Once upon a time there lived a giant by the name of Yant. He was so huge that he could easily step over wide rivers. But that’s not what he loved to do – his favorite pastime was to sit on the bank of the river watching tiny boats sailing by. When the boats were passing the spot where he sat, he would often, just for the fun of it, bend over the river, pretending to be a bridge. He would plant his legs on one bank, lean over and put his hands on the other. He loved this game of a bridge and spent hours at it. Often, those who happened to sail by underneath his big round belly, would lift up their heads and say to each other: “That’s a good bridge, no doubt about it.”
The giant did not mind. He knew who he was – a giant, not a bridge. But it happened quite often that, whenever a boat was passing by, the people onboard would hear his stomach rumble after a hearty meal and say to each other: “This bridge is very well built. What an incredible traffic capacity. Hear all this noise?”
Actually, while the giant was playing his game, there were cars, buses and bikes running up and down his back all day long. And why not? After all, people need some way to get over the river. Very soon, however, he found out that, whenever he “was a bridge”, there was a constant flow of traffic on his back – so he decided not to straighten up until the day was over and there was no one left up there. After all, he didn’t want anybody to get hurt. But as soon as it was night, he would unbend himself, stretch his limbs, sit down comfortably on his favorite spot by the edge of the river, and strike up a conversation with his old friend as he watched her quiet waters gracefully flowing by.
After a while, the people who lived in the city nearby got so used to seeing the giant bent over that they almost believed that he was there always. They actually stopped noticing him, and no one would even think of him as a giant. Every time they walked over the “bridge”, they would stop in the middle, and, tapping on his big strong forehead, say:
“Magnificent structure, high quality materials”. Looking at the buttons on his jacket they would say: “Durable rivets.” Hearing a rumble in his tummy they would say: “The traffic capacity is truly amazing, isn’t it?” And one day, when the giant saw a little girl walking by and greeted her warmly by waving his handkerchief, the two policemen on duty attributed it to the rising of the wind, because it seemed to them that “the flags were flapping like crazy.”
At first, such comments didn’t bother the giant. He was just enjoying himself, and at night he would sit down and talk to his wise old friend, the river, watching his own reflection in the mirror of her tranquility. But after some time, he started doubting himself thinking: “Who am I after all, a bridge or a giant?” All these people kept saying with pride: “This bridge is made out of premium-quality stainless steel.” And then some of them even claimed that they actually made him. “Nonsense”, the giant thought to himself, “I couldn’t have possibly been made. I am not a piece of junk, I am alive!” But the people insisted on calling him “The Bridge of the Millennium”. They drove up and down his back, praising the city administration for building such a wide traffic area.
And so it happened that, after hearing such talk over and over again, the giant began to forget who he was. He got so accustomed to the thought that he was no more than a bridge that now he was spending all his days bent over, from sunup to sundown. The people got so used to seeing the bridge there that they trampled on him from morning till night. The giant was no longer spending any time with his wise friend and stopped talking to her. For some reason, the river too was silent. He forgot her deep melodious voice and referred to her just as a northbound stream.
For some time, he tried to cheer himself up by talking to himself – after all, if you’re talking to yourself you must be alive. But no one else would speak to him and, after a while, he forgot even the sound of his own voice. The only thing that was left of the former giant was the rumbling of the stomach, which he now called “the noise of the traffic.”
But why didn’t he just walk away from these people, you may ask? Who knows… Apparently, when people all around you keep saying the same thing over and over again, somehow you start believing them. The giant eventually concluded that he got over his childishness, his naivete, and his eyes opened to true reality.
“This is life, and I am nothing but a bridge. I am made of stainless steel and reinforced rivets. When I become old and useless, I will be decommissioned and recycled. One must live by what he can see. This water flowing North – who said it’s a river? What madness drove me to believe that it could talk? Why did I ever imagine that?
Why did I ever think I had a belly and that it could rumble? Nonsense. It is just the rattle of the highway. Here are my rivets, why did I imagine they were buttons? Here’s people walking up and down my back. They come and go, and nothing is left of them. Who said that they matter? And who said I am actually thinking all these thoughts? Maybe they are just vibrations caused by the heavy-duty trucks running on the highway.
As time passed, the giant resigned himself to the thought that he was “just a bridge”. Even at night, when he had some free time and could straighten up, stretch and take some food, it never occurred to him that bridges couldn’t do such things. “So what?” he said to himself. “Someone told me about bridges in Saint-Petersburg that can straighten up and even fall apart. Ugh… Luckily I am not one of those.” After such uplifting thoughts, he would again slouch down and get back to his work, his eyes glazed over, his mind empty. All he could think of was how to kill time until the end of the shift and then forget himself in some hours of sleep.
After a while, the giant noticed that he was often talked about as an important city landmark. People seemed to be proud of him. This became the meaning of his life. His only delight. “I am a key element in the city infrastructure,” he thought to himself. “The city spent lots of money on me. I am made of premium materials and state-of-the-art technologies.” And he looked with contempt at the miniscule little cottages huddled under his feet.
