Guardavida was a country where people had once enjoyed living. Both the climate and the picturesque geography, as well as the good mood of its inhabitants, had attracted many travelers from all over the world, whether summer or winter. But it is not clear why – envy was undoubtedly one of the reasons – Guardavida knew in a few months one of the worst disasters a country can suffer: men have become enemies of each other!
The small kingdom of Guardavida was first sacked and destroyed by two rival powers, which vied with each other. He then knew of a horrible civil war that eventually ruined all that remained of the previous conflict. After hatred and misery fulfilled their role, the inhabitants plunged into deep despair. The king had lost his wife and three children in the conflicts, and decreed indefinite national mourning.
What tourist would now want to visit the devastated cities, the devastated fields and the destroyed seaside resorts? Who could laugh or have fun with a disenchanted and resigned refugee population who had even forgotten that happiness existed?
It turns out that one night a sentry guarding the eastern shores of Guardavida noticed a strange shadow on the slope of a dune. Gun in hand, she approached quietly and was stunned by what she saw.
Lying in the crater a bomb had left in the sand was a boy dressed in rags. The soldier crept to the spot and saw, despite the darkness, that the child was alive. With his hands behind the back of his neck, his knees bent, the boy smiled as he gazed at the huge black sky, in which a crescent moon and the first stars were rising.
The guard watched the boy’s face for a long minute and then, with lightning speed, jumped at him, aiming his gun.
Loud there! ? shouted the shadow that leaned over the child, who had, however, dropped to his knees, his heart pounding.
Loud there! ? shouted the soldier again, as if the boy would flee. ? Get up, you rascal! For over a minute I see you smiling!
I… I wasn’t doing anything wrong? mumbled the child.
Play to walk! You are just a little smiling worm! ? shouted the soldier, slapping his staff against his back.
No… I’m not an enemy, I’m not a foreigner? I tried to explain the child, who was now walking quickly, his hands in the air.
From Guardavida you are not, because you smile at night, in secret. You are a trickster who does not respect our national mourning, an outlaw mocking our grief and our dead!
But… but… I was smiling without realizing it? said the boy, out of breath. ? Smile over the first moon crescent: my lips mimicked its shape. Smile because the sand is warm and the night is soft…
How? Thousands of Guardavians died on these beaches defending their homeland. These dunes, riddled with bombs, bullets, and grenades, were riddled with corpses!
And the soldier struck the boy hard on the head, which fell to the ground. But soon he would get up, holding a handful of sand in his hand.
See, see how warm and soft this sand is…
As the soldier prepared to hit the child again, she threw the sand into his eyes and started to flee.
The boy ran into the night until dawn. Although he had long been out of reach of the soldier, he was restless. He decided to take refuge during the day in a small forest of silver birch trees and return to the road at dusk.
He began to advance through the forest within, guided by the murmur of water sliding over the pebbles. He eventually sat on the bank of a small stream that had fun sneaking through the willows. The light of this April morning penetrated through the almond-colored leaves and made the birch trunks shine. Thousands of stars glittered on the water’s surface.
The child, who quietly enjoyed the ever-new spectacle of water, air, and light, marveled at the dazzling appearance of a kingfisher. It was as if four years of war had spared this little paradise in the heart of Guardavida. As if the swallows, the finches, and the titmies, which were chirping and bouncing, had never heard the roar of the guns, the buzz of the bullets, the crack of the dying, and the grievances of the survivors. Here the water that flowed from a pure spring and flowed over the pebbles continued to ignore the color of blood.
The exhausted child lay on the moss and eventually fell asleep, cradled by the birdsong. While sleeping, he smiled at the angels in the blue sky.
This time, it was not a sentry but an entire patrol that woke him up with a start. Through the dazzling midday sun, the child could make out six menacing faces leaning over her.
Moments later, with his hands tied and his mouth gagged, the boy was led to the nearest town and thrown into a dark dungeon.
Two days and two endless nights passed, during which the hungry child, his body trodden, did not succumb to despair only because he could breathe the smell of a wisteria spreading through his mouth. outer wall of the prison.
On the morning of the third day in prison, they finally brought him some bread and water, and made him appear before the judges. In a huge, stone-walled room, three men in long robes edged with white ermine stood before him as a bustling gray crowd murmured behind his back.
