When Papa was a little boy, he wanted to be a spy. What he liked to do was look for secret messages, and catch enemy spies wherever he could find them.
Well, it just so happened that things were pretty quiet at that time; the enemy spies were either all gone or hiding really well. So, just to keep in shape, little Papa decided to write a secret spy note to himself. He hid the note under a stone in the courtyard of his apartment building. Then, when his best friend Sasha came down to play, little Papa very cleverly led him to the hiding place, and with a shout of surprise picked up the stone and found the note. Together they read it. “Be very careful,” said the note. “Police are everywhere. They are watching our every step. Do not come out until it is safe.”
Sasha and little Papa were very excited. This certainly explained why enemy spies were so hard to find these days. Of course, little Papa knew – and come to think of it, so did Sasha – that it was really little Papa who had written the note. But that didn’t bother them too much. They were sure that if the note was there, enemy spies would not be very far. There was not a moment to lose. Any time now, their mothers would be calling them upstairs for supper. If they were to find anything, they better start right now. And they knew exactly where to look.
In the courtyard of little Papa’s apartment, there was another tall building with a large and dark cellar. They had never gone there before, only peeked in once and twice. Carefully, they went down the stairs to the cellar. When they got to the bottom, it was so dark they could barely see. They remembered that they had no flashlights. But hey, they did have a box of matches, and little Papa found some old newspapers on the floor. He rolled up a newspaper, and Sasha lit it and held it up like a torch. Now they could see that the cellar was full of old furniture and what looked like dry straw all over the floor. There were also some dark mysterious shapes that Sasha thought were worth investigating. “Here,” he said, passing the burning newspaper to little Papa, “hold this, I’ll go see what’s in there.”
As soon as little Papa took the newspaper, it burned his fingers, and he let it drop to the floor. Right on top of the dry straw. Then little Papa and Sasha watched in horror as the flames spread across the floor and started licking the legs of old chairs. They tried to put out the fire by stomping on it with their shoes, but it was too late. (If you want to start a fire quickly, dry straw and old furniture are probably the best.)
Little Papa and Sasha ran back up the stairs and into the courtyard, shouting, “Help! Help! Fire!” Soon there were grownups running around with shovels and buckets of water. Little Papa and Sasha also grabbed a couple of buckets and started running from the water-tap to the cellar and back for more water. Thick smoke was everywhere. Then not one but two fire-trucks rolled into the courtyard, and little Papa went home.
His parents were away on a vacation, and only Grandma Fenya was at home, cooking in the kitchen. When little Papa came in, coughing from all the smoke he had swallowed, his face black and sweaty, his grandma took one look at him and dropped her stirring spoon. “What??!?? What happened to you!!?!!” she exclaimed.
“I was putting out the fire,” mumbled little Papa between coughing.
“The fire??!!” sputtered his grandma. “The fire!!?? You are not a fireman! You are a little boy! You have no business putting out fires!”
“Well,” said little Papa quietly, “I started it.”
The next day, after little Papa’s parents came back from their trip, they took little Papa to the police station. As they walked through the courtyard, they had to go around large puddles left behind by the fire-trucks. Little Papa felt strange and even a little proud knowing it was he who had made the puddles appear.
At the police station, the policeman behind the desk looked at little Papa and said, “I can see that you are a good boy. I am sure that you do not usually go around setting fires to buildings. So we will not put you in jail this time. But you have to promise to be careful and not to play with matches anymore, because next time we will not be so easy on you.”
Little Papa promised, his parents paid a fine, and they all went home. Little Papa was surprised that his parents didn’t sound very angry with him, and even smiled and patted him on the head. They must have had a good vacation. Or they were probably relieved that little Papa did not have to go to jail this time.
After that, little Papa no longer wanted to be a spy. When he grew up, he would be a firefighter.
Well, little Papa did grow up, but he never became a firefighter. Nor did he become a spy. And even if he did, he would never tell, now would he?