He was making his point loudly. The still night let his voice echo off the tiled roofs bouncing it towards every window and up into the starry ether. In winter, the tightly closed shutters keep out the cold and the distant voices. In summer, the daytime heat hides in the terracotta tiles leaping out into the night to warm the air. No one slept with their shutters closed.

No one knows when it started. All written and verbal traditions talk of “the talk”. At all times of day you will find people of the town in the main square expressing their opinions to whoever was listening. Part habit, part compulsion, this had gone on for as long as the Town Square had existed. I, myself, had joined in on occasion, rare moments of clarity driving me to a corner of the square to tell the world what I thought.

Oddly, despite there being no rules or arbiter, there were never any fights. Even when people talked over each other or obviously disagreed, all had their say and only a subtle change in volume suggested the slightest hint of competition.

The days in the Town Square ebbed and flowed as they did everywhere. Quiet mornings and afternoons were separated by frantic, noisy periods around lunch and supper before receding into the silence of the night. But not total silence.

By day, “the talk” in the Town Square was little more than ritual. Amid the bustle of activity, few could be heard clearly. No one really listened. People spoke to get things off their chest. They spoke for themselves. The shy ones used the day to join in without being noticed.

The Night Talkers were different. As the last Taverns closed, they made their way to the square and prepared for the Town to sleep. For in the silence, their voice would be heard.

Some were angry, some were wise. The occasional one was a little mad. Many of them were sad, howling into the night for solace. Some of the Town’s people listened, many had favourites. Most just learned to tune the voices out.

I tried to listen, at first anyway. Then I found that my mood of the day was too governed by what I had heard at night. So I tried to ignore them. But the more I tried, the further their arguments penetrated by defences. They were persuasive. They told you what was right and wrong, they told you how to live your life. They informed and confused in equal measure.

After very busy nights with many of the Night Talkers in the Town Square I would awake feeling I had never slept and it would take me the whole day to resolve the conflicts that their varying opinions had left me with.

One night, I got up, intent on finally seeing them there, in the Town Square. Who were they? Where did they go during the day? I dressed and slid silently down the stairs and out into the night. The voices bounced down the narrow streets, appearing to come from every direction.

Approaching the Town Square the volume reached a crescendo, louder than I had ever heard them. Clear, booming, insistent. And then, as I turned the final corner, they abruptly stopped. The Town Square was empty. Empty of people, empty of sound. Only the distant cry of a cat reassured me that my ears could still hear.

I returned home, confused but grateful to enjoy a sleep in the silence.

People were talking about the Night Talkers ever more. There seemed to be more. They were more vociferous. It was getting harder for the whole town to sleep. Only on windy nights, when they voices drifted off on the breeze, were people spared their nightly inquisition. The regular beat of shutters crashing against houses a pleasing percussion drowning out the vocal.

The clamour of night continued. And then I heard it. So quiet at first thought I had imagined it. The voice of a child. Impossible to make out but, once heard, impossible to ignore.

I strained into the night to hear what the child was saying. Night after night I listened, hanging out the window, concentrating deeply, eyes shut. But I couldn’t hear.

Again I made a foray into the night. At street level the child’s voice was lost in the myriad of echoes that circled the streets like a bull run. The Night Talkers were shouting.

“No!” to this. “Yes!” to that. Loud insistence, contradiction. Fear. I can sense all the Town around me tighten their bedclothes around them.

I approached the final corner into the square slowly, fearful of a repeat of the sudden disappearance and missing out on hearing what the child was saying. The nearer I got the louder the a Night Talkers screamed their souls into the sky. Echoes building on echoes until there was only a confused cacophony. Somewhere in the tumult, the top note of the child rung out above it all. I couldn’t make it out.

I stopped at the corner and drew in my breath. The whole Town seemed to inhale. I stepped round the corner and again the noise came to an abrupt halt. But not entirely.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”

In the middle of the square stood a young boy. He was quite alone.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.” he repeated. This had been his cry all along. I approached him slowly.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”

I raised a hand. “Please, tell me…”

Startled, he stopped for a brief moment, caught in my glare, and then turned and ran. Disappearing down an alley that, by day, sold useless trinkets.

Alone in the Town Square, all was silent. Everyone in the town was doubtless awake such was the ferocity of the Night Talkers performance. I had the stage to myself and everyone listening.

Drawing in another large breath, I addressed the Town Square as loudly and clearly as I could.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”

I returned to my bed and slept. The next morning dawned calm and sunny. I never saw the young boy again but his words will stay with me always.