The Colored Continent

excerpt AUREL FRECKLE ENTERS ZOOLOGY COUNTRY SUSPECTING NOTHING OF THE UNEXPECTED EVENTS THAT AWAIT FOR HIM THERE. So, Aurel got out of the car, ready to head for Zoology Country, and Rodica Pencilcase slammed the door of the colored car with all her might, started the engine and returned to Math Country.Just when he was about to look around, to take in the new places in which he found himself, Aurel suddenly heard behind him a nasty laughter, and, unfortunately, a very familiar one:"Ha-ha-ha! Did you think you had got rid of me? Did you think you were alone? Not a chance! I'm here, near you! I finally found you!"Aurel turned around, losing his patience: Cap-Shoes was next to him."You were about to enter Zoology Country, weren't you?" Cap-Shoes wanted to look clever."So I was!" Aurel defied him."Well, you won't.""I will, too, I will get in, with or without your permission.""You'll be thrown out," Cap-Shoes cackled behind him. "You'll be thrown out of here too, as you have been thrown out of everywhere else!"And, chattering ceaselessly, he tracked Aurel, who was running so fast towards Zoology Country that he could barely catch him up.They both passed a bridge over the water and, suddenly… they found themselves in Zoology Country. At the end of the bridge, they were welcomed, with a solemn attitude, by an orange wolf, a red lion, a green ram, a blue camel and a whole pack of indigo dogs and violet cats, all lined up in a row and sitting on their back legs. The orange wolf, the red lion, the green ram and the blue camel were welcoming the visitors, greeting them with their front paws, while the indigo dogs were wagging their tails in a friendly way.The border guards soon arrived, but they had hardly reached the other end of the bridge, when they turned back, seeming to be in a hurry and even worrisome, like people that had serious problems to deal with that day.And indeed, you only had to look shortly around you, to realize that something out of the ordinary had happened that day in Zoology Country, and that both the human inhabitants (who were, here, as everywhere on the Colored Continent, children and grown-ups with winged sandals, with winged school-bags, or with colored balloons and parachutes), and the animal-inhabitants were caught in a big bustle. Nevertheless, the bustle was not betraying panic. No. Just like in the other countries on the Colored Continent, the inhabitants were – despite the situation and the unusual events happening that day – in a continuous lighthearted and cheerful mood.What one could notice at once, even one who stepped for the first time in their life in Zoology Country, was that the animals, all the animals without exception, were trying to take advantage of the bustle, in order to make all sorts of lunacies, which, normally, were, of course, not permitted. Thus, the roads were full of colored cars and colored bicycles, driven by bears, wolves, kangaroos, penguins, monkeys, foxes, pigs, seals and walruses, and by even more other animals of the kind that exist in the zoology book. And they all seemed in a hurry to mount the colored bikes and to start the engine of the small and colored cars, to get as fast as they could to an unknown destination. Or maybe they were in a hurry just to get, as fast as they could, away from that place, because almost all of those who mounted a colored bike, or got into a colored car, turned almost immediately their heads to look back, as if to make sure that nobody called them back.Starting after the colored border guards, who looked as if they were the only ones that were out of time that day, Aurel and Cap-Shoes found themselves in front of a big nine-storey building, around which a lot of animals were swarming and kids and grown-ups were bustling, with colored caps, winged school bags and sandals, and out of all of them, the seven colored border guards, were the loudest and the most agitated.The indigo dogs from this country were running to and fro, with their indigo tongues out, and by the way they were running and fretting around they seemed to say: "We are not running here like the other animals. No, we are the indigo dogs, experts in zoology, and we have another purpose."The word "HOTEL" was written above the nine-storey building, and at every floor you could read, in big, colored letters, the name of an animal species. At the first floor was written "PROTOZOANS." At the second floor – "MOLLUSKS." At the third – "WORMS," at the fourth – "INSECTS." Then – "FISH," "BATRACHIANS," "REPTILES," "BIRDS" and "MAMMALS."In front of the building, animals were walking to and fro, making a lot of noise: kangaroos, penguins, rabbits, ducks, a tiger, a cat, frogs, squirrels and all sorts of other animals. A lot of butterflies, of all colors, seemed to have dashed in just then.A multicolored parrot appeared at a window, and he talked all the time, mostly because he had nothing else to do.A few monkeys were running behind the colored border guards and aped all of their gestures in an extremely funny way. Right in the middle, stood unblinkingly, a huge elephant, on which the green border guard, the orange border guard and a few other inhabitants were mounted, with winged school bags and sandals. From there, from the back of the huge elephant, they were all peering into the distance. And there were, around the building, a lot of children and grown-ups, with winged school bags and sandals, who were bustling and running to and fro, were counting the animals present, were grouping them according to species. They all seemed to be very scared, every time they noticed that an animal was missing from somewhere."Another two night butterflies have run away!" they shouted."A hamadryad is missing!"A colored border guard, coming out of the nine-storey building, shouted, seized