Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature

Naughty Nené

José Martí

Original Title: Nené Traviesa
Translated: from the Spanish by Elinor Randall
HTML Markup: For in March, 2002.

Who knows if there is another little girl like Nené! A wise old man says that all little girls are like Nené. Nené would rather play house or store, or make sweets with her dolls, than recite the three and four tables for the teacher who comes to give her lessons. Because Nené has no mother; her mother is dead, and that is why Nené has a teacher. Making sweets is what Nené likes to do more than anything else; Why is it? Who knows! Perhaps because to play making sweets she is given real sugar. Of course the sweets never turn out well the first time--they are very difficult to make--so she always has to ask for sugar twice. Since everyone knows that Nené never likes to make her little friends work hard, when she plays at going for a walk or going shopping or visiting, she always calls them; but when she is going to make sweets, never. And once, a very strange thing happened to Nené: she asked her dad for two cents to buy a new pencil, but on the way to the store she forgot all about the pencil; what she bought was a strawberry meringue. Her little friends found out about this, of course, and so from then on they called her Strawberry Meringue instead of Nené.

Nené's father loved her very much. They say he did poor work if he failed to see his little daughter in the morning. He called her Little Daughter, not Nené. When her dad returned from work she always went out to greet him with open arms, like a little bird opening its wings to fly; then her dad would pick her up from the ground the way you pick up a rose from a rose bush. She would look at him with much affection as if to ask him things, and he would look at her sadly as if he wanted to burst into tears. But he would right away turn happy, lift Nené onto his shoulders, and both would go into the house singing the national anthem. Nené's dad always used to bring home some new book and let her see if there were pictures in it; she especially liked some books he brought that had pictures of stars in them, each with its own name and color. The red star and the yellow star and the blue star each had names, and she read that light is made up of seven colors, and that the stars go through the sky the way little girls go through a garden. No, not quite; for little girls go through a garden helter-skelter like a flower petal blown by the wind, while the stars go through the sky always following the same path and not wherever they wish. Who knows, perhaps there is somebody up there taking care of the stars the way dads take care of their little girls here upon the earth. Only stars are not little girls, of course, nor are they flowers of light as they appear from down here; they are as big as this world, and they say there are trees and water and people upon them, as there are here; and her dad says that in one book they tell about going to live upon a star when you die. "So tell me, daddy," Nené asked him, "why is there such sadness in houses where someone has died? If I die, I don't want to see anybody cry; I want them to play some music for me because I'm going to live upon that blue star." "But just you, you alone, without your poor dad?" And Nené replied: "How wrong of you to think so!" That night, instead of going to bed early, Nené wanted to sleep in her dad's arms. Dads are very sad when the mother of the house dies! Little girls should love their fathers a lot when their mothers are dead.

The night they talked about the stars Nené's dad brought home a very big book. Oh, how heavy it was! Nené tried to pick it up, but she fell down with the book on top of her; all you could see was a little blond head coming out from one side of it and some little black shoes from the other. Her dad came running and pulled her out from underneath the book, and he laughed at her a lot; she was not even six years old and she wanted to carry a book that was a hundred. The book was a hundred years old and had not yet grown a beard! Nené had once seen a little old man who was a hundred, but he had a very long beard that came down to his waist. And the handwriting model says that good books are like old men: "A good book is like an old friend." That is what it says. Nené went to bed very quietly, thinking about the book. What was the book her dad did not allow her to touch? When she awakened, that was the only thing on Nené's mind. She wanted to know what book it was. She wanted to know just how they made a hundred-year-old book that has no beard.

