The Girl At The Bridge (A Short Story)

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You must be at your twenties, although I am not so sure, judging by how you stand and your unmistakable womanly built. The sun had erased all traces of vibrancy on your skin and left it cracked and dry—saturated. Your bones stick to your skin that your cheek bone and collars are visible from the inside-out. Your hair is a nest of dried strands, tousled, and shows sign that no water had kissed it for a while. I know these because I always see you there standing like a ghost, eyes lost in the shadows, unmoved, and with a sack at your feet, inside are your belongings—crammed.

Every day, like clockwork, whenever I pass the New Bridge, aboard a public utility vehicle (PUV) connecting our city to the mainland, at seven thirty in the morning, I see a strange figure in rag-like clothing. You are a stranger to most but I can always see you there standing as if waiting for something to come. It became my little routine to look up from my notes as the PUV passes by the neck of the bridge and I would look at you with strange fascination.

There’s something about you that makes me contemplate on things I shouldn’t. I think about what your name is, how you go about your day, where do you get the food you eat to survive, where do you stay, where do you spend the cold nights, who are your parents, etcetera etcetera. I wonder about all the what ifs—what if you are like me, privilege enough to go to school and study, what would you be taking up? What degree would you consider to study and use to harness your full potential? What if you’re smart and creative? What if you are a math or science genius? What if somewhere inside that little head of yours, the solution to the country’s lack of renewable and environmentally friendly energy source lies, ready to be heard of and be utilized? What if you became the leader the country needs, one that we didn’t have since Magsaysay or Quirino? But what if. . .what if you’re just like me? Ordinary.

There are a lot of possibilities if life was fair to you. Instead, you are born underprivileged with little to none access to physiological needs—the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy. When you were born, you were not given the vaccines you needed to avoid contracting diseases and ailments that newborns are vulnerable of because your father was a simple construction worker who spends of his little earnings to playing poker and gambling at cockfights every Sunday instead of providing for the family. Your mother died after giving birth to her ninth child and you were left with your older siblings, whose tendency to becoming like your parents are high, and the siblings that came after you to fend off for yourselves, with a very murky future ahead.

You were born at the slums where the houses are built on stilts and thin plywood and light materials, near the riverbanks or canals, which could easily catch fire. You have little access to clean water, food, vitamins and your nutrition is completely ignored. It’s as if life is continuously moving forward for us but for you, it’s moving backwards. Or maybe not at all.

One morning, there was a change on the clockwork routine. Clinging to your chest was a kid, two years old I guess. It clings to you like a ragdoll, like its life depends on you. You’re still the normal you—lost, unmoved, melancholic underprivileged girl. The sack of belongings still stowed carelessly at your foot. Was that your brother or a sister? I wouldn’t know, its back was on me. It has no clothing and its spine is marked on its thin layer of skin.

At school, I couldn’t stop thinking about you and your sibling. Why where you bringing it today? Who was taking care of it when you weren’t bringing it there doing your standing situation at the bridge? What’s its name? I wouldn’t know. Not ever.

Later that night, we passed by a different street I am not really familiar with. My dad decided to drive me home and took a different route to avoid the jam of traffic. I wasn’t thinking of you, my mind was a pool of somber sighs after a toxic day at school which essentially involved calculus and physics and thesis and all that. But then, I saw a woman wearing a short skirt and a tank top that isn’t really a tank top that exposes her bosoms in a way that induces lust. She was leaning at an open window of a black Montero and was talking to someone. After a brief moment, she went for the other side of the car and opened the door. The window rolled up. That’s when I thought of you.

The following day was really strange. You weren’t on your spot. You were not standing there with you boring sack. Your shadow’s gone with you. I wonder where you might be. I wonder why I even care. My mind randomly enumerated all the possibilities, to include what I saw last night, even though I would never know the real answer.

I am free the morning of July four. My class wouldn’t be until one o’clock in the afternoon. I woke up early as customary for breakfast with the entire family. I love the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread on cold mornings like this. Dad was reading the day’s Star tabloid while mom was attending to my sister getting ready for school. I was about to turn off the T.V. which was blaring inaudibly on the background until it caught my attention.

There on the screen is a black and white photograph, blurred to hide the grim of it. I recognized the shirt and the pants and the unmistakable boring sack. Only this time, the sack was wrapped around a person’s head, whose body is mutilated and bloody. The headline shouts at me in screaming white bold letters. I tried to swallow but I couldn’t. On the mystery that veils your identity, on the many times I’ve wondered about your existence, I only have one thing answered: you are dead.

I always pass the New Bridge, aboard a public utility vehicle, on the way to school. The bridge connects our city to the mainland. I look up from my notes as customary but there was no one there anymore; the girl on the bridge will never be seen again.

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