Les Sablons


There was nothing there but a flash of yellow close to his ankle. He remained motionless for a moment. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a tree falls. There was not even any sound, because of the sand.

The little prince had been very certain that the snake would have no poison left for me. Nonetheless, I held very still as it slithered away across the sand. I had no desire to take the little prince’s method of transport. And I doubted it would work – which perhaps was all the more reason that it would not. I was too much a grown up.

No; my engine was repaired. Tomorrow, I would fly out of the desert in a machine made of metal, a machine whose workings were governed not by metaphysics but by the laws of motion and mechanics. I would return home to a world where water flowed from a tap, rather than being drawn from a well whose pulley sang of journeys undertaken and perils conquered.

I was rescued – indeed I had rescued myself – and my little prince had found his way home. A happy ending, surely, but I wept nonetheless. I did not dare to look at the stars.

In the morning, he was gone. It was not such a heavy body…

I wondered if he had reached his own planet yet, or whether he was still visiting with the geographer or the King or the hapless lamplighter. I wondered how the rose would greet him when he arrived, and smiled at the thought of her chagrin when she saw the sheep – a new and uninvited guest on her world! I hoped the muzzle would work – had I remembered to draw a string with which to attach it? Well, he would find a way, I had no doubt. The little prince was conscientious in his love.

There was no reason to stay longer, and every reason to depart. As the sun rose over the desert, I returned to my F-5B Lightning and took a final look back across the sands to the place where I had seen him fall. The desert was more beautiful than ever, for now it hid not only a well, but the memory of a small philosopher from another planet.


I had been stationed at M– for some five months when I sprained my ankle. It was a stupid fall, and my fellow pilots were loud in their mockery, and so I was in no very cheerful mood that Thursday evening as I sat alone in the barracks, while the rest of the men walked to the village to dance with the girls in the town square.

I could hobble a bit, so I took myself out to the terrace, where I could sit at the table and admire the roses which were now in bloom. I hoped that they might serve as my inspiration – I could not look at a rose now without thinking of my little prince and the rose for whom he was responsible. And it was more than time that I set down his story in full, and attempted to illustrate it. I was no longer quite satisfied with the baobab picture – my vanity had been pricked by his laughter.

I was struggling with pencil and paper when I heard a faint rustling from the bushes nearby. I stood quickly, and found myself staring into a pair of slanted, golden eyes.

The fox froze, staring back.

“What are you doing here?” I asked aloud, although I had a pretty good idea. The chicken coop was around the back of the house, and there had been casualties recently.

                  There was another who could hear me, once.

“What are you doing here?” retorted the fox. “On Thursdays, the hunters dance with the village girls! That is the rite, and that is what is proper.  This is my vacation and you should not be here to spoil it!”

I sat down, slowly. “You can understand me?”

“You can hear me?” The fox looked appalled, then thoughtful. “There was another who could hear me, once.”

Perhaps it was because I had been thinking of the little prince already, but I found myself remembering a story he had told me while I was working on my engine.

“The other one who heard you – did he have hair like the sun on desert sand, and a rose who he had tamed?”

“He had hair like golden grain, and a rose who had tamed him,” the fox corrected me.

“Then you must be the little prince’s fox!” I said triumphantly. “But nevertheless, you must not steal the chickens.”

The fox looked sly, then sad. “Do you know what became of him? He tamed me, and although I knew from the start that he could not stay, I still wept when he left.”

I remembered the wall, and the snake, and the silent fall onto sand. “He returned to his home,” I said. “His rose needed him.”

I did not wish to weep in front of a fox, but I did not need to. The fox saw the grief in my eyes and nodded wisely. “He tamed you too, I think.”


I could, in all probability, have gone dancing the next week. My ankle had healed nicely, and my comrades were inviting. But we had played a rough game of football that afternoon, and I fancied that my ankle was a little sore, afterwards. It was excuse enough.

I set myself up on the terrace again as soon as the men had left. I had my notebook and my pencil, but I could not settle to my work. I consulted my watch. It was a little after six; and it had been six thirty or so when the fox had appeared last week. I could feel happiness rising in me as the hour approached, and smiled at myself. Surely a fox would not keep time so precisely as this? But then, he had known that the men would be away on a Thursday evening…

At six-thirty precisely I heard a rustling sound from the rose bushes. I looked up, and found the fox watching me again. His gaze was nonchalant, but I thought I saw in it something of the same hope that had infected me.

“Well, Sir Fox,” I said. “Are you back again?”

“Well, Sir Human,” he replied. “Are you home again?”

I smiled. “Shall we walk to the vineyard?” I asked.

The fox eyed me askance. “Together?” he confirmed.

“Unless you have other plans…?”

“You robbed me of my dinner last week. I was hoping to make up for it this time.”

“I cannot let you kill the chickens,” I told him. I looked down at my notes, on which I had drawn another attempt at a sheep. The fox might be a friend of the little prince, but somehow I doubted that he would be content with a paper supper.

“There are rabbits in the vineyard,” I informed him. “And blackbirds, too, though they are harder to catch.”

