Vol. 15


Ridge on the Bridge

1960; Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia(1)

A boy clings to a pillar a a train barrels down the track above and wild animals swim in the river below.In the spring of 1960, in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia (modern-day Zambia), my sabba (my grandfather) had a near-death experience. At age nine he was invited to spend the day fishing at the Kafue River with his best friend Rico and Rico’s family. Above the river a narrow train bridge connected neighboring countries, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia. Deciding that if they crossed the bridge they could brag to their friends that they had visited a different country, my sabba and Rico climbed up the narrow train tracks.

Balancing twenty feet above hippo- and crocodile-infested water, my sabba and Rico froze in terror as they heard the thundering of an approaching train. The sound of the whistle reverberated off the metal-truss bridge, making them uncertain as to which direction the sound was coming from — and worse, in which direction the train was headed.

Rico’s mother, shouting for the boys to run off the tracks, was heard above the blare of the train. Ahead of my sabba by around forty feet, Rico managed to beat the train, racing off the metal rails. Rico’s mother shrieked, and the train roared as it neared my sabba.

Seeing the train advancing toward him, my sabba had a decision to make. With wild animals swimming in the river below, jumping off the tracks and into the water was not an option. The train took up nearly all the width of the slim tracks, so wedging himself up against the rail was also not an option.

My sabba was forced to climb down a few feet onto the ledge of one of the cement pillars that held the bridge. Forced to crouch down in a ball on an eighteen-inch-wide ridge, my sabba held on with all his might. Looking down, my sabba saw the wild animals teeming below.

Rushing by him, the train swayed in the wind, almost knocking him over the edge. For the ten scariest seconds of his life, as the cargo train blasted forward, my sabba held on. Surging forward, the train lurched past him, my sabba swaying and bending in the rushing wind.

When it was quiet again, my sabba unfolded his body and climbed off the ridge back onto the train tracks. He slowly made his way off the tracks to the waiting crowd below.

Benjamin Nathan Mark; New York, USA

Illustrator: Carissa Mitchell; Missouri, USA


1. In 1960, Northern Rhodesia was a protectorate of the United Kingdom. In 1964 it became the independent republic of Zambia.



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