It was hot. The dark stole into my bedroom through the wide-open window. Uncertain dreams formed and dissipated.

Gilgamesh was keeping watch.

"What time are we going to the tennis tournament tomorrow?" he asked in his usual forthright way.


The darkness lightened; the next day's sun flooded the shadows of my imaginings.

"Have you had your racquet restrung?"

Yes, I had done that.

Tomorrow, the light racquet will send the ball into the far corners where my opponents will not be able to reach it.

"I have a feeling I'm going to win," said Gilgamesh with certainty.

After a few nods that marked the completion of his thought, he added:

"You played well last time, you should…"

He straightened up:

"Let's go and hit a few shots in the garden!"

Now we are outside. I didn't feel at all like sleeping. The balls bounced against the wall; only their thwack indicated their presence. Sometimes one of us managed to reach one…

The tournament started badly; or well, rather. Gilgamesh won, of course, and so did I, because my opponent didn't turn up. Gilgamesh was already bored. Where shall we go? What shall we do? That's holidays for you.

Now we are on our bikes; the countryside is welcoming, you can stop anywhere. We're in the city all year long. The countryside is more familiar to me than my city; why?

"Shall we go to Ishtar's?"

Yes, I don't mind if we go to Ishtar's. I tease him:

"Do you want to flaunt your win?"

"You know she doesn't give a fig for… for play… for children's games!"

"Not much point in calling her Ishtar, then."


I'd rather play tennis with Gilgamesh than explain mythology to him. I give up. In any case, there was not much point giving up, or not giving up; he's already somewhere else.

"Shall we all go for a bike ride this afternoon?"

Ishtar will be delighted - she hates cycling.

The short streets run through the village and take us to Ishtar's parents' house. She greets us with grace and charm, as usual, under the arbour in the middle of the wood that is her garden. Her garden is really not very big. Gilgamesh talks, waving his arms about. She laughs: "I'm reading, you know; but the others will doubtless love it."

The others come. The houses aren't far apart. A heap of bikes. We set off for the pond where we will go swimming. Ishtar has come with us.

The countryside looks at us; the wood has stopped in the middle of the fields and is having a rest.

"Get a move on!" shouts Gilgamesh.

I will never know what life in the wood has to say. We have to flee, without being pursued. In a while we will stop to wait for the girls, who are in no hurry. It's hot and quiet. Gilgamesh has arrived before me - only just - at the top of the hill where we wait, getting our breath back.

The water is cool in the pond, which stands amid tall trees. Gilgamesh suggests a game: we have brought a ball. The rules are complicated but they must be followed, otherwise the game wouldn't be one. Time passes. We have brought stuff for lunch. It's very good. We are hungry. We eat. Time passes.

Under the trees the sun does not burn. We rest; some are lying down, others sitting. We have eaten, now we talk. Ishtar suggests subjects; she is always the one to suggest subjects. Gilgamesh asks what we're going to do. No-one knows; Gilgamesh should know, if anyone does. We fall back on the subject Ishtar has raised. Except, of course, for those who are asleep, or pretending to be, or who are pretending to talk. Time passes.

"Don't tell me you brought a book!"

Gilgamesh has exploded!

Ishtar did indeed have a book. She wasn't reading it but her hand was resting on it as if… as if on a friend, perhaps.

"I know who he is; I know he won't change. He's dead."

Gilgamesh hasn't understood a word of what she has said. "Who's dead?" he mutters and looks around him - is he looking for help?

"If he's dead you can't talk to him," says a girl with very large eyes.

I've always had trouble understanding - hearing? - this girl; her eyes seem to say "Search, they're not my words". There's nothing of the Sphinx about her: she doesn't give the impression of hiding secrets.

"Why does he often answer my questions?" asks Ishtar, smiling peaceably.

"Shall we swim to the tree?" asks Gilgamesh.

He look so worried that I start laughing. He's not worried about the race, which he will certainly win, but… he is scared when Ishtar speaks.

The boys get up, I go too; the water is cool and it's hot. It's good to feel the water that surrounds me and gives way to me.

The race has settled Gilgamesh, and given him ideas.

"I know that water is water and that it won't change," he says to Ishtar.

Ishtar laughs:

"You're wet, but you will dry; I hope that what I read won't evaporate."

Gilgamesh hasn't got it.

"I haven't wet your book," he says, still anxious.

Ishtar smiles, still gently.

Time flows only when it is pushed; it was motionless around Ishtar. She lived, like all of us; her hair, her hands changed from day to day, no doubt. But her eyes - no, not her eyes - shone unchangingly.

The shade, under the trees, has lengthened without a word. Yet Sphinx has heard it, because she slides to its edge so as to stay close to the sun without it touching her. I want to tell her… I just want, no doubt, to talk to her, but I don't know what about. Ishtar talks. I would like to talk to Sphinx because she asks me to. It's silly, she has never asked me for anything. But I am capable all the same…

"... you coming?"

What does Gilgamesh want? Ah! We have to dive to the bottom of the pond to look for - no, to find… Perhaps the mud will yield sunken treasure, buried since the wreck…

"… of a great big sailing ship!"

Sphinx mocks my imagination. Gilgamesh asserts that the sailing ship is still there, the mainmast alone sticking out of the mud.

Ishtar nods: all that is not very likely. She is right. And yet I want to go and look for the sailing ship and its treasures, even knowing that there's nothing there. Gilgamesh goes for it; does he need to know before doing so? Why does he always go for it? Sphinx asks me to bring her back a necklace. She never wears jewellery.

There was a treasure. A piece of paper, a page from a book, an old book. Gilgamesh bore it in triumph to Ishtar.

"Here's something for you to read," he exclaimed. "I went to get it just for you."

Everyone laughs. Ishtar looks with wonder at a sort of half-torn rag, which indeed turns out to be a page.

"You have no idea!"

Gilgamesh blenches, or blushes, I don't really know which. It's always like that when Ishtar surprises him. I think he is always surprised by her. Ishtar goes on:

"It's a very old book; look at the paper. It's in Greek."

Everyone gave their opinion. I vaguely knew how to tell when paper was old… I wasn't the only one to vaguely know. Some had no idea at all. Everyone gave their opinion; the argument went on.

"Losing his book must have really bothered him."

Silence fell. One of the girls had stayed in the water; only her head - it was almost like only her eyes - emerged. A real frog. Sometimes frogs talk; people don't always understand what they say. Perhaps you need to know them properly; perhaps they are talking to someone. Who had Frog just been talking to?

"We ought to think about getting back."

This little intervention by Confucius - a name he had bestowed upon himself, being jealous of ours - had its customary effect: calm was restored. Or rather, torpor. That torpor which frightened me but tempted me so much. That torpor which settled over our whole group and left Gilgamesh dazed. "What shall we do?", a question he continued to ask without opening his mouth. Sphinx was looking at Frog. Ishtar got up, we left.

We took our time on the way back. The long shadows of the trees had come to watch us pass by. Did they want to tell us?... What had the trees been doing while we were at the pond? So many tales lost for me, who could not understand.

I was getting slower and slower; Gilgamesh was talking with Ishtar, way ahead. He was not holding his handlebars and was waving his arms about. Ishtar was nodding. But those tales were easy to understand. I found myself near Sphinx, who usually brought up the rear.

"You're not racing any more?" she said with a laugh, looking at me closely all the while. "We're not used to seeing you at the back."

I hesitated, without knowing what about.

"Books that only have one page find it hard to talk," she went on.

"Trees too."

My answer took me by surprise, but apparently not her.

"Trees give shade or fruit," she replied pensively.

The shade of one of the trees gave me an idea:

"If you sow one of its fruits, another tree grows."

"Were you thinking of growing another book in the same way?"

The idea was clearly absurd. What idea? That of the book or of the fruit? Sphinx's large eyes were still looking at me with… oh, I never know what with! Did she understand the language of trees? No, that's daft!

"We should do something. Why don't we plant the page? He would be happy."

Who would be happy? Frog was right beside us and seemed to continue what she was saying in silence.

The trees around us were getting ready for their evening rest. No need for them to seek shelter or food. We, on the other hand, had to pedal.

"Hey, what's up with you lot?"

Confucius was worried, as usual; it is true that our little group, as a result of not pedalling, had fallen some way behind. Sphinx explained that we had been having a philosophical discussion. Confucius seemed even more worried. We arrived at around dinner time.

Ishtar's parents had prepared a sort of evening picnic for us all in the garden; delighted and exhausted, exhausted above all, we tucked in with cries - muted by fatigue - of joy. Gilgamesh explained wisely that a book in Greek was bound to be a scholarly work:

"… and what's more…"

"You can read Greek now?"

Confucius' question could have been construed as malicious, but he was too simple to think that way. Gilgamesh knew that, and while his reply might have been slightly clumsy, it was not to show that he felt himself slighted, but… but why did he answer clumsily, then? Ishtar was smiling, Gilgamesh was blushing.

A bird has come to wake me up this morning. It is standing at the end of my bed, looking at me. It says nothing but must have sung, otherwise I would not have woken up. It's cool, the air is still. The bird looks at me insistently; is it waiting for an answer? I don't know what to say; the trees, yesterday, gave me no message for it. Either that or I didn't understand.

I mentally shake my head; I mustn't be very awake yet, to be thinking such stupid things. The bird doesn't move; nor do I - I don't want to see it go.

I must have fallen asleep again. The bird is no longer there. I feel bothered, without knowing why. I get up and go to the window; is it to see the bird?

What I do see is Gilgamesh in the garden.

"About time too. I thought you might sleep all day!"

"You should have woken me up."

"No, no, I've only just got here," he says with a laugh.

"Have you had breakfast?"

"No, but I'm hungry."

I ate copiously; Gilgamesh was nibbling, looking troubled.

"Do you reckon that… page of Greek is important?" he mumbled.

I was tempted to give a sarcastic answer but didn't dare. He looked almost sad.


He stopped for a second, then went on:

"How can she live in two different worlds?"

"What on earth are you on about? She's interested in certain things, that's all. You go to school, don't you? That's where you learn what isn't…"

He broke in:

"She doesn't learn, she lives there, there."

"Where there?"

"In the book where someone's hiding. I can't talk to her."

"To Ishtar?"

"Ishtar! Even her name isn't hers."

"I call you Gilgamesh."

"Yes, but that's just a game. With her, it's as though she really is Ishtar."

"Yes, well, you know that…"

"I don't really know who Ishtar is, the real Ishtar, I mean, but I get the impression she's taken her place - the real Ishtar's place. What's the point of living where no-one lives any more - in the pages of books?"

Living in the pages of a book… The question did not arise - no longer arose, in front of the wall we were now trying to destroy with fiercely hit balls. We were living, no doubt… no doubt.

Gilgamesh has stopped; he is no longer returning the balls.

"Come on, let's go to…"

He doesn't finish and hits another ball. No-one returns it.

"So let's go, then," I say with a sly smile.

Gilgamesh glares at me.

Serious business awaits us at Ishtar's. Frog is lashing Pegasus with her agile fingers.

"Looking for a new game?" asks Gilgamesh, highly interested.

Sphinx arranges her large eyes:

"Pegasus is bearing a message from the dead," she says slowly.

Gilgamesh has glanced quickly around the room: Ishtar is not there. He speaks freely:

"Don't be daft! Pegasus is just a machine; it's Frog who's sending the message."

"Yes, but Pegasus is taking it to the whole world," insists Sphinx gently.

"I didn't know the whole world was that interested in messages from Frog."

Frog has turned to Gilgamesh. She looks down and says with a sigh:

"Just one person will be… If he finds my message."

Gilgamesh burst out laughing:

"So we're to play guessing games, are we? Now, who could that…"

He broke off; Ishtar had just come in and was bending over Pegasus with curiosity. Words, given life by Frog, danced before being whisked away.

Ishtar came up to Gilgamesh, smiling:

"You should find the answer to your guessing game yourself; without you, Pegasus would bear nothing away at all."

"I didn't say anything to Frog."

"There's a page missing from the book."

"Which book?"

"I don't know. But you saved the page from the depths of a pond."

Gilgamesh glowed:

"You're looking for the person the book with the missing page belongs to!"

"And perhaps also for the one who is in the page," Ishtar answered him pensively.

The bird wasn't there when I woke up this morning. Did I feel as though I had waited for it, or rather hoped for it? But birds can't read, especially not Greek. Why especially not Greek? Birds don't need to know how to read, they read things, not words. What would the bird have read on the page - in Greek?

Gilgamesh came to fetch me to go to the market. The Sunday market brought the whole village out; the parents of our little band met up with each other there. People came to buy, naturally, but also to talk; a permanent hubbub enveloped the square, like in a schoolyard. It was clear that people were talking to each other, but when you got closer to them all you could hear were odd words here and there, seeming to come from elsewhere.

The parents, these or those, were aware of our find; I could see them nodding, exclaiming, deciding. A stallholder looked no different as he set the price of a bunch of carrots.

Complete, our little band slipped away from the market.

"What shall we do?"

Gilgamesh's question has made everyone laugh: he asks it every day.

"OK, but even so: what shall we do?" he repeats.

The decision was made: we would go for a walk in the woods. Gilgamesh is happy: we will be able - he will be able, above all - to climb on the rocks. Ishtar is happy: the woods are not very from the village, she won't have to pedal for long.

The woods laid out their shadows to welcome us; the walk stretched out nonchalantly, time passed without bumping into us. A notion of refusal flickered in my mind; should I refuse time? Impossible. Time… time seemed to me to be a journey; should one sleep during the journey? We were walking, we were talking, the woods passed before us; would it have been any different in a dream?

Gilgamesh gorged on rocks; me too, but in a rather distracted way. Confucius kept watch, sitting near the girls who were deep in conversation. No, that's not quite right, I couldn't see Frog talking.

Having sent the rocks off to have a break, Gilgamesh consented to spend a moment doing nothing. Sphinx took advantage of the lull.

"Do you think," she asked me, "that Pegasus will have news for us this evening?"

Ishtar licked her lips:

"Perhaps someone will translate the page for us."

"I checked the text of the message," said Confucius. "I think everything's in order."

It was my turn to say something; I found nothing. Frog was silent.

Pegasus had brought a message that evening: "How much does the document cost?" We had looked at each other, giggling. "Let's copy it and sell millions of copies!" Gilgamesh had exclaimed. "No-one will want one," Confucius had corrected him. "A copy is meant only to be read."

The bird will not come back. The morning is already hot. For a bird it's no longer morning as in sunrise but mid-morning. At sunrise-morning I'm still asleep. What about the bird, what does it do? It doesn't buy pages of Greek - why buy? Buying is an exchange; can you give one thing in place of another? No doubt, because that's what people do. What would the bird give for a page it can't read? Can you feather a nest with a piece of paper?

Birdsong wakes me; the window is wide open, it's already hot.

The storm has finally made up its mind to break; the raindrops, smashing into each other, explode in smoke. The sky has disappeared. I have taken my bike - I'm riding in the rain, on the roads of my countryside.

The thunder is speaking out; what is its language? Nothing of its words will remain and yet a tree may die as a result.

Pegasus has brought us the translation of the Greek text; a researcher, somewhere far away, is excited about it. "Where did you find it?" he asks us. Our pond seems not to interest him. He puts forward one theory about the date, another about the author. So it is enough to have written, to attract the whole world? I write all year long, at school, for my teacher…

"It's by a philosopher," announces Ishtar.

She loves reading.

"I don't know who the author could be," she adds. "We'd have to compare it with…"

"Have you seen that odd sentence?" breaks in Sphinx.

"Yes, I've seen it, but we can't use it…"

"Use it?"

"To analyse the text. The idea the sentence contains doesn't correspond to anything we know…"

"That's what's so exciting!"

Pegasus chimes in: "There's a problem with classifying the text." The researcher is bothered by that particular sentence too. Explanations follow, very complicated ones.

"What does the sentence mean?" Sphinx tells Pegasus to convey. The answer comes back right away: "It doesn't matter; what matters is connecting it to something we know."

"It's not his," murmurs Frog.

The sky is transparent this morning. I help Gilgamesh to beat our opponents on court. Life is simple. The shot is good or bad. A ball comes towards me, I run after it like a good dog; but I can do better, I can return it. Gilgamesh watches everything; life may pass, it won't distract him.

Tomorrow I have to go off with my parents to spend a few days with friends, in a distant land. At least, a distant land is what Gilgamesh has called it. "You'll have to do without tennis," I have said slyly. He sulks. "We could go to Ishtar's this afternoon," I have added casually. "If you like," Gilgamesh has answered, casually.

Pegasus is snoozing; or perhaps listening to the calm sounds that issue from the piano that Sphinx is caressing. The music wraps us, wraps me. What is the composer saying? There are no words.

Sphinx has fallen silent. Ishtar comments, explains. The music is clarified, becomes understandable; it is beautiful, it is profound, it is sad, it is… It is defenceless against our words.

This morning, our bike-riding band has received the openly expressed approval of the inhabitants of the little fields we have passed through. Horns proud, they have gazed after us, amazed by so much courage; a few moos, elicited by our prowess, could be heard. We were at a place where the earth had lazily raised itself upwards to form little hills that looked to us like impassable mountains. It's coming up to noon; we invade a meadow whose edge offers us some protecting shade. Lunch.

The afternoon is slow, especially for those who are lying on the ground, numbed by the heat. Ishtar is reading. Ishtar is reading the translation brought by Pegasus. Gilgamesh is tinkering with his bike.

Sphinx has come up to Ishtar and is looking at the translation.

"It can live its own life, though, can't it?" she says fearfully.

"What can live its own life?"

"The sentence."

"The sentence? Oh, yes, the sentence. Live its own life?"

"Yes. Why does it have to be used to analyse the text? It's part of the text too, isn't it?"

"What would you compare it with? I don't even know what it means. Do you understand it?"

"No… No… I… it meant…"

"Even the person who translated it doesn't know what to connect it to. It's an idea that isn't known."

"Well, we learn…"

"What isn't known can't be learnt."

"Yes, but still, there are people who find things out, invent things…"

"Yes, but based on what is already known; there has to be a sequence, you have to… improve what's already there, for example…"

"So never anything new, then?"

"Not that: nothing unknown."

Ishtar has stated the word firmly; I can hear Sphinx say, under her breath, without moving her lips:

"What about dreams?"

Ishtar remains impassive.

"You're alone in dreams; to know, you need something other than yourself," she replies sharply.

Sphinx doesn't move.

"Why do you need to know?" she murmurs.

A breath of air has woken Confucius. No, he wasn't asleep, he was listening.

"We were supposed to be on a bike ride and here you are philosophising," he exclaims suddenly.

"Well, well. Not asleep after all," says Ishtar drily.

The sun is stealing away from the summits of the firmament. We ride. Other trees are watching us. Other? How can you tell? Perhaps they're the same trees; how can you tell them apart? Other cows graze in other fields; how are they different from those we saw earlier? Do you have to eat them to find out?

Frog is riding beside me.

"Do you think we'll find them?" she asks me anxiously.

"Find them? Whoever…?"

"The book must have belonged to someone."

The book must have belonged to someone. Yes, that's true.

The bike ride continues; it's pleasant. We ride with without any particular destination in mind, getting closer to it with each passing moment. Why? Why is Gilgamesh in such a hurry? Why is Sphinx dawdling like that? From time to time we all join up. A stop, with no particular reason. It's a bike ride. Why were we so set on having it? It's pleasant. Why is it pleasant?

