Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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

The first day, after the beating, he just sat there. People walked by. They saw him, but nobody said anything. Oh, one young woman did approach. She started to talk to him, but her husband pulled  her away. When the neighborhood boys ran by he burrowed under the papers. They left him alone. So he just sat there, staring at the front of the houses 'cross the street. He did not cry. He missed his parents. He missed Max. But he did not cry. Later, when he needed to pee-pee, he quietly got up and walked off. There were secluded lots, much like unofficial parks, scattered throughout the district. Finding a quiet spot wasn't a problem. If anyone came close he just ran away. And he looked first before he stepped behind any bush. 

It was cold now. A thin blanket of snow covered the city. People hurried about, shopping, talking, visiting. He walked too, only much slower, absentmindedly following the footprints of a person gone before. Soon he was in Wenceslas Square, the very heart of the city. Papa took him there once to see the new museum. He liked the statues, all the clean, white faces of Czech heroes from ages past. He enjoyed the wide, marble galleries. They pretended it was a palace. And in a very real sense, it was. Papa bought him a toasted cheese sandwich in a little alcove set aside for resting. That day was fun. He wanted to relive it, so he went in. At first no one stopped him. He wasn't the only child inside. Small groups of well-off boys and girls followed teachers and guides, as they told about all the displays. For a little while, he forgot his problems and listened. Knights in armor. Paintings of wood sprites. He saw it all, just like he did with Papa. When it was lunchtime, the other children took seats 'round clean, marble tables in the place where he once had the toasted cheese sandwich. But food costs money and he did not have any. A lady came over in a long, dark blue dress with a lacy collar. She asked him where he belonged. He did not answer. She went over to speak with the teachers, but they didn't know him. So she lightly put her hand on the dirty shoulder of his little coat and gently, but firmly steered him through the vast chambers, til she shooed him out the large bronze doors. He never did get any lunch. 

The rest of the daylight hours were spent walking along Narodni Trida quietly looking at the people going in and out of the fine shops; not so much watching them, just looking. There was a nice, warm coffee house right by the National Theatre. It smelled so good. They had chocolate in there too. He stopped and looked in the window. Well dressed men and women gathered 'round small, tables drinking little cups filled with rich, aromatic brews. A few children were in there too, with nannies, or protective grandmothers. He watched them. He stared. Not that he meant to, but he just did. Then a man came out. He said - You there. Young man. A little low in funds are we? ......... The little boy wasn't sure what he meant. He never heard expressions like that. And he was afraid. He wanted to run away. But the man looked friendly, so he stood there and let him take him inside. Everything smelled delicious. Fine cakes, pastries and carefully crimped meat pies lined a glittering, glass showcase. They went over. The man said - Looks good, doesn't it? Pick something. I'd recommend a fat meat pie to start, then a sweet, little cheese pocket for dessert............... So that's what he had, washed down with a nice mug (for the children, they had mugs) of mocha mit schlag (mixture of coffee and chocolate, topped with whipped cream). The man tried to ask him some questions, but he got scared and said he had to go meet his 'big brother.' So the kind hearted gentleman took him back to the display case and bought him a half dozen large, thick chocolate swirled cookies, finished off with good chocolate sprinkles 'round the edges.  The fraulein  behind the counter handed him a crisp, white bag and smiled. He shyly thanked them both and politely walked back outside.  It was getting dark. He had to find a safe place to sleep. There was a small open air market just off the square.  The large, heavy wooden tables stayed out all night. He went down an aisle between two rows. A small flame from the nearby gas streetlight provided a weak, yellowish glow. He found a place under a sturdy table and crept in to rest. But then he thought better of it and dashed down a little alley to do his 'business.' After that he hurried back to claim his spot. It started to snow again. He held his little hands out from under the table and washed them clean in the cold, silvery flakes. A big cookie from the crisp, white bag would taste good now, so he began to eat one. Soon a few other poor, little children crept down the street to find places under the tables. No one made a noise. Some greeted each other. A few quiet words were exchanged, but that was it. A little girl, bundled in layer after layer of baggy sweaters took a spot across the aisle. She nodded. He nodded back. But she watched as he ate the huge, delicious cookie. She laid there, curled on her side, eyes measuring every single bite. After about twenty five heartbeats, the little fellow said - You want a cookie?.......... She nodded and he offered one. When she leaned out to take it, he saw the little wicker tray filled tiny, neat boxes of matches. 

They ate their cookies and fell asleep......


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