So I lived by myself, with no one to talk to, till six years ago, my plane came down in the Sahara Desert with a broken engine. Without a mechanic or any passengers, I ventured to perform the difficult repairs on my own. It was a matter of life and death – there wasn’t enough drinking water to last a week.
Miles away from civilization, I spent my first night on the sand, more lost than a castaway in the middle of a vast ocean. So imagine my astonishment when a strange voice woke me the next morning.
It said: ‘Please … could you draw me a sheep!’
‘Draw me a sheep!’
Utterly startled, I sprang up. Blinking hard, I surveyed the area around myself cautiously. There stood an incredibly small person studying me intently. This is the best portrait I could manage from memory. But the actual person was far more fascinating.
The fault is not mine. Discouraged from becoming a painter when I was six years old, I only know how to draw boas from the inside and from the outside.
Now this sudden vision made my eyes fall out of my head in disbelief. As you are aware, I had crash-landed in the desert many miles from any habitation. Yet this fellow seemed neither weary nor astray; he wasn’t even fainting from hunger or thirst or fear. He did not look like a child lost in the middle of the desert, far away from any living thing. When I finally found I could speak, I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Please … could you draw me a sheep?’ he repeated slowly, with care, as if this was a matter of great importance.
So compelling was the situation that I could not disobey. Even though I was far removed from civilization and worried for my life, I took out of my pocket a sheet of paper and my fountain pen. Then it struck me that my studies had been centred around geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar, and I told the little man (with some irritation) that I did not know how to draw.
He answered, ‘No matter. Draw me a sheep.’
But I had no experience of drawing a sheep. So I drew for him the thing I so frequently drew – the boa constrictor from the outside. And I was surprised to hear, ‘No, no, no! I do not want a boa constrictor with an elephant in its stomach. A boa constrictor is very dangerous and an elephant too bulky. Everything is very small where I come from. A sheep will be more suitable. Draw me a sheep.’
So I made this drawing:
He looked at it carefully and said, ‘This won’t do. The sheep looks ill. Draw me another.’
I made another drawing:
My friend smiled kindly. ‘See for yourself,’ he said. ‘It is a ram with horns, not a sheep.’
So I made a third drawing:
‘It looks ancient!’ he exclaimed. I want a sheep that will live for a very long time.’
I was exhausted, and impatient to start working on the crippled engine. So I quickly drew this:
‘Your sheep is inside this box,’ I explained.
I was pleasantly surprised to see his face light up. ‘That is just what I wanted! Do you think this sheep will need plenty of grass?’
‘Because my world is very small.’
‘Of course there will be enough grass,’ I said. ‘It is a tiny sheep.’
He bent over the drawing and looked closely. ‘Not too tiny … oh look! He has gone to sleep.’
And that is how I first met the little prince.