The route of our bike ride has imperceptibly turned into the way home. The destination may be specific but the route remains the same and we carry on riding in the same way. So has nothing changed since this morning? Frog… I move towards Frog.

"Why do you want to find…"

My question remains in suspense; Frog looks at me without surprise. I don't know… no, I do, actually, I do know what to say. So:

"Actually, that's not what I wanted to ask you; I wanted to know… understand - but is it possible to understand…"

Frog carries on looking at me in the same way. I continue, a bit… as though I were out of breath:

"What makes you look for… - I mean, not look but think of looking… A bird, a bird for example, would it think of looking for something another bird might need, or want, or…"

"The bird brings the worm back to the nest for its fledgling."

Yesterday's bike ride has given Gilgamesh new strength; his shots hurtle through space like meteors. "You should think before hitting the ball," he tells me. It seems rather obvious to me. Thinking only about thinking, I miss every one. It makes him laugh.

"Now you can see what thinking does!" he joshes.

I sulk. I can't find an answer any more than I can return his shots. Fortunately we're not counting the score.

"Come on!" he says brightly. "Our opponents are waiting. And don't forget: don't think too much!"

I didn't think at all; our opponents were well beaten.

The afternoon is hot; we have all taken refuge in Ishtar's wood. Sloth fills our minds. Ishtar has sent Pegasus back into the mists of time to invite famous Greeks to converse with her about the author, whom they must certainly have known, of the lost page. They have all come, leaving the safety of their ancient tomes buried behind cabinet glass, everywhere, far away.

Ishtar is attentive; she asks one, then another, listens to what they say. They say so many fragile things, to which they will add nothing. Will they yield up what Ishtar expects from them? Was it for this day that they spoke, so long ago? Did they know that this day would come?

Ishtar has no more questions to ask. They have gone; swiftly.

"You didn't say anything to them."

I don't know why that came into my mind. Ishtar looks at me, perhaps without understanding.

"I didn't say anything…" she hesitates.

I go on, still without knowing why:

"They were waiting…"

"They who?"

"The Greeks you summoned."

"The Greeks I… Oh, yes, I… yes, you could say that. But… it was I who was waiting for an… for answers."

Silence lingers. Ishtar adds softly:

"That's what books are for."

Books… Books are made of paper.

"Someone has spoken in those books. When you speak, it's to ask or to give."

I have said that without breathing. Ishtar replies calmly:

"People speak for lots of other reasons. You can say what you've seen, what you've felt…"

"What for?"

"What do you mean, what for? For the pleasure of sharing what you know, what you feel."

"Speaking about a sorrow is a call for help."

Another silence. Ishtar sighs.

"What do you want to do?" she says pensively.

"Perhaps speak for no reason, like birds do when they sing."

"Perhaps they're saying something but we just don't know it."

"Perhaps. After all, Sphinx has found a sentence in the page that no-one understands."

Sphinx was near us. They were all near us. I get the impression everyone wanted to say something. But the silence prevented us from doing so.

I had fun this morning but Gilgamesh was cross; we almost lost the game - it's my fault. I like to play, he likes to win.

"It's not your fault," he tells me, kindly all the same. "You did some really good things, you just didn't have any luck."

"A few shots went out, I know."

"They were almost in. But most of the time a rather less… graceful shot would have done."

I started to laugh.

"A graceful shot isn't necessarily a useful shot."

"A…" started Gilgamesh.

He stopped, but looked at me with a hint of concern. I didn't have the courage to keep on thinking; but the thought had a mind of its own. The things we did, did we need to do them well? Which things? And for what reasons? And to what ends?

"Are you coming over for lunch?" Gilgamesh asked me shyly.

I felt embarrassed.

"Oh, with pleasure!" I answered heartily.

Having passed by my house to drop off my racquet, we made our way slowly over to his house; lunchtime was not yet a pressing matter.

The sun is climbing, more and more slowly; does it already want to go down again? The village streets wander along beside us; what do they want to show us, in the places where they are taking us?

They show us Sphinx and Frog. "Where are you going?" "To lunch." "So are we, we're going to Sphinx's," says Frog.

But no-one is in any hurry.

"What were you talking about?" Gilgamesh asks the girls.

Sphinx looks up, as though to answer, then hesitates; Frog has looked at her, looks at us and says softly:

"The page may not have been lost."

Sphinx has nodded, barely.

Gilgamesh asks impatiently:

"The page… how so, lost?"

Frog is mute. Sphinx nods again.

"Perhaps he threw the page away," she says shakily.

Gilgamesh gestures impatiently; he doesn't like complications, I know that. As Sphinx is also silent, curiosity urges me to ask: "Why?"

"The sentence," says Frog. "The sentence that bothers Sphinx."

"I'm not the only one it bothers, that it may bother," answers Sphinx briskly. "It's… the world… I mean… the person who had the book may have been scared… or have been scared that others…"

"Whatever are you on about?" rasps Gilgamesh. "Explain."

"I don't know; I don't know. You can't create life in order to destroy it… to make it possible to survive…"

Gilgamesh has become anxious; he too has fallen silent. I speak up again:

"Is it what's on the page or what you think?"

"You've read the page just like I have," answers Sphinx nervously. "It's what's written."

"No-one has really understood," breaks in Frog calmly. "If we were to find whoever lost the page…"

After a moment's silence she adds:

"They'd be happy to get it back again."

We all went off for lunch.

Gilgamesh's parents seem pleased to see me. At table, everyone is jolly. Gilgamesh recounts the tennis match, gently taking the mickey out of me. The parents ask us what we've been up to over the last few days - we look so busy! We talk about our find. Gilgamesh's father says we should consult a library. We explain that Pegasus is looking all over and that libraries can send us what they want.

"You're leaving it up to chance," says Gilgamesh's father. "That's not how you should go about it. You should alert the library directly..."

Gilgamesh's mother cuts in:

"The whole business is pointless. You don't have to make such a big fuss just because you've found a piece of paper."

"It's not a piece of paper…" protests Gilgamesh.

"But you don't even know what it is," retorts his mother. "It's kids' stuff. Nobody asked you to…"

Nobody asked us. It's true. We should have stuck to playing tennis, apparently.

Lunch ended brightly. We talked about… I don't know what.

We had all got together again, a bit later, at Ishtar's. Confucius had devised a kind of search with which Pegasus could compare the text on the page with a large number of ancient texts, Greek or other, to find out whether our text could be linked with something already out there. Confucius thought that so far nobody could assert that there was nothing of the kind, since no serious search had been done. Ishtar is keeping watch; she reminds me of a guard dog. And when she finds out? I don't know why, but I feel as though I'm on court, waiting to win a point. When you've won all the points, what do you do with them?

Pegasus takes advantage of a lull to bring Sphinx a message. "What's needed is an association to defend the creation of life," says the message. We look at each other, perplexed. Sphinx sends Pegasus for news. Back again, he says: "Life cannot be created without the decision of an authority. Your text does not refer to any such thing." We look at each other again; no-one can find anything to say. Pegasus is taken to the stable for a rest.

The sun passes from branch to branch, so that it avoids spraying us with its hot light. We have taken refuge - refuge - in Ishtar's wood. Silence prowls in the shade. I feel anxious; anxious isn't the right word but I don't feel like trying to find another. Confucius is talking with Ishtar in a low voice; I think I can hear… but I can't summon up enough curiosity to understand. Frog and Sphinx are talking about music. Gilgamesh looks at me from time to time, asking me silently what I intend to do; he is bored - no, it must be that he doesn't understand what's happening. What's happening? Nothing's happening.

The sun is still in no hurry to go down, over there, over the horizon, where it's dark. How does it manage to turn black into white? How is the spirit illuminated by what exists? We are here, close to each other; what do we know of our thoughts? Of our own thoughts, even? We talk to each other, but everyone seems silent.

"You look down in the dumps! What shall we do?"

Gilgamesh's rough voice has broken the silence of the conversations. A few nervous giggles. Everyone talks loudly. Tomorrow we'll go for a really long bike ride.

The bird is there again this morning, when I wake. Did it wake me up? It doesn't linger; before leaving, from the window ledge, it tells me something, pointing to the garden, the sky. It talks in a joyful voice. No-one seems to decide what it should do with its life.

Gilgamesh arrives; we have breakfast together.

"I hope Ishtar won't take Pegasus with her on the bike ride," he said with a laugh.

Had I forgotten Pegasus? I answered mockingly:

"No, no, no way. You'll be able to spend the whole day talking with her."

He glared at me and muttered:

"Get a move on, all you think about is eating."

The sun is leaping from cloud to cloud this morning. Their little shadows amble through the fields, across the hill. What can be done with a cloud? It's not like a precious stone, although it may look like one when the sun lights it up from behind. Nubes volat...

Chasing after clouds, I find myself way ahead of our little band, surprised not to find Gilgamesh riding alongside me, or even ahead of me. No, I'm on my own. A little path, just there, goes ferreting in the little wood I am riding through. I take it; a few moments and the road has disappeared. I have stopped, without knowing why I was there. The grass is high; I sit. Everything is so quiet. I can hear the birds; is my bird one of them? Where are the people? I can hear our little band passing by. They have passed; will they disappear?

Now I am riding behind them. They're not going quickly, I soon catch them up.

"You're really lagging behind today!"

I don't know who spoke; I join the conversations. Very lively conversations.

"… and he'll be all on his own in his association!" exclaims Sphinx.

Ishtar is displeased:

"The book wasn't written for him," she says emphatically.

Confucius tries to calm things down:

"A book is there to be of use; to someone or everyone."

"To be of use, not to be used," replies Ishtar.

Confucius is surprised:

"Same difference," he says.

"Not at all; a spoon is used for eating, not to be melted down and turned into…"

Confucius interrupts Ishtar spiritedly:

"You're playing with words. In any case, there's nothing to stop metal from being used for whatever purpose."

"Of course, but in that case you're not talking about spoons."

"There's not only spoons…"

"Well, in that case, let's get the ink back from the page!"

Confucius keeps calm; he always keeps calm:

"You'll be given the ink so that you can write great works," he says with a smile.

We are going more and more slowly. It's time to stop for lunch. In the afternoon we'll go swimming in the Greek's pond, as Gilgamesh now calls it.

It's good to be busy doing nothing.

The bird hasn't come to wake me this morning; Gilgamesh neither. It's late. Friends are due to come for lunch. Should I stay? Yes, I'll have lunch at home; but do I have to be there, at lunch? When people talk to me, it's out of a sense of duty. And yet they do so kindly, they take an interest in me. Both my parents and their friends. Why call it a duty, in that case? Perhaps because they don't know why they take an interest in me. Do they need me in the same way that I need a racquet in order to play tennis? I take an interest in my racquet, I like it - I chose it with care. I like tennis but I wouldn't sacrifice everything for it. What would people sacrifice for me? Books are full of sacrifices; for someone, for something. Why? I ought to know why; the same books contain the explanations. We should give our life… to those who tell us to do so. What about those who give their life without being asked for it? Some simply leave it; others… do others exist? Books say so; how can they know? Have they questioned them after their sacrifice?

Lunch is over and I didn't even notice. Gilgamesh comes to fetch me to go to Ishtar's. I can hear my father say to his friends: "He's really taken up with his tennis; still, there you go, that's holidays for you." Time went by too fast during lunch; perhaps I wanted to say something? If the decision of an authority is needed to create life, is the decision of another authority needed to create time? Did I have consciousness when my own life was about to be created? Which authority decided? Perhaps the decision had been to prevent me from assuming my life. Perhaps I had stolen my life.

We arrive at Ishtar's. Time has passed very quickly again. But Gilgamesh finds it natural to sometimes not say anything. Did I speak to him, as if in a dream, while we were riding side by side? Was it a real dialogue when I imagined his answers in my thoughts? It would have been easier to ask him and listen to him. Why did I think that would have been more imprecise? So many intermediaries in a real dialogue. I talk, he hears; does he hear what I have said? Then it's my turn.

As if in a dream. You're alone in a dream; but so many things happen. One night, I dreamed I was playing tennis; I was playing well, better than… on a real court. But once the game was over, what more or less remained of it than if I had really been playing?

Pegasus has taken advantage of the fine weather to settle down in Ishtar's wood. He brings news - a message: "A text has to be devised that explains the contents of the document."

"Nobody has the faintest idea what the page is about!" exclaims Sphinx.

Pegasus is sent to protest. "That's exactly why an explanation is needed," he reports. Sent back immediately, he comes and goes. The author of the message hasn't the faintest idea either, but insists: "The purpose of explaining is not to make something understood but to become the one who knows." Pegasus, surprised, sends: "The one who knows what things? Since he knows nothing himself." The answer comes back: "No-one will ever understand this document; in any case, there's nothing to understand. But there will be a certain number who will believe the one who says they know. There is an advantage to be had."

Pegasus, exhausted, begs for a rest. We keep him company, sitting on the grass. Everything is quiet; everyone looks thoughtful. The big trees seem to protect us from I don't know what bother.

Sphinx must have said something; had she spoken under her breath? We look at her in silence.

"I was talking to myself," she says in answer to our mute questions.

We wait. Gilgamesh can't stand waiting.

"You could share your deep thoughts with us," he grunts.

Sphinx smiles weakly:

"I don't have deep thoughts; where would I have got them from?"

Gilgamesh says impatiently:

"Don't you learn anything at school?"

Sphinx's smile turns sad:

"That's what I was saying to myself. Should I believe what I learn?"

Silence has returned. Sphinx pats the grass nervously. Ishtar has straightened up and is looking at Sphinx with concern.

"Why are you trying to understand the sentence?" she asks her.

"The sentence? The sentence from the page? It's not that I want to understand it, I want to imagine what it can do."

"What it can do? You mean… Oh, I get it. What you say can have consequences."

"We all say words that can do. But if I say 'That's not good' to my teacher, and if my teacher says 'That's not good' to me, which one of us gets the bad mark?"

Ishtar protests:

"You're exaggerating. Your teachers teach you what everyone knows; they aren't making it up."

Confucius steps in:

"If you make a comment to a teacher, I don't think they refuse to think about it."

Sphinx shakes her head:

"No, no, they won't refuse. That's not it. They teach me what everyone knows, that's true. And what I don't know; that's true too. And that I need to know… that I need to know…"

"You live with all of us," says Confucius calmly. "You share what we know, even if your ideas are different."

"Yes, but even if my ideas are different I will express them with the words of your language."

"How can you do otherwise if you want me to understand?"

Sphinx gives a powerless shrug. She slowly shakes her head again.

"If your own language is the only one you understand," she replies, "however can you…"

Ishtar shifts, irritated.

"You can learn other languages," she snaps.

Sphinx bites her lip:

"You're right. But I have to speak with the words of a language that exists…"

"You can invent a secret language but you'll still have to share it."

"It's not the language. I have to… I have to speak with a thought… a thought that exists… a thought that exists…"

I had been dreaming. My mind was hesitating between the dream and the light coming in through the window. I couldn't remember the dream. The bird wasn't there. But would it have talked to me about my dream? I tried to go back… no, not into my dream, but into what my memory was hiding from me. What other dream did I come from?

I can't remember; perhaps I'm not allowed to remember. A thought… what thought?

"Aren't you up yet?"

Gilgamesh had just arrived. His thought was born and died, one day at a time, perhaps.

"I'm hungry!"

He was always hungry. My mother made very good breakfasts. He talked a lot at table; my mother listened to him, looked at him affectionately. I think he reassured her. What did he reassure her about? I don't know. Although he was lively by nature, he had a mind without bumps; what I mean by that is that people didn't feel jolted by him, even if they should have been sometimes by what he said. My mother talked to him; on occasion I wanted to understand what about. It was about simple things. I did not understand.

Gilgamesh was in no hurry. I thought he was going to suggest a game of tennis, or going to Ishtar's, but he said nothing about either. My mother liked to take care of the garden. I liked to look at it; so many lives seem motionless, but nothing seems able to stop them. Without human hands the garden dies, but another garden comes to walk the earth, an unknown garden that imposes its own will. It comes from bare earth and knows no end.

Gilgamesh had set about helping my mother; he put as much energy into digging as into hitting a shot. Was a spell of gardening worth the same as a game of tennis? "You should give us a hand instead!" he replied to my question.

Hitting a ball into the distance is not enough to say you're playing tennis. What does the unknown garden tell us?

The gardening is done. Gilgamesh seems undecided about doing something else. We stay sitting on the grass.

"I don't feel like playing today," he says reflectively after a moment.

I am slightly surprised because he seems full of energy. I say that it doesn't matter.

"What about going to Ishtar's… though I don't know if she'll fancy a bike ride," he goes on.

"We can do something else."

"Oh, yes! Pegasus…"

I burst out laughing:

"There's more than just Pegasus. Ishtar doesn't spend all her time…"

He interrupts me nervously:

"Why try and find out who wrote the page?"

Now he's standing up; he leaves me no time to answer and says, sounding irked:

"The world is full of books. At school we already have to learn heaven knows how many. Why one more?"

He has spoken loudly; my mother has heard. She comes up to us, smiling.

"If you don't know what other people know," she says to Gilgamesh, "you won't be able to live the same life as them."

"Everyone lives the life they want."

"Only if they live apart. Bees won't stay in the same meadow as sheep."

Gilgamesh give my mother a slightly worried look. My mother adds teasingly:

"Sheep don't let flowers grow."

Gilgamesh is riding fast; I don't know where he wants to go. He has asked me if I wanted to go, he has thanked my mother profusely. I say nothing. He seems furious. I don't try to find out why; he can be surprising. And here we are at Ishtar's.

Pegasus has work to do; the girls surround him and pay little attention to our arrival. Confucius comes towards us with a warm smile.

"You're getting here in mid-battle," he tells us. "Someone is daring to doubt the interest of the page, which is making Sphinx roar."

The image makes me laugh. Gilgamesh looks at me warily.

"We'll be better able to judge the text's interest when we know who wrote it," Ishtar sends.

Pegasus returns, head bowed. "If the author were known, that would be immediately obvious," he reports.

"And added to our curriculum," bellows Gilgamesh.

Sphinx was spurring on Pegasus, who bore this message: "If the idea of the text were known, there would be nothing left to find." In return: "An idea that no-one understands interests no-one."

"A shame we can't say that in class," mutters Gilgamesh.

From time to time Frog would send Pegasus trotting off, still bearing the same message: "Have you lost this page? I would so much like you to get it back again."

It's already very hot this morning. We're riding slowly towards the pond - the cool water will do us good. Do the trees around the road send messages? They seem to know what they need. They look at us, they look at the sky. Do they talk to the birds?

Frog is riding near me; Gilgamesh is recounting his prowess on the tennis court to Confucius, who smiles kindly. Ishtar and Sphinx are deep in learned conversation, or at least that's what it looks like.

"Have you ever lost something that meant a lot to you?" Frog asks me.

I am slightly surprised; I have indeed lost things, this or that. That meant a lot to me? Yes, that meant a lot to me. And then… did I forget?

My thoughts must have served as an answer because Frog goes on:

"It's not because the page is important, or not important, but its absence is felt."

This time I do answer:

"The book it comes from misses it, but are you sure the person who lost it misses it too? Perhaps they threw it away…"

Frog shakes her head briskly.

