This is Raur. No, not him. Him. Under the stairs. That’s the one. What’s he doing there? He lives there. You’ve trodden over his roof a hundred million times. Every time you’ve come to preschool, you’ve gone up the stairs and trampled on Raur’s roof. And every time they’ve come to pick you up from preschool, well, you’ve stepped on Raur’s roof then too. Not to mention all the times you’ve popped in and out of preschool during the day. You’ve stomped over Raur’s roof every single time, dusting his head with sand.
Have you never seen him before? Bend all the way down, then you’ll see him a little better.
Many people think that Raur is a cat. But he is definitely not a cat. Raur hates cats. If Raur sees a cat coming near his home under the preschool stairs, then he spits at it. That’s why there are so few cats at preschool.
If you had a flashlight with you, you could shine it into Raur’s home. Then you would see all sorts of things. But flashlights are Raur’s least favorite thing, after cats. Anyway, imagine you did shine a flashlight into Raur’s home. He would hiss so loudly it would send a cloud of dry under-the-stairs sand right into your face. And while you were rubbing your eyes, Raur would shout at the top of his voice:
“Flush that flashlight down the toilet! Otherwise I’ll come out and bite a hole in your rubber boots.”
Raur dreams of smashing all the flashlights in the world into flashlight-dust. Like this: bang, bang, bang.
The thing is that there are bits and bobs in Raur’s house that don’t like having flashlights shone on them. On his wall, he’s hung up the preschool manager’s beautiful long earring, and his little coffee table is made out of the missing wheel from the blue tricycle. He’s got chairs and shelves and drawers and cupboards. Everything is made out of things the preschool people have lost. Even his bed. It’s made of woolly hats. Five normal ones for the mattress, and a particularly warm and pink Hello Kitty one as a blanket. If only they knew, those folks who get cross when people lose their hats. It’s Raur who’s got them. Every single one!
Luckily for Raur, nobody peeps in.
But then came last Wednesday . . .
Raur doesn’t want to think about last Wednesday. Every time thoughts of last Wednesday creep into his hairy head, Raur starts jumping up and down to shake last Wednesday back out again. But there’s a limit to how much you can carry on jumping like that. Especially when you’ve gone to bed. At night, when it’s quiet at the preschool and Raur’s crawled under his Hello Kitty hat-blanket, everything about last Wednesday comes seeping in through the gap in his stair roof. With bells on.
What happened last Wednesday was that Noel peeped in. Of course, it would have to be Noel. After all, over the past four years, Raur has often found himself being disturbed, while in the middle of doing important things under those stairs, by grown-ups screaming and shouting:
“Noel! Get down from that tree NOW!”
“Noel! Give the bike back to Abdulai!”
“Noel! Are you crazy?”
“Noel! Let go of Mari this instant!”
Of all forty-three children at the preschool, it would have to be this little terror who came peering under the stairs. Raur wondered if he should lie down and die straightaway.
“Are you a cat?” Noel asked when he spotted Raur in the semidarkness.
That question made Raur break out in a rash on his back. He looked angrily at Noel.
“No, I am not a cat. You haven’t got a flashlight, have you?”
“No,” said Noel.
“Good,” said Raur.
“But I could go and fetch one,” said Noel. “I know where they are.”
“No!” Raur shouted.
Noel lay down on his stomach and stuck his head all the way through the narrow gap.
“Who are you, then?” he asked, as a bit of his snot dripped down onto Raur’s Spiderman carpet.
“Raur,” said Raur, looking dubiously at the snot stain. Now he’d have to get the carpet cleaned.
“My name’s Noel,” said Noel. “I’m going to be picked up soon.”
“Good for you,” said Raur. “And for me,” he added, as he didn’t have the patience to stand a snot shower for much longer.
“My dad’s a bit late,” Noel explained.
“A bit?” Raur snorted. “He’s massively late. You’re the only one left in the whole preschool!”
“I know . . . ” Noel mumbled.
“Soon the people who work here will be going too. Then you’ll be left here all on your own.” Raur put on a sly-sounding voice and narrowed his eyes.
“Well, you’ll be here,” said Noel, smiling.
“No, I won’t,” said Raur.
“Yes, you will,” said Noel.
“No, because I’m going at Half Past Four,” said Raur.
Raur doesn’t know how to tell the time, but he’s heard the people who work at the preschool say “Half Past Four.” So Raur thinks that anything to do with time or clocks is called “Half Past Four.” Actually, it was almost five o’clock already. But that doesn’t matter so much when two people who can’t tell the time are talking to each other.
“Where are you going then?” asked Noel.
Raur put his hands on his sides and stuck out his stomach.
“To the Hairdresser.”
“Oh,” said Noel. “Then you’ll get a sheet round your neck, and you’ll have to sit still even if it’s itchy.”
“I know,” said Raur.
Well, actually he didn’t know, because Raur doesn’t really know what a hairdresser is. His mop of hair is untouched by hairdressers’ hands.
Suddenly Noel’s eyes widened.
