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.