"No," she says nervously, "no, I'm not sure; I have no idea. But the page is so sad all on its own."

I give a little chuckle.

"I know, a page can't be sad," murmurs Frog.

After a moment she adds:

"I don't know if the person who lost it - oh, yes, or perhaps threw it away - is sad, but…"

She waves vaguely, taking her hands off her handlebars, then says dully;

"I can't do any different."

She has fallen silent. I listen to the noise of tyres on the road. I hear words; those of Gilgamesh - they can be heard from a distance -, those… no, they are not words - the sound of the wind, of the birds, of… of what you don't hear.

It's hot. Has the heat melted my mind? I can't catch the words that were said on… the page… on… Only the sun, the trees, the meadows, the cows rummaging through the grass seem to escape from what I feel to be unreal in my thought.

We ride slowly; nobody's in a hurry today. The clouds, the little white clouds, must be hot too; they appear from time to time, shyly, stay for a moment, looking on, then go away again without anyone noticing.

I have heard Gilgamesh exclaim: "Why not tennis?" Confucius has started to laugh. "Why not cycling?" he has answered. I haven't understood. Tennis?

"Why are you talking about tennis?" I have said without really knowing why.

We weren't supposed to be playing tennis… no, that's not what it was about.

"I can't see why tennis isn't as important as their Greek text," Gilgamesh replies.

I am slightly surprised; I hadn't been following the conversation - perhaps I had been busy keeping an eye on a little cloud that was trying to disappear.

Ishtar didn't leave me time to get my wits about me again.

"People don't discover anything by playing tennis," she says, rather sharply.

"You mean there always has to be suffering," Gilgamesh snaps back.

"I don't understand. You don't only discover disagreeable things. Our life…"

"And what if I don't want to discover at all?"

"You can't…" "Nor can you! There'll always be something else that you won't discover."

Ishtar looks perplexed. Gilgamesh adds, as though laying down a challenge:

"Playing tennis, I discover new shots. Want to try?"

Ishtar doesn't answer. Nobody speaks. A sort of embarrassment has set in, without my understanding why. There is no reason… Gilgamesh has made one of his usual jokes. Everyone gives the impression of wanting to… It's as though we had touched the resin of a tree.

We have picked up the pace a bit. Was it - as I myself felt - because our minds had set fast? Were the little white clouds playing…? No, they weren't playing tennis, they weren't playing anything; they weren't discovering anything - it was I who was discovering them, and then only if I looked up. The clouds have their own world into which there is no entry.

We had arrived at the pond, where a bit of coolness welcomed us pleasantly. Gilgamesh was already in the water; was he dreaming of other finds? The girls were fussing around - girls are always fussing around. Confucius was helping with something. Me too, perhaps.

Water, the silence of rest, lunch to get ready. Sphinx's large eyes roam.

"A text no-one understands is the only one that can lead people to discovery," she says suddenly.

Ishtar looks surprised. She mutters silently, then says:

"That is the case with any text."

"You're exaggerating," Confucius retorts indignantly. "Perhaps Sphinx means something…"

"That we won't understand!" cuts in Gilgamesh with a grin.

"Oh, you never take anything seriously!"

Confucius wags his head vigorously as he protests. I am surprised; it's not like him. Ishtar seems surprised too.

"I may have something to say too," she murmurs.

A short silence follows. She adds, sounding more assured:

"What do our teachers do at school? They explain. That's what they're there for. If we understood, why would they be explaining?"

A long silence follows. The silence is noisy: the meal is being prepared. The birds scorn our conversation and talk amongst themselves. Are our words to them only what we call their song?

"What if no-one understands, not even the teachers?"

Sphinx has spoken with a dull voice. Was it a song?

Silence has returned; it is full of discomfort. Can birds sing sadly? Lunch is ready, we eat. I feel that something has happened. What, though? I can't remember. I can't remember what has happened. It's like a cloud you think you see and then it tears apart leaving shreds that no longer show anything at all. Sphinx had asked a question that no-one seemed able to answer. Was it a sad song? Was it a song that caused sadness?

Ishtar has broken the silence - hesitantly:

"Teachers explain to us what they have been taught."

Gilgamesh sneers:

"And we're supposed to trust them!"

Confucius protests:

"We can check what they say: it's in all the books."

"And the books all say the same thing, I suppose."

"But it's always the past you learn," says Sphinx.

"What else are you supposed to learn?" asks Ishtar sharply.

"The future, in the stars!" exclaims Gilgamesh with a laugh.

"People make discoveries every day," says Confucius calmly. "That's not the past."

Sphinx seems to be staring into the distance.

"As long as they discover what is understood," she says slowly.

"If no-one understands, what's found is kept until they do," insists Confucius.

"Or else discarded," replies Sphinx wearily.

Ishtar smiles, a slightly resigned smile.

"How do you know what ought to be kept?" she says slowly.

How do you keep a cloud?

"The cloud disappears all on its own."

Sphinx looks at me with her wide-open eyes. What ought I to look for? I know; I have spoken aloud without noticing. I owe Sphinx a response:

"Wanting to keep isn't enough, then?"

"Perhaps even wanting to stay isn't enough."

"And it isn't enough for you to talk for us to understand you," mocks Gilgamesh.

Unexpectedly, everyone starts laughing. The sky is blue, there's nothing to catch the gaze.

Why has lunch been such a pleasure to eat? Everyone seemed to feel in a good mood; the conversations were lively, their subjects elusive. The sky stayed blue; we swam, we went home.

Today we're all having lunch at Ishtar's. Her parents are there; they're having lunch with us. "How far have you got?" they ask. They seem to find our explanations confused. "If that's how you do your homework…", followed by copious advice. "And you're asking everybody and anybody; how do you expect to make progress like that?" Confucius nods from time to time; the girls smile bravely. Gilgamesh hides behind his fork. I listen. Everything they say is true; everything they say is false. I know; I don't know.

"You have to practice with someone serious."

Ishtar's father sounds serious too; actually, Ishtar's father is serious. Gilgamesh answers cautiously, timidly keeping an eye on Ishtar. Should I be cautious? It's me Gilgamesh practices with.

The conversation has splintered into crumbs. The parents recite, apparently without being sure of their audience. The audience hesitates. Perhaps they ought to accept this world that the parents present as a stage-set full of hustle and bustle - a stage-set without life.

We join Pegasus. I feel as though I am waking from a dream.

Pegasus is quivering; he brings harsh news: "Why are you interested in this text?" Sphinx responds with a few general reasons, mentioning curiosity… "No-one is ever curious without a reason, and your reasons do not seem very justified," Pegasus shoots back. He doesn't have time to stop. He is called away. "Are you allowed to have this text?" he asks. "What justifications can you give?" Pegasus is sent off to have a rest. Sphinx looks down.

Gilgamesh stammers:

"I wasn't allowed?..."

We all look at him with amazement. I can't understand why he looks so worried.

"What have you…" He breaks in nervously:

"I found the page."

"Yes. Why…"

"Was I allowed?"

Confucius says, laughing softly:

"Is it about the message? But… it really doesn't matter."

Gilgamesh seems a little less worried.

"It may be someone important," he says weakly.

"It's nobody's business."

"You reckon?… I think… I think… If I hadn't… If you do nothing, nobody bothers you. Nobody can… And discovering only gets you into trouble."

Ishtar says slyly, with a mocking smile:

"Even discovering new tennis shots?"

Gilgamesh mutters:

"Yes. I can win with the shots I've already got."

"Perhaps someone will have to invent some new ones in order to beat you," says Sphinx brusquely.

She is staring into the distance, as if she weren't talking to Gilgamesh. She adds slowly:

"Perhaps the new game is in the text."

"The Greeks didn't play tennis," says Ishtar briskly.

Sphinx has got Pegasus ready. He leaves, taking with him: "We want to know if the Greeks played tennis."

He comes back soon, with a long message. We are told that it was necessary to respect the rights of those who had them. If they were no longer there to receive them, those rights had to be given to everyone; because everyone was entitled to those rights. Everyone, but not us. We were clearly not everyone. The others were everyone. Once the others had obtained their rights, we could ask them to let us benefit from them. As for the person who had written the text, they belonged to their country, or to the universe. In any case, we could not justify any rights because we were not the others. And the text said nothing about tennis, so hadn't we been hiding…

Sphinx, annoyed, kindly advises Pegasus to go back to bed.

A simmering silence has settled over us. Gilgamesh mutters silently. Sphinx answers - but who?

"A child is always curious about what they don't know."

Sphinx has spoken disapprovingly. Ishtar protests, although she wasn't being called into question.

"We are taught what we don't know, and…"

Gilgamesh interrupts Ishtar:

"Yes, I know, teachers. And all the books, too. And of course you have to repeat everything. Everything that the teachers say, not what the books say."

"It's the same thing!" exclaims Confucius indignantly.

"Not always. Teachers… extract."

"Ah, but what they extract comes from a book, doesn't it?"

Gilgamesh is annoyed:

"It's the same teachers who tell us not to take a quotation out of its context."

Ishtar says calmly:

"Do you mean to say they're lying, then?"

"Lying? Oh, no, not lying. No. They choose. They choose what they want. They can choose anyone and anything. Then they talk to those who don't know."

We remain silent. Does the silence answer Gilgamesh, or does it wrap up his words in order to conserve them better? The silence continues; is it broken by Frog's murmur?

"Does someone who doesn't know have to know?"

Frog's small voice floats over the silence.

"Do they perhaps feel the need to know?" Sphinx asks softly.

Frog murmurs again:

"Will they ever be able to know what a feeling is?"

The silence is still there, close to us. Perhaps it knows, perhaps it knows only what a feeling is.

Gilgamesh is bellicose this morning. His opponent doesn't even have time to return the ball. As for me, my presence alongside him on court is pointless; he is everywhere. Game over. I congratulate him.

"The teachers have extracted tennis!" he says suddenly.

Surprised, I say:

"Extracted from what?"

He gives a snort:

"Do you think I'm allowed to win… anywhere else?"

"Anywhere else? You mean…"

"I mean anywhere other than tennis."

Gilgamesh has an idea behind all this. I play dumb:

"You can win at another game; it's not forbidden."

"Another game, yes."

I guess:

"You can also win other things…"

"Other things, yes."

This time I say nothing. He adds:

"But not against the teacher."

"Because teachers are better?"

"Because I'm not allowed."

After a moment's silence he carries on:

"Yes, at tennis, I can; but not at school."

I remain thoughtful. How can you win against a teacher?

After lunch we gather at Ishtar's. The shade of the great trees in the garden seems cool; the leaves right up at the top dance and whisper. The long grass is lush. Our minds laze; Pegasus snoozes.

Confucius exchanges a few words with Gilgamesh about tennis. The girls are talking about a book that Ishtar has just finished reading.

"Frog wanted to know what you thought about the reasons why we read. To observe, to learn or to feel?" Sphinx asks me.

Gilgamesh leaves me no time to reply:

"To obey. Books give order to thought."

Ishtar says:

"That's called culture. Would you rather have disordered thought?"

Gilgamesh looks down; is he blushing, perhaps? Hesitantly he answers:

"No… not disordered… no… but what order… ordered how… who by? Yes, I know, by teachers. But how can I think like you, even if you…"

He breaks off suddenly. This time he has definitely blushed. I can hear the leaves whispering, up there. Frog has got up; she finds it hot and offers to go and get some cold drinks.

I feel guilty all of a sudden; I haven't answered Frog's question. Gilgamesh stopped me, of course, but did I have an answer? Why read? Reading is listening. Who do we listen to? The one who speaks to us or the one who has been asked to speak? What do we listen to? What we are told or what is useful to us?

"Do you want some orange juice?"

Frog is holding out a glass to me. I say to her with a smile:

"Even if you hadn't said anything, I would have understood that you were offering me a glass of orange juice."

She looks at me; she waits.

"Perhaps we read when no-one gives us anything to drink."

She has listened to me without moving her eyes. I have drunk. She has taken my glass and murmured:

"I'll get you some more."

This morning the bird was on the window-sill. It said something to me then left. Was I already awake or did I wake after? I know what it said to me. I don't want it to go. In the sky there is no cloud to perch on.

I open my eyes. I'm hungry.

I like breakfast. The birds eat too, as soon as the sun lights up their food. Being hungry is effortless; is the same true of thinking?

It's raining. I ride along the paths around the village. The leaves of the great trees are surrounded by a light-filled mist.

Is it true that one day the mist became a bird? In which class did it learn how to do that? With which teacher? Did the bird this morning come to call me to go with it to its school?

The mist creeps slowly towards me. Are we going to that class together?

The school walls are only leaves. I do not seek a window to look out of.

I learn nothing. In my own school I learn lots of things; things that please me, that interest me. Those things come and help me, help me to do what it is impossible for me to do on my own. I can build a bike; I will go faster than when running at full tilt. Here I learn nothing. I don't know if I'm running or riding - no, actually, of course I'm riding - but I feel that I am adding nothing to myself. Except that I am growing; I can feel myself growing, like the leaves around me are growing. Like the mist grew when it became a bird.

The rain has gone. It must be noon; my mother must be waiting for me for lunch.

"I was sure you'd be soaked," my mother says reproachfully on my arrival.

I want to stay that way but it's simply not possible.

"You could have waited until the rain had stopped," my mother complains.

I feel like answering "I would have missed school", but that would mean having to laugh it off and I can't.

My father gives me a helping hand:

"A chap must be able to handle a spot of rain, don't you think?"

Lunch was pleasant. I discovered that we had a garden. Now I'm dry.

Ishtar's wood is still wet this afternoon; Ishtar welcomes us in her house.

Pegasus idles. We try and interest him in the outside world. "No, no," he answers, "the world is not abuzz. Nobody's interested in your Greek." We accuse him of indolence. He responds: "Every day, without being told, I travel the universe and leave my message. What am I supposed to do next, other than wait?"

Ishtar declaims:

"Offer them bread and…"

"… and only the starving will come and take it," cuts in Sphinx.

Gilgamesh does not let the silence settle.

"Right, well, if your Greek is asleep, what shall we do?"

Confucius suggests a game. Ishtar protests:

"Playing games is like stopping time; when the game's over, nothing has changed."

Gilgamesh says impatiently:

"Why change?"

"We always need new things," Confucius answers calmly.

"Need?" "Or want. That wanting is where scholars come from."

"Yes, of course, there always has to be learning…"

Sphinx says urgently:

"The page… the Greek doesn't want to teach us anything…"

"How do you know?" retorts Gilgamesh.

"Apart from the… sentence, the text is clear, well written; his sentence would have been clear too if he had wanted it to be."

"If you're so sure..."

"I'm not sure of anything. Nor are you…"

"But I never said anything."

Sphinx takes no notice of Gilgamesh's interruption. She goes on:

"He doesn't want us to know, he doesn't want us to do, he wants…"

She leaves a silence, then adds hesitantly:

"He wants our thought to no longer be the one we are familiar with."

"What are you on about?" exclaims Ishtar.

"We can't understand what he says with our thought the way it is, but if we were to change our thought…"

"But that may not mean anything!"

"Yes, maybe."

Sphinx has stopped all of a sudden. It's as though she had seen something that had just disappeared.

There was no silence but no-one said anything either. A few looks sought news from Pegasus. But he had nothing to say either.

"He needs help," said Frog suddenly.

We looked at her in surprise.

"Who needs help?" asked Confucius.

"The person who wrote the page. He's alone."

"How do you know all that?" asked Ishtar, her voice hesitant.

"I don't know."

We all looked confused. Frog's words didn't seem to mean anything. Nobody protested, though. After a moment Ishtar turned to Sphinx and went on:

"You want to help him change our thought? But we can already understand lots of things with our thought the way it is now, things that enable us to live, to live together…"

"We don't live because we understand," Frog interrupted.

Confucius stepped in:

"We live better because we understand."

Ishtar gave an ironic grin:

"What do you mean by better?"


Sphinx cut him off:

"We limit ourselves to what we are."

Ishtar insisted:

"How do you know that beyond those limits you'll be happier?"

"You have to cross them first."

"You don't even know what they are. How will you know when you've crossed them?"

No-one said anything. Gilgamesh shook his head from time to time. He finally broke the silence:

"We'd have been better off playing a game."

We looked at each other and started laughing. Frog just smiled kindly.

Evening was drawing on. We were unable to decide what to do the next day. Everything would depend on Pegasus. If there is no news, we will go for a bike ride.

Gilgamesh, this morning, has come flaunting his racquet. He talks - with my mother - about the garden, about the lovely hot weather that has returned, the sun, the moon - no, not the moon, I'm making that up - and so many other things…

"Shall we play?" I ask him, laughing softly.

"If you like," he says, feigning surprise.

"I do like," I say insistently.

He is delighted. It's true, we haven't practised against each other for quite a while.

Playing is easy; the mind roams free. You can do so many things when you aren't thinking. Tennis, homework for school; you please… parents, other people - who else? the one who wants, the one whose shot you weren't able to reach.

"You're not very quick today!" Gilgamesh exclaims crossly.

"Don't complain, you're going to win."

"Against an incompetent!"

I hit a fierce shot. Gilgamesh is startled. Battle is joined. Only winning matters. For once, I win. The loser congratulates me affectionately. Why were we fighting?

Frog has let us know that Pegasus is waiting for us. After a good lunch that my mother has made to set us back on our feet after our efforts, we go to Ishtar's. Sphinx is angry. Pegasus has brought horrors, she says. What horrors? Sphinx is vehement:

"It seems we shouldn't try to understand the Greek text because if it contains a new idea it must be bad. Only old ideas are good. That's what I've just found out!"

Confucius remarks calmly:

"Everyone can have an opinion, even if it's not the same as yours."

"The only point of an old idea is to be known."

Ishtar is not happy:

"You're simplifying; old ideas can help people to guide themselves."

"Because they are known," says Sphinx stubbornly.

"What difference does that make?"

"No-one can say 'I didn't know'."

Everyone seemed to be looking for… no, not an answer, but rather… a question. Confucius found the question. Pegasus was sent to ask why new ideas should be bad. He brought back an answer almost straight away: "They are bad because the old ones are good." Pegasus did not lose heart; he asked: "And why not look for better ones?" The answer was immediate: "How do we know what is better?" Pegasus was stumped; so were we.

The big trees in the garden had tempered the heat. Gilgamesh was beginning to fidget impatiently. He finally asked his favourite question:

"What shall we do?"

We started to laugh, as always, and Ishtar said with a slightly mocking smile:

"We can dance if you like."

"Oh yes, that's a good idea!"

During this brief answer, Gilgamesh's voice went from joyful to tragic. Our laughter swelled again and it was decided that we should dance… since it gave Gilgamesh so much pleasure.

The music we dance to is not the music that Sphinx sometimes plays. During the dance the music is alone. When I listen to Sphinx's light and elegant playing, it is the composer I hear in conversation with her. Does he talk to her about the thought that exists? Does he show her the thought that does not exist?

Ishtar is dancing with me. She holds me firmly - as firmly as she looks or speaks. Does she think firmly as well?

"Have you read…?"

She is talking about a book, which can be said to be about morality - Morality. Is Morality a rule or a question? If you're convinced by the author it's a rule. And what if the author is not convinced himself but doesn't say so?

