How to Fly
From the outside, the shop looked small. But inside, it was so full it looked enormous. The walls were covered with brightly coloured tea towels and Tshirts. Bathing towels and blankets, hats and caps. There were teaspoons made of paua and teaspoons made of kauri and rows of grey gritty pottery mugs, black fern leaves painted on their sides. Boxes of keyrings and paua shell bottleopeners sat on the counter beside the box of little wooden kiwis. “The Ultimate Genuine Souvenir from New Zealand” said the notice on the box.
The little wooden kiwi lay on his back in the bottom of the box his flat brown felt feet and his long yellow bamboo beak pointing to the ceiling. He couldn’t see the notice and wouldn’t have known what a souvenir was, anyway. But he knew he felt uncomfortable and very undignified. This wasn’t what should happen to kiwis – though how he knew, he couldn’t say. All he knew that to be upsidedown in a box full of other little wooden kiwis was not what life was all about.
Life, for a little wooden kiwi with flat brown felt feet and a long yellow bamboo beak should involve sitting on a shelf so he could be seen – and dusted. A stationary life and maybe a dull life but at least a more dignified life than this lying about in a box.Kiwis couldn’t fly, so they had to stay in one place and a prominent place on a shelf was a good start.
“Make sure you get one that sits properly” said a voice “This one’s beak is all wrong”.
The little wooden kiwi willed those fingers to pick him up. He willed so hard he very nearly shut his eyes – but they were painted open, so he couldn’t, really. But he willed and he willed and he willed. He hated lying upside down at the bottom of the box and he just knew he would be good at standing. And, there was nothing wrong with his beak. A good strong straight yellow beak with just the right curve for looking under leaves.
Fingers probed through the box again.”Here’s a better one”. Suddenly he was standing on the counter. It did feel good to be standing. He checked himself. Yes, feet flat, beak at the right angle, no danger of wobbling over. Everything present and correct. What a relief.
“He’s sweet” said the voice and picked him up.”This one’s cute”.
The little wooden kiwi looked at the voice. Not the biggest person in the shop, but size wasn’t important. He was small himself so he knew good things could come in small parcels. Quality was what counted. He wasn’t too sure about being sweet and cute but it sounded complimentary so he wouldn’t quibble over her choice of words. He stared at her out of his painted eyes.
“Yes” she said “I want him”. So they put him in a little white paper bag and left the shop.
On his back again, feet pointing up, just like being in the box. Still, at least he was on the move and though he knew kiwis didn’t fly, he did seem to be on a journey. H e just hoped she’d be careful where she put that paper bag. What if his feet got folded over? Flat brown felt feet could easily get folded over
If people weren’t careful. And if he was packed somewhere without any thought for his beak – he didn’t like to think what could happen to his beautiful yellow beak.
There wasn’t much he could do about either his feet or his beak. So, he just lay there and thought that as she had liked him enough to buy him, she probably liked him enough to be careful of him.
In the days that followed, the little wooden kiwi spent most of the time on his back, in his paper bag. He felt he was travelling, but as he couldn’t see out, he didn’t know where they were going. He just lay there and waited. Somewhere there would be shelf for him to sit on. Someday he would be taken out of that bag. Kiwis had to have faith – and she had picked him specially, so she obviously had a plan for him.
Eventually, his patience was rewarded. The paper bag was opened, he was taken out and put on a shelf. Mercifully, all seemed to be well with him. His feet, those flat brown felt feet had not been folded over and stood firm on the white shelf. Not a crack or a bend in his long yellow bamboo beak – he’d weathered the journey very well, on the whole. I t had been a bit dull but now he was safely on a shelf, life should become more interesting. A bit of action was always pleasant to watch, from the safety of a shelf. He liked an ordered life and hoped this was ahead for him.
He sorted out the activities around him. Generally, the same two people lived in his room. The little one who had bought him from the shop, and another one, bigger, but not too big. They were quite interesting to watch, didn’t notice him very much. He wasn’t sure whether he was pleased or not - too much attention could become worrying - but he did wish they’d dust him sometimes. A kiwi could get very dusty, sitting on a shelf.
His travels seemed to be over. Probably just as well, really. He’d been a long time in that white paper bag and it had been rather dull. Maybe some other time he’d go somewhere but in the meantime it was very pleasant, sitting on his shelf, watching.
