“Old Man at the Bridge” is a very moving account of how ordinary people are invariably the victims of conflict. Even those like the old man who choose not to take sides and are not in any way politically minded so often find themselves caught up in the middle of war through no fault of their own, unable to determine their own futures. In such situations, civilians are utterly helpless, forced to endure the constant tension that comes with knowing that they and their loved ones can have their lives disrupted, or even ended, at any moment.
Just such a situation applies to the old man. The war has forced him to up sticks from his hometown and leave behind the large menagerie of which he was taking care. The old man didn’t want any of this; he didn’t ask for it. He simply did as he was told by the soldiers and left town to join the large caravan of refugees forced to flee for their lives.
And now as he sits by the bridge watching a steady stream of his fellow refugees making their way to safety, the old man is forced to move on once more. Or at least he’ll have to move if he wants to avoid the fascists set to arrive at any moment. The old man is utterly helpless, trapped in a situation over which neither he nor his fellow refugees have any control. Under the circumstances, he has little choice but to accept his fate.
However, the old man, in staying put by the roadside, is exercising some degree of choice over the future course of his life. He’s still vulnerable to the actions of other people, and heaven only knows what they will do to him, but at least by sitting at the side of the road and refusing to join the convoy of humanity traveling over the bridge, he feels perhaps that he’s exerting some degree of control over his fate.