the whole world?" 

"No." his voice was cool and clear, but he was breathing faster. He was trying to conceal his anger and this just infuriated me further.

 "I don’t care that we’re neighbors! I don’t care that your parents are visiting tomorrow. I’m going to ignore you.” I smirked at him defiantly, “Are you going to run to them and tell them I broke your precious kite? That I refused to wheedle you and flatter you like the other boys do?”

“That depends.” he kicked a broken twig and his eyes met mine, “Will you do what I ask of you?”


"Will you be my friend?" He elaborated, a threat, not a kind request.

I forgot to breath in my disbelief. Hot blood pulsed through my veins. His people were the persecuted ones. My people were the persecuters. He had the power to use this against me.

“Not in a thousand years.” I muttered with gritted teeth and I ran leaving him behind. I normally stood taller and broader than he was, but at that moment, I shrunk. The smallness of me was unjust. A family heritage. 

The temple was a ten-minute walk away. What harm could befall him by then? Probably, even the forest's wicked beasts would pass by Jaraan with non-violent intentions. 

"Better not touch him!" the fiends would say, "His ancestors have suffered enough. Poor lad! Let's go after that savage boy who had just left him all alone."

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

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In the preceding chp, your descriptions were so interesting & sparkling, it didn't feel like a delay or interruption in the lively flow of the storyline. In this chp, I found myself not engrossed in your descriptions. It felt like the storyline was dragging. Especially thru the passage with 2 boys reluctant to cross the stream. That should've been quick a dynamic sequence in the story, but it felt like it dragged on. Frankly, I didn't care, after a while, & couldn't see how what happened in this chp contributed to the storyline. This chp felt like interim chatter, rather than leading the reader to a moment of anticipation -- what comes next? Did not get that curiosity at the end of this chp. It's a fine chp, well written, just not as lively & focused as others I've read (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

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Added on December 5, 2020
Last Updated on December 5, 2020
Tags: poem, poetry, love, romance, dawn, meadow, nature, story, poet, writing, writer, write



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