The Flat Grey Rothy’s pair was the newest in the closet. He was a stranger in the truest sense, never broken into, and still smelt fresh, like just out of the box. He knew that she had had her eyes on him since Thanksgiving. Every now and then, she would visit the website he was displayed on. She would hover over him with her mouse, add him to her cart, save and delete. Save and delete. Save and delete. For four months now. He remembered her internal conflict, the guilt she felt when she tried to convince herself that she deserved a pair of shoes that cost $120. The day she got her bonus, she didn’t hesitate. There was no hovering. The purchase had been made. He had been bought. He found himself being shipped to her home. He was excited.
His only physical memory of her was from the day he had arrived at her home. He had gotten a glimpse of her face when she excitedly opened the UPS box and tried him on her feet. He fit, perfectly. So off he went, onto the shoe rack. Where he waited to be worn, appreciated and fulfil his life’s purpose. Where he waited to be touched so he could belong.
He was the baby amongst all of them. In his vicinity, there were Ms. Pink Heels, Mrs. Beige Wedges, Mr. Everybody has a Black pair, Ms. Grey Boots, Mr. Brown Ankle Booties, Sir Striped Canvas, Ms. Pink Floral Sneakers, Beige Sandals Sr. and Jr., Mr. Mandatory Flipflops, Ms. Blue Slip-ons, and Old Warm Fuzzies. He could swear that there were at least another six pairs hanging on the closet door, and a couple of pairs in another hanging shelf. They may have been the irregulars, and therefore didn’t share space with him on the shoe rack, or they may be the regulars. He had no clue. He barely knew her. This was eight weeks ago. He hadn’t seen her since. Nobody in the shoe closet had.
The past few weeks had been interesting. The atmosphere in the closet oscillated between fear and hope. There was a lot of banter, to which he had very little to contribute to. He often found himself to be a mute spectator as he lapped up all the information he got about her. It warmed his heart to hear stories about her and he was in awe of how much his fellow-shoes loved her.
She is disciplined. She takes good care of us. She never wears us boots and sneakers without clean socks. She understands love, so she never keeps a pair apart. She is organized. We take turns to live on the shoe rack vs. hang on the wall vs. sit in the hanging shelf, it depends on the season. She is reasonable and fair that way. When you’re living on the rack, you always get arranged by her based on your color and heel size, so you look pretty on display. She reads instructions, carefully. She washes the ones she’s allowed to. Some of us get to hang out with the sun on her patio while we air dry. And oh! She has great taste. She never fixes us up with a wrong outfit. We are always given the opportunity to compliment her clothes. She has the tiniest of adult feet and they are always pedicured. She is considerate and mindful when she slips on of us on after her sweaty Hot Yoga class and let’s us breathe some fresh air right after. She never shares us with anybody else, so we never have the fear of misuse or abuse. She makes us workout and often takes the stairs instead of the elevator, it helps us stay active and fit. Visitors she values get to share the closet space with us, and the rest of them stay out. He had heard.
“So what do you think happened to her?” the Flat Grey Rothy’s asked curiously, “Why hasn’t this door been opened for eight weeks now. I want to be worn in the outside world. Isn’t she supposed to go to work? Where is she? Why haven’t we seen her?”
Many a thing had been considered. “Maybe she is sick,” Beige Sandals Sr. said. “She can’t be sick for eight weeks,” Ms. Pink Floral Sneakers said. “Or perhaps she went to visit her family in India,” Beige Sandals Jr. hopefully offered. “No, if she did, she would have definitely packed me with her luggage,” Mr. Mandatory Flipflops asserted. That was a fair point. Everybody nodded in agreement.
“Do you think she lost her job?” Ms. Pink Heels worriedly said, “I go with her to work at least twice a week. Maybe it is her job?”
“Maybe she got kidnapped?” Mr. Brown Ankle Booties said, “She watches all these murder mysteries, you know, maybe she is stuck in someone’s basement screaming for help. How can we call the cops? Think.”
“Or worse, what if she died? What if she left us forever and there is no more purpose for us in life!” Mrs. Beige Wedges exclaimed. She was always the worried one.
Everyone gasped in anger and then immediately, despair. The anger didn’t last for more than a few seconds, because this thought had crossed all their minds, but nobody had dared to say it out loud.
