it was a difficult moment, really. i’d gone shopping with my friend, actually she was shopping and i was the one tagging along to make encouraging noises, when suddenly i saw this shoe and everything fell out of place, scattered, made me ache, yearn, go nuts, and brought on a deep desire to hurl time out of its steady onward journey in one direction and make it travel the other way.
that there was just the kind of shoe i loved to wear. how coolly it sat on the glass shelf looking like it owned the place; within easy reach, both of trembling hand and non-branded (but italian and yellow) bag. i could have so easily picked it up, tried it on, said, “perfect, 5d… that’s my size. pack it up!” and left.
instead, i stood there staring, remembering, knowing all that talk of impossible is nothing and all that is mere and utter phooey. to accessorise this moment to boot (not punning, just hyperventilating and words rush into the tale), along came a slightly eerie and still smile on my lips and the mandatory glazed look in the eyes.
once, i could walk on heels like these. my knees didn’t protest. my hips didn’t fear. my ankle didn’t twist. it was a shoe almost like this one, only the toes were covered, and perhaps the heels were slightly wider, that i bought for myself in agra not long before coming to singapore, nineteen years ago. i know agra means the taj to most people. and it is indeed that, but agra is famous for its leather shoes too. a cousin of mine and i were visiting the city and she said, we had to check out the shoe shops here. here? i looked at the narrow lanes, the thick traffic of vehicles of all shapes sizes and dilapidation, plus stray dogs and willful bulls. the heat, dust, crowds, noxious fumes. but the shoes, indeed, were beautiful. great leather, lovely styles, wonderful finish. i hadn’t seen such nice shoes in a long time. instantly, bought my black leather shoe with chunky high wooden heels.
i used to wear it all the time and feel like myself. you know, the “myself ” we have a picture of in our heads. as we see and think of ourselves. i was never one for teetering tall heels, or those snazzy but too precious tiny stilettos. i didn’t like dainty shoes with a zillion delicate straps and things; not only because my feet are broad, but really because that isn’t me.
my first serious acquaintance with heels happened in the early seventies. when i was thirteen i went to london; i’d never been abroad, as it was called, before that. in that absolutely new and unfamiliar environment, some things stood out especially. blue eye shadow, kissing in public, that different swingy zesty walk in high gorgeous heels. elevators, block heels, platforms, wedges, cork heels. the girls looked so good in all of them, and that don’t care walk. i especially loved elevators. summer time sale brought down the price of a particularly pretty candy pink and white pair enough for me to convince my mother to buy it for me. i must have been fourteen then, and not exactly going to parties, but i would find any excuse i could to slip into my elevators and stomp around. if memory doesn’t exaggerate, the heels were three and a half inches high; solid, tall, straight, and you were absolutely invincible when you wore them.
i sighed and shook my head stroking the black shoe on the shelf. life has many tragedies, one of them surely is that you can’t walk in heels any more. no, i am not being facetious. live long enough, no, just live… and enough awful things will happen and you’ll have to find ways to deal with them. i am not fighting that, i am not unwilling to toe the line and let life have the pleasure of walking all over me just a bit, or even a lot.
but why this? why mess with my ability to toodle about in nice heels, i ask you.
i mean, just look at that shoe. it’s all me. yet it can never be mine. never. do you see my sadness or what.
no idea how it came about really. an insidious thing, an invidious thing; but slowly my feet started to step away from the beautiful shoes with a few inches under them. maybe it was to do with the imperceptible (at first) but steady weight gain over the years; or an injury in the knee or maybe they just couldn’t carry me any more; or maybe it’s bunions. or maybe who knows what. one thing is certain, i can’t wear heels any more.
i stood there feeling a little bit of me i can never have back again. i know, i know, i sound shallow and foolish.
i asked the salesman if he’d let me take a picture of the shoe. he gave me a strange look but readily agreed. i regaled my friend with the story of the shoe from agra and the general state of unfairness everywhere. she was patient.
a taxi driver in turkey had asked my husband once why women were crazy about bags. expensive branded bags. and how he was seriously considering divorce over this issue. of course, one must love bags… i too am dutiful in this respect. but oh the joy a nice pair of shoes brings. and that walk changed forever by deadly heels.
seems hing or asafoetida is the reason agra developed its shoe trade. during the time of the moghuls, the aromatic spice would come from iran in bags made of leather. after the asafoetida was sold, the empty bags would just pile up. these started being converted to shoes and an entire industry grew out of that. just saw that in this promo of “in their shoes,” a documentary by atul sabharwal.