Story by Marguerite Duras

Ernesto has gone to school for the first time. When he comes home, he goes straight to his mother and says to her: "I'm never going back to that place !"
His moterh stops peeling the potato in her hand. She looks at him. "why?" she asks.
"Because!" says Ernesto. "Because at school they teach me things that I don't know!"
"Oh, no!" says his mother, "not another one!"
She sighs and picks up the potato again.

When Ernesto's father comes home from work, she tells him of Ernesto's announcement. "Oh, great!" says Ernesto's father. "Just like his brothers. That's all I need!"

The next day, Ernesto's mother and father go to school to talk to the teacher about Ernesto. But the teacher doesn't particularly remember anyone named Ernesto.
"He's little," says the mother, "and dark. Six years old. A bit crosseyed."
"No," says the teachter after thinking for a moment, "I haven't seen Ernesto."
"No one sees him!" says Ernesto's father. "It's as if he didn't exist!"
"Bring him to me tomorrow," says the teacher.

The next day, Ernesto goes with his mother and father to see the teacher.
The teacher looks at the boy. "Are you Ernesto?" he asks.
"Right," says the boy.
"Ah! Ernesto!" says the teacher. "I don't recognize you."
"Well I recognize you," says Ernesto.
"You see?" sighs his mother. "You see what he's like?"

After that, everyone is silent. The teacher is thinking. So is Ernesto's father. Ernesto and his mother are both looking around the classroom. Rickshaw. Skeleton. Butterfly. Rose. The world. The President. Soldiers. A black man.
"So!" the teacher begins again, "you refuse to be taught?"
"Right," says Ernesto.
"And can you tell me why, little Ernesto?"
"What good does it do? asks Ernesto. "Besides, it takes too long to learn things."
"But school is required!" says the teacher sternly.
"Not everywhere," says Ernesto, "not at the North Pole."
"But we are not at the North Pole!" barks the teacher.
"I know," says Ernesto.
"We are here!" yells the teacher, "and not everywhere!"
"I wish I was," says Ernesto.

Suddenly the teacher points at the picture of the President. "And who is that?" he demands. "Tell me, Who is that? Hunh? Who?"
Ernesto looks hard through his glasses, but because he is a bit crosseyed he does not see the picture of the President; he sees the picture of the black man.
"Just a man", says Ernesto. "He looks like a happy man."

"And that?" asks his mother, pointing at the gold and blue butterfly pinned in a glass box. "Ernesto, tell us what that is. At least tell us that!"
"That says Ernesto, "is murder. And murder is a crime."

The teacher is furious. He jumps up and gestures around the room. "And that?" he bellows, pointing at the globe of the world. "Is it a football? A balloon?"
"It's a football, it's a balloon, and it's the earth," says Ernesto.
Groaning, the teacher sits down.

Ernesto takes some chewing gum from his pocket. His mother points at him. "An idiot!" she screams. "That's what he'll be, an idiot!"
"No," says Ernesto to his mother very quietly. He is smiling at her.
"Don't get so exitec," he says gently. "Things aren't that bad."
"You really think so?" she asks.
"Sure," says Ernesto.
"Very strange," the teacher mutters to himself. "very peculiar."

Ernesto's father, his mother and his teacher are all looking at him. Ernesto is chewing his gum.
"What is to become of us?" moans Ernesto's mother. "Seven! I have seven, and he's only the third! What will the little one's be like!"
The teacher scratches his head. Ernesto's father looks at his feet. Ernesto blows a big gum bubble.
"This is an exceptional case," says the teacher, adding under his breath, "thank goodness."
"Well, that's something at least," says Ernesto's father.

All at once the teacher smiles. He has just had a shrewd idea. "So!" he says, walking up and down the aisles, his hands behind his back. "So we have before us a child who wants to learn only what he already knows!"
"Yes, that's it," says Ernesto's father, pleased at having the situation so neatly summed up.
"And I have seven of them. I have seven altogether, and they're too much for me!" says Ernesto's mother.
Ernesto is calmly blowing another bubble. He is concentrating on getting it as big as he can.

