Terribly cold it was, luminous snow suffocated this inanimate world and darkness consumed the heaven – it was the last evening of the year. Along the streets of danger and dirt went a poor little girl, covered in filthy shreds of clothes, and freezing because of the glacial wind that brushed her bare skin and made her feel overwhelmed by maddening pain. The streetlights and the Christmas illuminations – both still remained on the facades of some of the houses around – were the only lights she could orient with to travel through this sinister hours, without seeing an end to this aimless walk.
In all her pain, she wished for her jacket that had been covered in the brightest blue and had kept her warm all these winter nights before, but she had left it at home and couldn’t go back to take it with her. Her mother would just yell at her and kick the poor girl out of the house before her husband would come home.
So there she was, no more than a weakish shadow in the night of New Year’s Eve, with a battered backpack that kept the few belongings she still owned, and all alone without a confidant, she could be reaching for in all her misery. Her hands were red and blue from the cold and hurt like they were near death and would fall off soon. The fear of losing even the shoes on her feet preoccupied her inner, with the result that she kept her tired and empty eyes constantly open, looking for a potential danger that could be around the corner at this very moment.
The hunger rampaged in her guts. All over the place, the girl scented the odour of dinners that tortured the poor thing even more. How long has it been since she ate something? The girl could not remember. Every day resembled the previous one. Hours blended into each other like it were blurred colours of a tableau. There was nothing more than the cold and the hunger to poison her thoughts.
It’s New Year’s Eve, the poor thing thought and a bittersweet smile appeared on her face. All people around were so happy in their perfect homes with the perfect families and the perfect lives. They appreciated their food and the fireworks here and there in the night sky, without thinking about the ones who were starving and left alone in the cold outside. Those people had all they could wish for – why should they waste a single thought on the little girl in the night that had not the guts to knock on their doors to ask for a beneficent gift she could assuage her hunger with?
The flakes of snow covered the girl’s dirt-stained clothes and made her feel like her body separated itself from her soul because of the cold. The slow-healing wounds on her pale skin created such a high contrast to the bright white of the snow.
But all the girl could think of was how well off these rich people in their warm houses were in this merciless darkness of these last hours. In contrast, the girl was deeply afraid of the next year that would probably start as lonely as the last one ended.
In the corner formed by two houses, she sat down and huddled up because her feet were so tired of wandering around. The girl needed a bit of rest and sleep. So she buried her frozen-stiff fingers in the cloth of her pullover that was full of holes. The girl’s tiny body cooled down with every passing second that she sat there in the snow. But she didn’t mind. The little thing was too tired to recognize how her corpus began to numb more and more.
The girl tried to remember how she came to this point. In this period where her world had been undaunted, her name had been Amira. It meant something like ‘queen’, even if the girl felt more like a beggar at this moment. She had had a mother who did not act like other mothers would.
Sometimes it had been like the woman had forgotten that she had had a child to look after. Amira has been no planned child – her father had left without even knowing that his One Night Stand was pregnant.
Money had had always been a big deal to her mother. Such a big deal that she had married a man of wealth without seeing behind the curtain. As Amira had gone straight up to the only person she ever had to tell her what he had done to her, her mother just had turned her down. She thought that her vicious child just had tried to ruin her relationship with her new lover, as any jealous brat would. She did not want to see the violations on her daughter’s body that her precious husband had caused. So she had had to decide what had been more important in her life: Her child or the money that she had had now. That Amira sat now in the cold only meant that money was a really big deal to her mother.
So she sat there and rubbed her fingers against her clothes to keep her warm. Then Amira remembered the tiny box of matches that she had stolen from a drug store a few days ago. As the poor girl had committed the crime, she had only thought of how useful these sticks made of wood and sulphur could be, when the winter got to its pitch.
