The Quiet One by Oliver Meres
A very long time ago, there was a town somewhere in the hills. The town was inhabited by many people, among them a strange fellow, whom no one knew well. Actually, they almost didn't know him at all.
He lived in an old shack on a hill above the town. People only saw him occasionally when he came down to buy food, or when he came to the tavern for a cup of warm tea. He made very little money for what he was doing - he was carving various wooden tools and statues. He usually sold them in the corner of the tavern, where one could often find him, with his tea in his hands.
The fellow didn't speak. Everyone knew he was mute, so the only contact he made with other people was when buying or selling things. Usually, one could understand what he thought just by looking into his eyes. Many people didn't look for this very reason. They didn’t particularly like him, but they had got used to him and didn't really take notice of him. Actually, they wouldn't take notice of anybody if they could.
They were greedy people, only looking to enrich themselves. Most of them would betray their own mother for a pouch of gold. He saw it, and the greedier the people were becoming, the stronger the reflection of it was in his green eyes. It seemed almost as if no one could stand looking at him, for his green eyes were a mirror of their greed. He was a quiet observer no one cared about. They were glad he couldn't speak, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t need company, nor did he WANT company, especially when he found out what the people were like.
Among all the bad people, there was one girl, Aileen, a daughter of a rich merchant, who was perhaps the greediest of them all. But not his daughter. She was fed up with all the deception and injustice her father did in a blind pursuit of his own fortune. All he did for her was buying her expensive clothes and jewelry. To her dislike, he expected her to learn the manners of high society – and also to marry a rich nobleman. Her mother married this man only because of money and neglected Aileen as her daughter.
Aileen was left for herself, with a mother craving more and more expensive toys and a father caring only about his unfair business. She didn’t like the ‘noblemen’ her father kept introducing her to, nor did she like the manners she was supposed to adopt. The ‘noblemen’ were snobbish young boys thinking that they are the focus of the whole world. They were all the same.
The only man who caught her attention was that green-eyed mute man she could see only rarely on her walks through the town. She was the only one that didn’t find a reminder of bad conscience in his eyes. She was the only one that could stand looking at him. She was the only one he ever smiled at, even though very faintly.
He knew who she was. He knew that she was the only spirit in the town that was not dirty with greed, deception and jealousy. Every time he saw her (which was actually more often than she saw him, given his observational way of life), he could take his eyes off her until she disappeared in the crowd. He even carved a wooden statue of her, which he kept in his window.
He liked her – even though he almost didn’t know her. But he knew what she was like. And he knew she was the only such person in the whole town. But he didn’t bother. He didn’t bother trying to write her letters or even talking to her. He knew her parents and that any attempts would be very short-sighted acts of pure foolishness.
He was the only one she didn’t know, which particularly interested her. He was a mystery to her, and she knew he wasn’t like the others (the fact that the others didn’t like him gave her even more reasons). But she didn’t bother trying to find him either. She knew what her father would do. It wasn’t worth trying.
It was on a winter evening that the green-eyed man was standing in his shack with a cup of tea, looking out of the window into the snowy valley. Everyone was out there at a winter celebration that took place in the town. He looked at the statue and sighed lightly. Then he stepped towards the entrance.
He opened the door. He stepped out, still holding the tea in both hands. He stood there in front of the shack, looking down the hill towards the town, with the evening fog slowly wrapping around him.
A few minutes later, when the sun had almost completely gone down, he saw the silhouette of a person trudging through the snow. He was puzzled for he knew for sure no one would bother to come to HIM. As the silhouette became clearer, he saw that the person was panting as if fleeing from something.
He slowly put down the tea cup onto the window sill to the right of the door. As the person came up to him, she stopped and looked at him with fear in her eyes. It was Aileen.
He didn’t move, as she slowed her breath down and said,
“They’re gone. There’s no one down there. I looked everywhere. No one’s left. No one.”
In fact, he was not mute. He just thought talking was not a way of dealing with the people in the town. He simply had nothing to say. So he didn’t say anything. It was pointless, he didn’t want to. Until now.
“I know,” he said.
She was quite surprised to hear him talk, even more when he said nothing more than that. But she didn’t care.
He didn’t say anything as she fell into his arms.
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