Jaume was a fat little boy with a tumor in his brain the size and shape of a black pitted olive. It was no secret at school that he was dying. But like any 4th grader, dying or otherwise, Jaume had many things that he enjoyed doing. He liked telling jokes that he had made up and that often had no punch line. He didn’t care if other people thought these jokes were funny or not, because to him a joke was always funny. He liked pretending he was a knight or a wizard or sometimes even a peasant, it didn’t matter which, really, as long as it was someone from what he imagined was medieval times so that he could find a dragon somewhere to fight. Sometimes there was a princess to save but usually it was just him and the dragon. His weapon of choice was almost always a claymore but every once in a while, when he was feeling especially agile, it was a bow and arrow. He loved reading—specifically about places that a part of him knew he would never see. With the help of a good book and his unusually active imagination, Jaume had been to the top of a mountain in Madagascar, sat on an isolated beach somewhere near Fiji, and walked along the narrow streets of San Francisco before taking a boat over to Alcatraz. He had an infectious desire to learn and was always more than willing to go around the classroom, helping those of his peers who were struggling to grasp the material. He smiled often and with his whole face and when he laughed his entire chubby little body shook.
Then there were, of course, things that Jaume did not like. He didn’t like it when his dad told him to go to bed before he was tired. He didn’t like it when strangers looked at him like he was fragile or contagious or brave, when he was really just sick. He didn’t like public bathrooms because they smelled like public bathrooms. He liked popsicles but he didn’t like popsicle sticks—something even he didn’t totally understand—but which he assumed had something to do with the texture. Above all else though, what Jaume hated most were his visits to the hospital. He hated how bright and stark white it was and how they stuck him with needles and how the nurses all used baby voices when they asked him how he was feeling. He hated how often he went and how long it always took. He kept all of this to himself though—how much he hated it there—because he understood that if his father knew how much the place terrified him, it would break his father’s heart. And he knew that as hard as it was for him to be sick all the time, it was even harder for his father to watch.
Don Paulo was the principal of a catholic primary school in Ibiza, Spain, where Jaume attended class on the days that he could. He was a sensitive man, though he preferred for people to think otherwise. When he was younger he imagined himself growing up to be a painter; his favorite artists were Van Gogh and Joaquín Sorolla. He liked working with pastels because he found it easier to hide his mistakes. When he was seventeen his father told him he should pursue something more realistic than becoming a painter. There will always be someone better, his father said. And Don Paulo believed him. So he gave it up. But in his own time and in his own ways he kept pieces of it. He still admired the colors that he found in nature, sunsets and olive groves in Spring, but considered his job to be a formal place for serious things, so usually just wore a beige cardigan to school, along with a pair of grey slacks that were too big for his frame. In the teacher’s room, when Don Paulo wasn’t around, they whispered to each other that he used to be a considerably larger man but that he had begun shrinking the day they found the tumor in his son’s brain. They assured each other though, in a hushed voice with laughter behind it, that he had always been bald. Don Paulo did not smile often but he nodded sometimes and that, in a way, was his version of a smile—or at least, with him, the closest thing you were going to get.
Like most people, Don Paulo had things that he looked forward to doing. He enjoyed driving out into the countryside and going for long walks by himself. He enjoyed smoking half of a cigar after church on a Sunday. He enjoyed doing impressions of his friends even though he knew he wasn’t very good at it.
Then there were the things that he did not like. These things outweighed the things that he did like. He didn’t like it when people thought they were smarter than they actually were. He didn’t like going to the dentist every six months for his checkup, because they always seemed to find a cavity, even though he brushed and flossed regularly. He didn’t like the smell of his breath after he flossed. He didn’t like foreign movies because he didn’t like subtitles. He didn’t like people who stood too close when they spoke, or people who spoke too loudly from an appropriate distance away, or people who spat when they spoke—distance here being irrelevant.
But this was all before Jaume got sick. The tumor narrowed what his father did and did not like. The one thing he really enjoyed doing now was listening through the wall as his son practiced his jokes aloud. His least favorite thing was thinking about the future — specifically what his life would look like in a few years (at best). But he still did it all the time. And when his mind drifted to this not-so-distant-future he became so angry that his hands trembled, and on the rare occasion that someone noticed and asked him about it, he told them that he just had bad circulation, which was true, but not the reason for the tremor that was born in his heart when his son got sick and now often reached his fingers.
It was nearing the middle of the school year and the kids were taking their unit 4 exams. Jaume was usually the first to finish and this time was no different. He went up to his teacher’s desk, handed her his double sided test, and stood there as she looked it over. When she turned her eyes towards Jaume, resting her hand on his shoulder, ready to tell him, for the millionth time, that his test looked excellent, she noticed a change in the boy’s expression. His cheeks had turned white and whatever held his pupils in place had let go or given up or died; his eyes rolled back into his head and before she could react, Jaume was stumbling forward against her and she was yelling for one of the other students to go get the school nurse, Carlota! she screamed, The nurse! Run and get the nurse! And as she held Jaume, there in her arms, she noticed how heavy he was, the dead weight of a 4th grader, the surgical scar above his right ear.
Jaume and his father missed the next two weeks of school. The teacher’s room assumed the worst, although no one had heard anything. On a Friday in March his class took a field trip to a place called La Corona de la Isla, right outside of San Rafael, a village near the middle of the island where the olive groves were.
When the bus pulled up into the dirt parking lot Don Paulo and Jaume were already there waiting for the class. Jaume was in a wheelchair and even though it was sunny and there was only the hint of a breeze, he had on at least three layers of clothing. When his friends from class saw him they ran up to him, yelling his name and putting their hands all over him and his new wheel chair.
Jaume and his father walked the short distance to the olive grove, staying a little behind the rest of the class. Before long they reached the rows of white blossomed olive trees and watched as the rest of the kids all ran down into the fields. We’re here, said Jaume. We’re here, repeated Don Paulo. Then there was a silence as Don Paulo pushed his son a little further down the road, closer to the grove. The sound of gravel popping under the wheelchair. Do you see it, Jaume? asked Don Paulo. Coming over the hills?
Do I see what, Papá?
The dragon. Do you see the dragon?
Jaume looked up into the sky. A large shape blocked the sun. The air moved under the enormous flap of its black scaled wings. The olive branches shook, flower petals of perfect white swaying down to the dirt. Yes, said Jaume, I can see them now. There are three Papá, can you see the others?
Yes, his father said, a smile cracking his face. I see them. What should we do?
We have only once choice, said Jaume. We must fight them.
But how? asked his father. And with what?
We will find something.
Should we warn the others first?
No, said the boy.
His father looked down at the top of his son’s head, the patchwork mess of thin hair that was beginning to fall out. But why? he asked.
Because, Papá, they will have their own dragons to fight.