Life was all quiet, but the ripples of dissatisfaction are ever present. Three years and three weeks later, the Wimpy Kitty threw down her tasseled elf’s hat and, in a burst of courage, went to the lair of one of the Unimaginative Shoemakers, where, in a low voice so that others would not overhear, she asked for her freedom.
The Unimaginative Shoemaker pulled out a tattered dusty ledger from a termite-eaten shelf. She blew off the three-year old layer of dust on the cover, opened it and thumbed through the entries listing all of Wimpy Kitty’s contribution to the Shoe Factory.
“Ah, Wimp,” she began in her creaky squeaky voice. She never called Wimpy Kitty by her complete name as a way of reminding my friend that she was just an elf tasked to make shoes in the factory. “It shows here that you have produced 9,000,001 pairs of shoes over the three years that you have been an elf. That is equivalent to seven chests of doubloons.”
Still, thought the Wimpy Kitty. After those years, my earnings could fit into one small coin purse. Wherever does the Shoe Factory use all those gold coins for? She surveyed the surroundings of the Shoe Factory that she could glimpse from the mouth of the Unimaginative Shoemaker’s lair. The area where the Wimpy Kitty had worked for the last three years was visible from where she sat; it was a raised platform of shored up scraps of wood. Pieces of leather, gold tassels, purple sequins, glops of glue and heaps of glitter lay on a bare wooden table. Rusty scissors, small wooden mallets, and spools of recycled thread sat inside a wicker basket. Wimpy Kitty looked up and saw the tin roof that leaked torrents when the rains came. Wherever does the Shoe Factory use all those gold coins for? She thought once more.
“Where would you want to go, Wimp?” the Unimaginative Shoemaker asked. “Could there be a better life waiting for you outside the gates of this exalted Shoe Factory? You know that the Factory is the lifeblood of this island.” Her oddly opaque red eyes bore through Wimpy Kitty, almost melting her resolve.
“I shall be -” Wimpy Kitty began but stopped short, her thoughts threatening to shut down. After all, three years ago, the people of Black Island never really had any source of livelihood. When they wanted jobs to support their families, the citizens of Black Island usually had to cross the turbid sea to get to the Island of Grease or to the Big City of the Lost, where they spend months and years of loneliness so they could send a pittance to their families to buy rice and fish for their tables back home. Then, the Shoe Factory came, offering the people of Black Island the opportunity to become elves and to stay with their families. The people were overjoyed and thankful that here was, finally, a source of livelihood. The young and the old alike pinned their hopes on the jobs that the Shoe Factory offered. They realized almost too late that people lose their souls and their innate ability to dream dreams for themselves once they become elves. They are lulled by a false sense of comfort — that in the Shoe Factory, even with the direst conditions, at least, they have their jobs.
But Wimpy Kitty’s courage returned when she remembered all those who sickened and died. She remembered those who made escape plans and succeeded, only to return, broken, beaten by a bigger world in the City of the Lost, knocking on the doors of the factory begging to be let in again but have instanly gone insane the moment the tassled hats were placed on their heads once more.
She said in a firm voice, “I have found my pasture.” She already perfected her escape plan. She has sent a message in a bottle, asking for help, and it has finally reached the hands of someone who could. By October of this year, Wimpy Kitty will be teaching kids in a school set on a cliff overlooking a river and a valley verdant with giant ferns and big boles of anahaw. Yes, it is in the mountains. The mountains with wide open spaces, flowing river, and green meadows. No shifting schedules. No work on Saturdays and Sundays. No enforced overtimes. Best of all, she will be helping kids learn their ABCs.
And there was nothing that the Unimaginative Shoemaker can do. She closed the dusty ledger, and with her red eyes still boring through Wimpy Kitty’s soul, she said, “I shall tell the guards to lower the drawbridge on the date of your departure.”
[images courtesy of www.crobike.de (for the hat) and of www.slantmouth.com (for the dead elf). The castle shown is Conwy castle in North Wales constructed by Edward I ca. 1283; image courtesy of www.conwy.com]