“And it is in the opposite direction to the chicken coops,” the fox pointed out, agreeably.

“That, too.”

                    I shall walk another way.

He stared at me a while, and I sat very still, waiting.


“I don’t think so,” he said, at last. “I am not tame for you, to walk at your heels. And you could not trust me not to double back and slay the chickens once we reached the vineyard together.”

I admitted that this was so. The fox could certainly run faster than I, and I would not have the heart to shoot him, even if he were found in the chicken coop.

“I shall walk another way,” he said.


I did not truly expect the fox on the third Thursday, and indeed, he did not appear. I sat alone on the terrace, writing my memoir of the little prince, and looked up at the stars. Somewhere among them, I knew, there was a little prince, tending his volcanoes and his rose and his sheep, and looking at a sky full of stars that were water in the desert. But I was consumed by thoughts of baobabs, of volcanoes erupting unexpectedly or sheep eating flowers, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not hear the stars laughing.

In the morning, two chickens had been killed and someone had dug up one of the rosebushes.


On the fourth Thursday, I was sent back to the desert.

Flying a plane always takes you out of the world to an extent. Even in this time of war, even on a mission so prosaic as the delivery of supplies to an army outpost, there is something magical about flying over the desert at night. My plane’s engine is loud, but everything around me is still and silent.

Almost, I can believe in a rose on a tiny planet, far above my head.

Almost, I can believe that my plane could take me there.

But where could I land?


I don’t quite know why I decided not to go to the village dance the Thursday after I got back, but not long after I sit down on the terrace I heard a familiar rustle.

“You were not here last week,” said the fox, accusingly. “I came, and there was no one.”

“You did not come the week before,” I pointed out. “And I have my duties to attend to.”

The fox was not impressed. “When you tame something that is wild, you must be consistent. You must observe the proper rites. You must come at the same time every week, and sit a little longer, and a little closer, until the wild thing comes to trust you.”

“Is that what the little prince did?” I asked.

“More or less,” said the fox. “I needed to explain it to him, too.”

“Then you wish to be tame again?”

The fox was silent for a long while. “The wheat is ripening in the fields, and turning as gold as his hair. I am sad when I think that he is gone. I feel as though a part of me has been torn away. But my life was monotonous before he came. I would rather feel sad than feel nothing at all.”

“I was in the desert last week,” I said, and then stopped.

“Yes,” said the fox. “You understand.”

There was silence between us.  I could hear music, faintly, from the direction of the village.

The fox spoke again.  “I should like to see the desert.”

“There are very few chickens in the desert,” I said. “And I don’t think you would like to fly.”

“I would not fly with you,” agreed the fox. “But I could come with you, nonetheless.”

He sauntered over to where my drawings were laid out on the table before me.  I showed him the drawing I had made of his first meeting with the little prince, and he snorted. “Perhaps you had better draw a box and put me in that,” he suggested. “Your fox appears to have horns. Do I look as though I have horns?”

I bit my tongue on a sarcastic reply, and meekly drew a box instead. I gave it large air holes, and thought very firmly about foxes. I wanted to be absolutely certain that there was no sheep inside.  While the fox would no doubt have been delighted, it would not have been fair to the sheep.

When I looked up, the fox was gone.


Landing in the desert was not a part of my mission, but I told myself that it was important to map the location of that well. I was not the first airman to become lost in the desert; another might benefit from my knowledge if he were likewise stranded. I smiled a little, wondering what proof the little prince’s Geographer might demand of me should I bring my maps to him. A cup of clear water from the well would not suffice, I was sure. Fortunately, the military were less precise in their pedantry.

I did not allow myself to think about the piece of paper folded away in my uniform pocket.

It was easy enough to find the place where I had first landed. Time moves slowly in the Sahara, and the sand still held the indentations from where my plane had lain. I landed next to my former berth as the sun grew low in the sky.

The fox was beside me, as I stepped out of the plane, looking around the desert with interest. The sun was setting quickly, changing the sands from cream and yellow to orange-red. Even stranded and at risk of death by dehydration, I had found the sunset here beautiful. Tonight, it was spectacular.

The fox did not appear to agree with me.

“The sands are very hot,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed. I could hardly argue.

“And there are no chickens,” he added, mournfully.

“It is a desert,” I reminded him. “Chickens could not live here. They would have nothing to eat.”

The fox looked a little glum, then brightened. “Nothing is perfect. But I suppose there are no hunters here, either. That is something, at least,” he suggested.

I bit my tongue. I saw no merit in disillusioning him. The few hunters who dwelled in the Sahara were unlikely, in any case, to be interested in a fox.

“Come, let me show you where he arrived,” I said, instead.

The fox hesitated. “Is that where you met him?”

“No.” I smiled. “I met him right here. He asked me to draw him a sheep.”

The fox snorted loudly. “What a disappointment you must have been to him,” he said – rather unkindly, I thought.

I held my peace, and led the way across the sands.

