Sat alone on the sea wall, the early spring sunshine glancing off the water forced her gaze down. At first she absently stared into the water below, but then she came to focus on her shoes.
How she had loved these shoes. She had taken such care over them, cleaning them daily, and keeping them in their box. They were the first gift he had bought for her. Just a small token, but so much more. Wearing them, and with his support, she had taken her first small steps into adulthood; in reality, instead of just in her dreams. She had made a giant leap when she left her home, but it was not until his steady hand had guided her down that she landed on firm ground. The shoes came with promises to help fulfill her dreams.
He suggested that she should get a job, to steady herself, instead of just floating around. He steered her towards his friend, who gave her a job. ‘A sensible job to go with your sensible shoes. And maybe you could use the money to buy more shoes.’ She hadn’t wanted more though, she wanted to see where these could take her.
With the job she quickly grew: confident, happy, and grounded. She could see how proud he was of her when he introduced her to his friends, helping her to stand up in the world. She still held onto his hand, but now it was just for balance - with these shoes on she was sure each forward step was in the right direction.
She could see her shoes, unblemished and radiant, as they had been, sparkling like the crystal water below.
She told him that she had been accepted by a school, and she wanted to go and study to start on the path to her dream.
Had she really considered the implications? The school was too far to commute to everyday. She would have to get a job to support herself in another town. Having a job would mean working weekends, she wouldn’t be able to visit often. It was difficult to combine work and study, and she wouldn’t have time to do the school work. ‘I’m not sure your shoes would survive such a hard climb. They would quickly fall apart, maybe it would be best if you respected them and keep doing something sensible like you are now.’
Having let go of his hand and taken a few steps alone she saw that the way she was going looked more treacherous, and even just at the beginning she felt unstable. She stepped back and took his hand again. Now, though, she didn’t lift her feet so high, the shoes became scuffed, and she began to clean them less often.
She got a promotion, and with it some new shoes.
‘Where did these come from?’
She explained they had been a gift, ‘apparently I deserve have some clean, new shoes in my new position.’
He questioned whether such a gift was appropriate, and why his friend thought he could pass comment on her other shoes. ‘Maybe you should take better care of your old shoes, don’t forget they helped you get the job. Besides, are you sure these ones will suit you?Everyone comments on how good your old ones make you look.’
Her shoes now took on a different look, dirty and opaque, in contrast with the clear water beneath. They weighed heavily on her feet. If she jumped she would sink.
She turned her head towards where she had heard his voice. He was walking towards her; his arm around the shoulders of another girl. Jumping down and standing directly in their path, she made sure he would see her.
It wasn’t until he was a few paces away that he noticed her and stopped. She was focused on him, but said nothing.
He gathered his composure, ‘why are you here?’
She couldn’t suppress a shocked exclamation, and refused to answer, ‘but you told me you were too busy for a walk.’ He tried to answer, but she cut him off, ‘I don’t care. Who is she?’
He had had the sense to remove his arm, but could not think of a satisfactory answer. ‘Look, you have your favourite shoes on, do they not still mean the same to you? I’ve never bought her anything.’
She looked now, for the first time, at the girl. She had put some distance between herself and him, embarrassed by being in the middle of this, and was looking at the floor. Her hard stare travelled down the girl’s body, lightly draped in an old summer dress, hanging loosely from her shoulders, and held against her body by the arms folded across her chest, but billowing slightly around her legs. Legs that were floating on the same breeze that caught the dress, so light they were. And the feet, bare and hardly touching the ground.
She caught her breath as she looked again at her shoes and saw how her legs had changed. They looked sturdy, solid. They had become familiar with walking firmly on the ground, when once they had been used to chasing after dreams. Dreams that she had nearly forgotten, having let go of them along the path when she couldn’t balance being pulled up by them with being held down by her shoes.
She looked up now, and into the girl’s eyes, behind which danced her dreams. She stepped forwards and held onto the girl’s upper arms. The girl flinched, but calmed as she saw the hard look had been replaced by one of longing and reflection. She looked deep into the girls eyes, the dreams danced with an intensity that came from hearing promises that they will be fulfilled. She had seen the same look reflected in the shop window, as he came out holding the shoe box. A box that comfortably held the shoes, but could barely contain everything he had promised her.
Smiling, she let go and stepped back. ‘Thank you. For reminding me that I still have dreams.’ Turning to him, ‘And thank you. It wasn’t what you promised me, but you have taught me what I needed to learn.’
With that she stepped out of the shoes; stretched her toes, now free again. She picked up the shoes and left them on the wall where she had been sat, turned, and with her feet firmly on the ground, strode up and away.