The third time the horrible yell echoed across the cold air. There was a short pause which everyone stopped moving. The only movement that occurred on that moment was the gloomy whistle of the wind and the busy sweeping of Arthur’s broom. Arthur had the approval of most of the townspeople. He knew by heart the law to secure his peaceful life in this town.
Ignore the troubles. Don’t get involved in anything nasty. Don’t make haste to do anything.
Over them all, mind your own business.
The pause broke. The townspeople proceeded on their businesses. As if nothing happened, and as if no one heard anything, the sun fell feebly to the west horizon. Then the night arrived.
A quiet, tranquil night, veiled with darkness.
People shuffled back to their own nests to take rest. So did Arthur. He rang the bell of his own house.
“Come in,” her wife, looking troubled and concerned, opened the door. Arthur staggered in and threw himself to the nearest chair. It was a tough day for him.
“Arthur,” the woman blurted out, “don’t you think that we should do something about that girl?”
Arthur winced at this sudden attack, but pretended as if he knew nothing about the subject.
“Who are you talking about?”
She stared at him with disapproval.
“You know who I am talking about. Matilda’s niece, Esther. Three times I heard her screaming this night.”
Arthur started to feel even more uncomfortable. He somehow had to end this subject as quickly as possible.
“Well, I don’t see why we must get involved in this,” murmured Arthur, trying to sound casual as possible.
“It’s THEIR business, not OURS.”
His wife opened her mouth to protest, but finally closed. Without a word, she went to turn the lights off.
“No! No more, Aunt Matilda, I can’t…..I can’t breathe.”
The girl, panting and gasping, was leaning against the wall. With a painful groan, she stretched her bruised arms to hug her blistering knees. Then, she hid her face to protect herself from the next severe blow. Her entire body shook and trembled like mad, and a heavy rain of sweat (or was it tears?) ran down her neck. She looked like a hungry beast, tightly wrapped with chain and cruelty.
A frightful, heavy club fell right on her back. Another sharp shriek split the cold air.
“Don’t breathe, then, you lousy little worm,” bellowed Matilda, “you’re not worthy of living!”
Now take a look at that giantess who stood before the girl. Look at the hot razors shooting out of her eyes, and those stout legs which stood like a stone statue. She was a wild mountain in a thunder. If you don’t understand what I mean, think about your worst nightmare. You might have feared the snakes, the ghosts, all the disgusting and ghastly things. Whatever horrible nightmares you had, it is nothing compared to this drunken woman.
Matilda seized Esther’s neck to lift her head up. A long, dreadful pause followed. Matilda drew her face nearer to Esther’s. Esther could feel the hot steam blowing out from Matilda’s mouth. Unfortunately for the child, it smelled like a bad beer. Matilda’s two enormous nostrils flared. She glowered scornfully at the blackened eye, the bleeding nose, and the swollen lips. I won’t go into details of how Esther’s face looked like.
“Your dead father would be very pleased with what you are,” she snarled like a furious bear and marched off.
Esther lay there for a moment, breathless. The pain covered her up like the waves of the fierce seas. Hundreds of dark, shadowy hands seemed to pierce, stab, and suffocate her. Moaning painfully, Esther rose to her feet and wobbled to the mirror. A reflection of a starved, bruised, beaten, ruthlessly-treated girl stared at her. She can’t continue living like this. No, she surely can’t.
After making sure that Aunt Matilda was fast asleep, Esther crept down the stairs and opened the back door. The sharp needles of cold winter winds pierced her bare arms. She stepped out of the door. Thousands of big, bright windows beamed at her. The windows showed her the people, the happy people laughing and talking, sinking into their cozy beds. On that magical moment, the world was enchanted by the sweet cooing of the dreamy moon, whispering: “It’s all alright. Nothing’s going to hurt you.”
Esther suddenly noticed that she was crying. The moon-lit beads of tears rolled down her cheek. She wanted to be the part of that peaceful, happy world. She wanted it badly. Desperately. She lifted her eyes up and gazed at the shiny, shimmering crescent. It was the only piece of the sun that slipped between the black curtains of darkness to show that the world was a brighter place than you have imagined. Though it rose every night, the moon was indescribably precious to Esther. She would have a chance if she can take courage. She wiped her tears decidedly and shuffled slowly to the police station.