Foreigner! ? started one of the judges. ? He is accused of illegally entering our country, of assaulting one of our border guards and, above all, of having twice disrespected the national mourning decreed by our sovereign, thus showing his contempt for the pain and hurt of our fellow citizens. . It is a threat to the peace of our kingdom and incurs the capital punishment reserved for the traitors of the homeland. Do you recognize all these facts?
But? answered the child? I was born in Guardavida, about ten years ago, and…
I admit you seem to know our language? interrupted the second judge, sitting to the right of the first. ? But who can prove you’re a Guardian if we don’t find any identification on your tattered clothes?
All my possessions were stolen from me days ago while sleeping in the open. My parents should have what you’re looking for, but they were killed in a bombing three months ago.
Minds! ? interrupted the third judge dryly. ? If your parents had died in a bombing, you would not smile in your sleep.
The crowd cried out in amazement.
But I felt great pain when my parents were killed, and I still feel a great deal of pity. Sometimes I cry alone, my stomach tight, and I clench my fists so I don’t scream…
When the sentry tried to arrest you on the east coast, the sentry assures you that you smile alone and mock the recent death of your parents!
It’s just that when I think about the walks I took with my father, when I remember his jokes, when I looked into my mother’s eyes and realized the treasure that was the kisses she gave me before bedtime. , my face lights up with happiness.
You do not deny, then, that you are unable to respect our grief. Six sworn witnesses saw you smile at the angels the day after your first offense!
Were you happy? said the child? for hearing the birds sing and the river murmur among the pebbles. The discovery of the first water lilies, the scent of a wild flower, warmed my heart. Sometimes I forget my sadness when I see the sun shine on the water or play with the clouds. I like to see the wind caress the herbs or dance on the willow branches…
A long murmur now rose from the crowd, as if his words had awakened in people surprise, dismay, and anger.
That’s enough! ? said the first judge, slamming his gavel on his desk. ? This clandestine child who recognizes his crimes disturbs public order. We condemn her to the gallows, as we do all traitors to Guardavida!
According to Guardavida’s custom, all those condemned to death were brought before the sovereign on the eve of execution to eventually enjoy a royal pardon. Unfortunately for the boy, the king, after losing his family, never again agreed to forgive any accused. It was as if the pain had destroyed in him, forever, any feeling of compassion. If he still accepted to participate in this macabre ceremony, it was more to respect a custom instituted by his ancestors than to save the life of some wretch.
In fact, when the king deigned to look at some of the condemned, he saw above all the murderers of his family. If he could, instead of granting them some forgiveness, he would cut their necks himself.
It was then with a rather narrow hope that the child was led before him, accompanied by a dozen prisoners.
Sitting in a large palace room on an ebony throne, the king was absorbed in his dark thoughts.
His only surviving daughter was sitting beside her and stroking the golden hair of a porcelain doll.
As the condemned men entered and were led to him, the king looked up, and his motionless face stared at them one by one without betraying the slightest emotion. It was as if looking at them without seeing them.
Suddenly, as he looked down at the boy, his body was stunned, he let out a cry of anger and his eyes revealed a terrible rage.
Cheeky! Traitor! Anarchist! How dare you, before me, disregard my laws, violate our grief, and desecrate the memory of my own family?
Forgive me, Lord, forgive me. I would not offend you or disrespect you, but your daughter…
– How dare you? ? foamed the king.
– Your daughter had such a sad look and eyes that I couldn’t help but smile at her when our eyes met… It is stronger than me, it comes from the depths of my soul and…
But the king had ceased to hear him. He stared in wonder at his daughter, her only living descendant, her only consolation, a prisoner of sadness for so long. The daughter smiled at the child who was going to die.
An eternity passed, and all, guards, lords and condemned, were suspended from the king’s reaction.
What you saw then was a true miracle!
The unarmed, stunned, mesmerized king could not look away from his daughter’s face. Little by little, they began to see her lips trembling and a tear running from her right eye. He smiled excitedly at the princess.
A murmur ran through the assembly, and soon a mute joy took the place of deepest despair. A shared, peaceful smile emerged from the pain and the hurt and infected everyone in the room.
The end of national mourning was decreed that very night; the thirteen condemned to death, including the child, were bestowed and released.
History does not tell what happened to the king, the princess, and the boy. It is only known that Guardavida has once again become a hospitable and welcoming country where it is a pleasure to live. We also know that there is no pain and heartbreak so intense and violent that they cannot be comforted, that they cannot be redeemed by the ever-new and passionate life that awaits us.
L’enfant here retrouva le sourire
Paris, Albin Michel Jeunesse, 1999