I was in my early 20s. Free. Uncommitted. I saw the umpteenth repeat of the film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and was suddenly sure that I wanted to enter it myself. Just like that. Because I was young. Because it was exciting. An adventure. Because it was possible. Because it sounded good. I haven’t thought about it much. Because I was too young. Because at the time I thought the world was like a David Lean movie.
Booking the trip was a snap. The guided tour started with the pleasant hotel in Thailand. We visited the museum. Lunch at one end of the bridge. Everything felt like in a cocoon. It was forbidden to enter the bridge. Risk of collapse.
I did it anyway. I sneaked onto the tracks between the locals, and at that moment I hadn’t thought about how many people had to give their lives for this building. How much blood was in the beam. Because I was young. Because it was an adventure. Because the world was a Hollywood movie to me.
Halfway down the road, the building trembled. The women in the colorful saris squeezed against the railing. One drew me to herself. Not a second late. A train rushed by me only a few centimeters.
An adventure that felt like in the movies. Surreal.
The tour went on. A little jungle feeling here, a little swimming in the waterfall there. I was tired. Exhausted from the tropical heat. I didn’t want to see or hear anything else.
Back at the hotel, I bathed in the pool. Luxurious dinner. The seafood didn’t satisfy my inner emptiness.
A few days later I met a German I knew from home. At that time he ran a textile company near Bangkok. He offered me a trip. I was thinking of deserted, snow-white beaches. It’s a beautiful place. But… the only ward was an orphanage for handicapped children. My friend got a box of exercise books and pens out of the trunk. We entered the Spartan building, and I held my breath.
It stank bestial.
The children lay in rusty beds in their own droppings and urine. Or sat apathetically on the wall and swayed back and forth.
My first impulse was to get out of here. But it didn’t come to that. As soon as I entered the room, a dark hand slid into mine. A teenager grinned at me with crooked teeth and squinting eyes. The boy was as old as my sister’s house. His clothes – just rags. He dragged me with him into the garden, which was actually only a stable place. He stroked my very long and very blond hair and smiled.
My friend came out of the building two hours later. Two hours I don’t want to miss in my life. I still don’t know the boy’s name. I never knew what he told me because apart from our smiles and handshake we had no common language. The unhinged carving of dark brown lacquered wood, which he gave me as a farewell present, which I still possess after almost twenty moves. It shows an elephant standing on a bridge.
I’ve never been back to Thailand. I’ve traveled most of the world. But it wasn’t until many years, two marriages and three children later that I realized what a bridge really meant. She’s the plan between people.
Silke Porath lives together with her French husband in their home of choice in Balingen, on the border of the swabian Alps. Born in 1971, the mother of three children works as a freelance Journalist and Writing teacher. Trained as both an editor and PR consultant, she is a member of the “42erAutoren”, the association of German writers and the Group of 48.