“Well,” I said to Luis, “if you wade through that river and get yourself soaking wet when there’s a perfectly good bridge to walk on, you’re stupid. That’s all I can say.”
He didn’t reply and we both stood there, glaring at each other. Then I looked down at the cobbled road that led to the bridge. The stones, turned on their edges and woven into herring bone patterns, looked as though they had been there since the beginning of time. The bridge was clearly the work of the Romans rather than the Devil, the Devil’s Bridge, as the locals called it, built by the Devil himself and joining the two banks of a river that God had placed there to separate one side from the other.
“I’m going over the bridge,” I said.
“And I’m wading through the river, however deep it is.”
“It’s not that deep,” I replied. “It’s only up to the waists of the fishermen in their waders. You’re not taking that much of a risk.”
“It’s not a question of risk. It’s a question of honor and loss of honor.”
“What do you mean, loss of honor?”
“You know what I mean. I have lost my honor and somehow I must win it back.”
“By wading across a river, barefoot, with your clothes on, when there’s a perfectly acceptable bridge set here especially for pilgrims?”
“If necessary, yes; that’s what I must do.”
“Necessary?” I exclaimed. “There’s nothing necessary about it. You’re just being stubborn; and stupid.”
“I don’t think I’m being stupid.”
“I’m beginning to wonder if you are even thinking.”
Luis looked at me, hard, then started down the little path that led to the river.
“I give up,” I said. Then I turned away and walked to the bridge. I stopped when I was half way across and looked back. Luis had descended to the riverbank. He was talking with a young child who stood there, gazing at the moving water. Then I watched him as he picked up the child, placed him on his shoulders, and waded slowly into the river.
There was a sudden shout from one of the fishermen, and a washerwoman, washing her linen on the far side, to which Luis was headed, ran to where Luis was forcing his way slowly through the waters with the child on his shoulders.
“My son,” she cried out. “¡Hijo mío! Where is he taking you?”
“Everything’s fine,” Luis shouted back. “He just wants to visit his mother and I’m bringing him across.”
Just then, Luis stepped into a pothole in the river. He stumbled and the child almost fell from his shoulders. Luis staggered for a pace or two, then straightened up and continued across the river.
“A saint,” the child’s mother called out. “You stumbled yet did not fall: you must be a saint.”
“St. Christopher has come back to us,” another washerwomen crossed herself and the two of them knelt. I looked at Luis, wading through the river, and I knew for certain that if he wasn’t mad now, he soon would be. I watched as he reached the shore and handed the child over to its mother. She asked for his blessing, but he shook his head and refused to bless her saying that he was neither a priest nor a saint but just a poor sinner who could give a blessing to no one.
I walked down to the end of the bridge and waited for Luis to catch me up. Ahead of us, the cobbled road led to the church and to another cruz de harapos. We walked forward together, him with his wet clothes and his watery footprints, and me with my clothes all dry. When we got to the stone cross in front of the church, Luis stopped and gazed at it, raising his eyes up from the base and looking up towards the heavens. Then he moved forward, climbed onto the cross’s plinth, and stood there, just below the level of the stone arms. Three of the washerwomen had followed him. One was the mother of the child that Luis had carried across the river and her child was beside her.
Luis turned to face the cross. Then he raised his arms above his head, jumped upwards into the air, and clung on to the cross with both hands, his feet suspended about six inches above the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked him.
“I’m hanging myself out to dry.”
“You can’t just hang there.”
“Why not? Jesus did.”
“You’re not Jesus.
“And the cross isn’t wooden and nobody has nailed me.”
“You’re going mad,” I told him.
He raised his eyes skywards muttering a prayer and refused to look down at me.
“Father,” he said. “Father: why hast Thou forsaken me?”
The three women stood at the foot of the cross, gazing at Luis who was hanging there, dripping his drops of water onto the stone.
“Send someone to fetch the local priest or the doctor,” I said to one of them. “This man’s gone mad.”