Her dad is far, far from home, working so the little girl can have a pretty house and eat delicious sweets on Sundays; working to buy her little white dresses with blue ribbons on them; working to put aside a little money so that if her dad should die, his "Little Daughter" would not be left without a penny. Her poor dad is far away from home, working for his "Little Daughter". The maid is inside, preparing her bath. Nobody can hear or see Nené. When her dad goes out of the room, he always leaves his books open. Nené keeps her little chair there, and often sits beside her dad's desk to watch him work. Five, six, seven little steps... now Nené is at the door; now she pushes it open; now she goes in. The things that happen then! As if expecting her, the old book lies open upon his chair, open at the middle. Stepping carefully Nené draws near, very serious and as if deep in thought, her hands behind her back. Nené would not touch the book for anything in the world, only look at it--no more than look at it. Her dad has told her not to touch it.

The book has no beard; a lot of ribbons and book marks come out of it, but these are not a beard. The giant pictured in the book does have a beard, though. And he is painted with shining, enamel-work colors like the bracelet her dad gave her. They no longer put that kind of picture in books. The giant is seated upon a mountain top with something swirling over his head like clouds, and has only one eye just above his nose. He is wearing a shepherd's smock, a smock as green as the fields, with gold and silver stars painted upon it, and his beard is very long, so long, that it hangs all the way down to the foot of the mountain. And up each strand of its hair climbs a man, like an acrobat in a circus climbing up the rope to the trapeze. But this cannot be seen from far away! Nené has to take the book down from the chair. How heavy that wicked book is. Now you can indeed see everything well. It is now down on the floor.

There are five men climbing up the beard. One is a white man wearing a dress coat and boots, and he too has a beard; that artist is very fond of beards! Another looks like an Indian--yes, an Indian, with a feathered headdress and a quiver of arrows upon his back. Another is a Chinaman, like the cook, but he is wearing a dress with a floral pattern, like that of a lady. Another looks like the Chinaman, and he is wearing a pear-shaped, pointed hat. Another is black, a very handsome Negro, but naked. That is wrong, going without clothes! That is why her dad did not want her to touch the book! No, she would never look at that page again; so that her dad would not be cross. How great this old book is! And Nené is lying almost on top of the book, as if she wanted to talk to it with her eyes.

The page is almost torn! No, not quite. Only half torn. Nené's dad has poor sight; no one will notice. This is really a fine book! It is better, much better, than Noah's Ark. All the animals in the world are pictured here, and in color like the giant! Yes, see, oh, see the giraffe gobbling up the moon; see the elephant, the elephant with that saddle full of little children! Oh, look at those dogs; look how this one runs! Come here, dog! I'm going to spank you, dog, because you don't want to come! And Nené, of course, tears the page. And what does our Miss Nené see now? The other picture shows a world of monkeys. Both pages are filled with monkeys. A red monkey is playing with a little green one, a big bearded monkey is nipping the tail of a tremendous monkey that walks upright like a man, and holds a stick. A black monkey is playing in the grass with a yellow one. Those, the ones up in the trees, are the baby monkeys! How funny! See how they play! Hanging by their tails they move back and forth like a swing! How well, how well they can leap! one, two, three, five, eight, sixteen, forty-nine monkeys holding on by their tails! They are going to throw themselves into the river! Wheeee There they go! And Nené, full of enthusiasm, tears both pages out of the book. Who is calling to Nené; I wonder who? Her dad, her dad, watching from the doorway.

Nené neither sees nor hears. Her dad seems to be growing, growing very tall, touching the ceiling; he seems bigger than the giant of the mountain. Her dad seems like a mountain towering above her. She is quiet, so quiet, her head hanging, her eyes shut, the two torn pages in her limp hands. And her dad is talking to her: "Nené, didn't I tell you not to touch this book? Nené, don't you know that this book is not mine, that it is worth a lot of money, a very great amount of money? Nené, don't you know I'll have to work for a whole year to pay for it?" White as a sheet of paper, Nené stands up, her head still hanging, and clasps her dad around the knees:

"Daddy," says Nené, "my darling Daddy! I made my good daddy angry! I'm a naughty girl! Now when I die I won't be able to go to that blue star!"