by panic:"The crocodile! The crocodile has vanished!"Somebody answered him:"The foxes are gone, too! The red ones, the orange ones, the violet ones and the blue ones too!"Seeing all that mess, Aurel decided to talk to the violet border guard, who seemed to him, he didn't know why, less full of himself than the other colored border guards, and ask him what had happened there. The violet border guard, who was just as busy as the other border guards, answered Aurel, nevertheless, in a polite and benevolent way, explaining what had happened. He told him that not long ago, the monkeys took hold –nobody knew where from – of some matches, and they played with them so much that they set their flat on fire. Fearing that the fire might spread, the colored border guards evacuated the whole building. And now… the animals of different species and from different classes, accustomed to stay nicely in their place, within the species or class they belonged to, went astray, starting randomly through the country, on bikes, cars and even in colored choppers.While he was speaking to the colored border guard, Aurel suddenly noticed, next to the nine-storey building, a somewhat smaller building, which he had not noticed before, but which, as he was looking attentively, seemed even stranger and funnier than the other. Above this building was written in big letters "RESTAURANT," and from outside one could see, pretty well, two big restaurants in open air, with tables and chairs, were, there were seated and ate, on one side and the other, consumers that were very different from one another. Above one of the two open air restaurants – where mostly tigers, lions and beasts like these were seated – was written "CARNIVORES," and above the other, where a lot of pigs with white napkins tied around their necks, and especially monkeys, a lot of monkeys, were eating, there was written "OMNIVORES."Aurel, too, drew near and looked in amazement at that odd building.In front of the restaurant a lot of children with winged school bags were jumping, playing and frisking, and they were merrily shouting, pointing to the various consumers that were sitting at the table:"They," and here the children with winged school bags pointed to the restaurant of the lions, tigers, wolves and foxes which were each biting proudly a huge chunk of meat, "they eat only meat, only meat!""But they," and here the children with winged school bags pointed to the other restaurant, the one belonging to the pigs and the monkeys, "they eat everything."A violet pig, from the omnivores' restaurant, shouted that very moment, as if to answer them:"I've just ordered a portion of vegetables, one of grain, one of flour, one of food leftovers and one of pieces of meat. What can I say? I'm an omnivore animal.""I've just ordered a portion of bananas, one of peanuts, one of roots, one of bird eggs and one of insects," said a monkey proudly. "Like man, I'm an omnivore animal!"Then, the table companions started, one by one, to show off their teeth, moving their front legs with pride, first over the upper teeth, then over the lower teeth:"We have smaller front teeth, a lion, a tiger, a wolf and a fox explained. Our fangs are bigger, bent a little and sharp: with them we tear. With the sharp molars, which are molars for eating flesh, we cut the meat and break the bones.""We have thirty-two teeth, of the same number and form as those of the humans," the monkeys bragged, showing their teeth as well. The violet border guard, with whom Aurel became friends in the meantime, and who, decidedly, was nicer than the other colored guards, asked him if he didn't want to help them put the animals in order again, each one at their floor and in their flat. Aurel looked around. In front of the building a lot of children his age gathered now, with winged school bags or sandals, who put the animals back in order, jumping merrily and singing:"We know how to put them in their place!""We know the place of each animal!"Aurel hesitated for a moment, but Cap-Shoes' mocking laughter provoked him. So he agreed to help the violet guard, and started to work unhesitatingly, resolving to work as hard as he could, so that not only the violet guard, but the other inhabitants of Zoology Country as well would be amazed. He took two monkeys, a cat and a kangaroo piggy back and entered the building with them. Then he turned back and took some frogs and a few squirrels.Several hours passed like this… Cap-Shoes was standing aside laughing, and Aurel kept carrying different animals, endlessly going in and out of the building. The violet border guard, too, went in and out of the building just as hurriedly, and neither of them looked at the other at all.Suddenly a huge uproar started around the building. Angry faces appeared at the windows, shouting and making noise. At the monkeys' balcony there was a donkey heehawing discontentedly. At the frogs' floor, there was an amazed hen cackling as loud as it could. But the most terrible of all was the moment when at the birds' floor a furious tiger appeared. Some animals just looked surprised, others were terribly angry. Downstairs, in front of the building, a group of monkeys, left outside, were dying of laughter."A tiger appeared at the geese's window! Ha-ha! A tiger among geese!""A tiger among geese, a tiger among geese!" Cap-Shoes was roaring with laughter as well, as he was standing there making a bigger noise than all the others."Ha-ha-ha!" laughed the monkeys' choir. "There is a pig in the penguins' balcony! Just imagine: a pig among penguins!""A pig among penguins!" Cap-Shoes was dying of laughter.At that moment, the seven worried guards came in front of the building."What's going on?" shouted, looking full of contempt at Aurel, the red guard, the orange guard, the yellow guard, then the