He watched his two people. His little one packed her suitcase and went away, leaving him behind. Later, the bigger one packed her suitcase, but she packed lots of little parcels as well, not just clothes. Presents, they seemed. For people in the States. (What, he wondered was the States?). Souvenirs of New Zealand, she said. He did wish he knew what being a souvenir entailed. She had paua teaspoons and coasters with pictures on them. Little woolly sheep and a kiwi on a keyring.
A kiwi on a key ring? He was a kiwi. Wooden, and definitely not on a key ring, but a kiwi just the same. Would she take him too? Parcelled up and packed away in that suitcase? My goodness, she just might. The little wooden kiwi felt he might get butterflies in his tummy if he thought about this too much. He’d never imagined travelling any further – he was perfectly happy, sitting on his shelf, watching. A thought floated quietly by and he watched it. If he went too, in that suitcase, perhaps there might be more to see? Life had become rather static and he was very dusty. But think of all the worry about folded feet and broken beaks. Then again, she was flying to those States. Kiwis, of course, couldn’t fly. Well , not by themselves they couldn’t. If he went with her, he’d be flying and that could be something quite exciting. Dare he go too? He’d have to trust her to remember about his feet and his beak and she could forget. Then again, it wasn’t as if he’d never travelled before. He’d spent all that time in that white paper bag and emerged unscathed. So he could probably do it again. A small pleased tingle of anticipation wriggled past his tummy-full of butterflies.
He really thought he could be brave enough to go. To travel. To fly. Yes. Yes, the little wooden kiwi felt he could manage. He did feel brave, now he’d made the decision. He watched the presents get packed away. She hadn’t left a place for him but then he wasn’t very big and could slip under a skirt, somewhere. She closed the suitcase and they took it away. He was quite pleased about that – he wouldn’t get nearly so squashed in the other little bag she was packing, She’d had to sit on the big case, to close it.
Then she zipped up the little case and took it out. He waited for her to come back and collect him. He heard the footsteps going away, down the hall. The swish of the door closing. The sound of the car going away. Silence. She’d gone. And she’d left him behind. She hadn’t taken him. He was left, alone and dusty and forgotten on a shelf. She hadn’t even noticed him. He couldn’t go. He stood there, on his flat brown felt feet and drooped with sadness. Nothing to watch. No-one to look at him. Condemned for ever to sit on this boring white shelf and get dustier and dustier. He’d probably get borer and turn into a heap of dust and then be blown away by a big wind. Leaving just his flat brown felt feet and his long yellow beak to remind people where he’d once stood. Never in his whole life had he felt so depressed. Not even in that awful box in the shop. There wasn’t even anything to look at.Just the memory of being forgotten, of being left behind. He thought he might hibernate. So he did.
“She didn’t take my kiwi” said an incredulous voice. “I bought him for her to take. Why didn’t she take him”.
His little girl was back. She picked him up. He struggled to stop hibernating and wake up. He’d not heard her coming. That’s the trouble about hibernating – events could pass you by and you not notice.What were they saying – something about Next Time. What next time. He mentally shook himself and concentrated. “You’ll have to take him with you, when you go. Bring you good luck”.
Kate looked into the little kiwi’s painted eyes. ‘That’s a good idea. You can come with me. One day we’ll fly, you and I. We’ll see all the people and all the things in the whole world. You’re a wooden kiwi and I’m a human kiwi and one day, when I’m older, we’ll fly. Everywhere”
“You’re very dusty”. She blew the dust from his back, flapped his flat brown felt feet and put him back on the shelf. He sat there, thinking. If he went with her, instead of her big sister, to see the world, he probably wouldn’t worry so much. None of those butterflies in his tummy. She’d said they’d go together , so presumably there would be time to get accustomed to the idea . She’d tell him when they were going. She’d make arrangements that included him. He’d feel part of the planning. And she’d know she had a friend with her, always. She might like that – he liked her, so maybe, she liked him in return. He didn’t know. All he knew was that she’d said they’d go together. They’d fly together, the wooden kiwi and the human kiwi, out into the world. Next time. Some day. But they’d go. Oh yes, they’d go – up and away in a big plane.
He settled down on his shelf, to wait until she got older. There was a lot to think about.
My sister was off to the States on an amazing trip that included spending (I think) six weeks with forty- two others from twenty-one countries. I had bought her the kiwi to take with her. I got home from boarding school and was upset to find she hadn't taken my kiwi. My beautiful mother then wrote me that story.
And I absolutely love it.