"… there's nothing I can do about it; the sentence contradicts itself. Sphinx isn't searching, she's dreaming."

Ishtar had changed subject; I hadn't noticed. Actually, I hadn't noticed that Ishtar hadn't changed subject. She went on:

"You can't destroy in order to create."

"How can you know that you're creating?"

Ishtar stops suddenly while continuing to dance. Her eyes show me the question she's asking herself.

"You mean you can only create if you don't know?" she murmurs.

"If you don't know?..."

"If you don't know you're creating."

I'm surprised. I didn't think I'd said that.

She insists:

"If we have to know…"

I interrupt her:

"If we are forced to know…"

"If you like… Yes, it's true, that's it; if we are forced. If we are forced to know it, we will no longer be able to create?"

"We may be able to perhaps, but will we want to? If we don't want to, what will we create?"

The music is untroubled by our conversation. It's nice to dance with Ishtar. She speaks calmly; with insistence… with insistence? It's true; it's true, I hadn't noticed. No…

I hear her say, through the music:

"How can I think for myself without being full of the thought of all those who have spoken before me?"

"Well, in that case, you can never think for yourself."

Ishtar looks at me thoughtfully. She says slowly:

"You're right. Our thoughts are only partly ours."

I smile - for no reason.

"Even the thoughts that don't exist?"

Ishtar answers my smile:

"You'll have to talk to Sphinx about that!"

The music plays, the dancers dance; with one, with another. Our conversations ripple from one idea to another, from one dance to another. I talk to Sphinx, perhaps answering another voice. Does Sphinx dream?

"Why shouldn't I be allowed to dream?" she says, sounding amused.

"Do you dream about thoughts that don't exist?"

Sphinx starts to laugh softly:

"Not at all, as you well know: thought, not thoughts."

I feel a bit silly. I just wanted to be sarcastic… Sphinx must have realised my embarrassment because she adds kindly:

"I don't always know if I know what I say."

We both decided to laugh it off.

I also danced with Frog. She melts into the music. She seemed lost in thought. She didn't say anything.

The sun had finally had enough and was leaving us lazily. The heat was becoming calm, welcoming. Ishtar's parents had kept us for dinner, or rather for a buffet set up in the garden. The music had not abandoned us, while resting quietly. The conversations mingled with the clatter of plates and cutlery. Did Ishtar's parents still remember what they had said to us? Apparently not, going by how happy they seemed to be, listening to our… chatter.

"How far have you got?"

Ishtar's father has asked the question in the manner of a passer-by asking an angler if the fishing is good. Ishtar's mother gives us a smile and an affectionate look.

Confucius speaks first:

"We haven't had much in the way of results so far, but quite a lot of people have told us what we ought to do, and even what we ought to think."

Gilgamesh has looked at Confucius with surprise, and perhaps a touch of envy.

"So what ought you to do?" asks Ishtar's mother kindly.

Confucius has not answered and Gilgamesh takes advantage of the opportunity to state boldly:

"We're not going to listen to any old Tom, Dick or Harry in order to decide what we're going to do!"

Ishtar steps in:

"We talk about it amongst ourselves. Everyone has their own opinion."

She gives a little smile to Gilgamesh, who looks down.

Ishtar's mother says in an uncertain voice:

"You really are very brave."

I didn't know we were brave.

Ishtar's father adds:

"It's good to take an interest in matters of the mind. Young people don't usually do that kind of thing. And at least they're not dangerous occupations, like so many."

"Yes," confirms Ishtar's mother, "you really are very brave."

Sphinx offers to help in the kitchen. She has already helped a lot in the kitchen. Frog goes with her. Ishtar passes plates round. We, the boys, try to find what to say, apparently.

Nights seem longer in summer. After dinner we stayed on for a good while longer. The boys played cards with Ishtar's father. The girls and Ishtar's mother were talking… What do girls talk about, then? Frog has mended or fixed or repaired… I don't know… Ishtar's mother had had a spot of bother, snagged her dress perhaps; she is laughing now, saying thank you no doubt, she is radiant. Frog smiles; she seems happy.

The bird has spoken to me for longer this morning before flying off. Amazed words, without meaning. Without meaning for me. But for it? Should I understand or feel like the bird? Feel what it feels? Understand its words? Words without meaning - for me - but which demand so much. Have I replied? With my words without meaning - for it? My words that I don't listen to when I say them? My words are for my parents, for Gilgamesh, for… What does Gilgamesh hear, what does my mother hear, when I say those words? Do they feel what I feel, do they understand my words? Do my words have a meaning - for them? What meaning? Theirs? Or mine? Do my words have a meaning - for me?

I hear a whisper:

"Are you asleep?"

It's Gilgamesh. My eyes were closed.

"No, no, I was talking…"

I break off, start again:

"I've just emerged from a dream."

"Oh. Well, get up, then! We're going for a bike ride, or had you forgotten?"

"No, no, I'm coming."

My mother has already made breakfast. We soon arrive at Ishtar's. We set out for the pond - the Greek's pond.

The way there is familiar. The little wood looks at me; I smile back. Gilgamesh is no longer racing ahead; he goes from one of us to another, joking. Our little band is bright and cheerful. Without saying a word, the trees grow.

"Why ever would they talk?" Sphinx says to me. "Every tree grows the way it wants to."

Frog says softly:

"They're never alone."

Sphinx protests:

"We're together too, aren't we?"

"Yes, but trees can't get lost, be abandoned."

"How do you know?"

Frog looks down, as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn't have been. Sphinx gives her a broad smile and adds brightly, singing:

"You are… the sprite… the wood sprite!"

Frog sketches a small smile, then starts to laugh merrily.

One day, trees invented words. Words to tell of the wind that caresses their leaves, the rain that feeds their roots, the ice that wounds their branches, the snow that protects their life. Words to tell of the autumn chill that makes them drowsy, the spring warmth that wakes them up. Words to tell of the sun that gives new life. By the time that day came they were trees no longer.

Gilgamesh's grunting wakes me up:

"When I grow the way I want to, words are all I hear!"

Confucius says sarcastically:

"And words are just what you need! All we hear from you is 'What shall we do?' What would you do if we didn't give you words?"

"Well, I'd quicken the pace and you'd never catch me up!"

Everyone laughs. Gilgamesh goes on:

"And in any case, I can always make of your word what I will."

"Oh!" exclaims Ishtar.

Gilgamesh has almost fallen off his bike. But he's caught his balance again; he says in a sarcastic tone of voice:

"And why does our English teacher explain the words that are themselves there to explain?"

Plainly no-one can give Gilgamesh an answer when he waxes philosophical like that. Our little band rides on in silence. The same silence as that of the little breeze that rustles the leaves of the trees around us; the silence of what we say to each other, words after words, that go from one to another then dissipate, leaving no memory behind. Has the little breeze told the trees that it had united them in spring?

The pond approaches, in no hurry. Gilgamesh is already in the water; the girls have stowed the baskets containing our lunch. The water is like a big bed that it's good to bask in. Time passes.

We devour the meal served by the girls. Gilgamesh asks for a second helping of dessert.

"Can I take your words the way I want?" Ishtar answers him sarcastically.

Gilgamesh hesitates then starts to laugh.

"Of course," he chuckles, "as long as you give me a lot of cake!"

"Now you've become the Wordmaster," says Confucius portentously.

Everyone laughs; Gilgamesh shakes his head. Ishtar passes him his cake.

Gilgamesh is on top form.

"Wordmasters are those who tell me how I am to live," he says briskly.

"Who tells you how you are to live?" asks Confucius with surprise.

"At school. The words are their words, not mine."

"A word is a word," states Ishtar.

"A word, yes. But it is they who give it the meaning they want. I am allowed to agree; if I don't agree, I am not capable of knowing what I say, according to them."

"You've just told Confucius that…"

"That I take them the way I want, not that I make anyone else take them the way I do."

Sphinx says sharply:

"In that case a word can have different meanings. The sentence in the text…"

"The sentence again!" exclaims Ishtar.

Sphinx shrugs. We fall silent. Frog's small voice comes as a surprise:

"A word must take care of the person who depends on it."

Sphinx has recovered:

"What if the sentence showed us that each word is a guessing game?" she says rapidly.

"Try telling your teacher that!" snorts Gilgamesh.

"You really are something else!" protests Ishtar, almost throwing herself at Sphinx. "Other people have read what I have read and I really do think we have all understood the same thing."

"Except me, who always gets hold of the wrong end of the stick, or at least so my teachers tell me," mocks Gilgamesh.

"That's not the same thing, I'm talking about those who…"

Ishtar breaks off, lost for words. Confucius attempts to restore calm:

"You mean those who have made a careful study of this or that book."

"The commentators don't always agree with each other," cuts in Gilgamesh.

Ishtar has regained her composure:

"I'm talking about the things that really matter, not the details. Us, for example: we always behave the same way for certain things, otherwise none of us would ever trust the others."

She stops, slightly out of breath, then immediately goes on:

"We also behave like everyone else for… in… Well, we don't eat stones, for example."

Sphinx's great eyes are motionless. She says with emotion:

"And what if the sentence showed us trust in the unknown? And even in what seems contrary to… common sense?"

She pauses for a moment, then continues:

"In any case, hens eat stones."

"Naturally, they've got good teeth," says Gilgamesh in a serious voice.

Without taking in what Gilgamesh has just said, Ishtar protests:

"Hens don't have…"

She stops when she sees the grins around her, then attempts a show of commiseration, but Gilgamesh, seemingly pleased as Punch, has taken the precaution of looking down. Confucius suggests a swim.

Rather than swim, we frolic in the cool water, splashing each other, wrestling - who will hold up best? Gilgamesh, naturally, shows particular prowess; Ishtar swims majestically. Do they talk to each other?

It's time to go back. We cycle slowly along, accompanied by the sun which, having seen us, has said to itself it was time for it too to have a bit of a rest. The cows, as we pass, hesitate for a moment before looking up to ask us, while finishing a last mouthful of grass: "Where have you been?" We have been at the pond. "And we've been in the field; the grass was good." Our lunch too was good; the cake was excellent. "What did you talk about?" We talked about words.

We cycle slowly along. Behind us, we can hear the cows mooing. Are they talking to each other?

"What was he thinking about while he was writing?"

I am the one Frog has put the question to. She was riding near me, a bit behind, and I hadn't seen her. "What was he thinking about?..."

"You mean the Greek?"

Frog does not answer. I feel slightly stupid. I try to salvage the situation:

"Yes, the Greek, of course…"

That's worse; I feel very stupid. I take a deep breath. She still hasn't said anything. I go on, rather hesitantly:

"He… he was thinking…"

She interrupts, taking no notice of my stammering:

"People don't think about what they write."

"What do you mean? What do they think about?"

"I don't know."

"Whatever else would you think about?"

She answers, staring far into the distance:

"When I write at school, I think about what the teacher will say."

"Yes, I…"

"The teacher. He will say what I have written."

"You don't…"

"He won't feel…"

She stops; she starts again:

"He won't feel anything inside."

I thought I understood. As she said nothing more, I answered a question that wasn't one:

"You're not writing to someone when it's a classroom essay."

She gave me a big smile:

"Yes, yes; yes," she cried with warmth. "If I write a letter to… to a friend, she will feel; I will write thinking about what she will feel, what she will feel inside."

"I understand."

"What was he thinking about while he was writing?"

She fell silent and stared into the distance again. I didn't dare say anything else.

The bird wasn't there this morning. I waited for it. It didn't come. Gilgamesh was surprised, when he arrived, to find me in the garden. "Already up…" he said, without my being able to know whether it was a question or not. "What are you looking at?" he asked, following my gaze.

"I'm looking at the sky; perhaps the bird is there."

"The bird? What's a bird got to do with you?"

Then he added urgently:

"You shouldn't get up so early!"

And burst out laughing.

Laughing must make you hungry. Gilgamesh demolished the breakfast my mother had made for us. Me too, though I was a little distracted by the idea that the bird could come and join us at the table.

"You want to feed the birds?" said Gilgamesh with astonishment.

"No, not the birds…"

Gilgamesh asked my mother with a laugh whether she could give me some seed.

"Seed?" said my mother, sounding surprised.

I explained that it was not at all my intention to feed all the birds in the village, just…

"Just…?" inquired my mother.

I didn't know what to say. My bird… but why was it my bird? I didn't have a bird.

"Gilgamesh is talking rubbish," I said, feigning indignation.

"He's got a secret with a bird," remarked Gilgamesh sarcastically.

My mother asked us if we wanted some more jam.

When you're no longer hungry, there's nothing left to do. But life doesn't stand still. Impatiently, Gilgamesh was hitting shots against the garden wall and I was returning them against the same wall. Time passed.

Confident of our strength and our skill, we went to pit them against opponents who had doubtless warmed up in the same way.

Hunger had returned, lunch was pressing us.

The sun has started its homeward journey. It never eats. Why does it give us food?

"Are you coming?"

Where does Gilgamesh want to go?

"Coming where?"

"There was no point getting up so early if it was only to carry on sleeping!"

Of course; we're going to Ishtar's.

Pegasus arrived at the same time as us; he was bearing a message: "A Greek philosopher can speak only as a philosopher. He cannot say a sentence that cannot be understood."

Pegasus protests: "He may not be a philosopher," he transmits. "In that case, what is the point of the text?" is the answer that comes back.

"But we don't have the faintest idea!" says Ishtar, annoyed.

"What is a philosopher?" asks Gilgamesh sarcastically.

Ishtar has turned on him heatedly.

"Someone…" she starts.

She breaks off and bites her lip. Gilgamesh stammers:

"Yes… He…"

Sphinx cuts in briskly:

"People aren't philosophers. People are people; they do what they want to. Philosophy is something people do. They do it if they want to."

Confucius steps in:

"When you have chosen to do something…"

"Do you choose to live?"

Sphinx has spoken in a breath. Why have I heard a rumble? Silence falls.

"You can't count on someone who changes their mind," says Ishtar dully.

"Any more than on a tennis player who's just lost both arms," comments Sphinx.

"That's not their fault…"

"How do you know?"

"OK, OK; but they can't do anything else. They're not changing their mind, they're doing something else."

"Anyone can take the decision to do something else."

Ishtar hasn't answered.

"A prisoner can't," says Frog softly.

It's hot. Ishtar's mother offers us drinks while asking us how far we've got with our investigations.

"You're really keen on this… discovery," she says solicitously.

"Oh, you know, we haven't got anything else to do," remarks Confucius.

Frog helps to serve the drinks. We talk about the garden - Ishtar's mother shows off the flower beds which are so pretty but which will have to be reorganised when the weather starts to get chilly.

Pegasus is calling us. "Philosophers can speak only about what exists; they cannot create anything. If what they say is incomprehensible, there's no point searching. People cannot understand what cannot be understood. You are only people."

"Wow!" says Gilgamesh with a guffaw. "We're people!"

We are people. I am a person. Who will say what a person is? Shall I say it myself? Or will someone else say it? Do I know this other person and can I talk about myself with them? Or do I not know them?

"Do you not know who?"

Frog is looking at me attentively. She has spoken hesitantly.

"I was thinking… The person who says I'm a person… How do they know? Can't I be something else?"

Frog's eyes do not leave me. I cry dully:

"Am I a prisoner, then?"

"I don't know; maybe. But only if you know what a person is."

"And a person can't create?" says Sphinx.

"Why do you say that?" asks Ishtar, surprised.

"I'm talking about the message. Do they even know what a person is?"

"It was the philosopher…"

"… who is a person. In any case, why speak, since we can't say anything by ourselves? And why think? Some gives us thoughts, we repeat them. It's awful!"

"When I hit a shot, it's me who decides," breaks in Gilgamesh energetically.

"Yes, for little things; but for big things…"

"What do you mean by big things?" asks Ishtar.

"I don't know… ethics…"

"Would ethics be the same for everyone if someone gave it to us?"

Sphinx shrugs and says in a voice that shows a trace of anxiety:

"In that case there's no point my thinking about how to live. All I need is a set of rules. It's awful!"

"You know of course that everything teachers do is for your own good," sniggers Gilgamesh.

"Ah, but they don't only think about the bad!" cries Ishtar.

"You simplify everything," breaks in Confucius. "People are indeed entitled to think and no-one stops you from doing it; that's precisely what you're doing now, isn't it?

"And if I find something better than what my teachers say, will they let me take their place?" challenges Sphinx.

"I don't think so," says Frog thoughtfully. "But if it's you who asks them for their place, I reckon they'll send you packing."

"And they'll be right to do so!" says Ishtar's father, entering the garden.

Surprised, we look at the newcomer - or newcomers, rather, since he's with a friend.

"It seems you're great philosophers," says Ishtar's father's friend with a smile.

"Oh, we were just having fun thinking," says Confucius calmly.

"That's what philosophy is, isn't it? That's great. Young people all too often act without thinking."

"And philosophers often think without acting," chips in Ishtar's father with a laugh.

"Yes, but they get others to act," answers his friend.

"That's true. Philosophers should be kings."

"That would be dangerous: you should always act wisely…"

"You said yourself that you had to think before acting," cuts in Ishtar's father.

"Yes, of course, but hey! life is what it is."

"True, true. Well, keep on having fun, then; we have things to do."

The newcomers left and went into the house. Ishtar's mother said something about tea. The thought of tea did not displease us.

Eating soothes. Thinking can dissolve in it. What will the sentence bring? What will it bring us? If it remains incomprehensible, will it be forgotten? Or will people search until…? Until when? Until forever? And if the sentence does bring something, is it something we need? Is it something someone needs? Perhaps Sphinx will be able to find something better than what her teacher says if she manages to understand the sentence. How can she fight her teacher? The great walls of School defend him. Great walls built from the spoil of all authors' thoughts. Thoughts that her teacher takes ownership of by making them look as though they're his. "The author tells us…," he claims, covering himself in borrowed glory.

And yet I had trusted him… yes, it was my teacher, not hers, but what matter? He had introduced me to authors - it's not the maker of books who would have done that - he had taught me to read so that I could read them myself. Why did he want to rape my mind?

"Are you crying?" said Frog to me very gently.

I have given her a sad smile. Then a brighter one.

"I was thinking about stupid stuff," I have said to her.

She gave me her piece of pie.

"Here, have this," she said.

Sunday. The market this morning is full of hustle and bustle. Are there more people than usual? Or am I more bothered by…?

"Come on, they're over there."

Gilgamesh is impatient. I tease him.

"Who? Oh yes, Ishtar's parents!"

He gives me a condescending look and answers sarcastically:

"Well then, let's go and see them!"

We stroll between the stalls while Ishtar's parents choose, chat, buy. There is Sphinx, there is Confucius, there is Frog. What a lot of things around us to look at, contemplate, eat.

Confucius's mother and Sphinx's mother are exchanging tips on how to choose the wares… and the vendors: "Watch out for the ones on that side, they're more interested in turning a profit than in their customers." I almost said: "You're thinking about your interests too, aren't you?" But how is one to live if one doesn't have an interest? I want to eat well too. That's what the market is there for.

"Get your tomatoes here, they're the best!" If I do so, the vendor will consider me a good customer, just like my teachers consider me a good student when I do what they want.

"What are you mumbling on about?"

Sphinx questions me with her large eyes. I haven't really understood what she said. I answer at random:

"I was thinking…"

I break off. What was I thinking about?

