I remember every shoe that I have ever owned. This is partly due to my habit of attaching sentimental value even to the simplest of things. Being brought up by parents who couldn’t always afford to buy me a brand new pair of shoes meant that I was obliged to fix, mend, repair and take good care of what I had, until a strong bond of love, trust, and even betrayal, was forged. This is the kind of bond that I created in my matric year with Lefty and the other shoe.
A wise woman once said, “It doesn’t matter how great your shoes are if you don’t accomplish anything in them,” and I have always related a stronger sense of accomplishment to black leather shoes. The first ever pair of such shoes that I owned were the small Toughies my parents bought me when I started going to school in grade 1.
Over the years my father began to struggle financially. I went from wearing Toughies to settling for anything that was black with shoe laces, from generously smearing each shoe every night with shoe polish to cautiously waxing only the front tip of a shoe just twice a week. Financial struggles also meant the termination of chauffeuring privileges between home and school, and I had to learn how to travel by foot.
After months of heat, dust and the careless steps of exhausted feet, one shoe proved to be more loyal than the other – Lefty was more reliable and trustworthy.
I can still see myself standing in the doorway of our classroom with my right foot strategically hidden behind a slab of brick wall. When the time to walk back home finally came, I could no longer pretend to see only one perfect shoe and imagine that the other was just a mirrored version of this perfection. I looked down at the burst tip of the shoe on my right foot and I hated it. It was a nameless and unloved shoe, the “other”, and it hated me back. It kept pinching, nibbling and chewing on my big toe – and it was a long way home. My father did try to tuck away all the extra leather that had protruded from the sole of the shoe, but that only brought its teeth even closer to my toe for an even closer bite.
Months went by and the year came to an end. After I matriculated I went to University and I had an allowance. It allowed me, for the first time in my life, to stand over a pair of black leather shoes in a store, look at the assistant in the eye and say, “I want this one.” I paid for the shoes and walked out of the store with a strong sense of pride, but knowing that I still had much more to accomplish in them.
PS: The new Lefty is my favourite, for obvious reasons.