Investigation of Past Shoes

INSIDE THE GATEWAY: 1970S RED CLOGS WITH SIDE BUCKLE
 

The forever shoe,  which  points  homewards,  belongs to  my  mother.
When our house was  being built, she stepped onto the  driveway while
the tarmac was still wet, still setting. Ever since that step, the driveway,
which slants upwards,  bears an imprint of her 1971 footwear. Her foot-
print says,  Climb!  Come with me.  Whoever steps into that impression
becomes,  for a moment, the leggy wearer of a fire-red clog with a pirat-
ical silver buckle on the side.

OUTSIDE THE TEMPLE: GOLD AND SILVER SANDALS

The  sandals  which  will  make  a  female of me belong to many women.
The   front  of  the  temple  entrance  hides itself behind shoe-racks. Vis-
itors   enter  barefooted,  leaving   behind  the  dung,  dried frogs, spilled
petrol  and  ketchup  traces  of  the  streets.  Hundreds  of  pairs  of  gold
and  silver  sandals wait  here  for  the  women  who will re-emerge from
the  vigil  with  the  taste of  basil  leaf and sugar in  their deep-breathing
mouths  and  carpet  fibres between  their  toes.   The  sandals,  gold  and
silver,  seem all alike.  How  can the women tell them apart? They do tell
them apart. It  is  as if  each  pair  sings an  intimate mantra to its  owner,
audible  only to  her. One day I too shall return to expectant slippers that
stack  up  like the  moon  and  the  stars  outside a  marble  building;  one
day I shall not have to wear child's shoes.

 
SUNDAY BEFORE SCHOOL: WHITE SNEAKERS

Seven  years  of these shoes are a chemical memory.  The Convent ruled 
that  pupils' shoes  must  be white: absolutely white.  Who  can  imagine
a  1980s  shoe  that  was  absolutely  white,  without  any  logo,  with  no
swoosh,  not  a  single slogan?  Sunday evenings, before the school week,
I  crouched  down  on  the  pink  bathroom  tiles  and  painted  my  shoes
into  the  absolute  of  whiteness;  like  the  Alice  in Wonderland garden-
ers  repainting  roses.  This  task  was  performed  with a  toothbrush and
with  special  paste that annihilated so many design features.  Purity was
attained  by  the application  of  a whitener  that  stank  of scientific poly-
syllables.  Convent-girl  identity.  Tabula rasa.  Toxicity  and intoxication:
with  good  intentions,  getting  high on paste.

BAD MARRIAGE SHOES: SILVER BALLET SLIPPERS

When I met my ex, I was  already  committed to heels: black ankle  boots ​
with  four-inch  stacks for  walking through snow;  French  cream curved
suede  stilettos for scaling fire-escape  ladders  on to  rooftops  to  admire
the  winter  sky;  even after I  left him,  scarlet satin  bedroom-only  spiky
mules  to  amuse myself.  Early  on, my ex  said that the way women walk
in  heels  looks ugly.  And my  nails  made  unnatural  social appearances:
emerald  lacquer;  cobalt;  incarnadine. Sign of a  bad  marriage:  I  began
to  wear  flats. The penitential  mermaid shoes,  worn once and once only,
were  a Gabor creation: distressed  silver  ballet  slippers  with netted and
criss-cross side  details  which  would  make  the material  seem  to  swish
with  the changes  of  light on feet that go walking.  Cool  as  moonlight on
a  tourist  coastline. But the  inner  stitching  hooked  the  softness  of  my
skin, which  has  always  been  too  soft;  but  I could not turn back, for we
had  tickets  to an evening  of  Mozart;  but the paper tissues that I stuffed
into  my  shoes  failed to act as  a  protective   lining.   Paper  tissue  snow-
flecks  teardropped  with crimson  blood created  a  trail  behind  me  as  I
ascended  the  many  tiers  of  the  wedding-cake concert hall.

BAREFOOT: PEARL PINK POLISH

Sitting  next  to someone  can  make  my  feet  curl:  shy,  self-destructive 
and  oyster-like, they want to  shuck  their cases,  to  present  themselves,
little undersea pinks; their skin  still  is  too  soft, their  toes still too long,
their  ankles still too slender, for a modern fit. But he  is not modern;  he
sits like stone, and my bare feet are cool, they will not have to bleed.

Vahni Capildeo, "Investigation of Past Shoes" from Measures of Expatriation. Copyright © 2016 by Vahni Capildeo. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press, Ltd..
Source: Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet Press, Ltd., 2016)
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