It all started in the shoes section of the department store, where I encountered a crazy curly-haired blonde girl, examining the shelves as she walked along them, muttering to the air beside her.

"It's just not right. How can people be so blind? I wish I could do more for you," I overheard her saying as we moved down the shelves to view the selection. She was having a conversation, yet there was no one around her. Stealing a second glance, I could tell she wasn't on the phone either. I shrugged. It took all kinds of people to make the world go round, and you couldn't help but run into some of them at times, especially the loopy ones. I reached for a pair of high-tops, and went over to the bench to try them on. I was really hoping to get this over as soon as possible—buy the shoes and get out. Like many guys out there, shopping was not high on my list of preferred activities, but shoes were an unfortunate neccessity for everyday life.

As I was bending over to tie the laces, a different set of shoes suddenly appeared in my vision.

"Do you even know where those shoes came from?" a voice demanded. Startled at the accusing tone and direct confrontation, I looked up to see the muttering girl with her hands on her hips.

"Uh, that shelf," I replied, pointing.

The girl blew a strand of her wild hair out of her face.

"Typical. Can't see beyond the end of their own noses," she said disdainfully to the empty space beside her, "I don't understand sometimes how ignorant people choose to be."

I raised my eyebrows at her remark, but didn't respond.

"They trip over you, and still are blind," she muttered. I turned around on the bench, hoping to put some distance between me and the girl who liked to talk to herself. Maybe she heard voices in her head. Maybe she's off her meds, I reasoned as I went over to a mirror for a look at the shoes. Not bad, not bad at all. Could I really have found a pair on my first try? I could be out of here pronto!


I nearly jumped as the girl appeared behind me in the image reflected in the mirror. "Actually, I'm a size 11," I replied, with a small smile, hoping to lighten the mood.

"Five kids."

Did she think she was clarifying herself with that one extra word? I turned and went back to my bench, and to my dismay, found myself being followed.

"The blood, sweat, and tears of five children went into the making of those shoes," she told me as she sat down. My relief that her her manner was now slightly less abrasive was dampened by my worry that she would now start spinning off a sob story.

"They're lucky to get pennies for their work. You take those shoes today, you're making a choice that affects them, whether you see it or not."

"So you come to the store on a guilt-tripping mission?" I asked, irritated with her high and mighty attitude, "Who are you, little miss perfect? The one who turns off the car at red lights to save the planet?" These people ran around with their high ideals accusing the rest of the world of being evil, though in reality, nearly all of them were just loud-mouthed hypocrites.

"I'm sorry," she replied, and I turned in surprise at such a quick response, only to find that her words hadn't been directed to me, but to the empty space beside her. "I'm not very good at this," she said apologetically, my presence seemingly forgotten. I shook my head. This girl was definitely cuckoo.

I had just placed the shoes back in their box when a small child with her back turned to me in the aisle caught my attention. Her straggly black hair was matched by her ragged and dirty clothes. I looked around for someone responsible for her, but no one seemed to be paying her any attention. She was intently studying a pair of pink shoes when I saw an adult man approaching. Oh good, I thought, Her dad is here. However, when he reached the stall in the middle of the aisle, he did not stop and pick up the girl. He didn't call her name as he drew closer. He didn't take notice of her at all, but kept briskly walking and knocked the girl off her feet as he brushed past, not once turning back to see whom he had hit, or if she was alright.

Appalled, I rushed over to the girl and kneeled down to help her up.

"Are you al-" my words caught in my throat as her face became visible to me for the first time. A piece of tape was covering her mouth, and her sad eyes pierced my very being. For a moment, all I could do was stare. When I came to my senses, I reached down and gently pulled the tape from her small face.

"Are you alright?" I asked again.

"Are you alright, sir?" my question was thrown back at me from behind me. A middle-aged man wearing the store's employee vest was looking at me curiously.

"What are you asking me for? She's the one that got bowled over by that jerk," I replied.

"Who got bowled over?"

"This girl," I answered, bringing the girl in front of me so he could see her, "And she also had tape over her mouth. We should probably call the police, I don't think she's been getting proper care where she's been living." A moment passed as the man studied me. Why was he just standing there? Didn't he hear what I just said?

"Sir, did you come here with someone?"

Why would he be asking that at a time like this? This girl obviously needed help!

"What? No, why does that matter? She-"

"Yes, sir, he came here with me, I'll look after him," a voice cut in. That crazy blonde girl again? She came over, took my arm, and pulled me up from my knees. She just couldn't mind her own business, could she?

The man appeared uneasy, but decided to let us be, giving me a strange look before he turned and left.

The girl took me over the bench where we had been sitting earlier. Irritated, I pulled my arm from her grip.

