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June 17, 2024

Boots for Kings

By Mehreen Ahmed

I sat here, like a loyal friend, by her floor bed. Waiting for my owner, Samira Khan, to wake up. She did in a while. I saw her frowning and looking groggy. Lying on her pillow, she reached out for a wooden box which held her medication. Last night like every other night, she’d filled up her small pitcher and placed it beside her bed. She took out a pill blister pack, pinched one out, and popped it into her mouth. She swallowed hard with some water from the pitcher. With a sigh of relief, she lay back on the pillow. She looked vaguely at a pair of pants hanging from a hook on the bedroom door—not hers. The morning was dull and dreary with deep, hanging clouds. She pushed and rolled herself out.

A vegetable vendor was shouting on the street. Just as well, I also heard his croaky voice and readied myself. Samira was going to run downstairs. He always came along with his cart at this time of the day. My owner slid her feet and rested them roughly upon my tongue. She checked her vegetable basket, and decided to buy some potatoes and green papaya from him. She craned her neck through the window and told him to pack her one kilo of potatoes and one medium sized papaya. Quickly, she picked up her purse and climbed down the stairs. On the street, the vendor had wrapped her potatoes and green papaya in an old, crumpled newspaper sheet. Samira opened her purse and gave him the money for a kilo of potato and a green papaya. The vendor took the notes with a polite smile, but said that the price had gone up because of inflation.

“Since when?” Samira asked.

I listened.

“There’s inflation, didn’t you know? It was in the news?”

“I know. High electricity bills, petrol price hike, and what have we. How much?”

The price had doubled. Samira frowned and looked into her purse. There was no money left.

“Stay here, I’ll have to go upstairs to fetch the extra some.”

“Okay. Please don’t be late. Time is money. I got a family of five to feed.”

“I know.”

Samira smiled and left, as he hung around in the dull street. She went upstairs and searched for money. She went through all her purses scrambling for coins and loose notes here and there. She gathered them in a rush, and sat down to count them. It was barely enough. She took it all and raced downstairs to the waiting vendor. She gave him all she had. Mad, she had the right amount— somehow. As she turned around, I felt a pressure pain and I caved in a little long.

“Uff,” I uttered.

Thumbing her temples, she slowly came back up the stairs. She would have to get dressed in an hour to go to work. The bus-stand, thankfully, was not far. She went straight into the kitchen, grabbed a peeler off the rack and began to peel the potatoes and the green papaya. She mixed it with turmeric, red chilies, oil and a dash of salt. Turning on the stove, she placed the pot and reduced the heat. While it cooked in the gentle flame, she went into the bathroom to take a bucket bath. Her feet released me. I felt relieved.

A few mugs of pail water down her back; after the bath, she dried herself with a towel and put on a cotton sari, combing her long black hair. She added some lipstick to her pale lips. The curried potatoes and the green papaya were cooked by now. She sat down in bare feet to have her meal in the kitchen with a couple of dry chapatties left overnight. There was no time to make tea. She washed her hands, picked up her purse, and slid her feet into me. Off she climbed down the stairs again. On the street, she hurried towards the bus-stop. But her bus had stopped and left; she was late. Her jaw fell. She called a passing rickshaw and got on it. I felt rested. Just then, she realised that she didn’t have enough money to pay him. Which meant she would have to borrow from a colleague once she reached her office? Unless, she went into her bank first. She asked the rickshaw to stop in front of the bank. She told him to wait here. The man wiped off his sweat with a soft towel around his neck and inclined against the passenger seat where she had been sitting. Samira crossed the street. I was her sturdiest, best pair of sandals she ever had, and which she had been wearing for donkey’s years. She crossed the street and entered the bank. A quarter of an hour passed; she returned. Her rickshaw was still there.

A good samaritan, at the office, she paid fare and some extra tip to the rickshaw-puller because she made him wait. The man took it happily; not everyone was fair. Most people haggled. But Samira didn’t, not even with the vendor this morning. She walked over five high steps, dipping her weight duly into me and entering the office building where she worked as a secretary. It was awfully noisy today. What was wrong? She asked a colleague. The colleague replied the company was folding. They were all out of jobs.

