“I need a pair of traveling shoes.”
When the cobbler heard the voice, he peered up over the tops of his half-glasses, but there was no one there. The counter that separated him from the rest of the town square was littered with all the tools of his trade—hammers and scissors, awls and stout needles, glue and grommets. However, beyond the edge of the counter there was nothing.
Well, that was not precisely the case, because beyond the empty space that was beyond the counter were a thousand chattering, noisy, moving, bustling, shopping, buying, selling, yelling, laughing people. They were there in all the colors of the rainbow; green was the most common color here in the Emerald City, but the other colors were well represented, too. There were Winkies in a dozen shades of yellow; Munchkins in two dozen shades of blue; Quadlings in scarlets and crimsons and tomato reds; and Gillikins in twilight purples and plum purples and the purple of ripe eggplants.
But there was no one who seemed to own the tiny voice that had spoken.
The cobbler set down the boot he was repairing for a Palace guard.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Sir,” said the voice of the invisible person, “I need a pair of traveling shoes, if you please.”
“I do indeed please,” said the cobbler, “or I would if I could see your feet or indeed any part of you. Though, admittedly, your feet are necessary to any further discussion on the matter of shoes, traveling or otherwise.”
“But I’m right here,” said the voice. “Can’t you see me at all?”
The cobbler stood up and leaned over, first looking right and then looking left and finally looking down, and there stood a figure.
It was a figure even in the cobbler’s mind, because he could not call the figure a man or a woman because that would never be correct. Nor could he call it a boy or a girl, because neither of those labels would hang correctly on the person who stood there wringing its tiny hands.
“I thought you were an invisible little girl,” said the cobbler.
“No, sir,” said the figure. “Neither invisible nor a girl. Though I am little, and to my own people I am a girl, for I am not yet fully grown.”
“I see that you are quite little, my dear. But why stand down there, where no one but a giraffe can look over and see you? Why not fly up here onto the counter? There’s plenty of space,” he said, pushing some of his tools aside.
The little figure looked sad—or at least the cobbler supposed that she looked sad, because he had very little experience reading the expressions of persons of her kind. She turned around so that he could see her back. Then she raised her arms to her sides, and with a soft grunt of effort, expanded the pair of miniature wings.
The wings were lovely to see. Gold and tan in color, with nicely formed primary feathers, as well as all the requisite secondary and tertiary feathers, and quite attractive emarginations.
However, upon seeing the feathers, the cobbler felt his mouth turn into a small round O, and he even spoke that aloud. “Oh,” he said, faintly and with an equal mix of surprise, and consternation and pity.
The wings slumped, and the little figure turned.
“I know,” she said sadly. “They look perfect, but they’re so small that they wouldn’t lift a pigeon let alone a Monkey.”
“Ah,” said the cobbler. It was not a great change in his response, but it conveyed a different emotion—sympathy. A Winged Monkey whose wings were so small she could never ever fly.
The little Monkey fluttered her wings so they beat with the blurred speed of a hummingbird, but there was no corresponding change in the elevation of the owner. All that the cobbler could see was a bit of a flutter in the brocade vest the Monkey-child wore, stirred by a faint breeze from those stunted wings.
Once more the wings sagged back in defeat, and the little figure seemed to deflate with them. She hung her head for a moment, shaking it sadly.
“My sisters and my brothers all have normal wings, even my littlest brother, who is only two. Momma has to tie a tether to him to keep him from flying out of the nursery window. And Dadda has great wings. Big ones, with a pattern like a hunting falcon. He can fly way above the tops of the tallest trees in the forest and then soar down among the trunks, swooping past our windows. Sometimes he flies past and without even a flutter or a pause, he’ll toss walnuts and coconuts in through the window, and they land on our beds as if placed there by a slow and careful hand.” She sighed and shook her head. “My wings are almost the same size now as they were after I was born. They grew a little and then stopped, but I never stopped growing, and I’m still growing. Soon I’ll be full-grown, and I’ll still have wings that can barely lift a small bird.
Then she drew in a breath and looked up at the cobbler, who still leaned forward over the counter.
“And now you see why I need a pair of traveling shoes.”