I glanced up at the dead tree before me. But I did not trace with my eyes its ash grey trunk and crooked branches that resembled the frail fingers of a wicked witch from a childhood fairy tale book. Okay, I did, but not that intently. What I was looking at though were the forty one odd pair of shoes hanging from its dead boughs. And yes, I counted them all since like the people of this town I have a lot of free time on my hand.
I studied the shoes and noticed that they were all in good condition but not enough to be some wacky advertisement gig of some shoe company. That led me to wonder if the villagers decorated their Christmas trees with their undergarments. But before I could arrive at some possible conclusion on that rather weird line of thought my eyes fell upon a young boy of ten or twelve years of age who cycled rather fast down the road and parked a few yards away from me.
Leaning his bike against a tree, the kid hastily pulled out a single shoe from the carrier basket and started to run towards me. I straightened up from my lazy position against my sedan as he headed straight for me. But instead of flinging the heavy duty footwear at my head as I had feared for a second, he started to climb the tree instead.
I cocked my head and watched his progress. The boy was nimble and pretty soon was high up in the branches. After that he started to tie up the shoe to a branch that was already clogged with eight more. Once he was done he started to descend.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and so when he was finally on the ground I called out to him…
There is a vast opportunity for extrapolation this time. So gear up and let’s see who can come up with the best explanation for ” The Shoe Phenomenon”. Of course that includes a perfect conclusion to the tale as well. So deck into your thinking caps and paste your end of the tale as comment below with your name and website. The best entry will be chosen at the end of 19th December and updated into the post with due credit to the writer. Have fun!
This week’s winner of Picture Worth a Thousand Words is once again my friend Daniel Nest. Congrats!!! Read on to discover a beautiful tale that ends in the spirit of Christmas!
The boy froze, startled. I realised that in his excitement to get to the tree he had not seen me at all. He turned around slowly and his expression was that of sheer panic.
“I didn’t mean to scare you”, I smiled, hoping the boy would relax.
“You…you must not tell anybody!”, his voice was shaky and his eyes darted around nervously. I walked over to the kid and, in as soothing a voice as I could manage, said:
“Don’t worry, I won’t. I was just curious what you were doing with those shoes. I don’t care if you steal them…”, immediately I regretted saying that last part. The boy’s face stiffened and he said, indignantly:
“I did not steal them! I’ve earned them!”
“OK, I’m sorry, I say silly things sometimes. Will you tell me more about this strange hobby of yours?”, I smiled so widely that my ears felt like they were migrating to the back of my head.
“It’s…it’s not a hobby”, the boy was still defensive, but had relaxed visibly and even forced a feeble smile of his own, “it’s for my mother”.
“OK”, I said, and waited for the boy to continue.
“My mom, she’s not rich. She sells all sorts of things to try to make enough money for me and my sister. Shoes, they’re the best to sell, because people always need shoes”. The boy walked over to his bike, lifted it, and started to walk back toward the village. I walked by his side and nodded, as he continued:
“Every day after school I go to Mr. Gupta’s workshop. He’s the village shoemaker and he makes the best shoes in the world. I help him and he teaches me some tricks, so that I can become the world’s best shoemaker myself when I’m older.”, the kid looked over at me. He was glowing and I could tell that he was really proud about this. He continued:
“At the end of every week Mr. Gupta gives me a pair of shoes for all my help. He does not give me money, because I am still a child. It is wrong for a child my age to get paid for making shoes, I have read about it in a newspaper once. One company called “Nikki” even got in trouble because they paid children to make shoes.”
I was quite sure that the “paying” part wasn’t the reason Nike used to be in the media, but I didn’t want to upset the kid, so I let him go on:
“I cannot tell my mom that I help Mr. Gupta, because she doesn’t want me to work. She says it’s more important for me to study hard. She says I should just enjoy being a kid when I’m off from school. But I know she needs the money, so I want to help.”
“That is very sweet of you, but why the tree?”, I asked. The kid looked up at me and smirked:
“Well, I came up with a clever story. I told my mom that I’ve found a tree on which shoes grow. Every week I take her here and show her the new pair of shoes. When we need money I climb up and fetch a pair, so that she can sell them. This way she doesn’t have to know that I work, but she can still make enough money and not worry too much.”
“What an amazing child…”, I thought, “many adults can learn a thing or two about human decency from this little boy”. My thoughts were interrupted by a woman’s cry:
“Sanjay! There you are! I was looking all over for you”, a skinny woman was making her way toward us, shaking her finger in mock annoyance at the boy beside me.
“Mom, I was just showing this lady the way to the village”, the boy looked up at me and gave me a conspiratorial wink. I nodded and chimed in:
“Yes, I’m not from around here and I’m afraid if it wasn’t for Sanjay, I would have gotten quite lost indeed!”
The woman smiled at me and nodded. Then she looked over at Sanjay and said:
“OK dear, dinner is on the table. Why don’t you run inside and I will be right in.”
“OK mom. Did you know that the shoe tree gave another pair of shoes today? I just saw it!”
“That is wonderful, Sanjay, we are truly lucky to have found this tree!”, his mother was smiling, but I could see a hint of moisture in her eyes. Sanjay gave me an awkward wave and disappeared inside the hut. His mother turned to me and said:
“I’m sure Sanjay told you about the ‘magic tree’ he found? I know, of course, where the shoes come from. But understand, if it weren’t for his help, I don’t know how we would survive. Please, don’t judge me!”, she was looking down at her feet and couldn’t bring herself to look me in the eye.
“Not at all, I understand. Completely. But…why don’t you just tell him that you know, so that he doesn’t have to hide it from you?”, I asked.
The woman finally looked directly at me and, with tears in her eyes, said the following:
“It makes us parents so happy to have our children believe in the wonderful fairy tales we always tell them. Why shouldn’t they have the right to imagine that we believe in theirs?”. She didn’t wait for my response and turned around quickly, making her way back to their little hut.
For a long time I stood motionless in the middle of the dusty street. Then I slowly turned back and walked over to my sedan. I opened the trunk and looked at the sixty brand new boxes of shoes I had purchased from Mr. Gupta a mere hour ago. These were originally destined to make their trip back to England with me, where I would sell them in my store, at seven times the price I paid the shoemaker. Well, I guess this year I’ll have to make do with a bit less profit.
One by one I lifted the boxes out of the trunk and carried them to the “shoe tree”, where I arranged them into a neat pile. Tomorrow Sanjay and his mom would find their harvest to have more than doubled overnight.
Once the trunk was empty I sat in the driver’s seat. I started the engine and set out on my long drive back to the airport. Sure, I would be coming home empty-handed. Nevermind that, because, hopefully, I had made a family very happy. And that was worth so much more than any profit I could make selling the shoes.
“Afterall”, I thought, “everyone deserves to have their fairy tales come true for once…”
To read more pieces written by Daniel check out his blog at http://www.nest-expressed.com. Every one of them is humorous and some can even make you laugh off your seats.
So that’s it about “The Shoe Phenomenon”. And don’t forget to come back since over the next two weeks I will be posting exclusively on this season of festivities. Till then, enjoy Christmas and celebrate the season with your family. Take care!