"Hey, what's the big idea?" I demanded, "I was just trying to help her!" I started to get up and go back over to the little girl, but blondie pulled me back down. "How could any normal person just ignore her like that?"

She scoffed and muttered, "You're one to talk."

Indignant, I turned on her.

"I am not ignoring her! I am trying to get help!"

"Well, at the moment, you and I are the only ones who can see her, so unless you shut up and listen, the only help you're going to get is into a straitjacket."

"Oh really?" I said as I deliberately and slowly crossed my arms, "I'm the crazy one? Just what do you mean by, 'we're the only ones who can see her'?"

"I'll let you think about it," she replied, and turned away from me. I peeked over her shoulder and saw her tending to a small boy. Had he always been there?

As our conversation had effectively been cut off, I looked back to check on the little girl, but she had disappeared. I stood up to check the aisle, but she was nowhere in sight. I hoped that she was not going back to a bad home situation. My thoughts went back to Blondie's words, You and I are the only ones who can see her. It was ridiculous to even consider such a thought. The first man had been extremely rude and careless. He probably ran over cats with his car and didn't care. He was a jerk, and that was a perfectly logical explanation for his lack of action. But I couldn't shake the image of the store employee. He had shown genuine concern, but only for me, despite the more haphazard and dirty appearance of the small girl. Was it really possible he hadn't seen her at all? I thought back to the look he had given me before leaving—almost as if he felt sorry for me. Had he thought I was imagining things? Maybe I am imagining things. With my mounting confusion, I returned to our bench in the shoe department, hoping I would find some logical answers from miss blondie.

"So let's say, just for argument's sake, that what you said was true; that no one else could see her," I said slowly, not sure if I really wanted to have this conversation. She gave a small smile.

"I thought you might come around."

"Why am I seeing them? Who was she? Who's he?" I asked, gesturing towards the boy at her side.

"Well, I don't know for sure," she said, "But she could have been one of those who was forced to make those shoes you're holding. She also could have made a different pair, or maybe the rug in aisle seven. This little guy, I know was a part of the making of those shoes. He is the reason I knew there were five kids involved, " she paused pensively, "We buy all these things and live our lives, not seeing the whole picture that includes child labour, human traffficking victims, and sex slaves. These children have provided success, pleasure, and entertainment for a society in which they are invisible and voiceless." I watched as the little boy scampered out of the way just in time for a teenaged girl to sit down with a pair of heels. It was true. People really didn't see them.

"So is this some kind of superpower?" I asked. She smiled and held out her hands in a shrug.

"I don't know. I guess it's just a different way of seeing the world. I don't always see them. There are days when I don't, even though I know each day my life is intertwined with theirs."

"How long have long have you been seeing them?" Despite my attempts to have that come out sounding normal, I still ended up asking a psychiatry question.

"About two years. I was at a big conference thing about social justice that my friend brought me to. She was super motivated and brought anyone she could. Pretty much everyone there could see the less fortunate," she smiled as she recalled the experience, "You should have seen all the pieces of tape lying on the ground from people trying to help these victims. But it didn't last. My friend who was responsible for opening my eyes in the first place lost interest, and now she chooses to stay blind. Sometimes I suspect she does see at times, but she pretends not to. And that's the saddest part of all. It's like that for so many people. They'll take notice of these children for a short while, maybe a week. But after that, like the way one might treat autumn leaves that are eye-catching for a fleeting moment, they move on, step on the leaves, and go back to living their normal lives. Because really, what's significant about leaves on the ground?"

Her vehemence had disappeared, and now her eyes were downcast. I could tell this was a big emotional issue with her. It made me forgive her for the way she had confronted me earlier. Thinking back, I marvelled at how I could be having a calm conversation with the same girl who just ten minutes ago, had been calling me ignorant and, from my point of view, talking to air. That reminded me: I still had the pair of shoes that had started the whole thing in the first place. After what I had just experienced, I no longer found them very appealing. I went over to replace them on the shelf. Just down the aisle was the girl that had nearly sat on one of our little friends. She was taking down another pair to try on. I caught a glimpse of a new little girl walking past on the other side of her, her mouth covered with a single thick strip of tape. I took a deep breath, and turned to look back at miss crazy curly-haired blonde. Our eyes met, and I knew she had also seen the newcomer child. The kids I'd seen today were invisible and voiceless in our world, but I wasn't. So as not to lose my nerve, I kept my mind on the girl with the straggly black hair that no one else had helped today as I mechanically took the needed steps to approach the high heel enthusiast. I cleared my throat and though the words were spoken with my own voice, I felt I was speaking for many others who did not have their own.

"Excuse me miss, but do you know where those shoes came from?"