Roberto Carcache Flores
Every bridge has at least one forlorn story to tell. It has also occurred to me that every bridge along the Danube has its own personality, though I can only attest to bridges of Budapest. Is this personality a direct reflection of an architect's will? Does history also have a hand in our perception of what a given landmark means to its neighborhood, city, or nation?
Such are the questions I often ask myself while I cross the Danube, walking from Pest to Buda and from Buda to Pest. The answers are never so important. I walk just do so, to gaze at the river and the city, its ancient glories tucked away in the Castle District, towering above the various promenades. Sometimes the seagulls gently soar above while other times they merely spiral out of control.
There are four bridges I usually cross, mainly because they are the closest to where I live but also because I've grown fond of them, in the way familiar objects have a way of providing us with reassurance. I once thought of what single words could be used to describe each of these bridges. My list went something like: Margaret Bridge, functionality. Chain Bridge, opulence. Elizabeth Bridge, grace. Liberty Bridge, strength.
I would say that the Elizabeth Bridge is probably my favorite. Maybe I associate it with modernity or it reminds me of a seagull. It's also less crowded than the other three and appears to function more for road traffic than sightseeing purposes. The handrails along the sidewalk also seem lower than recommendable, though this could be attributed to the vertigo I often feel when crossing large bodies of water.
The truth is that some days I only crossed this bridge to feel this metaphysical rush. It's almost like those rare flights where you begin to question everything, how you and a hundred other people have basically surrendered all control just to reach a given destination. The difference is that you have your feet when you cross a bridge. I'm still unsure if this makes it any easier or all the more terrifying.
It was on a day like this when I got mentally prepared to cross my favorite bridge. That's when I saw him, just as I began to take those first uneasy steps. I saw a man with a similar overcoat as mine, a black overcoat that seemed too big for him, too tattered at the sleeves. His hair was longer but his steps just as unsteady. Surely he must be a writer, was the first thing I thought.
We were on opposite sides of the bridge, separated by a steady current of cars. My initial instinct was to wait on my tiptoes, as if this could help me rise above the buses and trucks which blocked my view. I could still see him (or sense him) walking until he stopped at about the half-way mark of the bridge. I moved a bit ahead and watched him cling strangely to the railing. His hands might have been shaking or maybe it was just my knees.
The man looked down at the water for what seemed like a few minutes. I could not move. I like to believe he eventually sensed someone was watching him because he finally turned around and looked in my direction. We exchanged several embarrassing glances across the bridge and continued with our walk. Eventually we'd made it back to Pest and went our separate ways.