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Emily's Blue Shoes by Myra Koch
Third Prize - Charlotte Duncan Award 2016

For as long as she could remember Emily wanted to be like her brother. Sean was her twin although when you looked at them you could not tell. He was for a good half head taller than her, with a straight blond hair forever falling over his small blue eyes and a chubby face. He had strong stumpy legs and could march and jump to his heart's content. She on the other hand was skinny with mischievous green eyes and thick brown tresses. Her hair was so unruly that only her beloved Nanna could plait it nicely despite her knobbly fingers. Emily's legs were thin and her walk unsteady. She could not jump no matter how hard she tried. Sean did not talk much, Emily was a chatter box. However, when she was learning to speak her speech was too fast and hard to understand. She had to practise saying words slowly and clearly.

Early on Emily sensed she was different. She did not really have her own memories of the time she and Sean were toddlers, but Nanna had so often talked about it that in the end Emily thought that she really remembered Sean moving around quickly, jumping and running everywhere while she had to hold for the furniture to make a few steps. He could feed himself with a spoon without spilling much but she could not hold the spoon properly and often missed her mouth and had to use the fingers instead and it was very messy. She did not like the mess. Mum did not like it either.

When Mum took Emily and Sean for a checkup she mentioned Emily's clumsiness to the doctor who reassured her: 'Nothing to worry about, she is just a bit behind her age group. Yes, girls are usually developing a bit faster than the boys at the same age, however with the twins it could be a bit different again. It's all within the normal range.'

Nevertheless Mum insisted on seeing specialists and Emily had to undergo a brain scan. She was not allowed to eat or drink that morning and was given an injection to get her to sleep. The next thing Emily remembered was waking up in a strange white room feeling very, very hungry. She polished all the food they put in front of her even the yogurt she did not normally like.

After the scan there was another specialist's appointment. This time Nanna took her. A kind old doctor checked her legs and feet and said: 'You know what young lady, these little feet of yours need different shoes, the shoes which will make them walk steadily and run fast. You will even be able to jump then, you'll see.' Emily did not like to be called 'young lady' but hearing doctor's words her face brightened and her eyes opened wide. 'Jump? Really? As high as Sean?' 'As high as Sean, even higher,' Nanna confirmed. So Emily did not protest when they had to go to yet another place to get her feet measured. She was gravely disappointed to hear she would have to wait several weeks for the shoes to be made. That seemed like a very long time. In the meantime she walked on her tiptoes holding for the furniture and attempted small steps between the sofa and the coffee table.

One morning, to Emily's great delight, the shoes arrived. Nanna unpacked the parcel, opened the box and took the shoes out. The shoes were blue. Blue was Emily's favourite colour. Her jumper was blue, her plate and the cup were blue. She was inseparable with a blue blanket Nanna had knitted for her. They only made the shoes in blue and brown colours so she was lucky that she could have them in her favourite colour.

Nanna put the shoes on Emily's feet. They were stiff and hurt her toes. She roused herself holding for the sofa and tried to walk. At first she made a few unsteady steps and then she let go of the sofa. Her arms were free and she looked like a little bird staggering across the room with the arms flapping. But she walked on her own. A big grin spread over her face and she thought she had seen tears in Nanna's eyes. She exhausted herself and annoyed Sean parading in the new shoes for the whole of the afternoon. She could hardly wait for Mum and Dad to come home from work. When they entered the room she swayed towards them. Mum laughed and hugged her. Dad picked her up and swirled her above his head nearly touching the ceiling. Sean was puzzled with all the fuss and Nanna was all smiles.

On the weekend Sean and Emily went to the beach with Mum and Dad. 'Catch me if you can,' cried Sean and Emily, without a moment of hesitation, started after him. She stumbled with a couple of clumsy steps and fell. She picked herself up, wiped away the tears and tried again. This time she was a bit more coordinated and faster, but she could not catch Sean.

Every time Emily outgrew her blue shoes the nice man measured her feet again and she would get a new pair of shoes. Always blue. When she started school all children wore black shoes, she was the only one with blue shoes. She liked that.

Once Emily discovered running there was no stopping her. She wanted to run everywhere, even to school. Nanna had a hard job of walking them to school, what with Sean dragging his feet at the back and Emily scampering elatedly in front. Poor old Nanna was caught in the middle hurrying up Sean and calling Emily to slow down. Emily became so confident that she decided to enter the race for nine year olds at the forthcoming school athletics carnival. She did not mention it at home, though, and was impatiently waiting for the day to come.

At school one day she heard someone say in a low voice: 'That's the girl with CP'. She could not stop thinking about it all day, she has never heard these words before. Were they really talking about her? Surely Mum and Dad would have told her. Is it something bad or is it a secret that people have to whisper about it? Why has not Nanna told her? Nanna would not keep a secret from her.

Sitting at the dinner table that evening Emily asked: 'What's CP?' There was silence then Mum casually replied: 'It's cerebral palsy.' Big words. Emily was not sure she could pronounce them properly. What do they mean? 'Do I have it?' Longer silence this time. Mum looked at Dad, Dad looked at Mum. Even Sean got interested and lifted his head from the plate. Nanna stayed quiet. Eventually Dad said softly: 'Yes darling.' So she does have it. What is it then? How did she get it? The parents knew the time has come to tell her. Dad explained: 'You know how you always wear the blue shoes, they are special shoes to help you walk. You know that the brain is responsible for talking and walking among other things. It is likely that when you were born your brain got a little injured so as a baby you were not able to coordinate your movements, you walked awkwardly, you could not hold the spoon properly and feed yourself, even drinking from the cup was difficult.' 'But look at you now, no one could tell you have any problems as long as you always wear your blue shoes,' Mum added with a smile. 'My magic blue shoes,' whispered Emily.

The day of a long awaited athletics carnival finally arrived. Emily was so excited that she woke up early and urged everyone to get ready not to be late. Mum, Dad, Nanna and Sean were all going to be there. When the race was announced they were surprised to see Emily among the starters. She waved to them.

Emily finished the race last but when she crossed the line she did something she had never done before - she jumped, she jumped with her arms high in the air. Then she looked at her blue shoes and smiled.

Copyright © 2016 Myra Koch.