The Hole in the Bridge a short story


A story published in Opowiadania

by Sławomir Mrożek1

Translated from the Polish by Garry Malloy2

There once was a river with a small town on each of its banks. The two towns were connected by a road which ran across the bridge. One day a hole appeared in the bridge.

The hole needed to be patched up3, and this was the general consensus4 of the residents of both towns. A dispute arose, however, about who should do it. The inhabitants of one town considered themselves to be more important than those of the other, and vice versa. The people on the right bank were of the opinion that the road led, above all, to their town and therefore the town on the left bank should repair it, because they rely on it more. The town on the left bank considered itself to be the goal of every journey and thus the repair of the bridge lay in the interests of those on the right bank.

The dispute lasted, as did the hole in the bridge. And the longer the hole remained, the more the mutual dislike between the little towns grew.

One time an old bloke5 fell into the hole and broke his leg. The residents of both towns urgently began questioning him to ascertain6 if he was coming from the right bank to the left or indeed from the left to the right, in order to see which town should accept responsibility for the accident. He did not remember, however, as he was drunk on the evening in question.

Some time after that, a traveller’s carriage7 was travelling across the bridge when it fell into the hole and broke an axle8. Because the traveller was passing through both towns, that is to say travelling neither from one town to the other, nor vice versa, the inhabitants of both towns treated the accident with indifference. The enraged9 traveller got out of the carriage and asked why the hole hadn’t been patched up and, having found out, declared:

‘I wish to buy this hole. Who owns it?’

Both towns simultaneously declared their ownership of the hole.

‘Either you lot or you lot10. The side which owns the hole must prove it.’

‘How do we prove it?’ chorused the representatives of both communities.

‘It’s simple. Only the owner of the hole has the right to patch it up. I’ll buy it from whoever repairs it.’

The townsfolk from both sides got to work, while the traveller smoked a cigar and his coachman changed the axle. In a flash11 they repaired the bridge, after which time they came to collect their payment for the hole.

‘What hole?’ asked the astonished traveller, ‘I can’t see any hole here. For a long time now I’ve been looking around for a hole to buy, I’m prepared to pay a handsome sum for one; however, you don’t have a hole for sale. Do you take me for a fool?’

And with that he got into his carriage and rode off12. Both towns were meanwhile reconciled. Now the residents of the towns agree to keep watch on the bridge, and whenever a traveller approaches they are sure to stop him and beat him up13.

The hole in the bridge by Slawomir Mrozek 

Sławomir Mrożek (29 June 1930 – 15 August 2013) was a leading Polish dramatist, writer and cartoonist. In 1963 Mrożek emigrated to Italy and France and then to Mexico. In 1996 he returned to Poland and settled in Kraków. In 2008 he moved back to France. Sławomir Mrożek reigned as the preeminent playwright and satirist of Eastern Europe for the past half century. He debuted in 1958 with a play Policja (The Police). Mrożek’s plays, now considered classics, were welcomed immediately by both stage directors and the public. He gained world fame in 1964 with the play Tango. Mrożek was a sharp critic of all oppressive systems during the Cold War. Bordering on the absurd with its combination of humour, wit, and the grotesque, his work transgressed political and economic systems, revealing both their universality and their nonsensical aspects.


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