The Boy Who Made Time Stand Still

writter by Claudia Mancino
tranlated by Angela Arnone

Once upon a time there was a little boy who owned only the ragged clothes he had on his back and a funny little coin that glowed even when all around was dark.
He didn’t have a house and he didn’t have a family, but our wee boy never felt alone. He lived in a big city full of lights, voices and sounds, and he watched the world moving around him with the eyes of someone who is just waiting for something important to happen.
He was happy, our little man. Every morning he was happy to see the yawning young coachman come out of the house, or the grumpy gardener hurrying off to sweep the leaves from the pavement. And he smiled when he heard the familiar sound of the watchmaker opening his shop, and smelled the sweet, warm aroma from the bakery on the corner.
Then, two at a time, he’d skip down the one hundred and seventy steps of the clock tower where he’d taken refuge, and run off to greet the new day.
His eyes were always brimming over with happiness and it was his eyes that made him such a special child. Everyone, absolutely everyone, took care of him in their own way. If the baker was testing the recipe for a new cake, his was the honour of tasting it first. The grumpy gardener always needed his delicate hands to arrange the plants in the flowerbeds. The old watchmaker, despite his magical loupe lenses asked for help from the boy’s young eyes to make sure all the cogs and wheels were assembled in the right place. Every now and again, at the end of a shift, the coachman let the boy groom the horses and in return gave him a scarf or a pair of gloves someone had left in the back of his coach, or he took the boy on a last drive along the city’s avenues.
And he listened, our wee boy. He listened to their little and great stories, and watched everything through silent eyes, hungry to learn.
So his childhood slipped away, and the invisible threads of affection tightened and knotted around those people who had somehow made every day special, until one morning the watchmaker’s doors stayed shut.
“He’s having trouble with his hands,” confided the coachman, shaking his head. “Sometimes it happens when you get very old.”
“Will he be back?”
“I don’t think so.”
The child pulled from his pocket the strange little coin the clockmaker had given him years before, and stared at it.
Its light was fading.
With a heavy heart, he climbed back to his refuge in the tower, looked out through the skylight, and thought and thought for the whole night until he knew what he had to do. He bundled up everything he needed and climbed up among the gigantic clock mechanisms.
He worked for days without stopping. He worked with the coin close to his heart, keeping it alive with his own heat, and when he finished turning back all the gears of the tower clock, a chill gust of wind drew a whisper from all the trees in the city and everything went back to being the way it had been a few days before. Then the child took the coin, which was now glowing again, placed it between the two large clock hands . . . and stopped time.
Now, he ran to the street and looked around, his heart pounding. The coachman left the house yawning, the baker pulled the first cake of the day from the oven, the gardener took his broom from the cart, and the old watchmaker opened the doors of his shop.
As he always had, the child helped clean the leaves from the pavements, tasted a slice of the cake while it was still warm, tied the horses to the coach, and as the first snowflakes began to fall, he stopped in front of the watchmaker’s shop to peer through the window. His eyes filled with a happiness that he’d never felt before.
From that day, it snowed for a very long time.
It was so cold for so long that gradually people stopped smiling.
The city’s streets became more and more silent, the trees iced over, and the voices of children playing in the schoolyard faded away.
In the timeless city, the first soft cries of a new-borns were no longer heard.
One morning the gardener came to realize that something was wrong. He leaned over the violets that he’d planted long ago, and brushed them with his fingertips. The bud broke and fell to the ground.
“This is the longest winter I can remember,” he said to our little boy. “The trees are suffering, the river is frozen, and the watermills are no longer working. How will we grind our corn? And what we will feed our children?”
Then the boy looked around, slowly, and for the first time saw what he hadn’t been able to see until then.
And he heard the silence.
He ran to the watchmaker’s shop and hugged him.
“I think the time has come to put things right,” said the old man.
The boy’s eyes widened.
“How do I know?” The watchmaker laid his heavy magic lenses on the bench and smiled. “For a long time I wondered about that strange little light that shines every night in the clock tower. Now I think I understand.”
He touched the boy’s head gently.
“You’ve given me the greatest gift anyone can give a human being. You’ve given me a little more time. And it was remarkable, but now, my little one . . . now you have to let life take its course.”
“And what will you do?" The boy asked with tears in his eyes.
“I’ve taught you everything I know. Now it’s your turn.” He pulled the keys of the shop from his timeworn apron and handed them to the boy. “Make the most beautiful watch that anyone ever saw.”
It was the last snowfall that year.
Shortly before midnight, the hands of the great clock tower started moving again.
A light, warm gust of wind rattled the icicles in the trees, stirred the river from its long slumber, and everything in the city seemed to awaken.
The old watchmaker sat down in the chair in front of the window and, with a calm smile, full of gratitude, let his gaze linger for the last time on that life he had loved so much.

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