So Amira opened her backpack with her frozen and numb fingers to look for the matchbox. As she found it, she pulled out a single match that she rubbed desperately against the box to light it. How it burnt! Is was a bright, warm flame, a wonderful light in this dark and cold world the girl was caught in. But this little piece of hope vanished as fast as it came into her life because of the very short lifespan of a match. Amira cursed frustratedly and in a very childish way. Why didn’t she choose to pick a lighter instead of those fugacious matchsticks?
Another one she lighted. Again, the flame burnt brightly and seemed to make the wall of the house in front of the girl transparent like a veil, so she could see the interior of the house behind it.
There were people who sat around a table with a snow-white tablecloth and a bone china service was spread over it. The girl couldn’t even name all the delectations that were on the plates – she had never seen such a plenty of food before! The people around the table drank, eat and laughed loudly – the feast was in full play. Amira didn’t saw the faces of the people, just heard the words they spoke, and looked at the meal that made her feel the emptiness of her own gut even more.
Then the second flame vanished and left Amira alone in the dark. Desperation filled her inner. She wanted to see more of this life of wealth and insouciance she had never experienced herself. So another match had to go up in flames to keep her warm and safe in the illusion.
The winter prison around her was gone – there was just the light, the warmth and herself. The danger of freezing to death faded with this small flame.
Without knowing where these feelings came from, the little thing was overwhelmed by endless joy and love. Amira felt loved by people she could not see in the dark, but she felt their presence with her tiny, slower and slower beating heart. Those shapeless figures circled her and eased Amira with their care for her. The girl didn’t want this ineffable feeling to stop.
But it did as the fire faded and finally died. The ashes burnt their way into the snow on the ground and made it fade away, along with the cold that was replaced by the everlasting warmth of the love of a real family.
The girl was so desperate to keep this feeling alive, but she was so unsure how she could make it last forever. So she looked up to the sky that was filled with lights of all colours and the everlasting stars that tolerated this unworthy celebration of the upcoming year to find an answer to this question she kept asking herself.
‘Someone just left this world,’ she thought and tears ran down her frozen pale cheeks.
‘The lights greet a soul,’ the little thing heard once from someone she couldn’t remember the name of. ‘When someone's soul has already left its body, the stars shine brighter than before to guide the defunct person safely into the sky where God will find they and take them to his realm.‘
A smile appeared on Amiras face. Someone was better off now. But the girl couldn’t rest like this dead one did now. The desire to feel loved was too strong. So Amira lighted the third match and suddenly she was surrounded by thousands of people who smiled without a face and spoke without a mouth.
‘Come with us,’ they whispered. ‘You’ll be saved from the cold and dark. We’ll guide you. Please stay with us.’
And the little girl rose her hand to clutch the shadowy figures right in front of her who got more and more diaphanous, as the flame of the match began to flicker and go out.
"Don’t go!," she supplicated. "I’ll come with you, but please stay with me!"
So Amira got up and lighted all the matches to keep all these people that cared for her by her side. The sea of flames seemed to cauterized the dark and the longest night of the fading year became the brightest day in her short-time life. All the shadows of warmth and light embraced her in a mellow and loving manner and guided her into a world she had never known before. Tears of joy ran down her pale cheeks again and Amira was filled with such an amount of relief that she was afraid that her heart could stop beating.
These unknown and faceless people wanted to carry her off this heartless and cruel world she was so unhappy with. Why didn’t she saw them earlier? Was it predefined that they came to her in the darkest hour?
It felt like the stars came down to earth to embrace her and they let Amira feel weightless like a feather that could fly high with this lack of gravity. Heaven greeted her warmly. The little thing was never as happy as in this moment where she flew away from this endless darkness and hopelessness that formed itself as her future a long time ago. The fear faded. There was just light in her head that erased any thoughts of sadness. Finally, she was with God.
At the hour of dawn, Amira still sat in the corner with a smile on her face and leaning against the wall – frozen to death on the last evening of the year. The matchbox she still clenched in her small hand.
‘She wanted to warm herself’ people assumed. But no one could have thought of all those beautiful things the girl had seen. No one ever mentioned the joy in which she had entered the new year.