"What were you thinking?"

"I can't buy tomatoes and melons at the same time."

"Why? Don't you like…"

"No, no, I do…


"Each vendor wants me to buy from them."

"You choose the one you like."

"At the market, that's true."

"At the market?"

"Yes. I mean that elsewhere…"

Sphinx looks at me closely:

"You mean you can't do everything you're asked to do?"

No, that's not it. I rectify:

"What everyone asks me to do."

Sphinx laughs.

"Absolutely everyone?" she finally exclaims.

"No, no. But each one wants something different from another."

"Well, get the best tomatoes!"

"How can I know?"

Sphinx doesn't answer.

"Buy my lovely tomatoes!" cry the vendors.

Sphinx and I exchange looks and burst out laughing.

Ishtar has come up.

"What's the joke?" she asks.

"We're going to eat lovely tomatoes," replies Sphinx, laughing all the while.

Ishtar hesitates. I reassure her:

"You know how it is, we're hungry!"

She nods her head with pretend sorrow, then says:

"Eat whatever you like. But you'll still feel hungry again."

Her mother, choosing fruit, says to her with a mocking smile:

"It doesn't stop you from eating like a horse when you're at table. But I can buy less stuff if you like."

"That's a good idea!" exclaims Confucius. "It's philosophical economy."

"Shut up!" cries Gilgamesh. "The last thing I want is to find that on my timetable as well!"

Ishtar's father nods.

"Young people are not very brave nowadays," he says in a serious tone of voice.

I was watching him: he really did seem to have spoken seriously.

The stroll continued. Why did I want to eat everything I saw? The conversations with the stallholders sounded like a mountain stream rushing over rocks. It will calm down in the little valley where the animals will drink. In a little while the marketplace will be empty and lunch will be on the table.

On the table at Ishtar's parents' house, where we hang out more and more. But Ishtar makes us so welcome and her parents seem to enjoy seeing us…

The girls help in the kitchen, the boys try and get something out of Pegasus, who is sleeping peacefully. No news.

Lunch is a lively meal. Friends of Ishtar's parents - an expert in technical things and his wife, an expert in human thought - have popped by. We are slightly out of our depth and initially let Confucius, conscientious as always, shield us by answering questions which, going by my own experience and the looks we exchange with each other, we don't much understand.

Ishtar's father is in the chair:

"They're still very young; they don't set themselves a goal, they mill around."

"That's no way to run the world," ordains the Technical Expert.

"It's normal for young minds not to be fully formed yet," retorts the Human Thinker reprovingly.

"But school sets them goals," says the Chair.

"Young people like contradiction; they think they gain in importance," states the Human Thinker.

"Young people don't want to follow in the steps of their elders," starts the Chair.

"Above all, they believe themselves superior to their elders," ends the Technical Expert.

"No tradition can survive if that is the case," concludes the Chair.

The three lunches stretch out: that of the Orators, that of the mute boys, that of the girls who outdo each other to help Ishtar's mother. Time passes.

From time to time I feel an impulse to reply. Perhaps all our little band feel the same way. But answering would mean questioning. Here, like at school, you only answer on what is contained within predefined limits. It reminds of a maths exercise I once had: instead of answering the questions asked, I had wanted to change the way they were put.

"… and above all it has to have a purpose!"

Was it the Chair who had spoken? People were looking at me. Was I supposed to speak too?

Confucius has come to my rescue:

"It is better to do something useful."

They're not looking at me any more. I start silent sentences: "Useful to whom?" I know the answer: "To people."

"The Greek…"

I have spoken; I don't know if I had decided to do so.

The Technical Expert has looked at me curiously.

"Now then! The Greek?" he asks me.

"Perhaps the Greek wanted to do something useful."

"No-one understands what he wanted."

"We're trying to…"

I don't think I finished my sentence.

"It's very good to keep the mind busy with things of the mind," states the Human Thinker.

Sphinx suddenly breaks in:

"Perhaps things of the mind can't all be said."

"School is where you learn how to say properly what has to be said," says the Chair.

Frog asks shyly:

"Have we always known how to talk?"

The Technical Expert looks at her with surprise.

"People have always known how to talk; that's what makes them people," he spells out.

"So if someone spoke badly, did that make them a bad person?" asks Sphinx.

"What do you mean, if they spoke badly?"

"Since school is where you learn how to speak properly."

The Technical Expert looks offended. The Chair has found something interesting on his plate. The Human Thinker holds out her hand.

"This young lady would like people to take an interest in her; what she says is very interesting," she says in a soothing voice.

She adds, turning towards Sphinx:

"How are things at school?"

Sphinx hesitates for a moment. No-one says anything. The Chair must have finished whatever he had found interesting on his plate because he isn't moving.

Sphinx has blushed slightly and answers calmly:

"My teachers think I ask too many questions."

"But that's what you're supposed to do," asserts the Human Thinker, opening her arms.

"They say that the questions I ask have nothing to do with school."

"You have to learn to adapt to the school. It's not up to the school to adapt to the students."

The Technical Expert has woken up.

"Students often forget that it's school that teaches them everything," he declares.

The Chair nods to show his approval.

"And how has the school learnt?" asks Frog softly.

The Human Thinker has lost patience and speaks sharply:

"Our young ladies are doing philosophy but forgetting the rules."

Gilgamesh, half-laughing, suddenly chips in:

"The Greek has given new rules!" he exclaims.

"But you don't understand them, you said so yourselves!" protests the Chair.

The Human Thinker is still sharp.

"Young people often repeat things they haven't understood," she states.

Gilgamesh is on top form. He says brightly:

"That's exactly what we have to do at school, otherwise we get bad marks!"

Gilgamesh's humour finds no echo among those who are not young people.

The Technical Expert shakes his head to show his displeasure.

"Young man, realise this," he says slowly. "Your teacher is capable of recognising whether you have understood the lesson or not. A lesson you have to listen to carefully in order to learn it properly."

The Human Thinker says:

"Young people are always casting doubt on the lessons of their elders. They have to know what is good and what is bad."

"How can we know?" ventures Sphinx.

"That's not hard," replies the Technical Expert as though stating the obvious. "You just have to trust good authors."

"Which ones are they?"

"Those that everyone recognises."

"Sometimes not everyone agrees."

"Of course. But good authors remain good authors. Especially if people have been talking about them for a long time."

"Perhaps the Greek is a good author!" exclaims Gilgamesh.

"You said yourselves that we don't know who he is," answers the Technical Expert impatiently.

"And have good authors always been good authors?" asks Sphinx.

"Of course," says the Chair, leaning towards her, "since they are well-known."

"Were they well-known from the start?"

"No, people had to know about them first. Then they became good authors if that's what they deserved."

Silence fell. Ishtar broke it.

"Who decides who deserves?" she asked coolly.

Silence fell.

"A good author who does not depend on people's opinion would be handy," murmured Frog.

Ishtar has looked at her curiously and asked her urgently:

"Why would it be handy?"

Frog stares into the distance.

"Not for us, no; but we would be told to obey and not given the reasons."

Silence did not fall. The Technical Expert said hurriedly:

"Well then, you must be happy, your teachers give you the reasons!"

"They give their reasons," says Gilgamesh.

"Their reasons? So what?"

"They're their reasons, not the reasons."

The Technical Expert threw up his hands. The Human Thinker started to laugh… kindly.

"This young man is skilled in the art of self-promotion," she said… kindly.

Gilgamesh blushed violently, looked down, glanced quickly towards Ishtar… He looked up again - he seemed calm. Ishtar smiled at him kindly.

The Chair made a placating gesture and said in a calm voice:

"Your teachers want you to be among the best…"

He cast around for words. Gilgamesh, with a mischievous look, said softly:

"Who will decide if I am better than others when my teacher is no longer there?"

The Technical Expert raised his arm in triumph and exclaimed:

"When you've built a house, the more satisfied inhabitants you find, the better it is!"

Gilgamesh's humour has returned.

"Are there more students better than others in my class, or students less good?" he asks in a slightly sarcastic tone of voice.

The Technical Expert seems to have no doubts.

"Of course there are more less-good students," he answers calmly.

"All the students are better than the least good and all are less good than the best."

Those who are not young people exchange looks; looks that betray a hint of irritation.

"Well then," concludes the Technical Expert, "you just have to be the best of all!"

"And in that case, it will be up to all the less good to decide who is the best."

Those who are not young people do not exchange looks. Their forks are busy. They are jolly hungry. The Chair starts a few mute words. He speaks:

"That is not the way in which decisions are made. Sensible people choose what is important."

The Human Thinker waves her hands around.

"All that only gives young people a pretext not to do as they are asked," she asserts nervously.

Lunch continues. Those who are not young people have embarked on a lonely discussion in which they take turns to find each other right about subjects no-one raises. The birds sing. I no longer hear what is being said at table. Are the Orators still making the same gestures - of approval, of conviction? I no longer see their movements, I see them stopped, as though set in their certainty.

Ishtar suddenly asks:

"What is important?"

The birds have carried on singing. Those who are not young people have stopped talking - one by one - perhaps without noticing it.

"What do you want?" the Chair asks his daughter.

He has spoken with surprise, caught between affection and irritation.

"To know whether someone must tell me how to live. And who."

"Hang on a minute," says the Human Thinker brusquely, "your parents are there…"

"My parents are there, my teachers are there, you're there, but nobody says the same thing."

"You exaggerate, young lady, there may be details…"

She leaves the sentence in suspense. Frog's soft voice could be heard:

"A drop of water seems big to a gnat."

Lunch is over. We are under the great trees in the garden, with Pegasus. Those who are not young people have stayed indoors. They are talking about serious matters.

Pegasus has taken advantage of our distraction to go and fetch news. He tells us: "If your Greek had been a great philosopher, he would have been well-known in his day and would have had great rewards." Without thinking I prompt Pegasus: "Perhaps our Greek was not as good a gymnast as Plato, wreathed in glory for having won the Olympic Games." Pegasus departs, anxious, not without reason. And he soon reports back: "As you can see, a philosopher always got a reward!" I murmur "Even if it was sometimes fatal."

Frog has looked at me...

Pegasus had not quite finished. He adds: "All that serves no purpose for you. Nobody has studied this text so there is nobody to explain it to you." Sphinx protests and sends: "Why not study it oneself?" In return: "You can only study if you are directed. Who is directing you?" Gilgamesh, with a snort, sends back: "Nobody, since nobody can explain anything." Pegasus has had enough and, before going back to sleep exhausted, brings back: "Books are to be found not in ponds but in libraries or bookshops run by serious and competent people. And those books are studied not during bike rides but in schools run by serious people, serious and highly competent."

A dull but explosive laugh spurts from our mouths. And yet it seemed quite clear to me that none of us felt like laughing, especially if I was anything to go by. It seemed as though a shadow denser than that of the great trees under which we sat had just come and blanketed us.

"Serious, serious, serious!" snorted Gilgamesh.

Even Confucius was tempted into sarcasm:

"Very very serious serious!"

But our laughter was not joyful. A gloomy silence replaced the false merriment. "The Peripetitians studied during their walks," recalled Frog. Gilgamesh was snorting no longer; he was rasping. "Competent, he said, competent. They consider themselves more competent even than those they tell us about." Confucius backed up Gilgamesh: "They are not the only ones to think so. And that's what gives them power."

The gloomy silence stretched out, hardly pierced by a few scattered words. From time to time the sun - surprised, perhaps - slipped what I felt to be questioning rays through the thick foliage of Ishtar's wood. Had Ishtar heard those questions? Was it an answer she gave? Her voice was thick with distress:

"Everything I know, I have learnt…"

Sphinx gave a nervous little laugh.

"Except for what you knew when you were born," she said softly.

Ishtar went on:

"What people have told me… at school, in… not only school…"

"You see! Not only school," broke in Gilgamesh.

Ishtar looked at him and gave a resigned shrug:

"No, not only at school…," she murmured.

Gilgamesh blushed, gave a half-smile and stammered: "You know so many things! You have learnt them… Yes, you have learnt them…"

Ishtar gave him a big smile.

"I know less than I have learnt," she said brightly, "but…"

A veil of sadness spread over Ishtar's face. She went on slowly:

"What would I have known without school, what would I have done? I have learnt to know how the world is made, to know how people think… I would have been alone."

She turned to Confucius and said in a more assured tone of voice:

"Yes, I know, I could have read all on my own, without a teacher, without school. Yes, I know."

She fell silent for a moment then added in a lower voice:

"The world is so full of things. There are so many books. How can you manage all on your own? How can you choose?"

She remained lost in thought. We said nothing. She spoke again.

"I have been helped. Yes, I have been helped. I wouldn't have been the same without that help. How can I tell whether that's good or bad?"

We still said nothing. The sun had come closer to the earth and its rays no longer passed through the wood. Was it taking Ishtar's answer away?

Frog's soft voice made the silence tremble:

"My dreams are mine."

This morning the bird was on the end of my bed. It looked at me, saying nothing. For a long time. Then, in no hurry, it hopped onto the window-sill, looked at me again and flew off.

Why didn't it say anything? I didn't say anything either, but what can I say to a bird? Perhaps the bird never actually came, perhaps my imagination plays tricks on me when I wake. Is it really important to know?

Gilgamesh will not come over this morning; he is with his parents, I don't know where. The sky is full of clouds. Big clouds of a fairly light grey. They are sailing about up there. Perhaps they're having a race. It's not hot; is the sun on holiday?

I'm not hungry. I pretended to nibble something so as not to make my mother feel bad, then I set off into the countryside on my bike.

The trees are there, just the same as they were there yesterday or another day. Are they waiting for the birds that will come and alight on their branches or for the woodcutter? No matter, they can't go anywhere. As for me, if the bread I am offered doesn't suit me I can go to another baker. What about a teacher? I too would not have been the same without the teacher. Without that teacher, assigned to me at random. So I am another, but another at random. The woodcutter knows how to use his axe and my maths teacher knows how to add up. The woodcutter will give me planks, for my pleasure. Who does my maths teacher want to give me to?

A light breeze has come and asked me to play with it. It pushes me, I resist; it goes away, I follow it. It's fun. The wind knows it can be violent and push me off. I know it too. But it stays light and I play with it. I will be able to play only for as long as it wants. Does the Greek know how to talk to the wind? Does he know the words we use to speak to those who don't want to be spoken to? We have not understood the words we found on the page. Perhaps those words are the real words. How can we know? Ishtar has learnt so much; I too have learnt. Why do we not know all the words? The words to talk to the wind… and even to my maths teacher? x, y, 1, 2. How can we understand each other with words like that?

Do we need to understand each other?

Do the birds talk to the wind when they fly? I can hear them sing; sing or talk, I don't know which. They sing even if they are alone in the sky; is the rustle of the wind an answer? I can't hear any words, I can't see any signs, but I can feel the life. What will my maths teacher - who I understand all the same - add to that? What will the Greek - who I don't understand - add to that?

I cycle slowly along a track between two fields. The clouds have gone. The cows graze without looking at me. Some are not grazing; they are looking at me. I stop. They come up to me. We look at each other. A world lies between us. I set off again. A moo. What have we said to each other?

Does Ishtar want to know if she knows? Does Gilgamesh want to know what she knows? Is Confucius worried about us? Does Sphinx want to find a mystery?

Does Frog guess when I cry?

Noon is approaching. The shadows in the fields have fled from me and taken refuge under the trees. My thoughts gradually dissipate without my noticing. I cycle homewards. Mum is waiting for me for lunch.

Gilgamesh has arrived with his racquet, just in time for dessert. I tease him, my mother stands up for him. And there he is, eating MY chocolate cake!

"I'll play you for it, later!" he says to me with a merry laugh.

My mother laughs too, but I've found a riposte:

"And if I win, as my share has already gone, my mother will make me another!"

My mother pretends to look downcast.

"Tyrant!" exclaims Gilgamesh, stuffing his face.

"Hypocrite!" I retort loftily.

But the cake is getting smaller and smaller. I abandon our verbal jousting and hurry to head off disaster. Having polished off the last crumbs, and motivated by righteous indignation, I seize my racquet and wave it about like a club. I exclaim:

"I'm going to have a field day with you!"

"I prefer a court, the balls bounce better," he answers, doubtless thinking himself a wit.

My mother is laughing fit to burst, I don't know why. And we're off.

My Mum will not have to make another chocolate cake - although she will do all the same - but I lost…

"You're lucky I didn't eat it all!" Gilgamesh teases me.

"Only because I was kind enough to leave you some!"

"I'll play you for the next one!"

"No way, I'm bound to win."

"Scaredy cat!"

"It's for your own good, otherwise you'll make yourself sick."

Having exhausted that avenue of dialectical discourse we started playing again, though without keeping score. The weather was pleasant, not too warm. We were asked if we wanted to play doubles. We played energetically. We won. The weather was pleasant, not too warm. After the game we talked with our opponents about… I don't remember what about, but we spent a long time doing it. Time… time passed. The sun must have got bored watching us play because I can see it disappearing. Cool shade will soon replace it. This evening we're going to dance at Ishtar's.

The stars have come out before us. They are already dancing in the sky when we arrive. A real feast awaits us in the garden. Ishtar's father himself greets us with a broad smile. He is cheerful, very cheerful. How are we, how have we spent the day, have we made progress in our quest, you are very brave - I actually thought he had said the opposite - I'd love to dance with you but I'm too old… He's more than just cheerful, he's jolly!

We dance, we dance a lot; we talk, we talk about… I don't remember what about but we spent a long time doing it. Between ourselves, and also with Ishtar's parents.

And yet time does not pass; it seems fixed, waiting. They more we talk, the more we dance, the more I feel, through our looks which dare not last, a distress that each one of us seems to flee.

The evening was long and merry. Ishtar's parents left us sometime in the middle of the night, having encouraged us to carry on dancing. The very first glimmers of dawn delivered us into the arms of sleep

It was hot. Through the wide-open window, bright light invaded my room. I could see the motionless garden. The sun had already travelled far and I guessed it was on the way back. What had it seen? What had I seen myself… yesterday - or before? The past seemed distant. Does the sun have a past? Does it have a memory? It comes, it goes, it comes back. It doesn't change. Must I change because I have a memory?

Gilgamesh has just arrived. Life must not have broken off since yesterday. What if I had forgotten everything? Or if he had forgotten everything? The sun would know who we are; we would not.

"You don't look very wide awake!"

He can talk.

"You don't look as if you can even stand!" I reply.

"Come on!"

"Nope, no tennis today. I doubt you could hold a racquet!"

My mother has heard us.

"Awake already?" she asks, feigning surprise.

We stammer something.

"I thought you were going to sleep until tomorrow," she adds with a smile.

We stammer some more.

"It's gone noon. I guess you'll be hungry."

My mother has guessed right. I'm hungry. Gilgamesh is hungry.

It's hot. The sun goes. We eat.

Ishtar does not give us a smile when we arrive. Sphinx looks at us with her great eyes. Frog is sitting next to Ishtar on the grass. Confucius greets us pensively.

We sit down on the grass too. The grass is high and cool. We stay there, saying nothing. Nobody says anything.

Ishtar has sat up straight and says edgily:

"When I read a book…"

She breaks off, takes a jerky breath then goes on:

"The writer… when they choose their words…"

She stops again, picks up again:

"Do they say what they believe? Do they say what they think? Do they say what they see, what they hear? What they know? Or what they want others to believe?"

