ETXANIZ ERLE, Xabier:
As usual, Iñaki and Itziar are sitting at the table. They each had a delicious tortilla for dinner after doing their homework. Now, tummies full, they are ready for their nightly story. Sometimes it?s their mother, sometimes their father, but they always tell them an interesting story before they go to bed. Tonight their mother will be the one. She is rinsing lentils and Iñaki and Itziar are at her side ready to listen to their story.
"Well, children," says their mother, "tonight I will tell you a very nice story, but after the story, you go straight to bed, right?"
"Yes, Mom, yes."
"Tonight's story," their mother begins, "is not about adventures or lions or elephants, no. No cowboys or Indians in this story. It is about a little boy and it happened just a few years ago." Iñaki and Itziar are hanging on every word. They will hear a modern story, something that really happened. Yes, tonight their mother will tell them the story of Patxiki.
It happened a few years ago, in a capital city like ours, more or less. Cars ruled the streets; there was always a lot of traffic, and at night there were colored lights everywhere. Lots of people lived in that city and the houses had been built right up next to each other. In one of those houses, a little boy was born. His name was Patxi, but he was tiny and soon people started calling him Patxiki, which meant Little Patxi. Patxiki had two brothers and a sister. He was the youngest in the family and they all looked after him together.
"Oh, this child!" his mother always said. "He will never get bigger!"
"I'll look after him," Joana would say. "He can play with my dolls." And that was how Patxiki entered the world of the dolls from an early age. He would sit on a doll chair, he used doll plates, even his clothes were doll-sized. In fact, Patxiki was no taller than the dolls. His bed was a shoebox and it was soft and comfortable for him.
At first he slept in his parents' room, but when he turned three...
"Oh, this child! We'll have to move him in with his brothers!" his mother said.
"Good," added his father. "We'll put him on the night table between Joxantonio and Kepa." And from then on, Patxiki dreamed his nights away in the boys' room. He had very nice dreams: sometimes he rode with his father on his motorcycle, other times he was very tall and strong, or he went hiking in the mountains, or swam in the vast ocean or played in the tallest trees with the birds. Yes, Patxiki had very sweet dreams, and he liked being with Joxantonio and Kepa very much as well. Every night they talked before falling asleep, and they would have talked forever if it hadn't been for their mother.
"Oh, these children! Won't you ever be quiet? Go on, go to sleep, all of you!"
"Sleep tight, Mom," the three would say affectionately, and then their mother would give them each a kiss.
"Sleep tight, see you tomorrow."
The whole family loved Patxiki. When their father came home from work, he always asked, ?How was your day, Patxiki?? And the answer was always the same: "Good down here, but better in your pocket." And then Patxiki's father would pick him up and put him in his shirt pocket. Patxiki?s brothers and sister also adored him. Joxantonio, the eldest, always spoke to him with great pleasure and told him what happened at school.
"Today we won at handball."
"What is handball?" Patxiki asked curiously. And Joxantonio would explain all about handball in the greatest detail. Kepa played with Patxiki the most though. They often played hide-and-seek and it was hard for Kepa to find Patxiki; he often needed the others' help to find him. Joana mostly played dolls with Patxiki but sometimes they played whatever Patxiki wanted to play.
As you can see, Patxiki was very happy at home. He liked cartoons a lot, the sweetest candies were for him and there was always someone to play with him. But even so, Patxiki was not completely happy. He went out only very rarely and when he went out they carried him in someone's pocket.
"Look, Patxiki, that's a bus."
"Yes, buses are big so they can carry a lot of people. And now tuck yourself back in."
"Why?" complained Patxiki.
"So we don't have to buy a ticket for you. If the driver sees you, we?ll have to get one for each of us."
Another time he went with his mother to do the shopping. The market had everything and Patxiki asked question after question. "Mom, what's that over there?" "And the thing you bought before?" "Mom, why are those women wearing gloves?" His mother answered her son's questions as best she could and they went home cheerfully once the shopping was done.
Even though he was six, Patxiki didn't go to school. His parents didn't think he could handle it.
"Oh, this child! What would he do there with the others? They are giants to him."
Time passed, but Patxiki grew not at all and spent most of his time at home. One day, however, something incredible happened to him. He had an extraordinary adventure, and the calm and boring life he had had until then changed completely.
It happened one Saturday afternoon. It was hot outside and everyone was home. Mom and Dad were having coffee in the living room. Joxantonio had an adventure book and Joana was drawing.