"But tell us, little Ernesto," continues the teacher slyly, "tell us how you plan to learn what you already know? Hunh?"
"Yes, how!" shout his parents.
Ernesto frowns and replies, "by re-de-de re-see-see re-pee-peeting!"
"What? What did you say"? snaps the teacher suspiciously.
"It's a new method," responds Ernesto innocently.
"Ah-oh-outrageous!" roars the teacher, "I'm going to teach you a lesson myself!"
"I don't understand what's going on," says Ernesto's mother. " Do you Emil?"
"I'm in the dark too," says his father.

The teacher comes close to Ernesto. "And perhaps little Ernesto will tell us just what he already knows, hunh"?
"Nothing," says his father angrily. "And nothing can come of nothing. Just look at him!"
"And besides everything else," says his mohter, "he's crosseyed."

The teacher continues his argument. "I asked a question, it seems to me. What, exactly, do you know, little boy?"
Without a moment's hesitation Ernesto responds: "No! That's what I know! I know how to say no! - and that's enough!"
The teacher can't stand it anymore. He raises a hand as if to hit the boy. But Ernesto's mother springs up. "Don't you touch him!" she shouts fiercely, "or I'll hit you!".
Ernesto's father backs away. Everybody is upset.
"Wonderful!" says the teacher. "Perfect!" He goes back to sit behind his desk. He forces a thin smile.
Ernesto's mother smiles too. And finally his father smiles.
Ernesto smiles at his mother, and she smiles at him.

The teacher, a bit calmer now, goes on with his questions: "But why does little Ernesto refuse to learn that which he does not know? Why?"
"Answer your teacher," says his father, "if you have understood him."
"Why?!" bellows the teacher, in an absolute fury.
"Because it doesn't help anything," says Ernesto.

There is a moment of heavy silence.
"That's the heart of the matter," says his mother, nodding slowly.
"It's the heart of the heart," says his father, sadly shaking his head.
The teacher gets up and goes towards Ernesto again. "But how will little Ernesto know how to read? And write? And add? Hunh? How will little Ernesto know how to get along in the world unless he knows how to read and write and add? Hunh?"
"I'll know how when I need to," says Ernesto. He blows another bubble.
"Yes, but how?!" roars the teacher.
Ernesto pops the bubble. "By osmosis," he says, 'that's how."
"You are the limit!" yells the teacher. "You'd better watch what you say to me, young man, or you'll be sorry!"
"You don't scare me," says Ernesto, snaping his gum.
"Emil," says the mother nervously, "do someting - someone's going to get hurt!"
"Let's calm down," says Ernesto to the teacher.
"You're right," replies the teacher.
"But that's not the end of it, is it?" asks the mother. "I have others like this, and I'm fed up. Will they all turn out this way? I need to know..."

"I'm fed up too," says Ernesto, "I'm going home."
And he leaves, blowing a huge bubble on his way out. "Well!" says Ernesto's father, "well, well!" He's a little strange bird, isn't he?" Ernesto's father turns to the teacher. "Now that he's gone, tell us what you think of him."
The teacher is silent. He is staring off into the distance as if following the flight of a bird in the sky. Or a plane. At last, raising his eyebrows, he says, "What a child! What a problem!"
"Yes," says Ernesto's mother, "but what do we do with him? After all, when all is said and done, he's ours!"
"Our child and our problem," says Ernesto's father. "What do we do with him? If the schools don't teach him, who will?"
"Is he right? asks his mother. "Will he read one day - even without school?"
"Maybe even read and add?" asks his father.
"Yes, add too," says his mother. "Read and add? Come and go? Eat and drink? Work? Join the army? Make mistakes? Work some more? Can he do all that without school? Without that whole kit and kaboodle?"

The teacher looks at her with hollow eyes. Ernesto's father is listening attentively.

"Alas!" says the teacher with a deep sigh. "Alas!" And then: "Yes."

Story by Marguerite Duras
Pictures (in the book) by Bernhard Bonhomme
A Harlin Quist Book
Library of Congress catalog card number: 72-141527
SBN library: 8252-0048-2
Original text an illustrations copyright 1971 by Harlin Quist, s.a.r.l. and Francois Ruy-Vidal
English text copyright 1972 by Harlin Quist
All rights reserved.
English text adapted by Ina C. Jaeger from a translation by Ciba Vaughan
Printed in Swizerland by imprimierie Hostettler
Photo montage on last page created by Roman Cieslewicz