Short Stories

The Shoeshine Man and I

“Hey you!” An angelic voice called. “Come.”

It was a little after midday; grey clouds were rushing in towards the semi-dry land from the horizon, and little droplets of rain raced to cover the concrete pavement, turn it into puddles, and draw a rainbow above the waters. The waves were roaring fiercely, every now and then vomiting on the scarce passersby by surprise. It was a vision I had grown accustomed to throughout the years and enjoyed.

A cold wind blew as I turned around to look at the direction where the voice came from. And in those few seconds my mind attempted to visualize the voice, but my efforts were all in vain. It surpassed all my abilities – I was mentally crippled. Then I saw her, sitting in her tiny French-made car, waving her tiny hand to me, signaling to me where my steps should take me next. I walked towards her. And as I walked, I saw what seemed to be a smile coming from behind the wet windows of her car; a smile that was able to quickly warm the coldness that had become my companion. Weird emotions took over me and made my being shiver, but my steps remained firm.

As I approached, the door on the passenger side of the car opened, and the image behind the voice came to life. Wavy dark hair fell perfectly across her face gently brushing across her cheeks. Her black eyes met with mine, and – for a moment – I felt that the world had stopped rotating; like it had frozen in that fraction of a second in time, preserving it from becoming a memory. I had never seen such a beautiful being.

“Are you on duty?” Her voice brought me back to my senses.

“Yes.” Came my reply, my voice shaking.

“Great! I need to polish these please,” she said as she pointed at the black knee-length boots she was wearing. The smile never left her face.

“Sure.” I placed my tiny chair facing her and situated my tool box between us. She tried to adjust her position on the passenger seat but it proved difficult.

“I think it would be better if you take them off and give them to me,” I suggested. “After all, it is raining. You’d better stay inside.”

She nodded and softly unzipped her right shoe then handed it to me. I saw that her face was turning red with embarrassment, so I smiled at her to reassure her that it was something I was used to as I took the boots and began brushing them.

“This is the first time I do this,” she explained. “They got all wet and I have somewhere to be in a bit.”

My voice betrayed me, and I could not reply. So I nodded in agreement. I was still replaying the moment our eyes met in the back of my mind, my senses going wild.

“Have you been doing this a long time?” It was a typical question I got from all the people whose shoes I had shined.

“Yes,” I said without looking at her. “My father used to be a shoeshine man, and my grandfather before him.”

“And how did you end up doing this?”

“Well,” I started as my hands still worked on her boots. “My dad used to take me with him ever since I was young. He used to tell me that this is one job one can never be bored of. You get to meet new people every day; people from different backgrounds, different colors, different places, and that would enrich your experience. And I was fascinated with the work he did and the people we met along the way.

We always walked down this strip; my father was in love with the sea, and it rubbed off on me. We came here every day. We would start very early in the morning. And when I asked him, my father would tell me that there were people out there who needed us. As a child, that was enough for me as I all I wanted was to be with him, watch him as he worked. He was an amazing man. When he held me, I could feel the roughness of his hands and smell the color of dye. And it made me proud of him and want to be like him when I grew up. He was a proud man; proud of his work and did it with all the love he held inside.”

I paused and looked at her. She was still smiling; her eyes looking at me but not really seeing me. I gave her back her right boot and waited till she put it on, unzip the left one and give it to me.

“What happened next?” She curiously asked, indicating that she had been listening.

“I am only child. My father fell ill – pneumonia – and could no longer go to work,” I replied. “So I decided to take over and continue in his footsteps. He had taken good care of me, and I could not let him down. Throughout the years, I had learned all the things he knew and was able to go on with his legacy. And just as he did, I started coming here very early in the morning – every day. Unlike him, though, I used to start my day with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and watch the sun rise from behind these mountains there. I learned a lot about people from their shoes.”

“Really?” She exclaimed.

“Sure,” I said as I handed her back her left shoe. “A person’s shoes and the way a person walks, which leaves marks on the shoe, tell a lot about their character.”

“So,” she said, as she put her shoe on. “I gather that you like what you do.”

I nodded. “It’s a part of me now, my history. It somehow defines who I am and tells the story of my roots.”

She grabbed her purse and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and handed it to me. I reached into my pocked and pulled out the wrinkled bills I had. But as I pulled out my hand to give her back the change, she gently pushed it away smiling.

“But this is too much!” I exclaimed.

“No, it’s not.” She said, as she got out of the passenger seat and walked towards the driver’s side of the car. “Consider it my way of saying thank you.” She looked straight into my eyes, smiled as though she could see right through me, then got into the car and drove off.

The rain had stopped. I stood there, motionless, wondering if I would ever see her on this road again. My heart was pounding inside my chest and I was out of breath. I had never felt this way before, and was not sure what it was. But I knew well that those eyes will go with me wherever life may take me.

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