My Mother’s Shoes
Growing up, the things that would keep coming back over and over again like a boomerang were the breakfast menu of ruti and an indistinguishable jumble of vegetables, the television shows that premiered on Saturday and kept repeating throughout the week, and the tales my mother told at bedtime.
I didn't know the endings to most of the stories as I fell asleep halfway, or quarter-way – the proportion of story that remained unheard was unknown to me. As I got older, a lot of the old habits faded away, but my mother repeated one tale, over and over again. Even when breakfast consisted of bread and tea, the shows premiered two days a week, and my mother didn't tell me stories at bedtime anymore; she kept sneaking the one story into the folds of the day, whenever it was relevant, and often when it was not. The story she told me was one about her shoes.
She did have shoes, of course, but the one pair she kept talking about was not hers. Her eyes shined and her voice skipped on a hopscotch board at first, but then she got to the part where she did not have the shoes she so wanted and her voice dropped and grew weighted. I, however, liked the pair of shoes that she wore every day; she dusted and polished them, and wore them with dignity. But she did not want them, neither did she like them.
When I turned 10, my mother took me out one afternoon. We bought cotton candy flavoured ice-cream and watched cotton candy clouds float away. Then she took me somewhere I had never been before. She grabbed my hand extra tight and we walked, then walked some more, till we reached a place, and up on a pedestal, was a pair of shoes.
"Look now," my mother said excitedly. "Isn't it just gorgeous? Oh, what I would do to have one of those."
I looked at the pair of okay-looking shoes, but didn't want to break her heart. So, I told her that they were glorious. She leaned into my ear and whispered firmly, "I want you to have them."
I looked at her. Her eyes were bloodshot and a little manic. It was one of the moments that I was truly scared of her.
Days passed like days tend to do, and my mother didn't just discreetly slide the words about her shoes into regular conversations anymore, she talked about them for hours. And she no longer addressed them as her shoes anymore. She called them my shoes, the shoes I'd have to have one day. Though her obsession did not feed into me, I didn't dislike the shoes as much as before. In fact, I wouldn't mind wearing them. I began to prepare myself to become worthy of the shoe, much to my mother's glee.
"I like the shoes," I told myself. "I want the shoes. They will change my life."
"Who are you talking to?" my friend asked me with a raised eyebrow.
"No one," I replied, and immediately realised that it was true, I was telling it to myself.
Another fateful afternoon that hadn't fully recovered from the scorching assertiveness of midday that came before it, I was walking through town and saw a person wearing a pair of slippers that, to put it simply, took my breath away. It was nowhere as fancy as the shoes I had told myself I wanted, but it had a rustic beauty, a rebellion, an independence about it. The girl wearing it passed me, but in those few moments the image of the slippers was etched into my mind.
"They aren't comfortable, love," my mother said, folding clothes neatly and stacking them up in a pile, after I gathered up the courage to tell her I wanted the slippers.
"I'm okay with uncomfortable," I told her.
"You're still so naïve, you haven't faced true discomfort, nor discrimination," she turned to me. "I'm your own mother. I want the very best for you."
I knew from her tone that this topic was not up for debate.
"You get only one go at it, you know," my mother didn't even try to guise the anger in her voice anymore, though it would have been futile since angry is all she was at that point. "At this rate, not only will you not get these, you won't qualify for any."
She never said it, but made it very clear that unless I had them, I too would become unwanted, disposable, in a moment.
I found myself becoming as manic as her with the passing of days, from fear that I poorly tried to convince myself was passion. I had to have the shoes.
"Mother? Why are we here?"
I smile lovingly at my daughter, who was holding a stick of blueberry cotton candy on one of her hands, and my hand in another. She took after me, from the silky waves of her hair to the singsong waves of her voice.
"We're here to look at something very special," I tell her. I have to elbow through the crowd and my daughter whines a little about her candy, but we make it.
They haven't changed much at all – the rustic beauty surrounding the pair of slippers on the girl from many moons ago still prevails. I turn my daughter to face them, and am slightly disappointed that her face does not the mirror the excitement in mine. She's a carbon copy of mine in every other aspect so, she will come around.
"See those pair of slippers?" I tuck a piece of loose hair behind a flower clip, "I want you to have them."
I don't know why but when she looked up, the emotion in her face held a semblance to fear.
Upoma Aziz is now a slouching, grouchy goblin who sleeps on piles of baggage she has hoarded. Reach out to her at email@example.com to remind her to clean up.