A blind man lived in a village in the deep mountains. He was not afraid of the mountain paths, which he had known since childhood, and when spring came and the snows melted, he used to pride himself on the being the first to go to visit his brother in another village not far away, but separated by a deep gorge about twelve feet across. The state maintained a small footbridge across it, consisting of three wide planks driven into the earth on either side, with a small wooden handrail.
One autumn, when the blind man made his last trip that year, he noticed that the planks were becoming shaky, because the earth was crumbling away. He mentioned this to the village headman, who saw the government inspector when he made his rounds. The latter promised that the bridge would be repaired for the next year.
When spring came, however, the blind man had a mild sickness which kept him in bed a week. The village postmaster sent a telegram to the brother so that he should not worry, and when the blind man was up again, he sent another to say that he would definitely pay the visit the next day.
He set out, feeling the warmth of the spring sun, and walking confidently till he came to the bridge. He moved down the little steps cut in the earth, and felt for the bridge with his foot. To his horror he found that there was now only one shaky plank, and no hand-rail at all. He realized that not merely had the old bridge not been repaired, but a winter storm had carried most of it away. However he had sent his telegram, and he was too proud to turn back. He got down on all fours and crawled across, sweating as he heard the cataract roaring below.
When he got to the other side and arrived at his brother’s, he told his story.
‘But the bridge has been repaired, surely ?’ said the brother, and they went back the little distance together.
The brother told him, ‘The new bridge is a splendid wide one, driven into solid rock a little further down, just six inches. It’s been newly painted. There’s a notice up on the bank saying,
TILL THE PAINT IS DRY,
PLEASE USE THE PLANK WHICH HAS BEEN LEFT FOR YOU.
Of course they knew anyone could easily walk across the plank.’ ‘Yes,’ groaned the blind man, ‘Easy if you know that there’s a wide bridge six inches below. But if you don’t know, it’s all you can do to wriggle across clinging to it, and pouring sweat with each inch! It’s the same thing: but if you’re blind, it’s not the same thing.’
© Trevor Leggett – The Bridge