The City That Never Spoke


Once upon a time there was a city where no one ever spoke. It wasn’t that these people couldn’t speak, or that they weren’t allowed to, the activity had merely fallen out of favour. And it been so long now since the last words had been spoken that no could remember exactly why it was. And so the streets echoed only with the patter of footsteps and cartwheels. Offices and public buildings had become home to the gentle rustling of papers or the occasional scraping of a chair leg. In cafes, lone gramaphones played to mute audiences. It was not a very exciting place to live.

Now in this city there lived a boy – a boy with rusty coloured hair who collected shells and oddly shaped buttons and dreamed of one day sailing the open sea. And of course since there was a boy, there was also a girl. She worked in the local green-grocer, had a pet frog and always kept a pencil behind her ear for emergencies.

Whenever the girl smiled, the boy felt as if he was falling a great distance but with a gentle warmth fluttering about him as he plummeted. Having only read about it in books, he couldn’t be completely sure if this was “being in love”, but it felt like it might be. He would visit the green-grocer’s everyday and buy an apple, even though he had long grown sick of them. Sometimes he would try and catch her eye but she would look away and sometimes she would try and catch his and then he would become the shy one.

So consumed by this emotional predicament was the rusty haired boy, that one autumn morning he climbed to the top of the old bell tower in the northern quarter of the city and asked Granma Faraway for guidance. With the city sprawling out below him, the boy tore a page from the little notebook he, as did all residents of the city, wore on a string about his neck and scribbled his question on it. Then, delicately between finger and thumb, he held the note up in the air until the wind shook it free from his grasp and he watched as it was spirited away into the distant sky and eventually out of sight.

Two days later the boy with rusty hair awoke to find the wind had plastered a small strip of paper against the exterior of his bedroom window. Retrieving the note he found it was his own but on the reverse, in elegant, curving script was written his reply from Granma Faraway. The message simply read “you have to sing to her”. The boy reread the note several more times, once or twice even turning to the other side and then back again as if hoping the message might have somehow changed. It didn’t. Those five simple words remained, staring up at him. He had to sing to her. Singing was even more unheard of in the city than talking. The boy didn’t even know where to begin and so he folded the paper carefully and slipped it into his pocket to contemplate some more later.

Several weeks passed and little changed. People still went about their daily routines. The boy still went to purchase his daily apple and still managed to avoid all eye contact with the girl who had a smile like gravity. And then one morning, with no forewarning, everything changed. The citizens awoke to find their streets and homes covered in a great, white blanket. Granma Faraway had gifted them with a fresh snowfall that crunched satisfyingly under foot and was accompanied by rows of little icicles along the eves of all the houses. By the time the boy had reached the green-grocer’s the tips of his ears has gone scarlet and his eyes were wide with wonder at this transformed world. At the shop the girl was waiting with flushed, glowing cheeks and her hair was dotted with little clumps of snowflakes that looked like diamonds against the soft, golden strands. When she smiled at him today, she looked so beautiful and the boy so excited by the fall of snow that this time he didn’t feel as if he was falling but more like flying.

And then the boy opened his mouth, and without even thinking about it, he did something that no one in the city had done for many years. He sang. He opened his mouth and out came all these words and melodies that he had never heard before but yet somehow seemed undeniably right. His young voice, wavering with nervousness, told the girl just how she made him feel. How he wanted to lean across and place his hand upon her face and not have to feel nervous around her anymore. The scene was so surreal that the boy almost felt as he was sitting watching this happen to somebody else, perhaps even in a dream. Finally he paused, taking in a deep gulp of air and looked at the girl with diamonds in her hair. The pink in her cheeks was not from the cold any more but from blushing. But then something even stranger happened – her eyes met his and her pale irises held his gaze for a long moment before she too began to sing. She sang about the long days she spent selling vegetables and how she would much rather be painting or helping people but her family needed the money and besides, there was this boy, with rusty hair, who came in every day and for those brief few seconds she felt as if the entire world was spinning around her for once.

