Everybody’s shoes are black and mine are yellow. The footprints left in the snow as we exit the train are the same, transferring dirt from inside out. The first step through the door tarnishes the fresh flump of ice. The first step has the privilege of messing things up. The first step makes a filthy mistake and the rest of us can follow without the weight of responsibility, piling dirt on dirt until all that’s left is a slippery sludge. Unrecognisable snow. Can’t get that clean again. Then we run away.
One of us has a secret. She feels scared. With her yellow shoes surrounded by black. No one is looking at their feet so no one notices the difference because they don’t have to. But I am always looking around, checking up, down, behind and far ahead to make sure my yellow shoes aren’t noticed. I could bury them in the muddy snow, so all that is seen are the tips of the black laces. I could pretend to have black shoes like the rest of the train carriage.
If I buried my feet, we might seem the same but I couldn’t move. I’d be stuck still, pretending, sacrificing everything to keep my yellow shoes a secret from the world. A static target, easier to strike.
Why wear yellow shoes if you want to hide them? someone asked me. Why not wear black like everybody else?
They didn’t realise that I shower in my shoes. I sleep in them and work in them and, when I go out with my friends, I wear them under my heels. Without them, I have no feet.
“The first step makes a filthy mistake and the rest of us can follow without the weight of responsibility, piling dirt on dirt until all that’s left is a slippery sludge.”
I wasn’t brought up to hide. As a child, I knew what it was to be the only one wearing yellow shoes and I liked it. Kids would ask me questions about them and I could answer as an expert. Be proud, my mother said, and pass the pride on to your children. It’s important for us always to be proud of ourselves and kind and generous. Show them who you are and do it with humour.
I think I am proud. And I think I may be kind and generous and know how to laugh at myself. But I don’t show the pride so much anymore. Children will ask their questions with innocence and interest and will listen to the answer. But all those other people on the train . . . they know in their hearts what they want the answer to be and they don’t want to ask. They assume and comment and make the jokes that I’m supposed to laugh at to show I have a good sense of humour. Humour is why we’re alive, she told me. Humour and pride.
Humour and pride.
Humour and pride.
And the ability to hide.
The train comes to a standstill in between stations. All are silent. A man points at my shoes and all are silent. He says: Why do you think you are better than me? All are silent. He says: Are you too clever to answer me? All are silent. He says: What are you hiding in those shoes? All are silent.
What are you hiding? Do you think you’re better than me? Why are you ignoring me? You’re no better than me.
The train moves along into the station and people shuffle their identical shoes awkwardly towards the door. The first person steps out into the fresh snow and makes the first mucky print. Everyone follows quickly, relieved that someone made the first move away, and they don’t have to feel the guilt of the growing distance between us.
They leave me alone with You think you’re better than me.
I love my yellow shoes but sometimes I pray that no one notices my feet.