“I am glad I am not one of those,” he congratulated himself smugly as he looked down at the reflection of his buttons, which he now called “rivets”. But when there was no one left to praise him, his mind would grow blank again, and the only thing he could think of was how to survive until the end of the working day.
So many years passed. The giant totally forgot his name. He now called himself “The Bridge of the Millennium”, flaunted his concrete pillars which used to be his arms and legs, and, most importantly, got rid of the stomach rumble. But one day, as he glanced at his own reflection in the water, he actually saw that his buttons had turned into rivets. Shivers ran down his back as he shuddered at the shock, which was later attributed to the earthquake in the Altai Mountains.
“What’s up with me?” he muttered in a terrified voice and shook again – it had been so long since he had heard himself speaking. And then he saw the concrete pillars instead of arms and legs, and the metal superstructure instead of a body. Appalled at the sight, he tried to wave his hand, but could only hear the flapping of the flags. Fear gripped his heart. He decided to get up and leave immediately but couldn’t even move. His body became a monolith of concrete and iron – lifeless, motionless and ice-cold.
A bolt of thunder rumbled in the sky, and it started raining. The bridge wasn’t sure what was happening – whether he was crying or the warm summer rain was tricking down his cheeks. And how could he tell? The line between the truth and the lies was too fine. Very soon the rain let up and the sunrays blinked again on the undulating surface of the river. But the bridge couldn’t see it, for his eyes were full of rain, or tears, or both.
“Look, Daddy, it’s a giant”, he suddenly heard a little girl’s voice from down below, “see?”
Another “earthquake” shook the bridge.
“Where?” asked her dad and looked around trying to guess what she might have meant.
“Here,” she said again and pointed at the bridge under which they were passing. “Do you hear his stomach rumble? He must have had a big meal,” suggested the girl cheerfully and, looking up, yelled: “Hey!”
“Hey,” replied a faint echo.
“Daddy, he’s talking to me!” the girl screamed with delight, hopping around.
Dad looked at the bridge and answered with a smile:
“You are right, my dear, it’s really a giant. Just look at the buttons on his jacket!”
The two policemen who happened to stand by, assumed a very serious expression and hurriedly turned away, quite puzzled at this nonsense.
“Hey,” called the father again lifting up his head, and sure enough there was a booming echo: “heyyyy”.
Shocked as he was, the bridge looked again at his concrete arms and legs, checked his rivets and then, hearing the rumble of the traffic, grimly concluded that these people must be laughing at him. “What an insult,” he thought bitterly, “somehow they know my silly dreams of becoming a giant, and now they are making fun of me.”
“Look, Daddy,” continued the girl, “look at his huge arms and legs, he must be so strong!”
“And just look at his wide back!” added the father after scanning the width of the traffic area.
The bridge was beside himself with rage. He shook all over and emitted a low booming sound, which resounded in the evening air. But the next moment, he happened to look down at his reflection in the river, and what he saw pierced his heart with such a joy that at first he got scared. For he didn’t see a bridge in the river – no, he saw a giant. And then, in a flash, he recognized himself, recognized his face, his buttons, his arms and legs. And what a joy it was to know yourself again!
“Let’s talk to him”, suggested the father and the girl yelled:
“What is your name, giant?”
“…yant,” replied the echo.
“Daddy, his name is Yant!” squealed the girl excitedly.
“Are you old?” asked the girl again.
“…old…”, replied the echo.
“He’s very old,” concluded the girl.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Hurray, he’s talking to us!”
The giant’s heart filled with gratitude as he tenderly looked at the girl and her father who continued their leisurely stroll along the river, commenting on whatever caught their eye – anything from empty cans to a blooming apple tree. Tears trickled down the giant’s cheeks.
The two policemen who were on duty that night related a very strange story. The hours of their patrol were foggy and the river was wrapped in a milky haze. Walking up and down the river they saw, on approaching the bridge, what seemed to them like a huge apparition of a monster, sitting on the bank. And the bridge was gone! Of course, it was hard to see anything clearly in the mist, and the moon had just hidden behind a cloud. But as soon as the clouds parted, they looked again, and the bridge was back in its place. The two guardians of public order felt quite disoriented and decided to go home and get some sleep. In the morning, however, when they returned, they found the bridge where it should be. The policemen felt very relieved and, coming right up to it, patted its giant pillars.
“I almost thought I was going crazy last night,” said one of them.
“True,” said the other one nodding. “I think I am quite ready for vacation. Never been so tired in my whole life. And you too, by the way, or how can you explain that we both saw a giant?”
“Yant…”, suddenly boomed the echo.
The policemen froze and looked at each other in bewilderment.
“Boo…”, a strange deep sound shook the bridge, and the policemen could swear they had heard someone’s stomach rumble!
Of course, they didn’t notice anything, but at that very moment the whole length of the bridge cracked right in the middle, and the shape of the crack looked very much like a smile.
The next morning, the local papers broke the news with the following headlines: “The Bridge of the Millennium’s First Crack.”