I couldn't fly for very long that first day after we left the tunnels. I was weak from the winter spent underground, and it was harder flying with a girl on my back than I had expected. Thumbelina put her arms around my neck as we flew, and I thought of that first night we had met. It seemed so long ago now.
I landed in a meadow. The crocuses were coming out, the first flowers of spring. They were careful flowers, covering themselves in fur to keep warm. Thumbelina had fallen asleep, but she woke up when we touched down, and she climbed off my back.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"We're on our way," I told her. "I just need to rest for a little while; we can keep going soon."
She smiled at me and said, "You don't need to hurry yourself; I'm happy enough to be out of the tunnels, and on my way home with you. Don't force yourself."
I left her on the ground as I flew up to sleep in a tree. I thought she would like to look around for a little while, after being cooped up all winter.
When I woke up it was morning. I hopped down into the meadow to pick up Thumbelina again, and I saw the most amazing thing. The crocuses were all opening up, and inside of them were tiny people, just like her. I saw Thumbelina climbing one of the stems, up to where a boy was waking up. As he sat up I saw that he had wings on his back, but he also had human arms. He had everything either of us had ever wished for. As I hopped closer she reached him, and for a moment they stared at each other.
Then something strange happened. He put his arms around her, and he put his lips on hers, and she put her arms around his shoulders. I stopped moving. I felt frozen, though I couldn't tell what it was. There were no predators nearby.
I saw them talking to each other, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. There was a roaring in my ears, like the river I had followed for days to find her. Thumbelina smiled, and the boy touched her shoulders, and a pair of wings grew from her back as well. I wanted to ask, "Do all humans grow wings too?" but I was still frozen. I couldn't go any closer.
Finally I backed away, as more tiny people surrounded me. I turned my back on them and jumped up into the air. I had to fly away from there.
I stopped myself, before I left her behind, and stopped to watch her for a moment, from my perch on a tree. I looked down and saw her laughing with people all around her. I watched her trying out her new wings. She was so happy.
So happy I left her there. I flew away from that meadow without looking back.
I went back to her mother first, to tell her that her daughter had found her place. I told her all about the flower people, about Thumbelina's new wings. She smiled when she heard the news, but she looked sad afterwards. "Every mother knows this day will come," she said. "But it is never easy."
"It was easy for my mother," I said. "Maybe it's not the same for humans."
"And you my friend?" she asked, holding her hand out to me. "Was it hard for you to let her go?"
I could not answer her. She gave me some seed, and told me I could stay in the apple tree in her back yard, but I didn't want to stay there where everything reminded me of Thumbelina. This time I went away, I went towards more humans, instead of away from them.
I found a beautiful pear tree in the yard of a young man's house, and I made myself a nest there. He tried to shoo me away at first, but I sang my most beautiful songs for him, and I told him the tale of Thumbelina, and he grew used to me, and he let me stay. He would sit at his desk by my window and he would write as I sang. I liked to sing for him on those days; I think I inspired him with my music.
The spring passed in that manner, and then the summer. I never forgot about Thumbelina, but I stopped thinking about her all the time. The season was turning to autumn when a young starling landed in my tree. I asked her what she was doing there, and she asked to spend the night.
"I am on my way south," she told me. "I only need a perch for one night."
She told me stories in exchange for her stay. I didn't need them, but I wanted to hear. She told me about a fox she had met, and how he had been outsmarted by a crow. She told me of ants and grasshoppers. Finally, she told me of a strange, small thing with wings she had seen on her journey.
"It had wings, but it was not a bird, and it was not an insect," she told me. "It looked almost like a human, but it was much smaller than any human I've ever seen. I thought it was very strange, but she was polite enough when she asked if I knew her friend. She called him Sparrow, but there are so many sparrows, I told her I could not know this one. Humans expect strange things from us."
My heart started to race when I heard this. "I have seen this creature before," I told the starling. "In fact, I once had a friend who was a tiny human, and she was given wings."
"Are you that Sparrow then?" she asked me. "It said it was looking for its friend Sparrow. It told me it was going to go traveling around the countryside looking for him."
"Is this true?" I asked.
"What else would it be?" she asked. After all, birds don't know how to lie like humans do.
I flew off the next day to find her again. I didn't even wonder why she would be looking for me; I didn't think of what might have happened in those months since we last saw each other. I just flew. I asked every bird I met if they had seen her, and it seemed she had been doing the same. Every one I met led me closer to her.
She was close to home, along the stream that had first led her away. When I found her she was asleep, and I landed as softly as I could. I looked her over for a minute before waking her. She didn't have wings on her back, and I wondered if I had just imagined that. I would never even have thought such things if I'd never met her.
When she opened her eyes she sprang up in a second and threw her arms around my neck. "Sparrow! Is it really you, or are my eyes lying to me?" she cried.
"I'm here," I told her. I wished I had arms, so that I could hold her too. I finally understood how she felt.
"I've missed you my friend," she told me. "Can we go home?"
She climbed up on my back and we flew back home. She put her arms around my neck as we flew and held on tight. "You won't leave me this time will you?" she asked. "Please don't go again."
"Weren't you happy?" I asked. "Finally there were people you could hold, someone for you to hug, who could hug you back. Isn't that what you always wanted?"
"I thought that once," she said. "But it doesn't matter if there's no love. It's like you once told me; it's fine as long as we love each other. I was happy there for a time, but I wasn't in love. You weren't there. And then, just like everyone else I've met, he tried to control me. He changed my name to Maia when he gave me wings, and he made me a princess. I never wanted that.
"When I left I lost my wings, but it didn't matter so much anymore. I found my way home, and I was happy to see my mother again. I missed her so much, and finally I understood. But you weren't there. I wanted you to be there too."
"I can't hug you; I have no arms," I told her.
"It doesn't matter, as long as you love each other. You're the one who taught me that," she said. "I love you Sparrow." She squeezed my neck and my heart pounded strangely. I wasn't sure what it meant, to be in love, but I think I was beginning to understand.