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PETEY THE MICROBE (excerpts) - translated by Daniel M. Jaffe

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Excerpts of


Translated from the Russian by Daniel M. Jaffe


A microbe lived in a droplet of water. The microbe’s name was Petey. Petey had a Mom and Dad. They were microbes, too, of course. Petey also had grandfathers and great-grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, first and second cousins…a whole bunch of relatives. And all were microbes, as well.
They lived in a droplet of water and, therefore, forever went around all wet. The microbes were actually quite small. To them, any tiny bug seemed larger than an elephant. And Petey was especially small because he hadn’t yet grown up.
One day an ant was running past the droplet where the microbes lived. He spotted the droplet and said, “It's sort of hot today. Maybe I should drink this droplet? It looks like a cool one.”
The microbes heard and grew terribly frightened. They began dashing about the droplet, weeping, crying out. They caused total panic.
Petey alone did not cower. He poked his head up out of the droplet and said to the ant in a loud voice, “Hey Mr. Ant, didn’t your Mom ever tell you not to drink standing water?!”
The ant, of course, could not see Petey, but did hear his voice, became surprised, and asked, “Who's chatting with me?”
“I am—Petey the microbe,” said Petey. “I strongly advise you, Mr. Ant, not to drink our droplet. You could get sick because we microbes are living in the droplet!”
“Thank you for warning me!” said the ant. “You’re a true friend.”
And off he ran on his way. The microbes praised and praised little Petey and rejoiced that he had saved their home droplet from destruction.


One day some scientists arrived, picked up the droplet with the microbes and took it for their laboratory. The scientists walked along a path, carrying the droplet and chatting.
“Let’s discuss this logically,” said the Chief scientist. “We’re scientists, after all, right?”
“Right!” said the Young apprentice scientist.
“We’re carrying a droplet, and in the droplet live some microbes, right?”
“So, what we’re going to do is study the microbes.”
“That’s a very good idea,” said the Young apprentice scientist.
And all the remaining scientists also said, “We completely agree.”
The scientists carried the droplet to the laboratory and placed it under a microscope. Now, a microscope is like a pair of binoculars. If you look from one side—everything grows larger, but if from the other—all grows smaller. And so, when the scientists gathered around one side of the microscope, and the microbes around the other, the microbes grew larger, and the scientists smaller, and all became the same. Not the same in actual fact, but only when looking through the microscope.
The scientists looked through the microscope at the microbes and said, “What interesting microbes. Some are large and others are small.”
And the microbes likewise looked through the microscope at the scientists and said, “What interesting scientists.”
Petey the microbe wished, of course, to examine the scientists a bit closer, so he began to bump everyone aside and shove his way through. So the scientists said, “Look—what a microbe: the smallest, yet knocking others around.”
Then an elderly microbe, Petey’s great-grandfather, approached the microscope and said to the scientists, “You don’t grasp what we microbes are. Microbes also come in various kinds. There are harmful ones and, on the contrary, helpful ones. As for us, we’re the helpful ones.”
And the Chief scientist replied, “Don’t you worry, we know you’re the helpful ones. We took your droplet on purpose, to show our Young apprentice scientist. So that he would know, too. We’ll show you to him, and then we’ll put you back where we found you.”
“Then everything’s in order,” said Petey’s great-grandfather. “We don’t object.”
Now Petey looked and looked at the Young apprentice scientist and suddenly stuck out his tongue. And the Young apprentice scientist lost his head and stuck out his tongue too, at Petey. He forgot that he was an apprentice scientist, remembered only that he was young, and so he did it.
At that point, all the microbes began telling Petey he should be ashamed, and all the scientists said the same to the Young apprentice scientist.
“Yuck, how unseemly to stick out one’s tongue,” said the microbes.
And the scientists said, “It’s not nice at all—to stick out one’s tongue.”
“We’ll punish our Petey,” said the microbes to the scientists. “We won’t give him sweet fruit compote after dinner.”
“And we’ll punish our Young apprentice scientist,” said the scientists. “We’ll take away his awards.”
“And we,” said the microbes, “won’t allow our boy to take a walk.”
“And we,” said the scientists, “will give our boy vacation only in winter, when it’s cold and he won't be able to swim in the river.”
“And we,” said the microbes,” will take away all our boy's toys.”
“And we,” said the scientists, “will tear up the report that our boy wrote.”
At that, the young scientist-apprentice burst into tears, and Petey nearly burst into tears too, and he also felt very hurt.
Well, everyone felt badly for them. The scientists began to plead on Petey’s behalf, and the microbes—on behalf of the Young apprentice scientist.
“You just forgive your own fellow,” the microbes said to the scientists.
“Very well. We’ll forgive ours, only you forgive yours.”
Then the scientists bid the microbes farewell and took the droplet back to its spot. Nevertheless, at the very last second, Petey up and once again stuck his tongue out at the Young apprentice scientist. And he stuck out his tongue too, at Petey. It was fortunate that nobody noticed.