“If you want to change, listen to my refrain. If you want to improve, let go of your past and move.” Hans-Christian Andersen read the poem that he had just composed and bit his lip. As an apprentice to tailor Abramovich, his present days were bleak. His future as a poet was a dream about which he dared not speak.
“I am much better at writing stories,” he concluded with a smile, remembering the tale he had written the day before about a swan's egg that accidentally rolled into a duck's nest. When the baby-bird breaks out of the shell, it looks so different from the ducks, that it is mistreated and ostracised until it eventually grows up to become a beautiful swan and flies away to its true home. As a title for his story, Hans-Christian had chosen “The Ugly Duckling.”
Suddenly, the front door opened and Abramovich himself entered the tailor's shop. Hans-Christian pushed his poem under the cloth lying on the counter, picked up the scissors, and pretended to be cutting material for making a pair of trousers for a customer.
“What on earth is this?” shouted Abramovich, standing still in front of the counter and waving in his hand a sheet of paper. Hans-Christian looked at the paper, recognized his own hand-writing, and turned pale. It was his story about the ugly duckling!
“I am not paying you a salary to waste the day writing fairy tales!” accused Abramovich, scrutinizing the face of his apprentice. Hans-Christian felt invaded by panic, realizing that he must have forgotten the sheet of paper on the stone bench outside the tailor's shop. If he lost his job, chances were that he would starve. In the year 1822, thousands of unemployed walked hungry the streets of Copenhagen.
“Fairy tales?” retorted Hans-Christian. “The author cannot be me! Do you think that I possess enough imagination to write fairy tales?” The question made Abramovich reflect briefly before replying. “No, of course no, Hans-Christian. Never in a thousand years! How foolish of me to suspect you, since I know that you have no talent.”
Soon after, Hans-Christian moved to another job, began to publish his fairy tales, and eventually became the most famous Scandinavian author. Twenty years later, when Hans-Christian was walking past the tailor's shop, the door opened, and Abramovich came outside, now an old man. The tailor recognized his former apprentice and pointed a finger at him.
“So it was you!” accused Abramovich. “It was you who wrote the fairy tale about the ugly duckling!” Hans-Christian turned his head towards the tailor's shop and his mind recalled every dark hour of his youth. It took him almost a minute to gather sufficient strength to look at the tailor straight in the eye and shake his head decisively. “That was not me,” he said. “That must have been the man I was before.”
[Image by njscott-H under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]