The inventor had been commissioned to design and build a bridge, with some payment up front and the rest when he presented final blueprints. “Another commission to make another boring thing.” he said grumpily. As he worked away, a little girl entered his workshop. “Oh! It’s a toyshop!” she exclaimed excitedly.
He looked at her from over his glasses. “This most certainly is not a toyshop! What do you want?”
“Where are your family?”
“If I knew that,” she said closing the door behind her and coming further into the room, “I wouldn’t be lost.”
He was about to tell her to leave him alone, when he realized it was actually quite refreshing that she wasn’t bowing and scraping, like most people, and most people knocked before they entered his workshop.
“I know where they went,” she said, “and if my assumptions are correct, they’ll be passing here to look for me.”
“Where did they go?” he asked, putting the blueprint on his desk. He knew he wasn’t going to get any work done for the moment.
“They went to market.”
“Can’t you go find them?” he snapped. He hated distractions and he didn’t like anyone coming into his workshop, unless they were learned men like himself and this was a very forward little girl.
“What I could do, is wait here until they pass by. Why expend energy chasing after them when I could sit here in this interesting room with you? Besides, my mother and father are the ones who should be frantically looking for me, not the other way round.”
The inventor peered at her again, then took off his glasses and rubbed at the space between his eyes. He decided he could add precocious to forward.
“You may stay, but please be quiet. I have work to do.”
“I’ll have to have the door open so that I can see my parents pass by.” The little girl opened the door and all the sounds of the street rushed in. He would never get any work done now. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“What are you working on?” she asked looking at the blueprint.
“A mobile bridge.”
“Whoever heard of a mobile bridge?”
“Exactly, which is why I’m inventing one.”
“That sounds fun. Can I look at the map?”
“It’s not a map. It’s a blueprint.”
“Blueprint, map, it’s all the same to me. What’s your name?”
“Leonardo.” He puffed out his chest. “Leonardo Da Vinci. You may have heard of me.”
“Oh, yes, I recognise you now. You’re the man who owns the donkey stall!”
“No, I do not! I’m known for my inventions and my painting.”
“Do you paint people’s houses?”
“No, I do not!”
“Leo Nerdo…that’s quite a long name to remember. May I call you Leo?” He nodded, exasperation rendering him mute. “I’m Caterina.” she said, looking around the workshop. She picked up something on his desk. “What’s this?”
“That’s a water powered gyroscopic compass. Please put it down, it’s a prototype.”
“And what’s this?” she cried excitedly, spinning a wooden contraption that hung from the ceiling. “That’s an aerial screw!” He got to his feet quickly and grabbed it to stop it rotating.
“And what’s this?” She picked up a drawing from the table. “A man with no clothes on and he’s got four arms and four legs?”
“That’s Vitruvian Man.” said the inventor. “Don’t smudge it!”
Caterina pointed to a painting on an easel. “And who is this lady?”
“That’s Mona Lisa.” He puffed himself out again. “Do you see her enigmatic smile?”
“Does she have wind? This place is messy Leo. Let me help you clean up.” Immediately, she began to recover a pile of scrolls from the floor.
“No, don’t do that!” he said in a panic. “I’ll never be able to find anything!”
She ignored him and put the scrolls behind the door. She found a brush and began to sweep the floor. As she swept, she whistled a tune. The inventor relaxed a little and found that he was able to work away as she whistled. He dipped his quill in the ink on his desk and began to write and draw. Eventually, Caterina stopped whistling and put the broom away.
“Why have you stopped whistling?” he asked.
“I thought I might be annoying you.”
“Not at all. Please continue. I can’t whistle and you do it very well. That’s a beautiful tune.”
“What? You can’t whistle?” she said. “I thought everyone could whistle.”
Leo returned his quill to the ink stand and looked at her. “But I can’t.”
She laughed. “It’s easy. I can teach you if you like.”
She went to him. “Well, purse up your lips like this, no, like this, that’s better and push air out of them like this, no, you’re doing it wrong.”
