About two years ago, I bought a pair of shoes. I was at an Old Navy somewhere in New Jersey, where they had a two-pairs-for-a-dollar deal on flip flops. I got one black pair and one white. Naturally, I wore through the black ones within two months of buying them. The white ones, however, lay in my “town shoes” drawer along with my various Converse, while I wandered about the villages of Karamoja in sturdy leather slippers.
The flip flops did get some good memories in, though. All the times I’d spent sauntering up and down Mbale streets, laughing and talking with my sisters. Our many walks through the mall, all dressed up in our Kampala best. Not to mention the countless hikes they spent tied to my shoulder while I was ankle-deep in mud – Sipi, Namorupus, and Fort Portal. There are still melted welts all across the instep and heel from a time when they got too close to a campfire on a hiking trip. The soles are riddled with pockmarks from various thorns I picked up. For a while, I made it my personal goal to keep them white and scrubbed them clean after every adventure.
I arrived in India, where my shoes were no longer called slippers or flip flops, but instead, chappals. They got a nasty burn on the left heel my first week here from when I stepped on the smoldering remains of a Diwali cracker in Indore. Another time I had to take them off and leave them by the steps of the Taj Mahal among the many loafers and leather sandals of the other tourists, where I knew they wouldn’t get stolen. When I was at the Children’s Home, they sustained further injury from the many games of tag and badminton we played in the gravel courtyard. I carried them for kilometers down the sands of Goa, relishing the fact that I didn’t have to wear shoes. One time they got washed away by the tide, and I had to run through the waves to bring them back. I wore them to a couple markets in Delhi, and around the town I’m living in as well.
I’ve long since given up trying to keep them white, so they’ve now assumed a kind of patchy light brown color. Now I wear them every day – to work, around the house, out shopping, and so on. The soles are now paper thin, so that I can feel every contour of whatever road I am walking on. Sometimes it’s like wearing no shoes at all.
I really like those shoes. They’ve been pretty much everywhere I’ve been. They’re no longer my “town” shoes, because they aren’t exactly smart anymore. – they’ve become serious jua kali. Instead of on pikis, I now wear them in autos. Instead of with a tshirt and plaid shorts, I wear them with my salwar khameez and dupata.
And the stories just keep piling up.