People who came back the next morning saw thousands of shoes lying on the bridge. Stilettos, boots, sandals, sneakers and slippers of all kinds and colors. The government erected tents by the river to lay the corpses. It was not supposed to happen. The water festival was organized to celebrate the peace that came after seven years of cold war and four years of battling with the neighboring country. The river was declared borderline between two countries. A year after reconsecration being secured, the government decided to start an annual festival in the honor of peace, and built a bridge over the river. The bridge was twenty six feet wide, three hundred and twenty eight feet long, made of steel, and decorated with thousands of light bulbs for the festival. A boat race, fishing competitions, dance performances and concerts took places during the first and second days of the festival. On the third and last day people were going to be allowed to walk to the end of the bridge and meet their relatives at the other side of the border, even if behind the fence. Three hundred and seventy people died and seven hundred were injured on the bridge that night.
There were different speculations about what happened. The conservative daily review The True Path told its readers that the cause of the deaths was the increasing number of homosexuals in the country. God punished those infidels at last. According to an underground group of Communists, which was called Agora, the rich people were to blame. They gave high voltages of electricity to the bridge to watch the poor people run and burn like chickens. The pro government daily review The Liberty News wrote that the perpetrator of the event was the neighboring country. They couldn’t stand their fast growing economy and set a trap to take them down. They were jealous of the financial aid from The United Nations and The European Union.
The government sent police and soldiers to the avenue next day and started an investigation. Four tents were erected by the river to keep the corpses. There weren’t enough coffins. They were not ready for such a disaster. The tents looked like fish markets, with the corpses laid side to side waiting for people to identify them. Four days after the disaster sixty percent of the corpses was identified by their families and an unbearable odor surrounded the area. The police stood guard at night to keep the dogs, crows and wild animals away from the bodies. On the sixth day all the corpses were identified, and on the seventh day the government arranged a funeral for the dead.
Everything went back to normal after the funeral. People stopped talking about that night as if they agreed on finding the solace in silence. Nobody realized the absence of young Hun until the twelfth day. On the twelfth day, his neighbor got suspicious because she hadn’t seen him in a while. She went to the shack he lived in to check on him in the morning. He was gone. Nobody knew where he was. She went to the police station and filed a missing person’s report. The news of the missing boy spread in the town quickly. The president decided it was a great opportunity to regain the prestige he had lost because of the unfortunate event. He appeared on TV and yelled out, spitting on all over the microphone and the press members that the boy had to be found. He was the last hope remaining from the disaster. He would be a consolation to the mothers who lost their children on that sad night. It was the civic duty of everyone to look for this youngster. A religious group spread a rumor that people who take part in the search of this boy would go straight to heaven. Shortly after, everyone was looking for the boy. All the newspapers started speculating about the missing boy this time. Another investigation was started rapidly. An old woman said that she saw the boy on the bridge that night. He had a halo on his head and enormous wings made of light. He stepped on people’s shoulders and passed the bridge, then disappeared in the starry night. He was the angel of death.
The old lady frowned under her glasses and stared at a spot on the floor as if she was trying to remember that day. The young policeman beat the wooden floor with his shoe heels impatiently. Silence followed the question. They were sitting in a small room on the ground floor with a few pieces of furniture – a table, a sewing machine, two chairs and a velvet curtain separating the room from the dressing room.
“I saw him on the way to the farmer’s market that morning. He told me he was going to get some milk and bread before heading to his job at the post office. I told him we were going to throw a big dinner that night. It was the twenty-eighth anniversary of my husband’s death. I told him he should come out and have some turkey and rice. The poor kid was very thin. It was hard to tell if he had been eating anything lately. My little stupid granddaughter was in love with him. I wanted him to be my grandson in law. I convinced him to come over for a cup of coffee after work once. I even made a new sky blue dress for my granddaughter and told her to brush her hair before he arrives. Oh, my little foolish girl! As he was looking at her carrying the coffee cups, ‘this is going to happen,’ I thought. Then she got so excited that she stumbled and spilled all the coffee on the ground. His face was filled with horror looking at the girl lying on the ground. He rushed out of the room and never came back again. It’s so sad that he disappeared. No one else will marry my granddaughter. She is a nice girl, she knows how to cook and she is very clean. But she is silent, you know. She doesn’t talk much. It’s good that she doesn’t because as soon as she opens her mouth men understand how stupid she is and take advantage of her. She is beautiful like an angel, but has no brains,” she said hitting her head softly with her index finger and looked out the window for a moment. There were two young ladies staring at the window of a boutique across the street. A fruit vendor was slicing a peeled apple for a middle aged man. A group of young men were walking side to side. Their faces were invisible between their hats and their collars. All of them had their hands in their pockets. They worked at the only factory in town like most of the men.