“I’m here. No turning back,” she whispered to herself.
“No proof?” growled the officer. “No witness at all?”
Esther shook her head timidly.
“This is the arm I got beaten last night. Can’t this be a little help?”
The police officer considered it for a moment, looking down at the red, swollen arm. Whether she was telling the truth or not, it was quite obvious that she has not been treated decently. But HE was busy that morning, and he did not want anything nasty in addition to his usual work, or labor, as he called it.
“I’m terribly sorry, young lady,” announced the officer cooly, “but rules are rules.”
Conscious greatly bothered Arthur as he noticed a girl kneeling before the police station. He understood only too well what the situation was. Though no one ever admitted, every people in that town knew that Esther was abused by his aunt. She might need a witness of that and he could be one. As he turned toward the girl, one painful thought passed through his mind like a lightning. No, he’d better stay where he is. Meddling on other’s business wouldn’t bring anyone anywhere. He grabbed his broom with a sigh and walked off.
Arthur couldn’t help noticing that there was no shrieking this night. The dim lamplight flickered vaguely as if it noticed the awkward silence of that night. The neighbors fixed their curious heads to that particular window. Arthur the wise man decided not to feel uneasy. Why should he bother himself by meditating on the girl he met that day? At least, it wasn’t HIS fault that the girl was in trouble. He shrugged as if to sweep off the memory of that day. He stared meaninglessly at the horizon.
“Hmm, new moon this night,” he remarked cheerfully (or at least hoped to sound that way). He picked his broom up to continue his work.
He turned back at a voice calling him. He gasped. Honestly, he would not have been surprised more if he saw a ghost staring at him. It was a girl, a same girl who he saw that afternoon.
“Help….” she cried, shaking, “Please. You understand what I have been through. I can’t live with her, sir, I won’t….”
Snowflakes began to fall over her shoulders. But she didn’t seem to care. She was gazing fixedly and desperately at her only glimmer of hope.
“Please……you understand. You know….” she sobbed, her knees trembling helplessly.
For a moment, Arthur cast a gentle look at the girl. It was not right to abandon a poor girl like this. She was clearly asking for help, and he could give it. But then, just then, the flashbacks of past surrounded him with the cold whip of wind.
It was a fair, sunny day which everyone was tempted to go outdoors. The traffic was unusually busy that day. He was passing the road, with one hand holding the picnic bag, and with the other clutching the hand of his own son. The little boy was hopping and shouting in enthusiasm. It was his first picnic ever.
“Watch out!” exclaimed the father, pulling the child back to the sidewalk. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“But daddy, look! There’s an old lady, in the middle of the road,” the son protested.
There really was an old woman in the middle of the busy cars. She was moving slowly because of the heavy load.
While Arthur was wondering what he should say to his son, a huge truck rushed right towards the lady.
“I have to help her!” shouted the child, dashing out.
“No, son, NO!”
Just the next moment, he heard a loud bang from the street. Then the nightmares followed. Two carcasses lying on the road, one of an old lady, one of a little boy. The sound of the ambulance, standing before his own son’s casket………
Arthur shook his head determinedly. The sorrows and agonies had been enough to teach him a lesson: Mind your own business. What could he do for the child? The world is cruel and ruthless, and there was nothing anyone can do about it. What if they both ended up in tragedy? He’d better ignore the troubles. Better not get involved in anything with haste. Above them all, it was HER business, not HIS.
“You’d better go back, girl,” he said coldly, “your aunt must be looking for you.”
“There you are!”
An angry, no, a LIVID woman rushed towards the girl and grabbed her arms. She began to drag the girl toward her house.
“No, sir, PLEASE!” A terrible cry stabbed his ears, but Arthur did not turn back and pretended he had heard nothing. The last flicker of conscious died out from his heart with the dim lamplights.
A horrible yell echoed across the street as it did last night. Only this time no one paused at the noise. A siren crying out for help rang loudly and urgently, but its sound was soon burrowed under the thick layer of snow. The ears of the neighbors were too busy to listen to that desperate cry. No one harkened to that emergency siren. No, not one. For these people who craved a peaceful, problem-free life, it was only a night.
A quiet, tranquil night, thickly veiled with darkness.