Neither of them had noted the bell jangle as the shop door had opened. A customer, an older gentleman, stood half-in, half-out the doorway, watching this remarkable scene unfold. His mouth was hanging open and the boy and the girl were sure they were going to get in some kind of trouble for what they had done. But the man smiled and picked up the tune where they had left off – he even danced a little and waved his hands as he chanted about how much he loved snow and that there hadn’t been a proper snowfall like this since he had been a boy and he and his father had spent an entire day making a family of snowmen.

From the street beyond more voices joined in – different words and stories but all to the same simple tune. The boy, the girl and the man came out of the shop and onto the cobbled street beyond, the boy taking the girl’s hand almost absent-mindedly, and watched as the song spread through the streets like flames across an ancient, water-starved savannah. The melody echoed down alleyways and across the tiles of rooftops and neighbours and strangers alike told each other just how happy they were to be alive that day. Some people still seemed reluctant as if any minute they would get told off, whilst others grabbed the hands of anyone nearby and began to dance to and fro across the snowy streets, looks of relief and happy bewilderment smeared across every face.

And so that was the day that that strange place became, not the city where no one ever spoke, but the city where everyone always sang. And as for the boy with rusty coloured hair and the girl with a smile like gravity? Well they lived happily ever after of course.

Title image courtesy 26082117@N07

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Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 3:31 PM  Comments (17)  
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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brilliant! “And of course since there was a boy, there was also a girl. She worked in the local green-grocer, had a pet frog and always kept a pencil behind her early for emergencies.” Those little details brought this story to life. It kept the tone of a fairytale/fable throughout. You saved a sweet one for today.

    • Thanks Tessa – the character details actually started off just as a way to distinguish the boy and the girl without names but then I quite liked the idea of having these quirky, seemingly unnecessary details thrown in so I ran with it. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Who said there are no such things as fairytales anymore?
    I enjoyed it; a throw back to simpler more thought provoking times.
    Well done.
    Merry Christmas.
    Colin

    • Happy to hear I hit my mark Colin – I was intentionally aiming for something very old school, very simple (hence no character names).

      Merry Christmas!

  3. Happily ever after. Of course!

    • I’d got to the end and was debating whether or not I should use “happily ever after” but then I thought, well I did start with “once upon a time” and I do want the boy and girl to live happily ever after so why not?

  4. What a lovely story, I hope you are submitting this for publication, because in my opinion it definitely should be available for children to read, or to be read to.

    Happy Christmas. 😀

    • Why thank you kindly Steve – I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hadn’t even considered submitting this one but you could be right, would sit nicely amongst a collection for young readers.

      Merry Christmas!

  5. This is simply beautiful.
    I completely agree with Steve, you should definitely submit it for publication.

    Have a great Christmas.

    • Thank you for the very kind words Rebecca and have a cracking Christmas!

  6. Well-thought out tale. I’m sure anyone who heard words and melodies for the first time would fall raptly in love. I like this world; it has an old feel to it.

    • Thanks Aidan – happy to hear you that you liked it. Old world feel was intentional – mentions of gramaphones and cartwheels on the roads, wanted it to feel like something that could have been written years ago.

  7. What a perfect fairy tale, I’m sorry I missed it on Christmas Eve. I was immediately captured in the opening paragraph with this line: “…the activity had merely fallen out of favour.”

    • I was actually originally planning to put it up between Christmas and New Year but it got to Christmas Eve and I decided I just couldn’t hold it back any longer! The “had merely fallen out of favour” line was actually me being lazy – I couldn’t think of any original, magical reason why they should have all stopped talking! Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. I quite liked this, as all the others… but one thing struck me as slightly off about it; this line: “song spread through the streets like flames across an ancient, water-starved savannah.” It’s a metaphor that might work in many contexts… but in this fairy-tale world it seems like it comes from somewhere else. It seems like this fairy-tale world isn’t the sort of place where a reference to a dry, water-starved savannah has any meaning… I’d think there’d be a metaphor that fit in with the milieu and setting a little better.

    • Hi Stephen – you make a very fair insight, I’m definitely going to go away and see if I can come up with something else for that. Cheers!

      • It’s something I wonder and worry about sometimes… as I primarily write fantasy in secondary worlds, I worry do my metaphors and similes reflect and add flavor to the world they’re set in, or are they anachronistic reflections of the world I live in…?


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