The Town

It was simply a small town woven densely together by good kinship and average living, as most were not wealthy, leading average, hardworking lives. There was little to none happening in this town. Normally. And, when it did, it sped through each door in a wildfire of gossips, hungry for excitements and chaos.

On this day, nothing special occurred just yet, as housewives waddled their ways to their favorite market stands, their children — not fortunate enough to afford the woes of public education — tugged along at the hems of their mother’s skirts. Shopkeepers barked prices competitively, while the butchers expressed their meager indifference to the world with the rhythmic thuds of their cleavers that never missed a beat. Fresh vegetables in baskets, fish in plastic tray of a casket…the life of this small market moved on…

…until an enraged screech broke out of the acceptable murmur of noises.

No one could shrug off the unpleasant sound as it continued, “YOU BASTARD!!!”

The rare scent of a commotion drew a shiver of snarky, local, gossip broadcasts — grandfathers and mothers or other housewives and shopkeepers alike — like blood drew sharks. Already a throng of people formed before the drug store, where the curses originated.

In the center of this arena of attention was a very angry drugstore keeper with a chubby arm to her waist (though the location of her waist was only presumed as it was difficult to decide where it was when her frame lacked one). Standing across from her was a kid around six years of age, sporting a worn-out T-shirt too big for his bony body and old cargo pants barely concealing skeletal ankles. His mop of dirty, tangled hair veiled his downcast features from the woman’s insults.

“Why did you steal this, huh?” Seeing how all of her audiences were in place, the storekeeper shook a medicine bottle she had discovered under the kid’s baggy shirt at the child’s face. “What, not only did your ma not teach ya manners, she didn’t teach ya how to talk either?”

The boy remained silent.

Angered by the lack of response in her drama, the storekeeper brought her fat hand and across the thief’s small, grimy face. The remaining chatter of excitement died down into uncanny whispers as the slap echoed itself across the market aisle.

The boy merely looked up at his assailant, reddened cheeks and large eyes watering from the sting. Somehow this encouraged the woman to strike again, though she never got the chance to as one of the spectators interrupted.

“Ei, isn’t that enough?” It was the noodle store owner, itching his brows and adjusting his makeshift bandana to enhance the weight of his words.

“Who do ya think ya are now, huh? Trying to play the judge now?!” The screech finally toned down a little.

The man opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind and bent down to face the child instead, “Hey kiddo, your parents sick?” He looked up at the man’s relatively kind face, and decidedly nodded. “Well, then.” Getting on to his towering height again, he went back to address the drug storekeeper. “How much is it?”

“What?”

“The bottle. How much is it?”

A second surge of red burned across the wrathful face of the woman as she sputtered in angry disbelief, “WHAT? Ya can’t just ask me to give it for free ‘cause this kid said his parents are sick…”

“Just. Tell. Me. How. Much. It. Is,” The man stuck his hand into the infinite depth of his apron, a urging brow raised in question as the keeper gave no response.

After a long pause, she finally gave in, “Five dollars and fifty cents.”

It took little to no time for the man’s practiced hand to dig out five oily and flimsy dollars bills and an ample clatter of coins, but it took much longer for the rest of the world to comprehend as he handed it to the clerk, “Here you go then: an extra twenty cents as a compensation.”

Loud murmurs of confusion rustled to life among the crowds, though he paid them no mind as he retrieved the dark amber glass bottle of medicine and wandered behind his noodle stand. After rumbling around several cabinets for a while, he emerged again, the bottle now rested snugly in a translucent plastic bag, accompanied by two servings of cooked noodles and complimenting soup as well as dried bean curds, all dangling in his hand.

“Here you go,” for the second time of the day he said so, handing the full bag to the dumbstruck child before a dumbstruck audience. “Hope your parents get better.”

The boy was on the verge of speaking, but hesitated a long while before taking the bag with a deep bow and dashed away, melting into the crowd.

“How ungrateful, not even a ‘thank you.’” “Thought he’s poor and all…how generous of him” “She is such a Scrooge.” “Poor kid, wonder…” “What’s he gotta do with the boy, anyway?” A collection of differing opinions eddied as the throng disbanded. Shopkeepers and customers retreated back to their original positions much like waves drawing back from the shore, only to return and crash once again against the sand.

Everything seemed to be back to a hot-pot of noise and shouts for most of the witnesses, but a woman humiliated and regretful, a man five dollars and seventy cents richer, and lastly, a broken heart stitched up by rare affection.