She stopped in front of a vast puddle. “What do you think? Is it possible?” she asked her reflection in the murky water. “No way,” snapped back the image. “With a bunch of brothers and sisters and cousins donating their hand-me-downs every year you stand no chance.”
“Oh well! Hope springs eternal,” muttered the little girl and avenged the answer by stomping on the cruel “other.”
She hurried up to the school just around the corner. There was no one in sight. She was late again. Teachers’ voices blended from the broken windows. She entered her classroom. The teacher let her take her seat with a reproachful look that set her cheeks on fire instantly. The little girl wondered how her cheeks could burn while her feet were ice cold.
She scanned the class discreetly after she had taken her seat. All she saw was a bunch of freezing kids, a door that would not close, and windows that, like her shoes, welcomed everything in. She tried to think of something funny to lift up her spirit. Alas! Even jokes were scarce in her life. Patience was the only thing she had in abundance to help her survive till the end of the school day.
The little girl took the same path in the opposite direction toward home, lost in her thoughts. She felt very insignificant and the fact that her problem seemed irrelevant to the rest of the world increased her desperation.
* * *
At home Mom heard the little girl bark a terrible cough by the burning stove. She fixed her stare on the little shoes drying nearby, then grabbed the shoes and checked them as she had done several times before, only to confirm that in their desolate state the shoes could not stand one more nail. They were about to fall apart. Now it was Mom’s turn to worry.
“Mom, let me buy her new shoes!” Big Sister saved the day. She was volunteering to buy them from her pocket money, usually spent on stuff for her trousseau. Mom consented to Big Sister’s proposal, despite Grandma’s strong belief that it was past the time for her to get married anyway.
The little heart leapt with joy. “For real? Brand new shoes? Tomorrow?”
* * *
The next day came with a lethargic sun, as much anticipated tomorrows always do. The little girl was anxious.
“Let’s go!” The two sisters walked along the street, the big one squeezing her money, the little one squeezing her heart to keep it in place.
The shoe store struck the little girl with terror. It was unpleasantly cold. The saleswoman snailed around, making things worse. Most unfortunately, there was nothing on the metal grid shelves except for a pair of papa-sized boots and a couple of black slippers. Her little heart sank.
The saleswoman and Big Sister exchanged pleasantries. The saleswoman spoke annoyingly slowly as if chatting for the first time in a very long while. Finally the chitchat was over.
“I would like to buy a new pair of shoes for my sister,” Big Sister said, emphasizing the “new” unnecessarily. She was handling the situation so calmly you would think she was buying her daily bread.
The saleswoman stared at the little girl from head to toe and back, though all she needed to inspect were her feet. “I don’t think I have anything for her,” she said matter-of-factly, ”but let me check to be sure.” She disappeared into the unlit back. The little girl wished the saleswoman might disappear completely rather than come back empty-handed. She could take waiting a lifetime, but facing empty hands would be unbearable.
The saleswoman came back with a box. “What’s her size?” The big sister muttered the number. “A one-size-fits-all size,” translated the little heart. “This pair is one size smaller, but this is the closest I can get.” The saleswoman was obviously paying attention only to Big Sister.
The little girl took the right shoe. She almost swooned at the smell of new leather. She squeezed her foot into the shoe. “It hurts, but don’t show it,” said her little heart. She suddenly turned into Cinderella’s stepsister, ready to cut off her toes if need be. Big Sister, not easily fooled, bent down and felt the curled toes. “No, no, you can’t walk straight with these shoes.” The little girl stepped back, defiant. “You’ll have to cut my feet off to take them off me!” her eyes challenged.
The saleswoman, sensing a storm approaching, made a move to prevent the family crisis. “Why don’t you come on Monday?” she said. “A new shipment will be available then.” The girl watched the saleswoman’s face intently for a wink at Big Sister. Deadly serious, the saleswoman did not even blink. With no other option, the little girl dragged herself out of the store.
