Thursday, January 5, 2012

THE LITTLE MATCH BOY ~~~~ a re-telling of H.C. Andersen's poignant tale part XIII

He stayed there til the first light of false dawn. The children were careful to scramble away before the  vendors arrived. But this day was different, for now he was a vendor too. No sooner did he venture back into the square than a gruff coachman stomped over...... Give me a pack, boy. How much? - he said....... The little fellow could read numbers and simple words. He knew it said two pfennig on each box, so that was it. The huge man in the black greatcoat tossed him the coins. He managed to grab one. The other he picked up from the cobbles and he was off..... Matches! Matches! who will buy my matches? - he called. And approximately every three of four hundred heartbeats he'd sell a pack. That day, he had a good lunch, a big steaming mug of thick, hot goulash ladled out by a friendly fat woman from a stall by the booksellers. She even gave him a nice roll.  When he gave her the ten pfennig, she tossed one back and laughed - A discount for my little friend!....... He smiled. It was the first he'd done so in ages.

The rest of the day was, by the reckoning of a Prague gutter snipe, uneventful. He traded a few words with a girl selling straight pins and nodded to a boy selling rags. But, for the most part, the miniature businessmen of the quarter tended to avoid each other. Younger vendors sometimes hid in corners watching the battles of older children desperate to protect their turf. So they learned to spread out and stay away from trouble. It was better that way. It was easier. Whenever he saw strange kids approaching, he ran away. Sometimes a box would bounce out. He felt bad about that. But a bloody nose would be worse. Seven hours into the business day almost sixty five little boxes were gone. One crown, twenty pfennig, a quarter of a crown. That's what he had. Soon he'll have to think about replenishing his stock.

But sometime after three, it started to snow, not soft and dry. That type of snow was fine. Only this was different. Damp, heavy flakes blew in from the north, clotting 'round the windows and smearing up the streets. Soon it turned to glass. He saw an old man take a hard fall. His hat flew off and he cracked his head on the icy cobbles. Two men slid over to help. They managed to get him up on his feet. He held a handkerchief against his stinging wound and thanked them. It was too late about the hat. That blew away. Some street girl got that. At least he was all right. But after slowly shuffling over toward the sidewalk, he reached into his pocket and then he knew. His purse was gone. The little boy could tell. He felt such things now. Maybe in a few weeks events like that wouldn't touch him...provided he survived that long. Yet right now they still did. So he went over to the man and tugged his sleeve........ Do you want some monies, Mister Grandpop? - inquired the pint sized benefactor........ The old man looked down, patted the boy's shoulder and wept..... He said - No, my little man. Keep your money for yourself..... Then he sniffed back a tear, turned up his collar and hobbled off round the corner.

The boy noticed another juvenile businessman watching. He went over. The other young fellow eyed him suspiciously. But he was a little guy too, so they talked. This one sold gloves, not leather, just knit ones. A man with a little factory gave him a few of the leftovers (odd sizes, strange colors) in return for sweeping up, emptying the slops. And his hands did not freeze when he held the wooden tray. A thick purple one covered his right hand and a similar pumpkin hued one covered his left. So they struck a deal, fifteen pfennig and three boxes of matches.  Not so bad. One gray glove. One bottle green. So now the little match boy had warm hands too. His new friend told him where to get 'stock.' A general merchandise wholesaler sold goods from a storefront not too far off. Tomorrow he'd take him there. They huddled together under the arcade fronting the coffee house by The National Theatre.  And a heavy snow continued tumbling down. It would be much colder under the stout wood tables tonight...... Much colder indeed........


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Jon Snow said...

So, are we entering an alternate reality where our little protagonist takes the place of Andersen's original match seller? Or was the girl he's inherited the matches from just a wink to the original story? I guess I'll find out eventually . . .

Billy Kravitz said...

First of all, thank you for your comment. The truth is that the character of the match boy is a little of both. We flesh out the short fable and dress it in the day to day reality of a nineteenth century street child. Those more well set up called them 'urchins.' Maybe it's like Dickens' OLIVER TWIST, but in Prague and much more brutal.