As an old year ended, and a new one began

The little boy said: ''I wish I wasn't born into such a wicked world!'' ''Oh, James - '' My heart lurched.

Left alone together in the large country house everyone else had yet to return from their day's skiing over in Switzerland - we'd been watching side by side the Six O'clock News. Twice I'd asked, ''Are you sure your mother and father don't mind?'' For he seemd very young to be exposed to so harrowing a sequence of scenes. Each time, remaining glued, he'd shaken his head. Meaning, I'd assumed - since he didn't strike one as a child to disregard when on his own a parental ruling - that I needn't worry on his behalf. Now, with the television program clicked off, we went on sitting there: he half on his back in the long, cushioned chair and still staring, without speaking, into a milky-bland void where everything (however banished from sight) seemd to lurk, to wait, to press for re-admittance into a room. . . . The starving, the fleeing. The attacked becoming the attackers and the attackers the attacked. The two weeping Irish mothers, one of each; the frozen- faced Israelis, bearing from a rubbled building those sheeted stretchers, and the group of Arab vilagers, explosive with grief, in a mindless re-enactment of a scene that might have been the selfsame scene. . . . It was he who spoke first. ''Why must everybody be so angry with everybody else?'' ''Perhaps often - even mostly - because they're afraid of one another. He seemed to ponder this. Then, ''Are you afraid of people?'' He wasn't someone, however small, to be fobbed off. ''Not usually, of course. But several times, yes, I've been afraid.'' Quickly he turned. ''But you didn't shoot them?'' ''Of course I didn't!'' And making a try, since here we were on our own, in a silence that suddenly seemed enormous: ''It was the fear I had to shoot. The fear inside me.'' Another pause for pondering. Then, ''What happened?'' ''Well at least we managed not to hurt each other.'' I thought this had ended it. But suddenly, as if trying to contribute something himself, he came up with, ''You could have a dog, couldn't you? To bite anybody who hurt you!'' I was startled, even shocked! ''Have you a dog who bites?'' ''Pippi?'' Now it was his turn! Obviously he was flabbergasted. ''But Pippi likes people!'' And quite punchily, as if defending a slandered friend, ''She even likes kittens!'' ''She does? That's very nice! Did you teach her to?'' He seemed stopped, at a loss. ''I don't think she knows - '' ''Any difference?'' I suggested. Still a bit on the defensive, ''Well, she's only a little dog - '' ''Oh, James,'' I said. ''You can't think how often it's awfully good to be only little.''

We'd finished Abend Brot on a tray, in front of the log fire, when he said, out of the blue, ''I expect it was her little brother, wasn't it?'' I looked at him enquiringly. ''The little girl,'' he said impatiently. ''She was taking care of her little brother.'' It must, without my realising it, have registered for me too. The Arab villagers . . . the chaotic action, the voices crying out. . . . And at the edge of the scene, standing perfectly still, a child clasping in her arms another child. ''Yes, probably it was. That's what they do - '' All the times one had been touched by it, while living there among them. Even a five-year-old competently lugging about an infant family-member hardly larger than a doll. Suddenly I said, ''James! how about our breaking into that box of chocolates?'' ''Could we?'' He was pleased. ''I don't see why not. I feel like celebrating!''

Because - while watching all that we'd watched of what men, in their blindness, can do to one another - a little boy had noticed, and found room for in himself, a small child caring for another still smaller.

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