“What old bridge old timer?” said the youth impatiently. The old man took a long draught of ale and thought back.
“It was an old wooden bridge that creaked in the middle – rotten damn floorboards. It was on the river and mist rose from the river. I was younger than you. Those were horrific times. There had been blood letting in the palace, damn politics. The two princes were warring, every one in the palace was involved. One day the Queen, tired of the violence and intrigue, got the princes, her own nephew and son killed. Her son was my very dear friend. I had had enough, I went home, got packing, and along with my wife and son, I fled. You see, I am not from your planet, my home is a planet far far away.”
“Oh come on Rai, you’re not going to start those stories again” chuckled one of the regulars at the bar. I looked at the old man called Rai carefully. He looked about sixty, but had none of the weariness and slowness associated with other old people. His astonishingly young eyes danced with merriment as he replied to the interjecter “Vishnu you may believe it or not, but you love listening to my stories!”
The man addressed as Vishnu raised his glass smilingly and said “Go on, you fraud. I may not believe you but you spin good ones.”
Rai winked and cleared his throat. The young man was joined by others as they got drawn to the tale. Somewhere lightning struck and thunder roared. It was a stormy day, ideal for stories. A listener put a fresh tankard of ale in front of the old man.
“It was a misty morning when we reached the the bridge. I saw her there, she was pale, pale as the mist, wearing a lavender gown, her straight black hair held back with a strange wooden butterfly, her strange black eyes hard to read. She stood on the bridge looking at the river. She was beautiful, she was strange and she was the stuff dreams were made of. I started walking towards her. At once the mist shifted and she vanished – right in front of my eyes. One moment she was on that bridge, and the next, she was nowhere.”
They listened, the juke box fell silent. The rain fell in steady torrents beating a crazy beat on the gables of the roof.
” My son was running fever and my wife was tired. We had fled through forests, marched on animal trails and reached the bridge.” his voice was sombre.
“I crept on the bridge. Her footsteps led to the middle and then there were none. I then made a leap of faith. I beckoned to my wife and son, they followed me. We stood at that very point. I told them we had to jump into the mist.”
There was pin drop silence. Then he cleared his throat and said “My wife must have thought we were to die. The Queen was hunting for us any way. She thought we had joined the rebels. My wife, she never protested. She simply held my hand, as I picked up my son. We leaped off the bridge and landed here, in this very town.”
“Is this town at the end of a portal?” asked one listener. Another one commented “We do see many strange faces here.” Another one asked the question I was longing to ask “Did you see the lavender lady again?”
The old man softly said, not listening to the questions “I am old now, and I keep searching for the bridge to take me back home.
The door opened and a young girl walked in shaking rain drops from her umbrella. She took off her shawl and walked up to the old man. We watched her in pin drop silence, she was beautiful with pale skin, had dark pools for eyes, her straight black hair secured with a wooden butterfly. She smiled as she caught sight of him, shook her head and came to him, pulled him up gently “Come grandfather, lets go home. It is raining and it is getting very late.”
There was stunned silence as they watched them leave. The pub door slammed shut.
Everyone seemed to shake themselves and conversation began in earnest. I got up and paid the tab and started following them. The Queen’s work is never done ……..