It was a long walk to the well, and we passed most of it in silence. A fox, even a tame fox, has little to say to humans, and I was preoccupied with my own thoughts and memories. It was, I rather thought, close to a year since I had first been stranded, which mean that my little prince’s planet must once more be close overhead.

I looked up, trying to identify it, but the sky was almost impossibly full of stars, seeming to hang very low and bright in the desert sky. The fox stopped, and followed my gaze.

“It does not seem so far a journey,” he said.

We walked on, and found the well at daybreak. I drew water for myself and for the fox, and we drank eagerly.

“Ah yes,” said the fox. “This is more than water; this refreshes the heart.”

I agreed. We stood in silence at the well, watching the sun rise.

There was a light, metallic sort of sound, and I froze as a tiny, yellow snake came into view.

The fox went very still beside me.

“And this, I think, was our friend’s ticket home?” he asked, softly.

I nodded, the tiniest amount.

Fox and snake stared at each other for a long moment.

“Yes,” he said.  “I see.”


I do not know what happened then.

I know only that when the snake left, the fox was gone also. I did not see the snake strike – I do not know if the snake did strike, or whether he chose to be merciful. Or whether his bite was a mercy, of sorts.

I only know that when I returned to the plane I was alone – alone, yet not lonely.

And as I took off into the night sky, the stars seemed closer than ever, and just for a moment I heard, even over the sound of my engine, laughter like a peal of silver bells.

As for the fox, I do not know what became of him. I did not see him again, after I returned to M–. Nor have I seen him since, though I still carry in my pocket the drawing of a box with large holes in it.

Perhaps he is inside the box.

Perhaps he is not.

Perhaps the hunters found him and he never travelled with me at all.

Or perhaps, he travelled far further.

So now, when I look up at the stars, I find myself wondering: what is happening on the little prince’s planet? Has the fox found his friend once again? Has he eaten the sheep?  Or perhaps the sheep has eaten the rose…

And at times, I say to myself: “Surely not! The little prince shuts his flower under her glass globe every night, and he watches over his sheep very carefully… And the fox loves the prince, and would never hurt him by harming his sheep.”

And there is sweetness in the laughter of the stars.

And at other times, I say to myself: “But a fox, however tame he may be, has certain instincts. And it would only take a moment of inattention for the prince. It is such a small planet.”

And then the little bells are changed to tears.

Here, then, is a mystery. Look up at the sky and ask yourselves – has the fox eaten the sheep? Has the sheep eaten the rose?

It is impossible to tell, even in the desert, where the stars hang so low that you might almost touch them.

The little prince once told me, as the fox once told him, that it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

I cannot see what passes on my little prince’s planet, but in my heart, I know that he has tamed the fox, and the fox has tamed him.

I know that the rose is still proud and haughty, and that she must still be tended to with more care than any flower ever earned, but that the little prince tends her with a smile, because he knows that she loves him as he loves her, and that the haughtiness is just her way.

I know that somewhere, high above me, a sheep is eating a baobab before it can destroy a world.

I know, because when I walk outside, the sky is full of stars that laugh like tiny silver bells.

And I am not alone.


Sand quarries and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Les Sablons is a Métro Station just northwest of the posh 16th arondissement of Paris, not far from the Jardin d’Acclimatation, the Bois de Boulogne and the Palais de Congrès.  It is named for the Plaine des Sablons, an old sand quarry that was once on this site.  It serves Métro Line 1.

The sand in this station’s title was basically my excuse to write a sequel/pastiche/homage to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). If you have not read this book, you should – it won’t take you long, and there are very good translations in English if you don’t speak French (having said that, I read this for the first time in French in about year nine or ten – the language is very simple, so if you do speak French at all, it’s worth a try).  It’s a sweet, fairy-tale sort of a book in which the narrator, a pilot like de Saint-Exupéry himself, finds himself stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert, where he meets a prince from another planet who tells him of his tiny planet with its single, haughty rose; the people he met on his way to earth; and the fox who he tamed.

It’s a classic of French literature, and thus rather presumptuous on my part to start playing with it, especially as there is no station named for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Paris (though there is a station named after him in Lyon).  But the fox in the story rather haunted me – I wanted to know what happened to him after the prince had to go home.  And really, the Sahara Desert was almost a character itself in this story, so a station with a name suggestive of sand seemed like a good place to put it.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a novelist and a professional air pilot, who was indeed stranded in the Libyan Desert in 1935, and very nearly died there.  This book clearly came at least partly from his experience.  He fought for France during the Second World War, first as a pilot in the airforce, and then, after the armistice with Germany, as a pilot in the Free French Airforce in North Africa, despite being well over the maximum age and in declining health.  His plane disappeared while on a reconnaissance mission in July 1944, and he was never seen again. The remains of his plane were found sixty years later, off the coast of Marseilles.

The drawings are mine.  Given Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s self-deprecating comments about his artwork, it seemed like cheating to do anything else.  Alas, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, I was also encouraged as a child to focus on sensible, grown-up things like mathematics and history and languages, rather than drawing.   I did – and you can see the results.


Pont de Neuilly
fleur1left Les Sablons
fleur1right Porte Maillot

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