“Oh no! Please don’t say that she could have died,” squeaked Beige Sandals Jr.
“Is there anything else that makes more sense? She never skips stepping out for a day, even during the weekends. Why would she not peek into the closet and wear us for eight weeks. Is there a better explanation?” Mrs. Beige Wedges continued.
Even as the reality in their situation hit them, they decided to helplessly yet hopefully turn to God in prayer.
Ms. Pink Heels began, please, God, let her not be dead. I promise to stop gloating about how I match with almost every outfit of hers.
I promise to adequately cover the no show socks when she pairs me with them, Mrs. Beige Wedges said.
I promise to stop mocking at all of you and will drop the act of being the most popular color in the shoe world, Mr. Everybody has a Black Pair said.
I promise to stop bragging about how many compliments I receive when she wears me and how popular I am amongst her friends, Ms. Grey Boots said.
I promise to be modest about the fact that I’m an all-rounder, and can be worn during any season, Mr. Brown Ankle Booties said.
I promise to show humility every time she tells people that I am her most favorite and comfortable pair in the closet, Sir Striped Canvas added.
I promise that every time she tucks my laces inside, in front of her toes to make a style statement, I will not cause any inconvenience, Ms. Pink Floral Sneakers continued.
I promise to be more co-operative and not throw tantrums when she takes the stairs instead of the elevator, Beige Sandals Sr. and Jr. said in unison, they were both 3-inch heels.
I promise to stop complaining about the breathless 24-hour travel time every time she takes me to India, Mr. Mandatory Flipflops said.
I promise to her less feet sweat when she puts me on, Ms. Blue Slip-ons said.
I promise to not hold a grudge against her because she hasn’t worn me in a year, Old Warm Fuzzies said.
Me too, Me too, Me too. Won’t hold a grudge. Please, God, let her be alive, echoed the Polka Dot Peep-toes, two Puma sneakers, and the Coral Green Ballet Flats from the hanging shelf. They hadn’t been outside in a year as well.
Finally, the Flat Grey Rothy’s squeaked. I promise to be comfortable and not give her a bite when she wears me on my first day outside.
You also must promise that you will never flaunt the fact that you’re the only washable, sustainable pair made from recycled plastic in the closet, everybody screamed in unison to the Rothy’s.
Alright! I promise, he said.
And so, they waited with bated breath for God to listen to and answer their prayers.
It was the ninth week. The door to the shoe closet opened. She stood there staring at them. They started back with a clear mixture of disbelief, bewilderment and a deep sense of relief. SHE WAS ALIVE. Her hair was in a tight bun. She wore her ‘stay-at-home’ glasses. And wait! What was up with her eyebrows. They looked like they had not been threaded for weeks. She was wearing her black, fuzzy sweater, the cozy, oversized one, with Mr. Faded Jeans. Everyone in the closet knew that this was one of her newer pair of jeans. As they let the huge wave of consolation, celebration, and joy of their prayers being answered wash over them, they knew one of them was going to get picked. The faded jeans; they always went with Mr. Mandatory Flipflops, Ms. Blue Slip-ons or one of the sneakers. It didn’t matter which one got picked. All that mattered now was that she wasn’t dead like they had feared.
She took a few extra seconds and scanned through all of them. It was almost as if she had missed them too. Very strangely, she picked Old Warm Fuzzies. By this point, Ms. Blue Slip-ons almost yelled, “I’d look better with Mr. Faded Jeans,” but restrained herself.
Bye and come back soon. Tell us what has been happening for the past nine weeks. You are our hope now. Everyone cried in sync to Old Warm Fuzzies.
Nine hours later, it was almost close to midnight, the shoe closet door opened again. They saw her worn out-self put Old Warm Fuzzies back on the shoe rack, shut the door and turn off the light.
All the pairs turned to him. “Tell us, tell us, tell us,” they screamed. “What is happening. Is she alright?”
“Calm down, I’ll tell you about everything I learnt.” And Old Warm Fuzzies began while everyone listened with rapt attention.
“She went to help her friend move to a new apartment this afternoon. The same old, you know, pack and unpack stuff. But the strangest thing was that she didn’t hug her friend as soon as they met.”
“What?! Are you serious!?” Ms. Pink Heels shrieked. “That is so unlike her. She is a hugger. Oh my god! Do you think she’s possessed? Maybe somebody’s spirit has taken over her body. That explains all of this, right? Her not coming to visit us every day?”