“We hardly made her finish the fifth grade. It’d be good for both sides. The boy would have someone to do his laundry and eat warm food every day. He didn’t have any relatives. His poor mom died a long time ago, and his father, that son of a bitch, left with his little sister during the war. He took the little girl because he wanted to make her work for him, I bet. It’d be hard to handle a young boy. Thank god that we heard he had died of cancer. The little girl was very easy going but the boy was very shy. Whenever I tried to talk to him about my granddaughter he blushed. He moved impatiently where he stood as if he was in some kind of physical pain or had to pee, looking away, as if asking for permission to leave. He said he was going to the water festival after work. I didn’t insist. All the young people were interested in seeing the new bridge. The governor said that they were organizing a race in the honor of the new bridge and the first one to reach to the other side would get five hundred dollars. The entire town wanted the money. I would run myself too if I could, but these old rheumatic legs wouldn’t let me,” she said, putting the needle between her lips, caressing her knee for a moment, then holding the needle between her two fingers again. “I don’t blame them. It’s good money, especially in this economy after the war.” The policeman looked at the old woman’s knee and thought of his mother who complained all the time about her diabetes, high blood pressure or the ulcer she claimed to have. Old people are all the same, he thought. They love complaining. They almost can’t stand young people with no health problems. They would exile the youth if they could, his mom would at least. He hadn’t seen her happy in a long time.
The police officer left the tailor’s shop shortly after and walked down the dusty yellow roads with his hands in his pockets like the young men he saw an hour ago. He passed some shopkeepers sitting in front of their shops and reading the morning paper, sipping their coffee, discussing the latest speculations about the lost boy and the bridge. Two men were playing chess in front of a barber’s shop. He went into a small grocery store to buy a pack of cigarettes and matches. The grocer was slicing a chunk of meat behind the counter. During the silence of a few seconds where the two strangers exchanged glances, the middle aged grocer took a chance to start a conversation.
“I know they are not going to find him,” he said, looking at the paper on the counter. Then he handed the stranger a pack of cigarettes and matches.
“How do you know?”
“The whole town is talking about him,” he said, stabbing the chunk of meat with his knife. For a moment they both looked at the thin slice separating from the chunk and falling on the counter.
“What difference would it make if he was found anyway?” he kept going. The stranger looked at his fat hands with curly hair and felt a slight nausea thinking of eating the meat with the grocer’s hair stuck on it.
“National pride and all that bullshit that the president talked about on TV. He is just one person. All they want is people to forget about what happened. Three hundred and seventy people died on that bridge. My son died on that bridge,” he yelled, and stabbed the meat again. “Do you know what they did? I received an envelope in my mailbox the other day with twelve hundred and fifty dollars and a letter of condolence from the government in it. And there was supposedly a foreign money crisis in the country. That’s good money, though. Especially considering people who were injured got only two hundred and fifty.” He started laughing hysterically and added waving the knife in the air. “My son wouldn’t be able to make that kind of money in a year working at the factory. His little sister had seen foreign money for the first time in her life. She looked at the picture on the green banknotes and said ‘who is that man daddy?’ I told her he was a bad guy who caused the war.”
The police officer’s eyes were caught by the hammer and sickle figures on the wall. Any kind of communist discourse was banned in the country and books about socialism and Marxism were collected after the war. The president appeared on TV and told his nation that capitalism would be their savior. Liberal economy was glorified everywhere. The police officer would report such cases normally but he didn’t want to be burdened with a new case and preferred to ignore it this time.
The case of young Hun was closed after two months of investigation. The police officer in charge reported that some witnesses claimed that they saw the young man jump off the bridge in the chaos. The newspapers wrote that he was carried away by the river and possibly eaten by the fish. However, the people of the country preferred to believe the rumor about him being an angel. The government agreed on the idea of declaring him a saint would help them gain some respect and ease the public frustration. They built a monumental tomb quickly. It was the perfect idea. Just within a week, his tomb was visited by thousands of people coming from all over the country. The sick came to beg for cure, women wished for wealthy husbands, and young men asked for jobs from the newly sainted. They rushed in the crowd to rub their hands and faces against his marble. An old men was seen passing out, uttering some words in an unknown language, saying he saw the holy light of god after he regained consciousness afterwards. The tomb was lit by so many candles that it would be visible from a long distance in the night.II
I remembered him right away when I saw his picture in the paper. Only I saw what really happened that night. They never asked me. I don’t know if I would tell them if they asked though. Here is what really happened. I was on the bridge that night. It was very crowded, so no one could run. About a thousand men and women were walking on the bridge as fast as they could. People were pushing each other. He was walking a few feet away from me. He wasn’t a saint or an angel as people say. He was the devil himself. His face was pale with sweat in the winter cold. He was looking at the end of the bridge as if he was in a trance. The crowd was making its way on the bridge. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled “the bridge is collapsing!” Within a few seconds everybody started repeating what he said. “The bridge is collapsing!” I don’t know whether he planned it or the idea occurred to him at that moment. People started screaming, running, and pushing each other off the bridge. The weaker ones fell down and the ones who were able to stand straight stepped on them. I saw a child who was lying on the floor and held her high above my head. There was nowhere to run. We couldn’t move. We were stuck on the bridge. Then some people yelled out that young people should jump off the bridge to make room. I saw him making his way in the crowd like an angry bull. I wouldn’t believe that such a thin body could be so strong if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. It was the power of those who are ready to destroy everything on their way to get what they wanted. He probably passed the border jumping over the fence, taking the advantage of the soldiers’ absence at the other side. I read that he had a sister at the other side of the border in a newspaper. I have relatives that I haven’t seen in years on the other side too.