Clementine knew many things.
She knew her name, for this had been given to her by the Kind Lady that left scraps out for her to eat in the Garden.
And she knew the Garden as this was where she had resided her whole life. In the mornings, she watched the Birds pecking for worms before the sun had barely peeked over the horizon; in the evenings, she watched the Fox scamper around the trash, retrieving remnants to take back to her brood.
She knew the names of all the creatures, big and small, from the Owls to the Squirrels and even the Hedgehogs, which she seldom saw anymore.
But there was one very important thing that Clementine did not know. Who was she?
Although she possessed features that resembled various parts of the creatures around her, she was still unsure which kind she belonged to. The question flickered inside of her like the flame of a candle, growing in intensity till it burned like wildfire.
In time, Clementine realised she would have to do the one thing she had never contemplated before.
To find the answer to her question, she would have to leave the Garden.
Clementine was frightened of the unknown, of the Woods that lay beyond the Garden fence. But she was so desperate to belong. If she could just find a creature that she could identify as her kind, Clementine would no longer have to live off scraps, sodden from the unforgiving rains. She would have a home to sleep in and a family to call her own.
Today was the day.
Clementine walked towards the fence that faced onto the Woods. Her heart raced so fast, she thought she might faint. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and clambered over the wooden slats before the doubts clouding her mind could win.
The first creature she noticed in the Woods were the Squirrels. Clementine slowly ventured towards them, her frizzy amber hair most resembling the Squirrel’s bushy tails.
“A squirrel? You think you are a squirrel?”, mocked the rodent, upon hearing her question. Laughter erupted from his little body, causing him to drop all his carefully collected nuts.
“Look at what you made me do!” the Squirrel chastised her. “Wait till I tell the others I met a girl who thought she was a squirrel.”
With that, the small creature scurried up the nearest tree disappearing amongst the dense foliage.
The remnants of his laughter echoed through the Woods.
Clementine’s heart sank. She was so sure she was a Squirrel, why else would her orange curls be so wild? If she were not a Squirrel, what else could she be?
She hoped she was not a Slug, anything would be better than that. But then Clementine remembered the harmless creatures that roamed in the Garden, always munching leaves, never bothering anybody. A small wave of guilt overcame her.
“I’m sure the Slugs would not want to be like you either. At least they have a family”, she thought to herself.
She was ready to give up her whole adventure and retreat into the Garden when she recalled the exact words the Squirrel had said to her.
A Girl. He had referred to her as a Girl!
Of course, how could she have been so stupid? She had a female name and, although not pleated or in bows, her hair was sort of like the Girls that she had seen through a hole in the Garden fence.
Fully rejuvenated with hope, Clementine ran out of the Forest to discover her new companions.
It did not take long to find what she was looking for. There, amongst the sweet, scented flowers, stood a small group of Girls no older than seven. The initial burst of adrenaline she had experienced slowly faded. She crouched further into her hiding place.
What if they did not accept her? What if they did not like her hair?
Clementine hurriedly brushed off those thoughts. She could not go back to being the nameless creature in the Garden, surviving off scraps, even if they were from the Kind Lady. Besides, Girls were always pleating each other’s hair. Surely, they would be kind enough to teach her how to do her own.
Taking in a deep breath, Clementine stepped forwards into the view of the children.
One of the little Girls screamed.
This was accompanied by the screams of the other children, until they had all ran away leaving just one.
The child stood still, long black plaits hanging down both sides of her head. The frills of her dress were stained with mud. The Girl approached Clementine slowly, as if anticipating her escape.
Clementine wanted to escape. She wanted the earth to suck her up so she could live like the worms, deep underground, away from the cruelties of the World. But she had to hear what the Girl was going to say.
“What…what are you?” the Girl asked curiously, but without malice.
Clementine looked up at the Girl, tears brimming in her eyes. “Well, I thought I was a Girl. But now I think I must be a monster. I didn’t mean to scare anyone, I just wanted to make a friend.”
The Girl paused and looked intently at Clementine.
“You don’t know what you are? Hasn’t anybody told you?”
Clementine shook her head sadly.
The Girl continued. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you are either. But you are definitely not a monster. Don’t mind those girls, they’re scared of everything. Even frogs. Which is dumb because they are my favourite animal.”
“So…I am not a Girl?” Clementine asked, everything hanging on to this one question.
“No, I don’t think you are. You don’t look like any creature I have ever seen before. But I am very happy to meet you. My name is Daisy. I have to go now but I can be your friend if you like?”
A friend! Her first friend! Clementine’s heart almost leapt out of her body. She graciously accepted. As Daisy bounded off towards the Houses, Clementine vowed she would never ever forget this moment.
The sun had started to dip down, encompassing the Woods in a soft golden glow. The not-squirrel, not-girl bounded through the trees radiating joy. She did not know who she was, but she had a friend. And not just any friend. A Girl with silky black plaits that was as kind and beautiful as the flower she was named after.
Soon, Clementine arrived at a clearing in the Wood. There was a small pond, surrounded by pale blue forget-me-nots and long stalks of cattails. It was so peaceful, even the ripples on the water seemed to drift aimlessly.
Clementine approached the pond and gazed at the creature looking back at her. A sigh of despair escaped her lips as she stared at the dishevelled mess that lay on top of her head and the pudginess of her small stature. She looked a little like all the creatures around her, yet she belonged to none of them. Clementine was a lone wolf, excluded from the pack she never had.
It was during this moment of quiet reflection that another small creature appeared next to her.
It was Frog.
Small and green with bronze patches decorating his skin. A loud croak emanated from him.
“The flowers are so vibrant; the leaves are dancing without a care in the world. Yet here you are looking so glum. What could make you so sad that you are blinded from the beauty that surrounds you?”
Clementine recalled her meetings with the Squirrels and the Girls. She cried a little, remembering how much they detested her; how much she detested herself for not belonging to them.
Frog paused for a moment, then spoke. “Well, of course you are not a Squirrel or a Human Girl.”
“You are looking right at your reflection, yet you can only see what you are not. Child, forgive me, but it is clear to me that you are a Dwarf.”
Something clicked inside Clementine.
The lost piece of the jigsaw, found.
Clementine had no idea what a “Dwarf” was, but the name felt right.
“A Dwarf…what is a Dwarf? A type of rodent?” she asked. She did not mind being a rodent, but she would never be cruel like Squirrel.
Frog looked up at her, his bulging eyes wide with disbelief.
“You are not a rodent, far from it. Your hair is only frizzy because nobody has combed and braided it. Your small posture is more than made up for by the might of your kind’s strength, both inside and out. Do not devalue your qualities simply because they do not align with others around you. Your people live far from here, towards the mines in the North.”
Frog motioned for Clementine to put out her hand so he could face her at eye-level. “I fear that you have been lost your whole life, searching for answers but only uncovering more questions. It is time you found your Home.”
With that, Frog jumped down and hopped away from Clementine, motioning for her to follow.
The not-squirrel, not-girl, not-rodent was no more. In her place, stood a creature with wild locks that danced with the winds.
The journey would be long, but the Dwarf was not afraid.