For half an hour, the little girl tried to teach the inventor to whistle but it was no good. Presently, the little girls parents passed by the door. “My mother and father are here!” she cried out happily. “Goodbye Leo.” It was suddenly quiet and empty in the workshop. He tried to work but he was so distracted by the fact that he couldn’t whistle, that he stopped working on the blueprints for the bridge. He decided that if he couldn’t whistle, he would invent some kind of whistling aid, something that would enable him to whistle as tunefully as Caterina. Immediately, he began working on it.
Six weeks later, a man came with a final contract for Leonardo to sign, upon completion of the final plans for the bridge, but he’d been working on plans for something that would help him whistle. He’d modelled a head with eyes, nose and mouth that looked amazingly like him. When you pulled a lever at the side of the head, the lips pursed and a tuneful whistle came out. He sat looking at it now, while the man with the contract waited for him to sign. Leonardo picked up his quill, dipped it into the ink and paused. “I can’t sign this.” he said. “I haven’t finished the plans for the bridge.”
“Why not? You were meant to have them by the end of this week.”
“I’ve been working on something else instead.” he said. “It’s taken up all my time.”
The man looked at the whistling head. “Not that thing I hope.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Leonardo asked defensively.
“Look, I need you to sign this contract, the builders are waiting for instructions to build the bridge.”
“I don’t have it. It’s not ready.”
“Well, when will it be?”
“Another two months perhaps.”
“I can wait another week, not one day more.” The man left, taking the unsigned contract with him.
Leonardo sat there for a few minutes dumbfounded. He should have been working on the plans for the bridge – not the whistle. He didn’t care about the bridge, he just wanted to be able to whistle. A little girl could whistle and he couldn’t. It got to him, why, he didn’t know.
Just to make things worse, his whistle invention had come to nothing.
Just then, as if to taunt him further, he heard a beautiful whistling pass by his workshop. He ran to the door and flung it open, and there she was, skipping by, whistling, the same little girl from over a month ago. “Hello,” she said brightly. “How are you?” Caterina was with her mother this time and when the woman saw who it was, she bowed, stuttered and blushed to meet such a celebrated figure. “Oh, Signor De Vinci…I do apologise for my daughter’s familiarity.”
“Not at all.” said Leo. He looked down at the girl. “Do you have a moment Caterina? I was wondering if you could help me with something.” She nodded, let go of her mothers hand and stepped inside. The mother froze, too surprised to follow. Leonardo showed her the mannequin head, demonstrated it proudly and told her how he’d spent all his time doing that, when he should have been working on the bridge. Caterina smiled. “This is clever but you don’t need to whistle.”
“But I am Leonardo De Vinci and I should be able to whistle or invent a contraption to make me whistle. Plus you said it was easy.”
“Not for everyone. Some people just can’t. Accept it and be happy with the things you can do.”
Leonardo sighed. “You’re right. I was being conceited and vain…and not very modest. The only trouble is, I don’t have time to work on the plans for the bridge now. I’ll have to do about six weeks work in one week. I will lose my commission.”
“If I helped you, perhaps we could get it done in time.”
“You? But you’re just a little girl!”
Caterina raised an eyebrow. “Not so little.”
Leonardo shook his head. “I’m sorry, that was a conceited thing to say.”
“I’m very good at drawing.” she said. “And I’m good with numbers, perhaps I could help you with your blueprints?”
“And you can also whistle.” he said. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I could say the same thing to you.” she said.
Caterina helped Leonardo with his plans for the bridge, much to the delight of her mother, who brought him cakes and presents and many blushes. Caterina and Leo managed to cram six weeks into one. When the man came with the contract, Leo was able to sign it. He realized he didn’t need to whistle after all. He was Leonardo De Vinci, a genius, and he was going to start work on plans for another flying machine tomorrow. He said goodbye to Caterina, and as she walked away, he could hear her whistling a happy tune. He pursed his lips, blew and a whistle came out. She heard him and ran back into the workshop. “See! You can do it Leo? All you needed was to loosen up a bit and be little less serious.” She pointed to the painting of Mona Lisa, on the easel. “Be a bit more like her, but less windy.”