The little prince

Walking my dog along a track in the woods, I came upon an unexpected couple. Or should I say, they unexpectedly found themselves there, having evidently come down a path from a residential area, without realising they would be engulfed by forest and surrounded by great big, dark and dismal fir trees.

So when I came upon them, they were just standing uncertainly where the paths meet, a little boy and someone who might have been his much older brother. My dog, who believes she owns the area, strode over to inspect them.

Inconsiderate of me, of course, to let her do so, seeing as the two were foreigners, and foreigners tend to be afraid of dogs, even of my cheerful little fox terrier. My thoughts were elsewhere, and by the time I noticed that the elder boy had tensed in a protective position almost surrounding his ward, it was really too late to call back the dog: She was already sniffing at the little one. He, on the other hand, stood his ground, neither stretching out his hand to touch her, as little boys usually do, nor squirming.

By the time I had reached the group, the dog had lost interest and trotted on, but the little boy’s gaze followed her. I stopped in my tracks, struck by what I was seeing: a small boy, maybe five years old, with a yellow knitted cap, a green quilted jacket and a small violin case dangling from a strap around his neck, who had braved, straight and tall (small though he might be), an unknown animal that was as tall as he. “Is that a violin?” I demanded, and the elder boy started to mutter a reply, but the little one needed no-one to speak for him and countered with a question of his own:

– Why did that dog approach me?

– Because it likes children, I replied, adding respectfully, – do you not like dogs?

– I do, but, – followed by a moment’s hesitation, – not bad dogs.

I hastened to assure him that my dog was anything but “bad”, and he breathed a sigh of relief, revealing in spite of himself that he had been afraid.

– Is he very strong? he wanted to know. – He’s much stronger than I, is he not?

I found myself so much in awe of this majestic little child that I actually stuttered when trying to explain that in some ways, perhaps, yes, in others probably not. “And in any case, it’s a she, not a he, a girl dog.”

– Ah, a girl dog. In that case, Mahmoud and I shall have no trouble dealing with her. Mahmoud and I are strong.

I looked questioningly at the elder boy, “Mahmoud?” “No, that’s his best friend,” said the other with a proud and tender smile.

I felt I should not let the little prince’s male chauvinism go ungainsaid: “Maybe strength isn’t what you need most. Maybe wisdom …” but the little prince was pursuing his own mournful train of thought:

– In our house we have neither dogs nor kitties.

– Well, I started to comfort him, – to have a dog, you need lots of time, and you who go to school don’t have that.

I think this was the first time he looked at me. At any rate this was the first time I noticed how brown and dreadfully serious his eyes were.

– I don’t go to school. I attend nursery school.

The whole tone of this conversation struck me as somewhat otherworldly and I tried to make eye contact with the elder boy. He could have been 15. Lanky and pale, with a soft, long, wavy lock falling over his forehead, he had dark-rimmed glasses over a smiling, slightly shy face, and was now speaking on the phone in a foreign language. His voice was unexpectedly deep and soft for such a young man.

The little prince also glanced at him, understanding the foreign language, and informed me proudly: – I have a father, though. And with him I can speak Kurdish.

I respectfully took my leave, almost tempted to wonder whether I had been speaking to a reincarnation of Cyrus the Great.