I was always warned against looking too closely or asking questions about the man on the bridge. He always seemed to be there whenever we drove over it, and I got used to looking out for his silhouette on those occasions when we took a route on the motorway that passes beneath it.
My parents would pale and try to change the subject, which worked when I was younger, or resorted to angry exhortation when I was older and more prone to worry at the question like the scrappy terrier at our local pub. I was told in no uncertain terms that I shouldn’t concern myself with him. Sometimes I was told that no good would come of asking questions, or that it was none of my business.
I do wonder, even now, why my parents just never came up with a boring convenient lie that my scrappy little brain would just mull over and then discard when I went in search of something new and shiny. I can say instead that the very vehemence with which my inquisitive mind was opposed just served to confirm that there was something worth digging at in the story behind the lonely figure.
I once asked if he was a ghost, because he never seemed to move from his spot, and even the response to that was confusing. My mother had paled and left the room. My father had replied, eventually, that no he wasn’t a ghost – at least, not yet.
He’d refused to be drawn on the subject, and being by then nearly an adult I’d realised the futility of trying any more when his hand had begun to shake with suppressed rage.
As I grew old enough to visit on my own, I came to memorise his haunted features. The man never spoke, or reacted to his surroundings, though I was sure he knew I was there. If he was an illusion, he was convincing enough to appear to be solid and breathing. His clothing was indeterminately grey and shapeless – a shirt, trousers, shoes and a coat – that could suit any reasonably modern time period.
I never dared touch him. You’d think it was the obvious way to tell if was real, but something seemed to repel my hand on the one attempt I made to touch his coat. He appeared to be not that much older than me at that point.
Life and studies led me away for a time, and a few years later I returned to find him still there, but looking somehow paler and more attenuated, if such a word fits. Intrigued by this, I began to come back more often. Such was my growing obsession that friends began to tease me about my increasingly drab appearance. With my long-established stubbornness I ignored their jibes and continued what became daily pilgrimages to see the man.
Change had come at last, and I was determined to witness and record it. Eventually I detected what felt like a crack in the illusion when I noticed rain falling through him and a look of despair that I had never seen before.
I stepped closer to inspect him, and had a sudden shock of recognition at the realisation that the experience felt like standing in front of a mirror. We wore the same grey and faded clothes, and his face looked just like mine had when I’d shaved this morning. I reached out, heedless of the strangeness, and he was gone.
I stood there, numb with confusion for quite some time. Indeed I quite lost track of it, consumed in my reverie. It’s only been recently that I’ve noticed something very strange in my vigil on the bridge.
The clothing of people and the vehicles passing by all seem to resemble the fashions and shapes of times gone by. Childhood memories of garish clothing now clothe the people who parade past, and I’m beginning to wonder if the small child that I’ve been seeing in the corner of my eye might not prove to be terrifyingly familiar if only he came close enough.