The Discovery of Other Minds
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
David Tucker, Translator
We were three crews of the Aéropostale, run aground at the end of the day on the coast of the Rio de Oro. My comrade Riguelle came down first, after breaking a connecting rod; another comrade, Bourgat, landed in his turn to collect the crews, but some minor damage also nailed him to the ground. Finally, I landed, but then night fell. We decided to fix Bourgat's plane and, in order to do the repairs well, wait for daylight.
A year earlier, our comrades Gourp and Erable had a breakdown exactly in this spot, and were massacred by the local rebels. We also knew that an invading troop of three hundred rifles were camped today somewhere near Bojador. Our three landings, visible from far away, might have alerted them, and we began a night watch that could be our last.
We settled in for the night. We took five or six cases of merchandise out of the baggage compartments, emptied them, put them in a circle and, at the bottom of each one, as in the hollow of a sentry box, we lit a humble candle, poorly protected from the wind. There, in the middle of the desert, on the naked hide of the planet, we built a village for men.
Grouped for the night on the great plaza of our village, this remnant of sand where our cases trickled out a trembling light, we waited. We waited for the dawn that would save us, or for the Moors. And I do not know what gave this night its flavor of Christmas. We told our old stories, we told jokes, we sang.
We savored the same weightless excitement as in the heart of a well-prepared celebration. And yet, even so, we were infinitely poor. Some wind, some sand, some stars. A meager style even for Trappist monks. But on this badly lit tablecloth, six or seven men who possessed nothing more in the world than their memories, shared their invisible riches.
§ § §
We were finally rescued. We may travel a long way, from coast to coast, enclosed in our own silence, or exchanging a few words that mean nothing. But then here it is, the hour of danger. Then we shoulder up, one against the other. We find that we are part of the same community. We are widened by the discovery of other minds. We look at ourselves with a big smile. We are like the released prisoner who marvels at the immensity of the sea.--- A. de Saint-Exupéry, 1900-1945,
French writer and aviator