Note: The following instance is purely fictional; it is my
modernized re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. My apologies to the great Danish writer if I have at
all distorted his vision.
Snow fell in Washington DC even
though it was only November. The crowd dissipated early that evening; with the
exception of a few straggling shoppers, everyone had gone home – wherever home
was – to prepare for the next day’s feast. Yes, it was the day before
Thanksgiving but little Janie had few blessings left to count as she walked,
bent in half with cold and hunger, across the street.
Her bare feet had started to turn
blue. She hopped back and forth upon them, hoping the repeated impact with the
cement sidewalk might draw warmth to them. In her hands, she held matchboxes,
each one bearing the picture of a different DC tourist attraction. But no one
was interested in the kitschy matchbooks and so Janie had not sold a thing all
day. Even in this season of giving, no one stopped to give her so much as a
penny or even notice that she wore nothing on her feet.
The already dimmed sunlight began
to fade and the streetlights flicked to life.
Janie dared not return home empty
handed. Her daddy would surely hit her if she returned home with nothing. He had gone strange after he lost his
job and the house. They moved to the city; her daddy started hitting her mommy
and then he started hitting Janie too.
The cold bit her fingers, toes, neck and arms. Hunger ate away at her
insides. It was no warmer in her new home, nor was there any more food there
than here on the street, so on the street she stayed.
Some older girls walked by,
carrying heavy shopping bags over their arms. They wore thick coats, woolen
gloves and tall fur-lined boots.
“Yeah, my shoes are starting to
old,” said one of the girls, indicating her boots. Janie saw no holes. The
boots looked brand new to her. “I think I’ll get some new ones.”
The boots looked so soft and warm,
that Janie rushed towards the girl, wanting to ask for the older girl’s
unwanted shoes. But as the dirty, bent child approached, the two girls
unconsciously shifted their bags out of her reach and moved to the other edge
of the sidewalk. They continued on their way, discussing idle things.
Janie sighed and slumped into the
alleyway. The message was clear enough. She was unclean and homeless; they took
her to be crazy and dangerous. Janie sank against the wall and hugged her knees
to her chest for warmth.
As it grew darker, the snow fell
more heavily, and the wind blew more bitterly. Janie began to shiver
Surely, she thought, if I just light one match to
warm my fingers, Daddy will not miss it.
Her numb shaking fingers fumbled
through the box until with some difficulty she withdrew a single match. Scratch!
Hiss! She struck the match and a flame
erupted, an island of light and warmth in Janie’s dark, frozen universe. Janie imagined
she was sitting in front of a roaring fire that warmed her face and fingers to
a rosy hue. Just when she was reaching to thaw her toes – splut – the match went out and she was alone in an ally
Hurriedly, Janie lit another match.
It burst to light. This time, in the match’s flame, Janie saw a long wooden
table covered by a snow-white tablecloth. The table’s planking groaned with the
weight of a giant golden turkey, and a ham, and a mountain of mashed potatoes
with rivers of gravy oozing over it, and rolls with butter, and stuffing, and
Too soon that match died as well,
bringing the sumptuous feast with it. Her mouth watering, Janie lit yet another
match, hoping that the feast would return.
This time by the match’s meager light,
Janie saw her dead grandmother, wearing a heavy red holiday sweater, sitting in
front of her. Granny smiled lovingly, and held out of her arms to Janie.
“Oh Granny!” cried Janie climbing
into the specter’s warm lap. “Don’t leave me alone! I know you will vanish when
the match goes out just like the fire and the Thanksgiving dinner.”
Janie lit a whole bundle of matches
wishing to prolong her Granny’s visit. Janie laid her head on Granny’s shoulder
and inhaled the heavenly scent of baked bread. There she fell asleep in her
grandmother’s warm embrace.
The next day, police investigated
the body of a little girl, huddled in an alleyway.
“Frozen to death,” said one of
“Probably tried to keep herself
warm,” said the other as he pointed to the expired matches which lay all around
her expired little body.
This story may seem like a
shameless attempt to toy with your emotions but if this at all moved you, know
that homelessness and hunger are present issues in the United States and the DC
area. The cold times are approaching along with the holidays that celebrate the
warmth of family, friends, and most of all, sharing. I urge you, as you give
thanks this week, to recall the current economic situation – the worst in 70
years – and to lend a hand to those who need it. http://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/