"Look, Patxiki: Dad, Mom, Joxantonio, Kepa, you, all six of us are here," said Joana, but there was no one where Patxiki had been just a while before. "Patxiki! Patxiki!" she started to shout.
"What's going on?" answered Kepa and Patxiki at the same time. "Look at this picture, look! Dad, Mom, Joxantonio, you two and me; we're all in it."
"Yes, yes, very nice, but leave us alone, we're playing now." And so they were. They were playing hide-and-seek and now it was Kepa's turn to find Patxiki. Patxiki, however, didn't want to make it too easy for his older brother and hid in the flowerpot by the front door. From there, hidden among the geranium leaves, he could see Kepa looking all over for him. Suddenly his father got up and opened the door to go take the car to the garage.
"I'll be right back," he said to Patxiki's mother.
It only took a moment. When Patxiki saw the open door, he went right out without thinking twice. "Kepa will never find me here," he said to himself. But instead of stopping there, he suddenly longed to go all the way out to the street. When he saw the staircase, he felt an eagerness like when he had a box of candies in front of him. He started going down slowly; there was a light breeze from downstairs and he felt happy inside. The farther down he went, the happier he felt, and at last he saw the door open to the street. He stepped over the threshold and jumped down to the sidewalk. "I'm six years old and I'm a big kid," he said happily, "and besides, I'm very happy down here without having to be in anyone's pocket." He went from one street to the next and had to be very careful of men's shoes and women's high heels. He walked along the very edge of the sidewalk. Patxiki saw all kinds of shoes. "Those are like Kepa's and these look like Mom's." After crossing five streets, he was starting to get tired. His feet hurt and he was in great danger. "One of these people is bound to step on me! They don't look where they're going."
Patxiki was very angry and sat down on the curb. It was about six in the evening and there were a lot of people on the street. A few shops were still open. Patxiki would happily have taken a nap. And then, suddenly, as his eyes were half closed, he realized that he was being carried through the air. He opened his eyes and saw large teeth. A huge dog was carrying him in his mouth. Patxiki started to cry, thinking the dog would swallow him whole. But when he heard the sobs, the dog put Patxiki down on the ground, astonished.
"You're alive then?" the dog asked with his mouth open.
"Are you blind or what?" Patxiki was still sobbing.
"Sorry, I thought you were a funny-looking bone."
Patxiki was amazed, having a conversation with a dog!
"I know what you're thinking," the dog continued, "and, yes, we dogs can speak. But the fact is that you humans don't pay much attention to us." Having said this, the dog picked Patxiki up and set him very gently on his back.
"I'm Blai. What's your name?"
"Very good, Patxiki, now we'll go to a garden." And without further ado, Blai started to run. He was a very large dog, or at least that's what Patxiki thought. He was holding onto the chain around the dog's neck and feeling much better than he did in someone's pocket. He was very happy and started to sing:
Better in someone's pocket
than on the ground.
But better atop a dog
than in someone's pocket.
"We're here," said Blai. "This is the prettiest garden in the whole city. It's big and you can play here."
"It's certainly very big."
"Well, get down, quick, let's play."
"I... I...," began Patxiki, "I'm very tired and I'd rather have a little nap." Then he fell asleep in the shade of a big tree while Blai went to play nearby with some other dogs.
When Patxiki woke up, he looked around him. Some girls and boys were playing. He saw Blai quite far away with some other dogs. They were running around on the grass like horses in the movies. "Blai is my friend, and I'm happier on his back than in my father's pocket," said Patxiki. But when he said "father," he remembered his family. They would be worried by now. He had been out of the house for a couple hours and he had never been outside so long without a family member with him. "They'll be worried," he said to himself.
Patxiki was right. Kepa, bored of trying to find his brother, started calling his name and then the whole family started looking for him.
"Oh, this child! Where can he be?" said his mother. And then she started calling like the others, "Patxiki! Patxiki!"
Patxiki, however, could not hear these calls. He was looking for Blai in that beautiful garden. The grass was very long and the tree trunks looked like huge buildings to him. The ground, however, was soft beneath Patxiki's tiny feet. He saw ants and even a grasshopper. He heard the birds chirping in the trees and he was looking at them when, all of a sudden, he fell into a hole. It was quite a small hole, dug by a child, but for Patxiki it was as deep as a lion trap. And he was down in it.
His ankle was painful and swollen and he didn't know what to do. His family was too far away to hear his calls and he felt very alone there in that garden.
© Etxaniz Erle, Xabier. Patxiki, Elkar, Donostia, 1985.
© Translation: Kristin Addis