The fifth day, thanks to the sheep again, revealed another secret from the little prince’s life. Suddenly, surfacing as if from very deep thought, he asked:
‘If a sheep eats little bushes, does it eat flowers too?’
‘A sheep will eat anything it finds.’
‘Even flowers with thorns?’
‘Yes, even flowers with thorns.’
‘Then what are the thorns for?’
I did not have a clue. I was busy trying to remove a bolt that had lodged itself in the engine. I was really worried. It was becoming clear to me that the damage to my plane was extremely serious. My drinking water was almost exhausted. I feared the worst.
‘So what are the thorns for?’
The little prince could never let go of a question, once he had asked it. I, with my mind still on the stubborn bolt, said the first thing that I could think of:
‘They are useless. Flowers have thorns because they are cruel!’
After a moment’s silence, the little prince snapped back:
‘I don’t believe you! Flowers are delicate and faultless. They make up for their innocence with their thorns.’
I did not answer.
At that moment I was thinking: ‘If this bolt doesn’t turn, I am going to need a hammer.’
Again the little prince interrupted.
‘You actually believe that the flowers …’
‘No!’ I yelled. ‘I don’t believe anything. Do you not see – I am busy with something important!’
He gaped at me, confused.
He looked at me stooping over an object that seemed ugly to him, with a hammer in my hand and my fingers black with engine grease.
‘You sound exactly like the grown-ups!’
I was a little ashamed when I heard that. He went on, a little harshly:
‘And you are wrong! You get everything jumbled up!’
He was really very upset and he tossed his golden hair in the breeze.
‘I know of a planet where there’s a red-faced man. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked upon a star. He has never loved anyone. He has done nothing else but sums. And he repeats to himself daily, just like you: “I am busy with something important!” And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man, he is a balloon!’
The little prince turned pale with rage.
‘Flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. And for millions of years sheep have been eating them just the same. Is it not important to try and understand why flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns if they are of no use? The conflict between sheep and flowers is more important than a red-faced man’s sums, is it not? What if I told you I know of this one flower that is absolutely unique and can be found only on my planet and at any time it could be bitten off by a sheep? Don’t you think that’s important?
Red in the face, he continued, ‘If you love a flower which is one of its kind on the millions of stars in the sky, it is enough to just look at the stars and feel happy. You can say to yourself, “I know my flower is out there somewhere.” But if a sheep eats the flower, all the stars will seem to darken. How can you not think that is important!’
He burst into tears and stopped talking. The day had turned to night and I let my tools drop.
My concerns too fell away – the hammer, the bolt, my thirst and the thoughts of dying. There was a star, a planet, my own planet Earth and a little prince who needed to be consoled. I held him in my arms and said to him:
‘The flower you love is in no danger at all. I will draw a muzzle for your sheep and a mesh to protect your flower. I will …’ I did not know how to continue. I felt like a fool. I did not know how to help him. The world of tears is such a mystery.