Short Story : That guy has no boots

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The shoe shiner was working on the last pair.

“You know, I have traveled all over the country, and must have got my shoes shined with over a hundred boot shiners. You, old friend, are the best in biz”

He looked, smiled and returned to shining.

I was looking around the station. My pocket watch showed me that I have at least 20 more minutes before my train should arrive. It might be late by a few minutes but never early. I am all good.

I looked at my shoe carrier bag. Three pairs were already inside. Properly wrapped in dust free paper. As usual, I never let the shiner guy shine the guys while I am wearing them. I am simply not comfortable with it. Also, These shoes are shined and are to be kept that way for the actual work day.

It’s for storage anyway. I mean, with the ongoing planetary wars, there aren’t many reasons to go outside. No work to head to. Just sit and work from home.

“Alright, sir, it’s all done” he said, wrapping the shoe in that dust free paper, and placing it carefully into the bag, zips sealed.

“Okay, old friend, That’s 4 pairs. 30 credits. Total 120. Plus my usual tip, 40 credits. 160 credits”, I said, extending my payment index finger towards his payment tile.

He didn’t turn it on. The payment tile never came on.

“Sir, I have told you and I tell you every month. There isn’t much business these days, and i have reduced my prices. You are still paying the pre-war prices”

“Dude, it’s alright. I don’t mind.”

“No sir. Also, two of those still had the dust free paper from before. You aren’t even using them. There was no dust to shine off. It’s like I am getting money for free”

I kept quiet.

It’s true. Two shoes haven’t been worn at all. The other two, worn inside the house. This war! 18 months of blanket bans on travel, unable to leave home due to night raids. I don’t know how to explain to him. This, shoe shining, that I have been doing for 13 years, every month, is the only semblance of normalcy I have right now.

I continued to keep quiet. More seconds passed. It wasn’t the first time he has asked me this question. I have remained quiet before as well.

The payment tile lit up. I touched my index finger. A paper receipt came out.

Total Amount: 160.

  1. Labour Charges — 80 credits (includes tax)
  2. Tips — 80 credits (tax to be paid by customer)

“Alright, old friend, see you next month”

“See you sir”, he said.

I took the sky walk, after grabbing a chai on the way. The chai guy is always smiles for me. I can never tell if he is happy to me because I am a nice person. Or, the tip I add every time is more than the price of the chai.

When I was 15, he also looked 15. He was sitting in that shop, in that same chair. Now, I am 40, and he is still sitting in that exact same shop. What does it mean for either of us?

Not Everything is a puzzle to be solved. Sometimes, things simply are.

Dr. Publsh’s words came echoing. The Doc says, I am a good guy. Not a great guy, but, a good guy, all things considered. I mean, if I was really such a good guy, wife wouldn’t have left me, and took the kids with her. Ah! It’s been years. God, I have to stop thinking about her. The kids…oh, where are they? I wonder how they look now? Are they in school?

Do they even know I exist.

Platform 4 was empty. Even before the planetary wars, it was almost never full. Still, what a difference the missing two or three people can make. I took the bench close to the display board.

Train 0696969 : Expected to Arrive in 10 minutes. Expected delay: 0 minutes.

Please carry your essential travel pass with you along with your citizen ID. Thank you for your co-operation.

I thought about my shoe bag. Before the war, I would buy a new shoe, every 6 months. Now, I am using the same 4 shoes for 18 months. What a difference a large scale war can make. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, new shoes may not matter. Nobody is allowed to go outside. Air bombings can happen any minute. No crowds anywhere. No Travel. Work From Home.

Ah! The head hurts. If I could go home to see them crawling and rolling amongst toys, would it hurt less? Again, with the kids.

It’s over. You have to let it go. You messed up. Move on. You have to stop thinking about it. Think of something else, please.

Dr. Publsh’s words came echoing, again.

Right then…bench…grey bench…grey hair…I wonder how long my kids hair will be now…no…no…water tap…tape…duct tape… tall they must have grown by now…no…no…work…meeting new clients…wearing fine suits to close a deal…shoes…yeah…my four, regularly shined shoes.

I held the bag, with it’s four pair of shoes inside, at eye level. If someone saw me, they might think I am mad. Who cares? Nobody is at the platform anyway. The government only allows us to go outside once in a month.

“Ordinarily, you guys would be donated to charity, and I would have four new pair of shoes. Now, I have no money for new shoes. Unless this war ends, I doubt I will be making the money to buy new shoes for years. I suppose, I am stuck with you four pairs. Old but not used. Ageing but never worn.”

The bags did not respond. I keep thinking, the bags will respond some day. Or, the mirror. Or that portrait on the wall at home. This living alone thing is not as cool as they show in the movies.

They never respond. I raised my voice, the bag still at my eye level.

“Say something! I cannot own the same four pair of shoes for 18 months”

Silence. The bags never respond. It’s like they dont want to talk to me at all. Then, someone was coming down the steps. He must have seen me. I snapped out of my funk. He walked till the long sitting bench, adjacent to the one where I was sitting. He did not seem to mind my presence. He appeared tired.

He placed his travel bag to his side, away from my bench, lifting his legs on to the bench, and lied down. The bag fashioned into a makeshift pillow. There was a ticket in his hand.

Train 0696969 : Expected to Arrive in 1 minutes. Please check your baggagges and children.

Train 0696970 : Expected to Arrive in 50 minutes. Expected delay: 40 minutes.

Please carry your essential travel pass with you along with your citizen ID. Thank you for your co-operation.

Looks like that guy’s train is running late. If I was in his place, I would have taken a nap too. Not sure how comfortable my shoe bag would be as a pillow. His looks soft. Clothes, perhaps. Oh no! Another world reminder. Baggagges. Children. Come on. Stop Please.

How am I supposed to forget them? Every where I see, the world is constantly reminding me of children, Doc?

You have to. I am sorry, but you have to. She has made it clear that it’s over and you must move on. Shift your focus to something else.

It was then I noticed the guy’s shoes. They were on the floor, below the bench where he was sleeping. They were all worn out. It did not even resemble a shoe. It look liked a patchwork of leather. It had more repair stitches than actual shoe material.

The whooshing sound from above. I looked up. The train was making it’s quick descent. I have perhaps only a few seconds before it lands, and takes off, with or without me. I acted quickly, pulling out the top pair of shoe from the bag, with the dust free paper. I walked up to him, tapped lightly on his shoulder, and his eyes opened. Before he could react or respond, I placed the shoes next to his worn out pair, and darted towards the open train door. The door closed a second later, and it began its ascent off the platform.

I rushed to the nearest window and looked down. The guy, was now standing, with the shiny pair of shoes in his hand. He was looking in my general direction. I think he looked happy. I cannot be sure. The train rockets had come on, and it was ascending quickly and soon, we were in the skies, flying through clouds.

— — — — — — — — — — -END OF SHORT STORY — — — — — — — — — —

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