“Hey, that’s Mari’s hat!”
He gurgled happily, and then he stuck his hand into Raur’s house and took his Hello Kitty blanket.
It’s when he gets to this bit that Raur really has to start jumping to get last Wednesday out of his head.
“GIVE ME BACK MY BLANKET!” Raur shouted.
“It’s not a blanket. It’s Mari’s hat,” said Noel.
“It’s my blanket!” Raur shouted.
“It’s Mari’s hat!”
Noel likes Mari very much, but sadly he often does things that make her cry. She’s got a kind of hair that’s so lovely to pull. If Mari got her hat back, she would smile at Noel instead of crying. That really would be something!
But that’s not what happened, because do you know what Raur did? He leapt out and bit Noel right in the middle of his finger, making him let go of the blanket with a gasp. And then Raur spat at him. Yes, that’s right. He spat like nothing anybody has ever seen. It was a good thing for Noel that he was wearing his waterproof pants. He got up with his finger bleeding and his pants dripping with spit.
“You’re not nice!” shouted Noel.
“Neither are you!” Raur screamed, pulling his blanket back under the stairs.
That was what happened last Wednesday. Raur spat and bit and got his blanket back.
“That was quite some biting and spitting you did last Wednesday, Mr. Raur,” he boasts to himself as he lies down under his lovely pink blanket. But he just can’t get to sleep. Everything feels topsy-turvy. When he thinks about Noel, something goes ba-dum in his stomach, or somewhere slightly above his stomach. And then his throat feels all lumpy and weird.
During the day, Raur spies on Noel. Has he got a little bandage on his finger? It’s impossible to tell, because Noel never comes near Raur’s stairs any longer. Imagine if he came back to talk a bit more, Raur sometimes thinks. When he thinks that, he hits himself hard on the head.
“I want to be left in peace,” he tells himself harshly. “It’s so wonderful to be left in peace by that silly Noel.”
But really it’s not wonderful at all. Something’s going ba-dum inside Raur, and he’s got a lump in his throat.
But then, one afternoon when Raur is sweeping his house under the stairs, he suddenly spots Noel sitting all alone, digging in the sandbox. He’s digging and digging. That tall, skinny father of his is late again! Raur starts tingling all over.
“Psst,” he says, quietly coughing.
Noel doesn’t turn around.
“PSST!” Raur half-shouts and half-whispers.
It would be impossible not to hear it, but still Noel just keeps on digging. Eventually Raur goes to the entrance to his hidden home and bellows:
Then Noel turns around.
“You’re not nice!” he shouts.
Raur is standing on the dried snot stain, right at the entrance to his house. His knees tremble as he says:
“How am I supposed to be nice when nobody’s nice to me?”
Then Noel stops digging and goes over to Raur. He does have a bandage on his finger. With a crocodile on it.
“My stomach’s going ba-dum,” Raur whispers.
“Here?” asks Noel.
“That’s not your stomach. That’s The Heart.”
“I thought all this part here was my stomach,” Raur explains, pointing to what he thought was his stomach.
It turns out to be almost his whole body. Except his feet.
“No, that thumping is coming from your heart,” Noel tells him. “Is it thumping very hard?”
Raur nods, and then he tells him that his throat feels all lumpy and weird too.
Noel looks at him seriously.
“That’s how I normally feel when I’m upset. My heart going ba-dum and a lump in my throat.”
“Am I going to die?” Raur asks, frightened.
“No,” says Noel, smiling. “Of course you’re not. You’ll be fine after some comforting.”
“Where can I get that, then?” Raur asks, because he thinks that Comforting must be some kind of pill.
“You can get it here,” says Noel, who then takes hold of Raur and lifts him all the way up. Raur thinks that Noel is about to press him right into his snot, but at the last moment he steers him toward his cheek instead.
Raur gets his first hug. It’s soft and warm, and smells of yogurt and sand. Raur feels himself starting to shiver a little. That thumping and the lump in his throat shift and change into a weak cry that comes leaking out of Raur in long streams.
“There, there,” says Noel. “You’ll be all better again in A Minute.”
Noel doesn’t know how long A Minute is, but neither does Raur, so not to worry.
Raur is astonished when he’s back standing on his Spiderman carpet. No more thumping. All he feels is warm and light.
“Where did you learn that from?” he asks, impressed.
Noel has no time to answer, because that’s when he gets picked up.
Raur hurries back into his house to spy through one of the gaps. Noel’s late, skinny dad puts his arms around his son and lifts him up.
“Sorry that I’m so late!” he says, squeezing him against his cheek.
Raur tilts his head, carefully watching Noel and his dad.
Then he goes over and picks up his Hello Kitty blanket.
“Sorry that Noel thought you were a hat,” says Raur, giving it the first hug he’s ever given.
Translation of “Raur gir dyna si ein klem,” from Trøysteboka Nynorsk stories (Skald, 2011). © Maria Parr. Illustrations © Guvnor Rasmussen. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation © 2020 by Guy Puzey. All rights reserved.