She adds dully, after a short silence:

"They choose their words thinking about whoever will read them… to make them believe… to lie to them…"

She goes on in a stronger voice:

"That can't be right! It could be serious. Someone might believe it. Someone might lose their life."

Ishtar falls silent. Nobody says anything. Ishtar speaks:

"The writer… I can hear them answering me. I can hear them…"

Ishtar's voice is burning:

"They don't all lie. Some do. They don't all lie. I know there are some who say what they think. I know that others lie. But the words I read are the same, whichever one they are. So I don't know. So they get involved. Not the writer, they're dead. But the other one, the one who explains; the one without whom I might not be able to understand. And the other one may be lying, or may be saying what they think. And what they think may not be what the writer thought."

Ishtar has fallen silent.

We stayed for a long time in the high grass, under the great trees. The sun stole away. The birds sang.

This morning we are cycling slowly towards our pond. Nature is there, all around us, the same as last time, the same as… nature is always the same. And yet the first time we came…

The trees have turned serious; their leaves have darkened and are pressing tightly against each other. The shadows have lengthened, coming closer to us. The sun seems lazier. The hot air no longer burns.

So has nature lived as much as we have?

"When you read, do you understand everything?"

Sphinx was alongside me. I was surprised by her question.

"I… there are things I don't underst…"

"No, not things."

"Not things?"


After a short silence I asked again:

"What, then?"

Another short silence, then Sphinx answered:

"I don't know… Thoughts…"

"Thoughts that…"

I didn't dare go on, afraid of being stupid.

Sphinx gave me an encouraging smile.

"You mean thoughts that don't exist," she said sarcastically.

I felt stupid all the same and couldn't manage to say anything.

She went on calmly:

"When I read I would like to understand… or guess, more likely… what the writer was thinking."

I heard suddenly:

"You want to know who the writer was?"

Frog. It was Frog, who was riding near Sphinx.

"What's up? Trouble?"

Trouble? What sort of trouble? Oh, it's Confucius. What's going on? Confucius seems worried.

"What are you doing so far behind?" he asks.

I am surprised:

"Are we that far behind?"

"I thought you must have had a puncture."

"No," says Sphinx, "we were just talking. About…"

"Philosophy!" cuts in Confucius with a grin. "I knew there was trouble."

Everybody laughs. We start pedalling again. We find Ishtar and Gilgamesh sitting in the grass by the roadside. I say:

"What's up? Trouble?"

Our little band laughs. Ishtar smirks; Gilgamesh blushes, of course. We ride on.

When I look around, do I understand everything? Trees don't think, there's nothing for me to guess. I know what a tree is. They stand there, planted… Nobody has planted them. I know what a rabbit is, especially when I eat one.

Frog and Sphinx are still quite close to me; I say to them:

"Do you have to eat the writer in order to know them?"

Sphinx answers without even hesitating:

"Yes, I think you do. Otherwise all that's left is what they've said, or what they've thought."

"Do you think we can know a person better than an apple?"

Sphinx laughs merrily. Frog shakes her head and protests:

"If you eat an apple, it won't grow any more."

"You can always plant the pips," Sphinx teases her.

I play smart:

"If you eat the writer, you find out what's in them."

I am surprised to see that the girls don't laugh.

"What's in them," says Sphinx, "is what makes them think."

"What's in them or what they're made of?" asks Frog.

No answer is forthcoming. We are reaching our pond - the Greek's pond. What is the Greek made of? The trees around us are made of wood. Wood and the tree are the same thing. The tree is living wood. The Greek is made of paper.

"If Gilgamesh hadn't found the page, the Greek would never have existed," says Frog.

"What have I done now?" cries Gilgamesh from a distance.

But we are no longer so far apart from one another and the pond is in sight. I speed up, Gilgamesh chases me, we reach the pond.

The water is warm, the girls wrap themselves in it, swimming slowly, as if ambling. We race, we fight, we splash the universe.

It's nearly lunchtime. The boys are lying down, worn out, while the girls prepare the meal.

We eat hungrily. We congratulate the girls on the good things they have brought. Ishtar responds with a smile, half-ironic, half-condescending.

The shadows have started to advance and we leave them to find the comforting warmth of the sun. Ishtar is reading.

My eyes are open, I can see the blue sky. If they were closed I would see darkness - can one see darkness? But is seeing the blue of the sky seeing something? It's like a blank canvas - blue of course - ready to receive the painter's thought. Slowly a little cloud forms just over the pond. The painting will come into being…

The painter… who is the painter? Is it me, when I watch the cloud growing bit by bit? Perhaps a bird has hidden itself in the cloud and is changing its shape with little beats of its wings. Another little cloud has come and settled on the blue canvas. What has it come to say to its friend? Definitely its friend, otherwise it would not have come and would not still be there, close by, without impatience.

The painter's thought… it floats between the little clouds and me. Where would it be without them? But the little clouds are there and I am there; and my thought forms bit by bit, as though it were a little cloud itself. Who can add to it?

"Have you found what to choose?"

Gilgamesh has said this as though he had wanted to know the answer; calmly, without irony. Ishtar has looked up from her book, looked at Gilgamesh and answered softly:

"No, I haven't chosen. I have thought about it. Perhaps I'm waiting for chance to bring me a book in which I will find… new ideas. I don't know; I don't know if that's possible."

She looks down; she looks thoughtful. Gilgamesh says hesitantly:

"We're always looking… I believe… I think you're still looking… for ideas… something new."

Ishtar has lifted her head slightly and is smiling at Gilgamesh.

Our pond rests with us. The water is still; a few bubbles bear witness to life that is unseen but never stops.

Sphinx has just sat up and says seriously:

"New ideas are those that have never been said but could have been."

"A grain of sand on a heap of sand makes a new heap of sand."

Frog has taken a pinch of sand and lets the grains trickle through her fingers as she speaks.

Confucius seems highly interested:

"What you're talking about is human endeavour. Everyone makes…"

"Their little contribution to the whole…" interrupts Gilgamesh with a laugh.

He goes on, with a more grating laugh:

"That's what we're told at school - or elsewhere - not forgetting to emphasise the 'little'…"

"Yours of course being big," mocks Confucius without malice.

Everyone laughs. No, not everyone: Frog has murmured something I haven't been able to catch. It's true that I was laughing too. I don't think anyone caught it.

Ishtar makes an effort - not a great one - to turn serious again:

"Perhaps each book is a grain of sand."

I can see Gilgamesh trying to give her an answer but he can't find one. Everyone is thinking. I wonder what Frog… While wondering, I look at her. She has noticed and gives me a little smile. I was going to ask her, but she got in first:

"I was thinking… They're still grains of sand."

A little cloud has caught on a tree. Was it there a moment ago?

"A cloud appears, the sky is no longer blue."

Frog is hesitant; she must not have understood what I meant. Was I sure I knew myself what I had meant?

"What you see…" she answers, still hesitant, "is the cloud… Even if the sky is blue the cloud is there but you can't see it, it's transparent."

"Can one register for the lecture?" asks Confucius, sounding amused.

"I'm not registering," says Gilgamesh quickly, "I'm on holiday."

Ishtar has looked up from her book:

"How can you tell whether what you don't see exists or not?" she asks deliberately.

"I don't see our school but I know it exists," grunts Gilgamesh.

"Yes, but you've already seen it before," replies Confucius.

"So now you're a philosopher."

"See how easy it is."

"I don't see anything. Do you even exist?"

Such a weighty philosophical discussion held out great hopes. Apparently we were all eager to follow it. Equally apparently, however, the orators found nothing to add to their respective speeches, despite their no less apparent efforts.

The impetuous assault suddenly gave way to a comment - was it philosophical? - from Sphinx:

"A thought can be new."

"What a discovery!" snorted Gilgamesh, clearly happy to have found something to say at last.

Confucius doubtless did not want to be left out.

"We're always having new thoughts," he added dismissively.

Sphinx shakes her head. She says rather brusquely:

"No, no; no. It's not a new thought, it's another thought."

Gilgamesh laughs; Confucius protests:

"You said yourself…"

Gilgamesh cuts him off:

"I know: a thought that doesn't exist."

Sphinx looks down. I feel rather embarrassed, without really knowing why. I want to help Sphinx out. I proffer:

"A thought that has just appeared, like a cloud."

My help is ineffective. Sphinx goes on:

"Not like a cloud. Not that doesn't exist. The Greek… He has words that are known. He has a thought that is not known. Why are we always being told to drop it? Pegasus, the people around us, our parents… A thought that no-one knows is like a stranger. Must we always be wary of strangers? Yes, no doubt. But must we kill them straight away? Can't we keep them at a distance first, then try to understand them?"

"Isn't our universe enough for you?" asks Ishtar abruptly.

"The universe? Oh yes, the universe. The universe with a capital U. I don't know it. I know nothing about it. I don't know whether it's enough for me. I don't know if there's anything else. But the universe we live in, I mean the one we live in every day, that one may not be enough for me. I don't know… I don't know."

The sun was not going away yet but the shadows were continuing to lengthen. Frog says softly:

"Perhaps a thought is scarier than a stranger. It's easier to kill a thought; it can't be seen."

Confucius, as always, has indicated it is time to be off. Is it some slight distress that embraces me? The sun seems in a hurry today. Doubtless it is no more so today than yesterday. But the pond was clearer when Gilgamesh fished up the treasures. It's warm, it's mild. Nature has calmed down. The birds are singing softly as if exchanging memories. The shadows of the trees cross the whole road and go into the fields to talk to the cows. The sun has come down to play with us and we have fun avoiding it by skipping from shadow to shadow.

Our little band is in no hurry, and Confucius is now riding ahead of everyone else. The girls follow and Gilgamesh is near me at the back. It's pleasant riding on a road you know will take you home.

"I'm hungry," grumbles Gilgamesh.

Perhaps I'm hungry too. I tell him we'll soon be home. A good dinner…

"Good job we don't have to choose," he says to me sarcastically.

"Choose? You mean our parents…"

"No, the road."

"The road?"

"Yes, we're riding on the road."

"We're riding on the road, are we? I didn't know you had such sharp eyes!"

"No, no…"

"Ah? We're not riding on the road? You must really be hungry, then."

"We're not riding over the fields."

He's got me there. I ask him, slightly concerned:

"Why would you want to be riding over the fields?"

He doesn't reply. I look at him: he looks serious. This kind of… conversation isn't usually his thing. I insist:

"Why are you on about riding over the fields?"

He replies in an urgent tone of voice, as though irritated:

"You can ride over the fields - or walk; but all the same it's much more convenient to take the road."

"Yes, OK, but I don't see…"

"We don't have to choose."


"We can choose; we can…"

I cut him off, slightly annoyed:

"Go over the fields, I…

"But we don't. We don't. The road is convenient, it's pleasant. It's there, right there. Why would you go over the fields?"

I protest:

"It's you who…"

"Why would I go over the fields? Because it's pretty? Because nobody does it? You'd need to make your own way. It's difficult. There's no point."

He stops talking as though out of breath. His voice must have carried because all the bikes have grouped together.

Confucius says in a tone of voice that shows his puzzlement:

"But you're in the countryside, you can go where you like."

"Of course," Gilgamesh replies with a chuckle, "but I don't."

"Because you don't want to."

"Yes, very likely. And why don't I want to?"

Ishtar says deliberately:

"We're happy to be on this road…"

"So you can choose," says Gilgamesh, emphasising the "can".


"Yes, choose, all on your own, without a teacher, without a book, without anyone."

"We're together…"

"So we can all choose. Choose without…"

He leaves his sentence unfinished. No-one says anything. Suddenly he bursts out:

"We have obeyed the road!"

The bird paid a visit to my room this morning. It hopped down onto the floor, came up onto my bed, said something to me, flew up onto the top of the wardrobe, came back onto my bed, said something else to me, went and perched on the chair in front of my desk, hopped onto the desk, came back onto my bed, looked at me for a long time, spoke again, then flew out of the window. I thought it hadn't perched on the window-sill. Does it usually do that? I'm not sure.

There are no roads in the sky. How does the bird find its way? Perhaps it doesn't have a way… Yes, why should it have a way? Where does it live? In a tree, I suppose. What does it do? What birds do; they eat… Do they go and bathe at the Greek's pond? Yes, I've seen some there. Do they hunt for treasure? Why not? And they talk to each other, I hear them talking to each other. Do they have a teacher? What do they read? What are their books like?

It's true, one day I went with the bird to its class. Have I forgotten, then? But did I learn anything? And yet it's the only class where I really was present. I want to go back…

The light comes through the window to wake me. And yet I was awake, I'm sure I was.

Breakfast this morning has no time to laze. My mother and father are going into town to run a few errands. I am going with them. What will town be like? There are no fields amid the streets; and yet it's not a big town, still less a city.

The roadsides part in fright before my parents' fast car. I exaggerate, of course. But I can't help dreaming of my bike and the trees that take their time as a I pass by. Gradually, the seriousness of tightly packed houses replaces the wave of scattered bushes. Of course, there are houses in the village where I spend the holidays, but each one is entire, has its own life. The houses of the approaching town seem to be the fragments of a great shared room placed end to end.

Our car has stopped; somewhere, anywhere. We walk… protected; although I can feel it strongly, I can't say what protects us. In the city where I live, a much bigger place, a much vaster place I would say, I don't feel that protection, perhaps because I can't see any borders. People are everywhere, surrounding me. In the countryside, in the village, I can be alone, or with a tree or a wall as a companion. In this little town I don't know where I am; somewhere, anywhere.

But we have to go to the shops.

My parents are buying something for the garden. The shopkeeper gives them advice. So the countryside is made in town. No, that's not right, the garden isn't the countryside. Our garden is nice. The shopkeeper gives advice. Our garden will be nice. I don't know why, I have thought of the cows which look at us when we pass by their fields. I have laughed. My mother, surprised, has asked why I was laughing. I have answered something, anything. After all, I couldn't say: "Do the cows find their field nice?" I suppose they do find it nice when the grass is good to eat. There is nothing to eat in our garden. Except for some fruit and some other stuff. But eating… it's not about eating what's in our garden; that would not be enough for cows.

"You could take an interest in the garden," says my father, adding: "It's true you're not often in it; the holidays for you are not about the family."

I don't feel capable of responding. The shopkeeper gives advice. My father buys. He seems happy.

Another shop, another purchase. The shopkeeper gives advice. My parents buy.

In the next shop I listen, slightly curious. It goes without saying that if we have come in, as was the case with the previous shops, it is to buy; and the shopkeeper finds it quite natural to sell. We are not there, any of us, to study the principles of buying or selling or to analyse the philosophical utility of the things bought. No, we are there - something Gilgamesh said goes through my mind: "We have obeyed the road!" - to… I can't remember what I was going to say. Leaving the shop with our purchases, I have heard a voice that said: "That's good, you've done what you were supposed to." Of course it was my own voice, but it seemed to be reciting a lesson learnt long, long ago…

Among the purchases there were some that pleased me.

The way back was quick. That evening, as I was falling asleep, I had the impression the day had not existed.

It's raining. It's raining slowly; the drops fall one after another, ceaselessly, with a long noise. The sky is grey; grey. I can't hear the birds singing. My bird would have been protected in my room. Does it need protection? I have seen the birds bathing at the edge of the Greek's pond. Perhaps my bird is bathing in the rain.

My parents, at breakfast this morning, talk about the previous day's purchases. They are unhappy that they can't go out into the garden. Our garden is nice. The cows haven't had to go out into their fields; they had never left them.

I want to hear things being said.

Afternoon. It's raining. "You're never able to stay at home," my father has said when I mentioned Pegasus. My mother has given me a weak smile. I have left.

I was supposed to pick up Gilgamesh on the way to Ishtar's. It's not far. I found myself on the roads around the village. The rain was bathing me. I thought of the bird. The rain is warm; there is no wind.

"Where have you come from?" Gilgamesh cries when I get to his house.

I feel as though I am waking up. I have not answered quickly enough and he is worried:

"Is anything wrong?"

I am awake. I laugh:

"No, no, I just felt like riding around in the rain."

My answer was good enough for him but I don't know if it reassured him. We head off to Ishtar's. In the rain.

The dreamy sound of a piano filters through the rain. Ishtar is holding a book that she isn't reading. Frog is sitting - or half-lying, rather - on the rug. Confucius is sitting upright in an armchair. Sphinx is playing.

We enter without a sound and sit down. The music speaks.

Sphinx stopped playing a while ago without my noticing. I can still hear her music that dreams.

"Would you like some?"

Frog has brought me some tea. Ishtar's mother has made some biscuits. The lights are on. It's cosy. Outside, it's still raining.

"It's raining; it's raining like at school."

Ishtar has spoken slowly, in a low voice. No-one says anything. I look out of the window; the lovely green leaves are not schoolday leaves.

Did Ishtar stop? Her voice is still low:

"We won't be able to talk about the Greek at school."

No-one says anything. She goes on, still in a low voice:

"Perhaps we will no longer want to."

Frog almost interrupts her:

"We'll just forget him?"

Gilgamesh says:

"I nearly lost my life at the bottom of the sea; I'll never forget the Greek!"

His loud voice has shaken us. Everyone stares in surprise, or at least that's how it seems to me.

Ishtar laughs.

"Don't worry, we'll never forget your Greek!" she exclaims, emphasising the "your".

I'm sure Gilgamesh has blushed. In any case, he doesn't say anything. Titters flutter around the room.

Sphinx has not laughed; she says hesitantly:

"We can't… let a thought… get lost…"

"What thought?" cuts in Ishtar.

"The one… the one we've been looking for…"

"And haven't found. That nobody has found."

"We can still…"

"Who can? And who will? Pegasus has been asleep for ages. And who will accept Pegasus at school?"

Ishtar has spoken roughly, unusual for her. Her mother must have heard because she comes to see us… and to offer us biscuits. Frog gets up to go and get them.

"It's miserable weather," says Ishtar's mother gently. "You must be bored. It's a shame you can't go out."

She adds, in a slightly shaky voice:

"You're not in trouble? Have you got…"

"Yes, Mum, we've got everything we need. Everything's fine. We'll go out tomorrow if it's fine. We often go out on bike rides. But it's nice too to stay in and chat."

Ishtar accompanies her words with a reassuring smile. Her mother goes away… perhaps she thought she was disturbing us.

We eat the biscuits, we drink the tea.

"We're on holiday…" begins Confucius

He has fallen silent. We look at him. Gilgamesh is first off the rank.

"We hadn't noticed," he says scornfully.

"That's exactly what I meant," replies Confucius.

We are still looking at him. Gilgamesh seems puzzled. We wait. Confucius goes on:

"At school we are told about literature, we are asked to explain what we think about what we're supposed to read. Sometimes we enjoy it, sometimes we find it a bore. But we always have to do it. Here nobody has made us do anything at all, I'd even say they've discouraged us, and we're doing the same thing as at school."

Confucius has fallen silent. Gilgamesh has almost protested. The tea is good. The biscuits take up all our attention. Confucius is speaking again:

"It's not because we didn't have to do it that we did it; there are so many other things we don't have to do and don't do."

He pauses, then goes on:

"School is all about thinking. If we think while we're on holiday as well, what does the word 'holiday' mean?"

