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The Man With No Shoes MAG
Shoes can tell you a lot about a person. Winston was a firm believer in this, being someone who looked at many shoes himself. Although he had grown up hearing that eyes were “the windows to the soul,” he was always quite perplexed by this expression. Eyes were simply holes in one’s head that allowed them to see. Winston couldn’t find anything remotely revealing about them, just a sense of awkwardness when he had been caught staring into someone else’s for too long. On the other hand, staring at someone’s shoes rarely ever became a socially uncomfortable interaction. Most people barely noticed a small man in the corner intently watching their feet, and Winston liked it that way.
High school queen, skateboarder, bored businessman, frazzled housewife, Winston was able to fit most people into basic categories such as these simply by the brand, color, and condition of whatever was on their feet. Not to toot his own horn, but Winston felt that he had figured just about everybody out. At this point, the world couldn’t surprise him anymore, he believed that he had seen it all.
Winston was seated in his regular spot, a bench in the back corner of the Alewife train station, watching the usuals pass by. A pack of polished, black loafers shuffled past after dismounting from the 7 o’clock train, a solitary pair of Louboutins clacked against the dusty floor tiles, two pairs of scruffy Converse shifted as they waited on the platform. Winston mentally documented all of this, noting that a pair of knee-length boots were missing among the group, as well as several Nike sneakers. He sighed, a bit bored with the predictability of the station, the way the same people always stood on the same platform and waited for the same train to whisk them away at the same time every day. This order was ordinarily calming to him, almost therapeutic, but today he felt antsy.
That’s when he noticed something different. Two bare feet walked past, making an unfamiliar slapping sound as they made contact with the floor. Strange. Winston looked closer, studying the leathery skin and the overgrown toenails with intense interest. In all his years sitting at the train station, he had seen many strange feet, but at least those people had enough sense to cover them in flimsy flip-flops or sandals. This stranger before him did not seem to abide by any of the socially constructed rules, sticking his bare feet out for all to see. Their nakedness unnerved Winston. He wondered what kind of a man couldn’t afford to buy himself shoes? A dangerous man, perhaps. A man who was of questionable intelligence. An unpredictable, rash man with a temper. Certainly not the kind of man Winston wanted to be anywhere near.
He shifted over on the bench and curled in on himself, turning his eyes downward and his shoulders in toward his body to deter any possible social interactions. The man, however, took the space made free by Winston’s shrinking.
“Sorry, it has been a rough day,” the shoeless person offered apologetically, placing a plastic bag down in the small remaining stretch of bench separating them. “A really rough day.” He seemed to be speaking to no one in
particular. “I had to sell my shoes, had to sell ’em away, can you believe that?” He scuffed his bare feet against the station’s dingy floor tiles.
“It’s my little girl’s birthday. She’s seven. I can barely believe it.” He shook his head. “Said all she wanted this year was a birthday cake. A real one, with sprinkles and frosting and her name spelled out nice and pretty on the top. So that’s what I went and got her.”
He gestured to the bag. Winston peeked through the clear cellophane case to see the pastry. It was a small, white circle, rimmed with confetti-like sprinkles with the name “Amelia” written in fancy cursive frosting. “It sure is pretty, ain’t it?” the man said, noticing Winston’s interest. “I just had to get it for her. But I had to sell my shoes for it … it was worth it, of course.” He seemed to mull this over for a while. “Still, that’s not a decision that any parent should have to make, it just isn’t.”
There was a crack in his voice like he was about to cry and Winston did something he rarely ever did; he looked up and met the stranger’s eyes. They were kind eyes, sad, sweet and beautiful eyes, sharply contrasting his bare and dirty feet. Winston stared at them, not allowing himself to pull away.
While staring at the man, a sense of shame washed over Winston. He was ashamed that he had judged the man, ashamed that he had assumed this stranger was a bad person simply for his lack of footwear, when in fact this man beside him was a more generous person than Winston had ever been. Slowly, Winston reached down and slid off his dirty, white sneakers one at a time, exposing his socked feet to the harsh chill of the station. He picked up the shoes and handed them to the stranger beside him. F