The two sisters walked silently on the street, the big one squeezing the money, the little one clenching her fists. Too bad there was no one to punch. The little heart was ice cold, yet a flickering flame of faint hope kept burning in a far corner.
“Who am I kidding?” thought the little girl. “Even if she gets new supplies, who says she will get my size? Besides, in two days there is plenty of time for my sister to change her mind or spend the money on some you-can’t-find-it–elsewhere bedspread. By Monday there is even enough time, God forbid, for some distant relative to materialize from nowhere with a pair of very old, smelly shoes, and that would be a nightmare.”
They entered their small apartment. The little girl went straight to her room and sat on her bed, painfully hearing Big Sister explain to Mom and Grandma why they had returned empty-handed. She heard the door open slowly, but she did not turn to look, knowing that no one else but Grandma could be coming in.
Grandma sat by her side with a frown. In her story-telling voice she spoke:
“Once upon a time, there lived a young man in a very far land. He walked down the streets of his little town looking at his shabby shoes, feeling very unhappy, and wondering why he couldn’t have a new pair of shoes. At that moment he passed by a beggar leaning on an oak tree, his hand stretched out asking for alms. As he looked closely he realized that the beggar had no legs. The young man grew very sad and felt ashamed of himself. ‘Shame on me! This man doesn’t have feet and I am feeling miserable because I don’t have decent shoes.’ He reproached himself and gave thanks to God for his feet.” Smiling and caressing little girl’s hair, Grandma continued, “See, my dear, do not despair. God willing, you will get what you don’t have. Meanwhile be thankful for what you already have. Contentment of the heart is the greatest of treasures.”
The little girl, having understood very swiftly the message of the story could not help but comment, “But Grandma, I want to be grateful for my feet and a pair of new shoes.” Grandma smiled at her and whispered, as if revealing a well-kept secret, “God increases the bounties when we thank him. If you are thankful for your feet, he may grant you a pair of shoes as well. Remember, contentment of the heart is the greatest treasure.” After kissing the little girl on the forehead, she left the room as quietly as she had entered it.
The little girl tried to reason, although her brain was turned upside down. “That seems like good advice. What could I be thankful for?” she asked herself. “Well, I have a wonderful grandmother for a start,” she thought with a smile.
* * *
On Monday afternoon they went back to the store. First, the saleswoman smiled at them, and then she sluggishly disappeared into the back. “Thank goodness this time I was spared the torment of pleasantries,” the little girl thought, relieved.
With a box in her hands and the air of a savior on her face the saleswoman returned. She lifted the lid and handed the right shoe to the little girl. It fit perfectly. Ta da! Boy, would Cinderella be surprised, or should I say jealous! Stepsister or no, this time she got the shoes. Her little heart was overflowing with bliss until Big Sister stepped into the middle of the majestic celebration. Now what?
“The color...,” she said. “Dark red is not a very appropriate color. Only black and brown polishes are available. They’ll soon get muddy.”
“I did my best,” the saleswoman announced in surrender. Little eyes pleaded with Big Sister, the shoebox crushed in an unyielding embrace. With the saleswoman no longer an ally, Big Sister waved the white flag.
They left the store with the new shoes inside the box. The new shoes would look wonderful under her desk tomorrow. The whole school would marvel at them. Her little heart was beating like a crazy bird in a cage. Her prayer had been answered.
Wait a minute! The girl stopped. Remembering what her grandmother had told her, she paused and whispered, “Thank you,” to the One who had given her all bounties.
“I will never forget this day,” the little girl promised.
* * *
But the little girl did forget her promise for many years until the day she witnessed a father trying hard to convince his whining little child that plain shoes are as good as the ones with Pooh Bear printed on them. She once again longed for that sincere thank-you, craving the genuine way it came out of her lips on that memorable day of her life when she got her first ever brand-new shoes.
Mirkena Ozer had her major in Turkish language and literature. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.