“Shhh… wait,” Old Warm Fuzzies said, “and listen. Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. There is a virus, called Coronavirus, and no, it is not named after the beer. The virus is extremely contagious and causes flu like symptoms but can cause far worse respiratory problems, and even death. It apparently started in China and then spread widely across the globe. The WHO has declared that this extremely dangerous virus is a global pandemic and basically most countries are on a complete lockdown; meaning offices, restaurants, shops, malls, pretty much all public places are closed since this virus can spread through respiratory droplets, when someone coughs or sneezes or speaks with you. People have been asked to maintain a six. ft distance from one another, not shake hands, wear masks in public places, not gather in groups, and so on.”
“Ah ok! That’s why she didn’t hug her friend,” Ms. Pink Heels heaved a sigh of relief. “What about her office. Is that why she isn’t going to work. Is that why she doesn’t wear me twice a week?” As soon as she uttered the words, she realized it sounded selfish on her part, and bit her tongue.
“Yes,” Old Warm Fuzzies said, and rolled his eyes. “I was able to get more information from Mr. Faded Jeans. Her office building is closed but everyone is working from home. He said that they have been up to date with the news because she still visits them every day. Of course, clearly, one needs clothes more than they need shoes,” he added uncomfortably.
“But what about food? Groceries? She had to have stepped out at some point?” Mr. Brown Ankle Booties inquired. “How did she not visit us then?”
“Great question!” Old Warm Fuzzies said. “You remember Mr. Light Grey Loafers?”
Mr. Brown Ankle Booties sighed, “Yes, he was one of her favorites. But we haven’t seen him in at least six months. We all assumed that he got lost when she took him to Boston.”
“So, he isn’t lost. Mr. Faded Jeans says that she usually pairs him with Mr. Light Grey Loafers during her grocery trips. He’s sitting in the trunk of her car and she walks directly to the car, puts him on, buys groceries and comes back home. There may be some fear about catching infection from outside. So apparently, she’s been wearing the same oversized, black fuzzy sweater, Mr. Faded Jeans, and Mr. Light Grey Loafers, and she puts the clothes in the washer right after her trips.”
“Which is why she never visited us. Makes sense,” Ms. Grey Boots said, “Why do you think she picked you today instead of picking the pair from her trunk?”
“Well, my best guess is that it was going to be a long day and it was chilly too. So, she may have wanted to wear something warm and comfortable while she’s up on her feet all day.” Old Warm Fuzzies said without hiding his sense of pride.
“How is she doing otherwise, handling this whole world-shutdown situation. She isn’t used to working from home and her overgrown eyebrows have gotten me really worried about her,” Sir Striped Canvas asked. He always was the one with the matured and balanced mindset.
“Yes, we miss her. How is she doing, really?” They asked in chorus.
“Based on what I gathered from Mr. Faded Jeans, she is giving the situation her best. You know how accepting she is of both, her strengths and vulnerabilities, how she respects her bravery and adaptability but also embraces her weaknesses and moments of despair. Sometimes, she works in her PJs all day, and on others, she dresses up. She takes a walk around the pond every evening while listening to music, and of course takes Mr. Light Grey Loafers with her. She has a newfound love for hair care. She hasn’t put make up on in weeks, and Mr. Faded Jeans was telling me that everyone in the wardrobe was discussing about how beautiful she looks without it. And I had to agree, because she looked her rawest and prettiest when I spent the day with her today. The people in her wardrobe definitely have the added advantage of seeing her every day and being more up to date with the news. She also spends more time talking to her friends on videocalls, is cooking regularly, eating healthier, but she does say that she misses her family a lot, and can’t wait to book the first flight home to visit them once the lockdown is lifted.”
“Yay! I can’t wait to be packed, go on a 24-hour flight journey and visit family.” Mr. Mandatory Flipflops chirped.
Everyone laughed. A sense of solace filled them. They hadn’t lost her. She hadn’t shooed them away. They were still hers. They just had to wait it out. Better times are coming, they reminded themselves!
That night, the Flat Grey Rothy’s didn’t feel new, didn’t feel like a stranger, and didn’t feel like a baby anymore.
He felt like he belonged even though he hadn’t been touched.