What? Out of job meant no pay. She saw how the other girls were behaving. Some screamed, some even fainted. Others sobbed silently. She dug her toes deeper into me. She offered them no consolation; soberly, she watched them despair. This level-headed person—my owner chose me as her sensible sandals. In all the world, I could never fail her, nor cause her to break a bone or cause her to lead an invalid life by tripping her over. Such a long journey she walked in me, while I had her back all along; I didn’t fall apart. I knew that she felt strangely secure with me— her trusted sandals.

***

Samira thought of bootstrapping as an alternative mode. Typically, the vendors were the real battlers of struggle streets; they were her real heroes. They grew and sold their own vegetables. In her view, they never made boots for the kings. Samira decided to strap her boots and invest in a start-up business. She thought of selling jewellery. She took out money from the deep pockets of the pants hanging on her door. She bought jewellery from craftsmen and decided to sell it in a shop. She needed to find a shop. Me—I took her on paths, she never thought of traveling—to walk her walks. Without wasting any time, I took her to a developer. She asked them if she could rent a shop in their newly built glamorous building. They promised her one. They said she could. On that promise, Samira went ahead to a jeweller and made a deposit of 20%. In one short month, she picked up the jewellery and had a whole load to start her business with. However, when she went back to her developers, they told her that the new shop wasn’t available for rent. This was a setback. It disappointed her. She asked, “Why not?” They told her, because unless all the other new shops were tenanted, she couldn’t have hers.

“What? What a crazy idea? You are breaking your promise.”

“Well, it’s just a promise. No legal paperwork was in place.”

Samira realised that without a shop all she had was this beautiful dream. Still, she had me. I took her back to the same developers. She asked them to help her out. They told her she could rent a kiosk, instead. Samira agreed straightaway. Although she would have preferred a shop, if she had this kiosk, she could at least sell her dream. Every morning, Samira walked to the kiosk, sat here long summer days into sunsets. It wasn’t easy at first, like everything else, nothing was really easy. But my soles had not yet disintegrated. They remained sturdy— a friend by her side, rain or sunshine. I took her places where her dream could become a reality.

Sure, the kiosk wasn’t the best option. But the market was changeable, too. And she also wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. This, her meal ticket was as real as the cart was to the vendor, and the rickshaw to the puller. Days went by, months and then a whole new year had gone. Samira sold a lot. She bought and she sold. After about a year and a half, the developer came to her and offered her the shop she had desired. She couldn’t believe this. In those same loyal sandals—me— she moved her trinket boxes to the shell of the shop which was now going to house her big dream—all done. I did my diligent miles—the dirt and the grime were now hard-pressed on my tongue, mapped out a grim, grimy destiny of strife.


Then one night, Samira came home late. She took me off and placed me in my usual place by the bed. She curled up under the blanket. I shivered and sentineled. The next morning, and by now her headaches were also gone. When she woke up, she didn’t look at me even once. Neither were those familiar male pants hanging here anymore. I realised my days were numbered. Where was I? I was right there where she put me every night. I had done my hard work, bore the brunt of it all without a hitch like a silent sole “scream” painting on a wall. I flew her out on her whimsical air; the promised shop or not, her sandals were I, worn out but undeterred. Who took a whole gamut of the idiosyncratic business world in my stride? My tracks marked a solitary, but a solid pathway— she was successful. Just as those pants were gone, I was made redundant too, without any consequence to her. I heard her suppress a giggle and mumble—“funny, this love? You have to have the looks too for me or anyone to love you so?”

Old shoes, she cast me aside like a pair of disposables. Flat on my face, I saw that she took out another expensive pair from a shoe box. She despised the idea of making boots for the kings. Really? In those new shoes, she’d be doing just that. I was morose—someone else’s pants hung on the door.








Article © Mehreen Ahmed. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-01-09
Image(s) are public domain.
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