By Shakira Sison
I’ve seen them often enough on sidewalks, subway platforms and park
benches, or even hanging from trees. I’ve always wondered what their
stories were since I first noticed them when I moved to the city. A
shoe, even by its lonesome, would not remain ignored for very long in
less developed places. Someone would have taken it, recycled its sole,
its uppers or its laces, given it to a one-legged relative, used it
for his kicking foot for a street soccer game, or kept it as a memento
of a serendipitous day. But I guess not here.
What does it say about a society when a decent pair of shoes sits
discarded on a sidewalk? It must mean that people have their own good
shoes and cannot be bothered to pick up a possibly disgusting pair for
themselves or someone they know. Feet are gross, and there should be
no reason to want to touch anything that belongs to another person’s
feet. Besides, there aren’t a lot of sensible reasons someone would
lose their footwear.
A friend once theorized that orphan shoes must come from accidents,
where people are hit by cars so violently that pieces of their
clothing are flung away from the scene. Maybe people who have heart
attacks have their shoes removed by medics during emergency care and
are never retrieved. These are all possible scenarios but I think it’s
seldom that dramatic.
My favorite theory would be where the shoe, commonly a sneaker, falls
out of a bag so quietly that its owner won’t discover its loss until
she goes half shoeless at spin class that evening. Other possibilities
include kids’ shoes falling off their feet while they are rolled away
in strollers or carried into trains. On the juicier end, a shoe could
fly from a person’s foot in the direction of someone’s face during a
fight, and if this happens inside a moving vehicle then retrieval
would definitely be the least of their priorities.
Whatever their origins, all of them have a story to tell. There’s
that pair of men’s shoes that is scattered among good clothes outside
an apartment building. They seem to walk towards you to say he didn’t
really cheat but it was about time to move on anyway. There’s the
Sunday morning pair of heels in the train that was abandoned in favor
of an attempt at drunken balance, the sight of which makes you
slightly worried for the owner’s safety (and her poor feet!) Then
there is the strange subway platform pair of Air Jordans that leave as
big a question as the cleanly dressed shoeless guy on the train with
immaculately white socks. And what about homeless people? For the most
part they are wearing shoes. Do they walk around the city continuously
looking for better homes for their tired feet, trying to find the best
fit for every season the way hermit crabs search for their shells?
Abandoned shoes make me want to trace their sources and live in the
proverbial Other Man’s Shoes. I want to see how exactly one loses
something so integral to her movement from one place to another. I
want to witness how the shoe falls or is misplaced, or simply left for
something better, or for nothing.
I also want to sit long enough on a bench to find out who will
eventually grab them, because I see them everywhere but very rarely in
the trash. They must end up with someone somehow, even if they pass
through many hands (or feet), or take a short break at Goodwill before
being picked up by the next traveler. At the end of it all I’m
inclined to believe that the new owner carries the other person’s
origins with him to his future destinations, the soles becoming a
canvas of many lives.