The other day, I stood waiting for my cab, staring at the countless cars crossing each other at the intersection. The coffee I had a minute or two ago didn’t seem to do much against the chilly winter air. I looked around aimlessly, as one often does when one is waiting. It didn’t matter how long you were waiting for or how long you had to wait—as long as one was amused, one could wait a lifetime.
I noticed my shoes were dusty again. They were always dusty because I walked a lot, of course. Yet, my indifference towards cleaning them on most days could be traced back to an ordinary day in third grade when a teacher berated me for having dirty shoes. She recited the age-old maxim of how we were all judged by our shoes. It was a rote retelling of the exact words everyone before and after her quoted continually.
It didn’t make sense to me because it was a fun day. My shoes were dirty because we had played a lot during the break. Any less, and the shoes would’ve probably been clean enough for her to decide against stopping me and plastering a quote over my conscience.
Later, I insisted I would polish my shoes instead of my mother hitherto doing it for me. I would smear some polish on the shoe, take the brush and polish them until they shone perfectly. Then, I would dampen the shine on them to make them dull. The ritual carried on until I stopped wearing the uniform. My indifference for shoes that didn’t look like they came out of the box continued. Dusty shoes, to me, were a sign of days well-lived.
I continued waiting for the cab. Just then, a man selling balloons walked past me with only one foot in a shoe; the other one was bare. He asked me to buy a balloon from him. I told him I had no use for one and asked him about the shoe. He said he broke it at some point during the day. I asked him if I could help him out; that it was cold. He said he’d rather I bought him a cup of tea instead. I said I’d be happy to, but a cup of tea only kept you warm temporarily.
He smiled and said, “if there is anything I’ve learned today, so does a shoe.”