green one, the blue one and the indigo one. "Who is this boy? And then, where is the violet guard?""He doesn't know how to put the animals in their places!" the kids with winged school bags and sandals explained."Where is the violet border guard?" the other six colored guards insisted.Aurel was so ashamed that he wanted to hide away. Even more so as he didn't want that the violet guard, who trusted him and was so nice to him, to be scolded because of him.But suddenly the noise around grew louder:"It's him! He's to blame!" a compact group of noisy frogs croaked. "He talked about us, in the zoology class, without knowing us!"And they all pointed, with a theatrical gesture, to their heart:"He talked about our heart, with its three compartments! What does he know about our heart?!""Yes, yes, he drew on the table the three compartments of our heart!""He talks about us without knowing us!"And, before Aurel realized what was going on, other animals came before him – a few penguins, a lot of spiders, reptiles, birds and mammals – which were all surpassing one another in shouting:"He doesn't know me either!""He doesn't know me either!""He doesn't know me either!"Moreover, at some point, you could hear a thundering voice from inside the building, which made the whole building and even the building next to it, that of the restaurant, shake:"He doesn't know me either! He doesn't know me either!""It's the whale!" one could hear whispers uttered in a fright, all around.A big bustle started around Aurel. Then, after a while, after they pondered it over for a bit, some kids with winged school bags and sandals asked:"How could this boy answer at the lesson? He knows nothing, nothing at all, about any of the animals!""Then how did he know what to answer?"The six smug guards remembered suddenly:"Wait, wait! How did this boy enter Zoology Country in the first place? Where were we?""You were not paying attention," Aurel explained. "You were all busy at that moment. You even forgot to ask me if I had something colored on or not.""How could this be?" the colored guards became upset. "Then we'll ask you right now, quickly!"And, drawing near Aurel, one by one, they each asked him, counting with their fingers as in the game "In an ink cup there is some ink," when you want to know who will be picked:"Have-you-got-anything-red-on?""Have-you-got-anything-orange-on?""Have–you-got-anything-yellow-on?"And, as they each got with the question at red? orange? or yellow? they put their hands on Aurel's chest, with a triumphant gesture, that made him move one step back."Wait a minute!" Aurel tried to protest. If you always start the counting from yourself, of course it will end at me!"But the other colored border guards, not minding him, kept counting undisturbed:"Have–you-got-anything-green-on?""Have-you-got-anything-blue-on?""Have-you-got-anything-indigo-on?"And at the end, just when it was his turn, the violet guard came running and asked as well:"Have-you-got-anything-violet-on?"And when he got at the word violet he also put his hand on his chest with a triumphant gesture, making him take two steps back.Cap-Shoes, who had stayed aside until then, looking and keeping silent, suddenly made his way through the crowd and came before the colored guards:"It's no use, it's no use, the boy has nothing colored on!" he cackled with satisfaction. Our place is not here, our place is on the Great Ice Rink-Ocean. This boy got here by skating, he is a mere skater from the Great Ice Rink-Ocean!"Right!" said the guards enlightened. "Yes, yes! Look, he is dressed in the suit of the skaters from the Ice Rink-Ocean… and then he…" and they pointed at Cap-Shoes, "he is something very strange! How didn't we realize it sooner? We surely were very busy today!""Ok, but how could the boy answer?"And all the eyes turned, questioningly, to Aurel. The colored guards, not only the six proud ones, but also the modest and nice one, the violet one, all seven of them stood there looking at Aurel with their heads bent on one side, waiting for the answer, inquiringly. And after them, all the other inhabitants of Zoology Country, who were present there – people and animals – bent their heads on one side as well, just as much as the colored guards, and were waiting, in this position, for Aurel Freckle's answer."A magic little man helped me, the colored little man!" he said then, moving closer, with unsure steps, and coming in their middle. "One day he came to me and gave me as a gift this white cap, the school bag and these white shoes. The cap, the school bag and the shoes helped me answer at the lesson and be brilliant in everything."A great silence followed Aurel's words. The colored guards and all the others who were present and were standing with their heads bent stood there in amazement."What?! Are you saying that the colored little man is a magic little man?!" they finally exclaimed, one by one, astonished. "What is this boy talking about? We only know the colored man.""We know him very well. The colored man gave us certain things as well!" others added.And they all looked proudly at one another, peeking at their caps, school bags or at their colored shoes."First of all, the colored little man is in the habit of bringing, when he comes, different colored things, not at all white ones. We haven't heard it before, that he brought anyone a white thing!" someone tried to clarify things."And then," they all concluded, "the colored little man isn't magic at all! He is just a colored little man.""Maybe we are not talking of the colored little man that we all know," the violet guards made a supposition, as he got even closer to Aurel and seemed again to be even more benevolent towards him. Maybe this boy speaks of somebody else, of another little man..." Tineretului, 1964

by Sonia Larian (b. 1931)