A Pair of Shoes for the Heart

‘I am leaving, see you in a bit!’, I chirped loudly to my deep-in-concentration-knitted-browed husband as he was typing away fervently on his laptop.  He responded, ‘bye! Hope you find your shoe-stopper’. I chuckled, the king of puns and PJs, that’s my husband.

As the door closed behind me, I glanced at the Uber app on my phone. It showed my ride was 3 minutes away. Perfect. While waiting for the elevator, I ran a quick mental checklist- phone, house keys, wallet, etc. All good! I stepped out on the curb and it was a bright sunny day, clear albeit cold- typical Chicago Spring day. I saw the car pull up, I got in and exchanged pleasantries with the driver. I enjoy making small conversation with ride-sharing/cab drivers.

My driver was a young lady named Jessica. She asked, ‘so where are you headed to?’

My most comfortable pair of shoes had recently died an overworked death. I needed a rebound pair. ‘I am going shopping for shoes. IF there are any in my size, that fit well and look nice and feel like air to the feet!’ I said, rather animatedly. 

She laughed, ‘I know what you mean. We live in Chicago. We need snow boots, rain boots, summer shoes, winter shoes, gym shoes, work shoes.. and it never ends.’ I smiled and nodded. As we continued talking about the soon-to-be here summer in all its glory, my destination arrived. She said, ‘have a nice day and I hope you find that shoe!’ ‘Thanks!’ I replied. My rebound better be good if not better!

Mission Impossible (for someone like me, who struggles with in-between half sizes) begins. After a quick survey of the shoe section, I sighed. Wow! So many shoes, none that look right, however. Okay, let’s tackle it one pair at a time. 30 minutes- Nothing!! The impatient me could feel the slightest pang of frustration starting to creep in. Plan B, on to the next place.

The favorite, random one-time buy seemed to be a bygone. I had a vacation coming up soon, with LOTS of walking. I recalled the number of times writhing in pain, wearing uncomfortable shoes on long walks brings forth.

Here’s the paradox with women’s shoes. What fits isn’t always comfortable, what’s comfortable isn’t always pretty, what’s pretty is usually either or neither!

‘Okay, I am done’, I muttered under the breath. As I turned to leave, one of the immaculate and poised store associates approached, ‘are you finding what you are looking for?’ ‘Not really’ I replied. ‘What are you looking for?’ she asked politely.  I explained to her. 

‘Hmm’, she responded. ‘Have you checked the fourth floor? We recently launched a collab with a major sporting good brand and they have come up with something on similar lines’ she said spiritedly. ‘Oh really?’ I was pleasantly surprised. ‘Okay, thanks. I’ll go check it out now’ 

I could feel the frustration slowly being replaced with anticipation. I made my way up. I walked up to the temporary pop up display where this ‘stuff’ was. I saw two super cute clear inflatable sofa chairs propped in front of the display. I wanted to sit, coz a) it looked interesting, b) I just wanted to sit.

I sat, plonked my bag on the floor and looked around. It was a bustling Sunday afternoon. I reclined for a brief moment and started drifting off mentally: to-do list, remaining chores at home, dinner.. Dinner!!! I have to text my husband to confirm dinner plans. With a weekend-student husband, Sunday is our Saturday. (Sigh, not so exciting).

Between the phone, people milling around and chatting, and spunky displays, I heard a soft voice. ‘Honey, try these on. These shoes look comfortable’. Two things about that statement caught my attention instantly – the kindness in the voice and the words ‘comfortable shoes’. I looked up from my phone and saw a lovely lady, probably in her early 50s, calling out to a beautiful young girl. The lady was holding a pair of shoes in her hand. ‘Coming mom’ the younger one yelled and turned to walk towards her mother. Mom had short dark hair, she was dressed in a smart pair of dark blue trousers and grey sweater. Mom was wearing a fun, burgundy pair of glasses, those Vogue editor kinds. ‘Cool glasses’ I thought to myself. Daughter looked like she was in her late teens, dressed casually in leggings and an oversized cozy beige sweater. Ah, mom and daughter shopping dates are the BEST! I mentally exclaimed.

Mom came and sat on the other bouncy, squishy empty sofa chair next to me as the daughter made her way, stopping here and there to look at the array of displays. We both exchanged a smile and I got back to concluding the conversation with my husband. From the corner of my eye, I saw Mom was still holding the pair of shoes in her hand, waiting for her daughter patiently. They were black. That’s all I could see without turning my head and staring smack dead. I squinted to get a closer look. After all, mom had claimed they looked comfortable. Meanwhile, husband and I agreed on dinner plans, he volunteered to get the reservation and I volunteered to come home soon.

As I was gathering my belongings to get up and hopefully put an end to my quest for the day, the daughter came strolling. She had few more pairs of shoes in her hand. Mom got up instantly and asked her daughter to sit and try them on. ‘I am about to leave; you can sit here’ I said. Mom replied with a sweet smile, ‘oh don’t worry. The more I walk, the sooner I’ll beat her in the number of steps for the day’ she winked. LOL. I mean I actually LOL’d. Mom seemed fun! The daughter had slipped on the first pair of shoes and said they felt good. ‘Walk around and see’ mom said lovingly. I was about to leave, but I did not. With all the belongings in my lap, I still did not get up and leave. I felt glued, I wanted to stay. I was so warmed by the mother-daughter interaction.

‘They’re okay. Let me try the other pairs.’ And she did, one by one. The last pair she tried were the ones her mother had been holding on to. ‘Wow! They are amazing! I am getting these. Gee mom, thanks! How did you find them? You just always know!’ she exclaimed delightfully as she planted a peck on her mother’s cheek. Mom looked happy and content. And I sat there, silent. So entangled in my thoughts, I forgot, I should not look intrusive or rude. I mumbled a ‘have a nice day’ and left.

I had an unexplained moment. One where nothing makes sense and everything makes sense, all at once. I did not want to look at any shoes. Not right now. It wasn’t about the shoes. It was about the mother

Flashes started coming to my mind.  Words echoed and a kind, beautiful face floated in front of my eyes. ‘do they fit well?’ ‘are they comfortable?’ ‘can you walk?’ ‘your feet won’t hurt right?’ ‘you have to wear them for hours, make sure you will be fine’. That was my mother telling me, on the umpteen shopping trips together. Floodgates opened and a surge of memories gushed. The care, the love, the compassion, the worry, the comfort, the unconditional selfless giving that only a mother can give is unparalleled. I started remembering the shopping trips with my mother, from smallest of the things like mundane school uniforms to the most exciting of the things like my wedding trousseau and everything in between. And the one thing I recalled most distinctly was, my mother asking me ‘are you comfortable in it? And do you like it?’. Always in the same order. Comfort first, for she was a mother.

I could feel a sting in my eyes, recalling the fun moments, talking, laughing and joking with my mom. Giggling and sharing silly jokes. I walked out of the store feeling bitter-sweet.

Bitter- I cannot do it often with my mom now, we live too many miles apart. Sweet – I got to do it for long enough to have memories of a lifetime.

I hailed a cab and gave my address. I did not feel like making a small conversation with the driver. As we were whizzing by the buildings, I could see the speed at which life was passing by. Seeing the mother and daughter together earlier, made me realize how moments like these are the strongest reminders of what life is really about. I did not find the shoes, but I found a moment of clarity and beauty in a busy, crazy life.

I reached home, and walked in the front the door.  ‘You’re home early! So found your shoes?’ husband asked cheerfully. ‘Yes, I did. A pair of shoes for the heart’ I smiled.

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