Shoes

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Something in the air is warmer than usual, and it isn’t the African heat. The pink sun is already setting, dropping beneath the dry plains of yellow grasses, as, off in the distance, a ways from the village, a herd of zebras scatters across the grassland. White birds soar swiftly through the sky, releasing their loud squawks into the still air above the droves of village workers. The weary men and women are now leaving the fields after a long day’s gathering, headed for their mud huts. As they sit now on the cool dirt ground, the young girls who have stayed behind to collect sticks wonder if the workers feel it, too. They wonder if the men and women feel the unusual warmth in the savannah air.

Fil it, Mama. Don’ you fil it?

I am makin’ di neighbors soup. Da-er daughter ees seeck. Please, if you are goin’ to tink about faraway tings, tink while you are preparin’ di bowls.

Mama, eet’s not far away. Eet is right he-a! Oh, Mama, I am sure you can tell.

Stir di soup.

There is a bubbling sound in the fire pit as the broth simmers. The mother slices open a sack of beans and pours the contents into the pot, holding her head tilted at an angle away from the steam. Her daughter is quiet with thought, but only for moment. She cannot help but blurt out what is on her mind.

Mama…can I have a pa-er of shoes?

It is quiet, except for the hiss of the fire. The mother, wiping her cheek with the back of her arm, turns to face her daughter with weary eyes.

You know we cannot affurd shoes. Your father only paid back di goat herders two days ago and we cannot possibly make di trip to di city. You know dat.

But eet will be a holiday!

Not in our village.

But Mama…

You know we cannot affurd eet. Hush and stir di soup.

The girl slams down the ladle and runs out of the hut, feeling warm tears flow down her face. Why can’t there be a holiday here, too? She can feel it! Why, she can feel it all the way here in her African village. And why can’t she have shoes? She has never had a pair of shoes, and just this once, maybe…Oh, and she knows that the villagers will be gossiping. Di liddle girl wants shoes. How ridiculous! Her father was indebted to di goat herders for months and she asks for shoes! Wadda foolish child, asking for dat. Wadda foolish child. Curled under a large thorn tree outside of the village, the girl cries ashamedly. Eet is not fair. Eet is not fair…

In New Jersey, it is not as warm. In fact, the weatherman has predicted two inches of snow for Monday. The children are eager for snow to fall, itching for a day off from school to romp in the icy, white fluff, while the adults are brooding about driving on slick roads and praying that the children’s wintry wishes do not come true. Moreover, the adults are fretting about buying gifts for everyone in time for the twenty-fifth day December, and they have made plans to go shopping. For weeks now, the stores have been packed with bustling people armed with credit cards, coupons, wish-lists, and gift cards, and to the chagrin of retail employees all over the country, holiday tunes have played endlessly over store loudspeakers from six AM to midnight, nearly matched in volume by the buzz of the frenzied customers below.

Girls and their mothers are in department stores, some trying on boots in the shoe section. One girl slips on white, furry ones, with sheepskin insides and lightweight soles. She feels her toes for fit, then gets up to admire her feet in the mirror. The boots are perfect- warm, comfortable, and very expensive. She already has a pair, but those are in brown. She wants white.

Mom, can I get these?

Honey, what do you need another pair for? You already have boots.

But Mom, those are brown and these are white. They’re different.

You already have a pair.

But Mom…

You don’t need them, honey. Now, what do you think of these?

Her mother is wearing a pair of black leather boots with silver buckles and thick heels. The boots zipper up to the bottom of her knee, where they cut off her circulation just the slightest bit, but it’s fine because they are gorgeous- real leather. Plus, they’re on sale. She even has a coupon.

Mom, you have a ton of shoes. This is so stupid. Let’s go. If I can’t get these then you can’t get yours. Let’s go.

What about these other ones? I thought you wanted the wedges.

They’re old.

What do you mean?

Mom, look at the color! They’re so ugly. Please. Let’s go.

But they’re on sale! And you can always use wedges.

Let’s go!

The daughter drags her mother, who is still wiggling her left foot out of a leather boot, toward the cash register. As she rises, the mother frowns and picks up the four boxes of shoes piled on the floor beside her. The salesman who has been helping them for the past hour bends down to retrieve the tissue paper strewn all over the carpet and sighs to himself. At the register, the mother swipes her silver credit card and signs the touch-screen, asking irritably that her daughter stop tapping on the counter. The girl withdraws her manicured finger and rolls her eyes in impatience.

Oh, my gosh. This is so unfair. If I want one lousy pair of shoes she can’t spare the money, but she gets whatever she wants, huh? Ugh. So completely unfair…





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