Ishtar wanted to answer. Confucius cut her off with a movement of his hand and said:

"I know. I think we all know. But why think about the Greek? Because he's not a subject we're given at school? We're given all sorts of subjects at school, all sorts. Not just literature. We don't turn down everything we're offered. Why the Greek? A mere pastime? Curiosity because we haven't understood?"

Confucius has fallen silent again. Nobody has answered. We stay there, doing nothing. Gilgamesh has not asked "What shall we do?"

Ishtar's mother comes back. "You're very quiet," she says. Nobody answers. Frog says that the biscuits were very good and takes out the cups. Ishtar's mother follows her without saying anything more.

"The Greek is…"

Sphinx has broken off for a moment, then goes on:

"I was going to say the Greek is ours. That's not what I mean. But…"

"We're the ones who went looking," says Confucius.

"Yes, but not only. We're the ones who wanted to discover a thought that no-one understood. It's not the thought but life… a life different from the one we know, which may be hiding…"

"You're dreaming again," breaks in Ishtar.

Sphinx gives a long smile, then says calmly:

"Maybe that's what holidays are for: you can dream."

We stay in silence for a while. Outside, the rain has let up a bit, tired perhaps. The garden is starting to protect itself, covering itself with a luminous mist. A few scattered bird cries can be heard.

"He'll never get his page back."

Frog has accompanied her words with a sigh.

"Why are you so worried about him?" I ask.

Frog hesitates. Sphinx has looked up and says:

"What matters is the sentence; and the writer too. The person who lost - or threw away - the page…"

"Is someone who wanted to read it," interrupts Frog.

"What if they threw it away?"

"I don't know. But if they had never read it, we wouldn't have found it."

"Are you sure?"

"No; but a page that nobody reads has no life."

"If nobody has written, there is no page."

Frog does not answer straight away. Ishtar takes advantage of the fact:

"A thought wouldn't exist without the person who makes it known."

"You're right, you're right," answers Frog rapidly. "But a thought that doesn't enter into someone has no purpose. And it is alive only because someone makes it so. Otherwise the person who created it is alone with it. What purpose do either of them serve?"

The rain has stopped. The sun has come out for a moment to tell us it would soon be off and will be there tomorrow.

Light is everywhere in my room this morning. The bird has come with the light. In the town where I have stayed for a few days with my parents, visiting family, there is no light, there are no birds. No, that's not right, there is light, but it hides; it hides behind the high walls of the houses. There are birds, but they don't come to tell me they're happy to see me after a few days away.

Breakfast is ready. I hear a bike skid to a halt in front of the house. Gilgamesh charges in, going even more quickly than his bike. We eat. Gilgamesh would like me to tell him about the few days away. My parents fill in for me because I can find nothing to say.

The morning passes quietly. My parents are surprised not to see us go out… They ask no questions. Gilgamesh talks about gardening with my mother. He seems to really like our garden. It's true, our garden is nice. I have the painful feeling of wanting to think about… and yet I don't know about what. I join in the conversation. Gilgamesh teases me:

"If your mother were to follow your advice, your garden would soon be a wreck!"

My mother smiles; she seems amused. My father nods; he seems impressed. The morning passes. The morning is pleasant. My parents seem happy. Gilgamesh too. I am… I am happy, so it would seem. I have forgotten what I wanted to think about. No, that's not it, I didn't know what I wanted to think about. I start laughing just when Gilgamesh asks me:

"What's up? You look bothered."

My laughter has been slightly embarrassing. I talk nonsense in order to seem natural.

"Are you tired from the journey?" asks my mother.

"Yes; no. I'm surprised by the countryside."

It's my parents' and Gilgamesh's turn to be surprised by what I say. But I do not make any comprehensible answer to their questions. In fact, I don't understand what I meant myself. I launch into a long disquisition about gardens, which you don't get in towns but you do get in the country, and gardens in the country are pleasant, they're nicer than in towns…

Do my parents seem reassured? Gilgamesh is puzzled.

I would so much like this morning to be pleasant.

Gilgamesh talks about gardening; my mother talks about gardening. My father gives his opinion. Words cover so many things. I cannot lie to my bird or to a tree because I cannot speak.

We eat lunch in high good humour.

The phone. It's Ishtar.

"You're back!" she tells me joyfully.

"Yes, yes, this morning…"

"Well, we're all waiting for you - and Gilgamesh, of course."

I don't leave Gilgamesh any time to ask me questions.

"It's Ishtar," I tell him, "she's waiting for us."

My parents kindly wish us a good afternoon and we set off.

On the way Gilgamesh tells me what's been going on while I was away. Nothing happened, he says, the various parents suddenly needed their children for… gardening chores, errands to run… I listen with half an ear. We arrive. There must have been a lookout because we're expected at the garden gate. Is passing time counted in days? We're all merry. Ishtar's parents tell us they're happy to see us. We settle in the garden, where the great trees let the light through. Conversation settles in also: nobody says anything.

Little by little we find each other again. Gilgamesh tells me he forgot to tell me there would soon be a little tennis tournament that we could perhaps win - though no doubt what he really means is that he could certainly win. Ishtar talks about a book, the one she is currently reading.

"Well, at least you understand that one; it's not in Greek!" exclaims Gilgamesh with a laugh.

"And yet it's a book written by a Greek," replies Ishtar with a hint of sarcasm.

"A Greek whose words we understand."

"No harm in that," slips in Confucius.

Gilgamesh frowns, then says:

"If he's repeating what everyone says, there's no harm in it… for him, but…"

He is interrupted by Sphinx:

"It's not what he says that matters, it's what other people understand."

"Yes, but what other people understand depends all the same on…

"No; not… It's what other people want to understand."

"Other people often agree, though, don't they?" chips in Ishtar. "The commentaries on the book I'm reading…"

"Will doubtless be the subject of an essay," cries Gilgamesh, "and there will be no question of having other opinions!"

"You're exaggerating," says Confucius calmly. "For a start, lots of people say the opposite of what others think…"

"The opposite, yes, but always about the same thing," cuts in Sphinx.

A confused silence followed. Sphinx was making jerky little movements with her hands. She went on hesitantly:

"When you talk about a subject, you can be for or against but the subject is accepted… accepted by everyone."

"I don't know if others understand what they want to," murmured Gilgamesh audibly, "but I don't get it at all."

Another silence, but calmer.

Sphinx gives Gilgamesh a warm smile and says softly to him:

"I don't think I always understand what I think myself. But I often get the feeling, when I'm talking to… other people, that what I say doesn't matter, that what matters is what… other people want to do with what I've said."

She pauses then goes on:

"It's a bit complicated, it's true."

"No, not at all," exclaims Gilgamesh suddenly, "I think I've felt the same thing too… When I'm asked something, I sometimes get the impression that my answer…"

He doesn't finish his sentence. I think I know what he was going to say and add:

"Will be used against me."

He stares at me and says:

"Yes, that's right. And it scares me."

Apparently no-one knows what to say. Gilgamesh, scared… A moment goes by. Ishtar is the first to react:

"The book I'm reading is simple. It talks about people's thoughts. Why should I be scared of answering if I'm asked to talk about it? Even if it's an essay for school?"

Gilgamesh hesitates. Ishtar has looked straight at him and he is hesitating. He finally makes up his mind:

"Because no-one will be surprised by your answer."

"So I only say commonplaces?"

That has made Gilgamesh blush. Fortunately for him, Sphinx has intervened:

"Ishtar, it's not what you say…"

"Yes, I know, it's what other people understand," recites Ishtar.

"Yes; but in addition your book is well-known, it's been talked about, either for or against…"

"And I can say nothing more, is that it?"

"No, you can, but…"

She stops, uncertain. Confucius turns to Ishtar and adds - guilelessly:

"But you can only talk about what exists."

Nobody laughs. Ishtar nods rather wearily and says, perhaps rather sadly:

"What exists… Sphinx has told us that words didn't exist by themselves. We haven't understood the sentence - the Greek's sentence; nobody has. But everyday things? The things everyone says? The things in my book?"

We are silent. Ishtar looks at Sphinx, gives a weak smile, then says:

"So what thought is it that can exist if the words we say have no existence? Given that what matters is not what is said but what other people understand? Isn't that what you said about the Greek? Why not the same for everybody?"

Sphinx has looked down. She twists her fingers. At last she says in a low voice:

"For everybody? Yes, why not for everybody? None of us understand… so many things… Why do we have to live? It's not only words. Animals don't speak with words; they live just like we do, they do everything they're capable of doing…"

"Ah, but we're capable of doing better," breaks in Ishtar.

"Yes, we are indeed. Yes, we are capable. And that's exactly why we do it. We do it only because we are capable of doing it. That's all. Like animals."

Sphinx has fallen silent. Her voice goes on speaking like an echo:

"Thought that doesn't exist doesn't need words."

Frog's murmur can be heard in the silence:

"Are animals capable of being sad? Is it because I'm capable of it that I'm sorry to see the page get lost?"

The silence continues. No-one can make up their mind to propose doing one thing or another. Gilgamesh hasn't even uttered his ritual "What shall we do?" I don't dare ask Sphinx to play something on the piano. Frog has spoken to me… I don't know - about my… trip. I answer somewhat randomly:

"I missed the sun in the city."

I don't know what else to say. I find myself a bit… stupid. But Frog has given me a big smile.

"The sun waited for you here."

She has spoken calmly. I feel reassured. I tell her about the city:

"The city hurries. I'm always late."

"Time passed slowly here," says Frog softly.

The great trees under which we are sitting do not hide the sun even though we can't see it. The air is calm. The sun warms me without burning me.

"Now then! How far have you got with your investigations?"

Ishtar's father has come to see us. We give him friendly smiles. Confucius answers:

"Nobody tells us anything any more, I'm afraid."

"Nothing unusual about that," says Ishtar's father earnestly. "People have better things to do than go chasing your chimera."

A resigned smile slowly spreads over Ishtar as she says sadly:

"We weren't able to ready Pegasus for battle."

"And yet he has brought you back lots of information," says Ishtar's father with surprise.

"Yes, but the… chimera is still there, burning the page."

"You aren't half complicated," concludes Ishtar's father, heading back to the house.

Gilgamesh mutters:

"We ought to do something more jolly."

No response. But Ishtar suggests a game - hide and seek - as though to chase away her sadness, or perhaps ours.

Gradually our spirits lift. Calmly. We change games, we run, we chase each other, we throw a ball. Games can be played without words. There is nothing to understand. Red-faced, out of breath, we fall to the ground… near the tea that Ishtar's mother has made for us.

"Ahah!" says Gilgamesh brightly.

We wait for what's coming next. It comes.

"Well then, Sphinx, what do you think?" he exclaims with a laugh.

Sphinx is ready for him.

"That you hope to eat all our biscuits," she cries, feigning menace.

"Cows eat their grass without worrying whether there's any left for the other cows, don't they?" answers Gilgamesh sarcastically.

His face suddenly fills with sadness. His voice is dull:

"School teaches me not to show my work to other students so that I can be top of the class."

Are we all troubled? After a while, Confucius assumes an optimistic air and says reassuringly:

"You won't always be at school; there are still people around us willing to share…"

He hesitates for a moment. Frog murmurs quickly but clearly:

"They're not hungry."

We fall silent. I look around. The sun is in quite a hurry today; I'm slightly surprised to see it… no, it's not going yet, but I get the impression it wants to leave without having told us first. It's mild. The great trees no longer need to protect us; we have gradually left their shade. The birds say little. From time to time they land not far from us, hop about, peck the ground then fly away. Why don't they need words?

"Because they know everything," Sphinx answers me.

I am hardly surprised by her answer. She adds:

"We can lie to them; but they know what they eat."

"Perhaps they learn in a school where there are no words."

"Like tennis!" exclaims Gilgamesh. "That's the way all schools ought to be."

Ishtar protests:

"Books teach us to think."

Gilgamesh does not give in:

"If you know everything you don't need to think."

"We're not birds."

"What do you mean by 'everything'?" says Confucius. "The word has no meaning; it depends…"

Sphinx interrupts him swiftly:

"You see? Words aren't alone."

"What do you mean, alone?"

"Alone without us. They don't exist by themselves. The birds' food exists without words." "Do birds think only about their food?"

"I don't know. Foods keeps them alive. Nobody changes their life by giving different names to what they eat."

"They don't always eat the same thing."

"Yes, of course. That's not what I mean. I don't know. But we often eat the same thing with different names."

"What difference does that make?"

"Someone who has given two names to the same thing wants to make us believe we are living two lives, whereas we are living only one."

"What on earth are you on about?" erupts Confucius.

Sphinx seems feverish. She says brusquely:

"It's our life. It's our life that's at stake. Our life can depend on the words we're told."

She stops as though shivering, then goes on:

"Nobody wanted anything to do with the sentence. Because nobody could understand it. So they couldn't make any use of it. Think about what the sentence could generate in thought?... No, what they needed was something else. They needed to be able to use it against us. They were all angry."

"Yes, you're right," says Gilgamesh pensively, "it's as though we had deprived them of weapons. It's true, they were angry."

"It's not a war," says Ishtar. "Yes, they seem to be angry, but perhaps they were just upset they weren't able to understand. In the books I read there are explanations; there weren't any in the page."

Sphinx and Gilgamesh were both about to reply, but Ishtar goes on:

"I know, they could have tried to find an explanation themselves. But when you don't understand yourself, it's difficult not to look for help."

"And how do you know if the help is right?" asks Gilgamesh.

"You don't. It's an adventure."

"Whose adventure? Ours, or one that other people offer us?"

The bird stayed on the window-sill for a long time this morning, saying nothing. I got up; it tracked me with its eyes. I didn't dare come near it. Birds fly away when you come near them. Actually, birds always fly away. "Bird," I said quietly. I was motionless, it was still watching me. After a moment it gave a little chirp. Then silence returned. I was casting for words; I found none. Was the bird also casting for… chirps? No, it seemed not to be. It was looking at me calmly, steadfastly. I moved, took a few steps around the room; the bird suddenly alighted on the bed, hopped about, then took wing and flew back into the sky.

Gilgamesh arrived in the garden. He had his racquet with him; that pleased me, though I didn't know why. My mother was preparing breakfast. We ate, we ate merrily. My father was full of beans, he talked of beating Gilgamesh at tennis, Gilgamesh accepted the challenge. "Watch out," said my mother to my father. My father protested. We talked; time had stopped. The flowers in the garden, all open, were motionless. Were they waiting for the bees… for breakfast? What would they talk about? They stay together for a very long time…

Gilgamesh hurries me; we go off to play tennis. My father has watched us go.

The match was hard-fought. Our opponents attack us. Shots fly from all parts of the court. All I think about is hitting the ball as hard as I can. I knew, we all knew what we had to do. Our time was woven so tightly that there was no room for any doubt whatsoever. The ball arrives suddenly, it has to be returned straight away. The mind remained empty as our shots unfurled. We all had to win, we all agreed on that.

What adventure are we in?

Gilgamesh is delighted. "That's the best you've ever played!" he exclaims happily. The best I've ever played?

"You're only saying that because we won."

"It's not the first time we've won. No, no, you really did play well."

He adds perfidiously:

"You must not have been thinking."

We laugh. Our opponents congratulate us. "You were playing out of your skin today," one of them says to me. Out of my skin? Out of my skin… He looks at me curiously. "What's up? Tired?" I stammer some vague answer and he lets it go. We separate.

"Are you really? Tired?" Gilgamesh asks me with a note of concern.

"No, no, not at all. He just said something to me that I didn't understand."

"Oh, people will say anything when they've just lost."

We laugh again.

"What shall we do?"

I reply, teasing him:

"My mother's going to be doing the garden this afternoon. Come and give her a hand."

"Why not?"

He looks more earnest. Now I don't know whether he's joking or whether he's having me on. As I say nothing, he goes on with a laugh:

"I really like your garden but I wouldn't want to stop you going to Ishtar's."

I have fallen into my own trap. I try and get out of it:

"You know that…"

But words fail me. Gilgamesh seems very pleased with himself.

"Come on, come and have lunch," I mutter.

Friends have come to Ishtar's parents to "visit the region - it is very lovely". They have come with their son, a boy our age. The boy has stayed with us. "Going for walks is boring," he has said. Ishtar has asked him what he wanted to do. Gilgamesh has mentioned games - cards… The boy has agreed. We played for a good while. The afternoon was pleasant. Then Ishtar and Frog made tea. We drank the tea and ate biscuits. Confucius asked about the boy's studies. They were very interesting. Gilgamesh said it was nice to be on holiday; that we would have to go back to school soon; that it was always quite soon enough.

"Don't you like school?" the boy has asked.

We have all laughed in answer except for Gilgamesh, who seemed unsure.

The boy has looked very surprised and Ishtar has said to him:

"We all like school, but we also like the holidays."

The boy's look of surprise has turned into confusion.

"You don't learn anything during the holidays," he has said.

"You learn other things," Sphinx has whispered quickly.

"At school you learn the things that those we will live with know."

"And there's no need to know anything else?"

"There's no point, since no-one will ever ask you."

"I didn't learn to play the piano at school."

"Did you learn on your own?"


"Then it's as though you were at school."

We fall silent. The boy has added:

"Who told you to play the piano?"

Sphinx looks as though she has been caught out. She has answered hesitantly:

"No-one. I…"

She hasn't finished her sentence. The boy has gone on:

"Do you think you'll be asked to play the piano, later?"

It looks to me as though Sphinx has bitten her lip.

"I like to play…" she has started.

The boy has interrupted her:

"You don't live on your own."

"I like hearing Sphinx play," Frog has responded spiritedly.

A short silence has followed, broken by Ishtar, who has asked the boy:

"Have you got good teachers at your school?"

"Very good. If they weren't, I don't think the school would accept them."

A short silence has followed, broken by the boy:

"You need to trust your teachers. How else can you manage?"

Gilgamesh has pulled a face and rasped:

"Are you saying that because it is they who judge? And who decide?"

The boy has looked very taken aback again.

"Who else can do it, since they are the ones who know?" he has stated deliberately.

"That's true," Confucius has said calmly. "They know what the students don't know."

The boy has seemed satisfied and has pronounced in a firm voice:

"That is why I trust my teachers and follow their precepts."

Gilgamesh has leaned forward.

"You follow…"

He has stopped, open-mouthed.

"My teachers train my mind. By learning my lessons, I give them the certainty that I think like them. I would be betraying them if I did not follow their precepts."

"So someone who doesn't give precepts can never be betrayed?" Frog has asked.

The boy has looked confused again.

"I don't understand," he has answered. "I don't know anyone who hasn't… I mean, everyone tells us… at least gives us advice. I reckon your parents, for example, tell you what is right and what is wrong. I don't know anyone who doesn't have an opinion on the matter."

Sphinx has stepped in:

"There have been philosophers…"

"I'm talking about everyday life, our life, not about philosophers. I know we need to learn what they have said, but it's so that we can talk about it, that's all. It's teachers we need to listen to, not philosophers."

Sphinx has burst out:

"But you're not going to be at school for ever, are you?"

"No. But afterwards there will be people there to manage me."

Sphinx's eyes have never been greater.

"So how do you know who is to…" she has started.

"Because it'll be a manager. Like the teacher is a teacher. Managers know how to manage because they're managers."

