(!) Read Chapter 2 here.
Silence grew deep over the valley, not a voice could be heard, not a breath could be felt. As soon as the last tired head tilted to enter his abode after a long day’s work, the sun sank completely.
Soft clouds of white smoke puffed contemplatively over the dark blue sky. A recluse star here and there shimmered over the vast desert of dusk. Their quiet sigh remained unheard by the stone walls of the houses below.
A velvet cat went sharply over the cobblestones, brushing their damp shine with its furry paws. She turned on one of the many lonely alleyways with confidence that not a soul would cross her path.
The cat stopped briskly, her ears pricked with fright. She hid into the shadows of the houses on either side of the alley. A most peculiar scene opened up in the square in front of her.
An old, tall cherry tree stood in the centre of the perfectly symmetrical square of dark grey stone. It was in full bloom and its wide, thick branches resembled the arms of a young woman, struggling to hold a large bouquet of light pink flowers.
Eight narrow paths stemmed from the tree’s roots and led into the different corners of the village. The cat was on the south side of the square, peering attentively at a small, white figure straggling rapidly from the east side. Moonlight revealed the features of a little girl with long, blond curls. She was stomping clumsily towards the tree, with her bare feet in what seemed to a be an ivory nightgown.
With one big leap she finished her run, embracing the cherry tree. For one moment there was silence again. The minute whirlpool of distraction got absorbed by the stillness of the now darker and colder night. A gentle sob then suddenly reached the cat’s focused ears. It was as light and subdued as a thread of wind bowing down to a storm. No one could hear it but the cat.
No sooner had the little girl started crying than a mountain of a man appeared at the edge of the square, where the little girl had come from. His steps were well measured, his arms moved with the precision of a newly wound clock. He neither rushed, nor lagged in his walk towards the cherry tree. A countenance of irritation however, revealed the nature of the man’s feelings.
‘It is 15 minutes past your bedtime Josephine!’ uttered the man with a stern tone of cool disappointment. He had reached the girl in a few of his large footsteps and was now casting a shadow over her softly trembling figure.
Josephine lifted up her round face to look at her father with a pair of clear blue eyes. They were filled with warm tears, which would gently take turns in sliding down her rosy cheeks. Her arms were overstretched, grasping as much of the tree as she could manage. Her little white fingers were digging slowly into the bark as if they were trying to find a way inside.
‘Tomorrow is your first day of school, Josephine. You need a good rest to be productive.’ he said, while bending swiftly to pick the little girl up.
Josephine’s cry intensified and turned into a desperate wail. Her agitation bent her father’s brows for a split second. They soon regained their straight resting place as he contained his daughter’s chaotic arms and legs with a firm grip of his strong right arm.
‘Hush now, you don’t want to wake Mr. and Mrs. Pracktson, do you?’ whispered the father harshly.
Josephine stopped her exasperate gasps as she recognized the door of her piano teacher. The dim street lamps were bright enough to distinguish the old, green paint, scratched in places by demanding cats and the golden number 34 in the top center of it. The child resumed to rest her weary curls on her father’s right shoulder as her glimpse of the cherry tree slowly faded.
As the footsteps drew further away, silence returned to claim its stiff and icy throne. It seemed like all breathing had stopped and the air was devoid of even the wind’s whisper.
The feline witness was still hidden in the shadows and was now watching the tree with acute interest. A few flowers suddenly dropped from the cherry tree. The cat was now on her belly, crawling cautiously towards it. One of the branches started swaying up and down in the moonlight, as the silhouette of a small, black bird appeared on its tip.
With its breast filled with the fresh night air, the black bird commenced a sweet and gentle tune. Its melody filled the square with a light echo, like a verse between two lovers who have regained their lost love.
The song ceased as abruptly as it had begun and the little black bird took off in a frantic flight. A disappointed cat now clung bitterly to the branch onto which the bird had been perched just a moment ago. The cat yawned with disdain and jumped softly onto the ground below. She twisted her tail back and forth a few times and walked proudly towards number 34.