‘The Wooden Bridge’

The following is an excerpt from the short story ‘The Wooden Bridge’ by Wonder Guchu, one of the 24 short stories in the anthology Writing Still, published in 2003 by Weaver Press.

Wonder Guchu
Wonder Guchu

I heard footsteps – three or four pairs – behind me. Breaking into a trot, I ran round a corner and stood, alert.

The road was deserted. The night was still. A few neon lights flooded the dark streets with an assortment of colours. Street-lights, some choked with dead insects, flickered on and off, casting eerie shapes on the pavement and the grey walls of the buildings.

A lone guard paced up and down the veranda of a furniture shop – a ghost in dreamland. A car without lights drove past. In the distant locations, dogs wailed. All around me, the night kept on, pressing hard, advancing with the precision of a serial killer.

I leant closely into the shadows, waiting, listening. Then, after making sure that there were no footsteps echoing through the darkness, I stepped out carefully and sprinted down the empty street, past the sleeping guards whose legs protruded onto the pavements. I crossed 3rd Street and ran past 4th. Halfway between 5th and 6th, the footsteps caught up with me.

I could feel the sweat on my back. I ran faster and shot past a shopping mall. Then the Post Office shadows welcomed me into their wide-open arms. I slid into their darkness, and held my breath, waiting; listening.

After a while, I heard the silence: dark and unbroken. The night was turning, spinning. I felt the darkness, saw its jagged figures streaking across the street, and disappearing. The shadows of tall buildings seemed grotesquely shaped into dinosaurs, waiting to snap me into pieces the moment I ventured out. I shrank from these dreadful creatures.

A metal bin clattered onto the hard pavement nearby. I let out a sharp yelp, and then swallowed quickly, as if trying to draw the noise back. But it tore through the still air, triggering more sounds and a sense of shuffling feet. A warm wet trickle coursed down my legs.

I listened for the footsteps. I heard nothing coming. I ran towards 7th Street; fled past 8th. When I was about to cross 9th, a sound rang out ahead.

I stood transfixed. The footsteps also froze. They were trying to confuse me, make me relax. I changed direction and tried to walk steadily along Nyika Yedu Avenue towards the wooden bridge. A cat scuttled across the avenue ahead. I trembled but I kept on going, my damp trousers chafing my crutch.

The footbridge is an extension of the avenue. It has been there as long as I can remember. We played on it when we were young.

Enjoyable were the endless trains that snaked below as we stood on the wooden slats. The iron rails rattled and the planks tickled the soles of our feet as the many carriages thudded past towards the station behind the gum plantation.

I was in Grade 6 when a man was found hung on the rails – naked, and stabbed several times. He roasted in the sun for half the day like the Christ they used to teach us about at Sunday school.

The trains, meantime, went on chugging past the bridge, rattling the rails and, no doubt, tickling his palms too.

The stream of people from Squatterville 13 did not falter on their way to the city. All day long, they poured into the Mupedzanhamo area, walking past the slowly grilling body. A small crowd would gather from time to time to observe the dead man.

Since it was our first occasion to come near a dead body, we crept over to the bridge in the afternoon, just before the police came to collect it, and in defiance of our parents’ advice.

The man hung still, his head limp; dry blood, browned by the sun, caked his face. His eyes had rolled backwards. A torn shirt clung to his bloodied back. It flapped in the wind like a plastic bag trapped on a fence. The stab wounds, showing crimson flesh, attracted flies. His toes seemed to grope for the ground far below. We were taking in all these details when a man from Squatterville 13 shooed us away. The dead man’s identity was never established.

About the author

Wonder Guchu is a professional journalist. He was born in 1969 near Mvurwi and trained as a teacher of English at Gweru Teachers’ College between 1988 and 1990. He subsequently spent five years teaching Masvingo and six in Harare. By this time he had been writing stories and poems for nine years, some of which were published in The Sunday Mail magazine, Tsotso and Moto. He also reviewed books for The Masvingo Star, The Independent, Parade, The Herald, The Sunday Standard and The Daily News, and was the music critic for the now defunct Masvingo Tribune. His writing features also in Writing Still (Weaver Press, 2003). He is married with two children.

Post published in: Arts

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