"But for heaven's sake, they might not be good…"

"If that were the case they wouldn't be accepted, just as bad teachers aren't accepted at school."

The boy seemed untroubled. We were dumbstruck.

The boy's parents have come back from their walk. They have left with their son.

This morning the light is hiding behind the grey, grey sky. A cloud sprinkles the flowers in the garden; they sway slowly under the gently falling drops.

The flowers are beautiful. My mother tends them. Without my mother they would be less beautiful. My mother knows how to tend them.

Do flowers have to be beautiful?

I have left the garden. I cycle, not far from the village, along paths which get lost in a distance that the rain makes uncertain. I cannot see any flowers, beautiful flowers, flowers that would have been tended. Who would come and admire them? Perhaps a distracted passer-by, from which they could die.

Grass dies too, eaten by cows.

I cycle slowly. The great trees, whose green leaves have in places taken on a discreet golden hue, have lost their shade, the sun having gone astray among the clouds.

It rains. The earth drinks; and eats the birds that fall.

I ride at random. I do not obey the road. To obey, you have to be going somewhere.

At school, in life as well no doubt, you have to be going somewhere. That's what the teachers say; that's what the managers say as well, no doubt.

The trees around me do not seem to be going anywhere. And yet they are not motionless. But if they go where the teacher or else the manager tells them to go, they may well end up as planks.

Afternoon. It's still raining. Gilgamesh and I arrive at Ishtar's. Her wood is all dark. The birds are silent. You can hear the trees weeping.

Sphinx is at the piano. We enter soundlessly. The music makes the time go by.

Sphinx has stopped. Her fingers wander idly over the keys. One note has remained alone to answer the rain. The note has not yet finished its song, and Sphinx interrupts it:

"Perhaps we were wrong to be born."

Nobody says anything. Gilgamesh has moved his head. Sphinx sounds a note. Then another, lower. Sphinx's voice prolongs the note.

"When I was born, I was new for those who were already there."

She has fallen silent. The note is no longer to be heard. Nobody says anything. Frog has looked at Sphinx. It's raining. Sphinx goes in in a stronger voice:

"Those who were already there didn't want me to stay new."

Each of us has shifted slightly. Although nobody has spoken, a rustle of voices has been heard. I don't think I was the only one to have heard it.

Sphinx plays a few more notes. Frog mingles her voice with this simple music:

"Then the Greek will stay new; nobody wants to see him be born."

Sphinx answers briskly:

"You're right. And we are not supposed to understand him so that he stays new."

"And what good will that do us…?" starts Ishtar.

She has broken off; she is looking at Sphinx as though she were expecting an answer from her. But was it a question?

Sphinx plays a slow phrase, then says:

"Perhaps to remind us. To remind us that we were new when we were born."

The piano no longer speaks. The rain has stopped. The trees shake their leaves, from which the drops fall with a murmur.

We can hear Frog's voice, low, slow, slightly bumpy:

"When I was born, I was alone."

The sun has come this morning to watch Gilgamesh and me play. Is it because we are playing badly that it seems so distracted? Our opponents have beaten us and Gilgamesh does not even seem to have noticed. I have doubtless made mistakes that should not have been made. I don't remember them. Our opponents… we must have had opponents…

"So you have to accept everything so as not to be alone," says Gilgamesh as though he were continuing a conversation.

I do not answer straight away.

"Why didn't you…?"

He doesn't finish his question. I do not answer straight away.

"I don't know whether I was new. How can you know?" he says again.

I don't know which question to answer.

He goes on:

"Ishtar isn't alone; she talks with books."

He lets a moment go by then says:

"I'm not a book."

This time I can answer:

"She talks with you."

"She talks with all of us. But I get the impression she comes to pay us a visit, after leaving her books. Perhaps she's only waiting to get back to them."

Perhaps we're all just visiting. But I don't dare say so. And no, actually: Frog is never just visiting; she's always there.

Gilgamesh has looked at me suspiciously. He questions me:

"Do you think I'm right?"

I give a wave of the hand.

"Do you think I'm right?" he repeats.

I nod and reply earnestly.

"She talks with you. She talks with all of us too. But she pays attention. Your pages have to be full."

Gilgamesh has slowed down; then accelerated. We are now cycling quickly towards our lunch.

My mother is happy to see us. She likes talking about gardening with Gilgamesh. My father likes to give a few opinions about tennis. Does Gilgamesh like to be reassured?

The flowers have names. When one is cut, another grows in its place; it is the same. People, though, make varieties of them. But what about the flowers that stroll together in the fields? Nobody tells them to make varieties. And yet, are there new ones?

"Aren't you hungry?" Gilgamesh is looking at me with irony… but also a touch of concern. I answer with a laugh. We eat.

We are at Ishtar's. We have left the shelter of her woods and are lying where the light is. The weather is fine. The air is pleasant, the sun careful. Sphinx is talking to Ishtar in a voice that may be sad:

"Your books surround you. I've only got my thought… my ideas. Which I hide, of course."

"You hide them?" Ishtar has exclaimed suddenly, leaning forward.

"I'm afraid. I'm afraid…"

Sphinx is unable to finish.

"You're afraid of being alone," murmurs Frog.

She remains thoughtful for a moment, then says in a slightly rough voice:

"Alone like the Greek."

Sphinx has looked at her with a sad smile.

The silence is about to settle in, but Gilgamesh shoves it aside:

"Perhaps the Greek wasn't alone!"

"You mean when he was alive?" says Ishtar.

"Yes, when he was alive. Perhaps people understood what he was saying."

Under Ishtar's gaze, Gilgamesh has finished uncertainly.

"Why has he been forgotten, then?"

Ishtar's question foxes Gilgamesh. He stammers:

"I don't know… I don't know why people forget…"

"People forget that which is not enough…"

"Or too much," cuts in Sphinx.

"Too much? Why too much?"

Ishtar has asked the question calmly. Sphinx carries on feverishly:

"Because it would have meant accepting something they didn't know."

"Something new," pronounces Confucius.

Sphinx has moved her head slightly. She seems surprised for a moment, then says:

"You're right. Yes, you're right."

"But it's not enough for it to be new, it has to bring us something. Perhaps that's why we're told to be the best we can."

Gilgamesh jumps.

"To use us," he snorts. "You don't use someone who's no good."

"You can't say they're trying to make everyone bad, though, can you?" says Confucius indignantly.

"And if I really do become better than the others, what will they do? Will they admire me? Or destroy me?"

"Destroy you? Don't you think you're laying it on a bit thick?"

"No, he isn't. The Greek was destroyed, wasn't he?" says Sphinx curtly.

Confucius wrings his hands. He answers with great calm:

"I can understand that that has hurt you… hurt us. But is it impossible to understand those who were… against the Greek? They found him… seem to have… bad…"

Gilgamesh interrupts Confucius's hesitant words:

"So it's enough to say that someone is bad to destroy them too?"

"No, but really, why would you think people go about destroying everyone?"

Confucius has said this with a kind of - not distress exactly, but deep incomprehension.

Sphinx takes advantage of the slight hesitancy in the conversation; adopting a serious tone, she says:

"People only destroy those who make them afraid. Bad people, I mean those who are said to be bad, can be forced to obey by giving them a promise to make them better."

This morning we are cycling slowly towards the Greek's pond. The weather is fine. There is still a trace of freshness in the air. The sun has come, still sleepy, a little bit late, as has become its custom in recent days. The trees along the road may be sulking because we avoid the shade of their thick foliage. What do birds dream about? We can't hear them. A flock of crows hurries towards a distant field. The grass in the meadows sleeps on a bed gilded by the sun. The cows walk with slow steps and pick this grass that has a different taste.

We ride. "… and he wasn't expecting it!" says Gilgamesh mockingly, doubtless recounting a tennis match to Confucius, who is listening with a convinced look. "… if I feel confident, I'm not afraid," Ishtar replies to… doubtless to Sphinx, who is looking at her. Sphinx talks about… about being free not to obey…

The cows don't choose the grass they eat; the birds obey no-one, and yet all they do is fly.

"So they never alight, do they?" says Ishtar sardonically.

I'm surprised. I thought I'd only been speaking… to the birds perhaps…

I don't know what to say. Sphinx intervenes:

"They never alight because someone tells them to."

"So in that case they're always alone."

Frog has spoken, as she often does, in a voice that is not very loud. Sphinx can't have heard her very well because she asks her:

"Why do you think you're alone?"

Frog doesn't have time to answer because Sphinx adds:

"We're here."

Frog looks at her with a gentle smile and says:

"I know. You're never alone if someone needs you."

A few leaves are scattered on the Greek's pond. The water ripples in the breeze. The weather is fine. We eat our lunch peacefully after our swim. Confucius tells us about a trip he made to another country the previous year. "The way of life of the people who live there is not the same as that of the country we live in," he says. Why should it be otherwise? The falcon's way of life is not the same as that of the sparrow. They are birds; we are people.

Confucius continues his story. Why has Frog looked at me just now - as though she wanted to ask me…? Ishtar wants to know more about a detail of the trip, Gilgamesh asks a question. The weather is fine. The breeze ripples the pond. Time passes.

Now we are playing hide and seek, running around; we climb trees, or rather Gilgamesh does, pretending to be Tarzan.

The sun soon reminds us that the long days spent with us have tired it out. All that's left is for us to go home before it does. The way back is quicker than the way here this morning. It's already evening; we go our separate ways. See you tomorrow!

The market this morning is full of voices. We have all come, as we always do, to accompany our parents. It makes them happy - calm and blithe. And yet although we are there, we are not with them. Talking is impossible, with all the raised voices that drown out words. As for us, we walk meekly among the hustle and bustle; from time to time we exchange looks wreathed in amusement.

The errands are done. Satisfied parents compare their purchases, talk about meals…

We approve - Confucius is running the operation.

Lunch-time is late that day. The day eases along and, towards evening, which hastens on a little more every day, we meet up at Ishtar's. The coming night is delighted to seek warmth around the campfire we have improvised in the little clearing left by the great trees. Confucius keeps an anxious watch which seems to reassure Ishtar's parents.

The crackling wood colours us red. The sparks head off in little groups, so far that they can no longer be seen. Sphinx sings in a low voice. Time accompanies us.

Sphinx has stopped singing. We are silent. Gilgamesh pokes the fire; he takes a twig which he watches burn and says in a halting voice:

"There were a lot of people at the market."

We remain silent. After a moment he goes on:

"We were alone."

His voice hesitates during the silence that follows. Ishtar looks at him curiously. Does he notice?

"Are you saying that because we weren't together?" says Confucius serenely.

Gilgamesh is about to reply; Ishtar interrupts him:

"No-one was stopping us from being together."

The wood crackles, the sparks dance. We are silent.

"We aren't always of the same opinion."

Gilgamesh has spoken again in his halting voice.

"Nobody listens at the market, so nobody has an opinion," says Sphinx curtly.

"What do you mean, nobody has an opinion? So 'My lettuces are the best!' isn't an opinion?"

Confucious' words, spoken emphatically, make everyone laugh. Gilgamesh prods the fire cheerfully.

"There are embers, we can cook our potatoes!" he exclaims.

It is a feast. "My potatoes are the best!" chants Gilgamesh, offering one to Ishtar. Ishtar burns her fingers slightly, Gilgamesh does the same trying to help her. Everyone laughs.

The wood crackles, the sparks dance, we feed happily.

Sphinx and Frog have made tea. Frog comes over to offer me some. I was starting to feel thirsty.

"You're right, it is indeed an opinion!"

Sphinx has turned towards Confucius and accompanied her words - spoken vehemently - with an abrupt hand movement. Confucius looks at her in surprise; he must have forgotten. Sphinx is all agitated, her voice tumbles over itself:

"It's an opinion against us!"

Turning to me, she goes on:

"Don't you remember, you said to Gilgamesh, I don't recall… his answer… it was… a weapon against him. Their opinion… it's against us."

Confucius has understood, at least about the opinion; I think we all have, more or less quickly. But he asks all the same:

"Why against us? Lettuces are for us, not against us."

"It's to make us…" Sphinx begins.

Confucius cuts her off, sounding almost irritated:

"No-one makes you… no-one makes us… If we go to the market it's because we ourselves want the lettuce, or whatever."

Sphinx seems slightly disoriented; she attempts an answer:

"You don't always feel like lettuce…"

She doesn't finish.

Confucius has picked up a fine potato, blackened from the heat. He proffers it to Sphinx, saying teasingly:

"I'm not making you take it, but you're out of potato."

Sphinx leaves her thoughts behind and thanks him with a big smile.

"Oh, I'm always up for a burnt potato," she says, laughing.

Gilgamesh feigns outrage:

"It's not burnt, it's…"

"Perfectly cooked!" concludes Ishtar reassuringly, though with a hint of sarcasm.

Gilgamesh wonders how to react, and in the end doesn't.

Confucius makes a great show of enjoying his potato while commenting with the utmost seriousness:

"Thank you, Gilgamesh, for having made me eat this potato, which has both sated my hunger and satisfied my taste for refined food."

Gilgamesh is past feigning. He pulls a face and mutters:

"And d'you reckon people sell potatoes at the market to be nice to you?"

"That's it," cries Sphinx, "it's not so as to be nice to you!"

"It's not so as to be horrible to me either, is it?" protests Confucius.

Sphinx speaks hesitantly:

"No, but…"

"Don't tell me the vendor sells them in his own interest. Of course he does, and I can't see how he could do otherwise, since it's the only way he can buy stuff for himself afterwards…"

"Stuff that people will make him buy!" cuts in Gilgamesh.

Confucius shakes his head and says:

"For heaven's sake, why should people always be making others do things?"

Gilgamesh shrugs and says:

"Fair enough… I… maybe because I often feel made to do things…"

"Me too," says Ishtar, "that's often how I feel too. But if I refuse, I'd only have to make myself do them. And how can I be sure…?"

"Why would you need to be sure?" asks Sphinx urgently.

Ishtar doesn't answer straight away. Sphinx insists:


She waits a while then says:

"So as not to be scared?"

She repeats slowly:

"So as not to be scared…"

The wood crackles, the sparks dance, we are silent.

"Who wants my lovely potatoes?" chants Gilgamesh suddenly.

We start to laugh, a little nervously. I ask for a potato. Everyone wants one. We eat noisily.

"What are we going to do with the page?"

Am I the only to have heard the question Frog has asked in a dull voice?

An answer comes to me:

"We're going to keep on looking."

Frog stares at the fire. I hear her dull voice again:

"Looking? Looking where? Looking until when?"

"Perhaps inside us. Perhaps forever."

Frog has not stopped staring at the fire.


Was her voice even duller?

Suddenly I hear Sphinx:

"What was that you said, Frog?"

Frog looks up at Sphinx, gives her a smile and says:

"I was talking about the page."

Gilgamesh sits up.

"Oh, yes, the page!" he exclaims.

Ishtar frowns and says:

"We'll never find what we're looking for."

"Why do you say that?" Sphinx asks her, still looking at Frog.

"We've done everything we could," replies Ishtar.

"So we have to do what we can't."

Sphinx has spoken very rapidly.

Gilgamesh has reacted just as quickly:

"With a thought that…"

He has stopped no less quickly. I don't know if Sphinx has even heard his… comment, because she goes on:

"We know what we can do."

Ishtar insists:

"And how on earth are we supposed to do what we don't know how? Dream on!"

"More potatoes!" cuts in Gilgamesh.

Fortunately the potatoes he hands round are small because we're not very hungry any more.

Confucius seems confused.

"How are you going to get on at school," he asks Sphinx, "if you only care about things that aren't real?"

"At school, they only talk about what is planted, not about what grows."

We all stare at Sphinx. Apparently nobody has understood what she has said.

"Do you mean what we can see?" ventures Confucius.

Sphinx shakes her head.

"No…" she starts saying.

Then, after a short silence, she goes on:

"What grows doesn't exist until it has emerged from the earth."

Ishtar protests:

"You can't say that! What grows exists below ground, doesn't it?"

"Of course it does," says Sphinx, "but for someone who hasn't seen that it's been planted and doesn't dig to take a look, nothing exists."

We remain silent. Gilgamesh throws some wood on the fire. The fire harrumphs and throws out clusters of sparks. Frog has brought drinks to fight the fire - I mean to fight our thirst. Little by little, conversations start up again. Confucius proposes a bike ride the following day, Gilgamesh talks about games, the girls discuss the packed lunch. The night moves on but we don't feel like leaving our campfire. Gilgamesh has come up with a game that lets us stay sitting down. We play. The further the night advances, the more we appreciate the fire's warmth. Hunger returns. The girls explore the pantry and come back with some biscuits.

"It's good by the fire," says Ishtar, sitting back down.

We agree, warmly. Ishtar goes on:

"Do we go asking ourselves questions when we feel good?"

Gilgamesh answers immediately:

"No, not at all!"

After a brief moment he adds:

"There are places where you don't often feel good."

Ishtar gives him a smile and says:

"But around you, do you find that everyone feels bad… when you feel bad?"

Gilgamesh hesitates, then says:

"I reckon the others, at school for example, accept it; and they feel good."

"Are you sure the others accept it? Maybe it's just what they want."

Gilgamesh doesn't answer straight away. Ishtar goes on:

"And if it's what they want, they feel good."

"How can you tell?" mutters Gilgamesh.

"I think there is a way. When you complain that people want to make you do something, you forget that the person who wants to make you do that thing feels good and thinks that you will feel good too, since the others agree."

"The others?"

"Yes; you said yourself that the others… accepted it. And they don't complain; quite the opposite."

"How do you know it's… quite the opposite?"

"You rarely hear people complain, and those who complain are criticised."

"I often hear people complain."

"Yes, when it's in their interest, for example if they haven't had… enough biscuits; but not about…"

Everyone has started laughing at the face Gilgamesh was making.

When silence had returned, we heard Frog murmur:

"We can do without biscuits, but potatoes give us life."

The fire has gone to sleep, the sparks have faded away, leaving wreaths of smoke behind. Tomorrow we'll go for a bike ride. The night surrounds me. I cycle slowly home along the paths around the village.

Potatoes give us life. Is it Frog who one day, such a long, long time ago, had the idea of burying one of the potatoes she wanted to eat one day when she was hungry?

Cows have never buried potatoes. The grass grows without their help. And the cows eat the grass. And the cows eat the grass. All the time.

Thanks to the potatoes that come back from the earth in which they have been buried, people sometimes stop eating - or looking for food like the birds look for food on cold days. And then people can do what they like. Bury potatoes. Play with the water in the pond. Try and understand the Greek's sentence. Uproot flowers - or other people.

I cycle slowly along paths that lose me. In front of me, the night starts to lose its depth. It's cool. The birds start to joyfully sing their dreadful death song; do insects tremble?

The low crow of a cock surprises me: I am quite a way from the village. I ought to turn round but I don't feel like it. It will be easy for me to find my way back. I cycle towards the fire that is beginning to spread beyond the horizon. I can just make out the fields, the motionless cows. The hedges with their broad, dark leaves trace my path. The grass in the fields is ready to give itself. But the cows will only eat what dies. Underground the grass, invisible, continues to live.

The sky, clearer now, reassures us: the sun has not forgotten us. I cycle towards the village; here is my house. I go into the garden. At the far end, on my bedroom window-sill, my bird is waiting for me.


T H E    E N D




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