Shoes Only

The sound of a hollering train some miles away woke me. We had spent the night in an abandoned parking lot. I rolled over, groaning, my wet skin stuck to the vinyl seat. My eyes felt as if they were glued together from melted mascara left on the night before. I looked out the window and saw Dallas in the distance. I had traveled many miles from home. I checked the girls in the front seat to see if they were still sleeping. My stomach rumbled with hunger. It was time to search for food. Money was scarce. Miribel stirred in the driver’s seat. Cyndie woke and turned away from the glaring sun. “What time is it?” she asked with a yawn. “I don’t know. Early. We should look for some food.” I replied wearily. “Maybe we could search for a soup kitchen like we talked about yesterday. Didn’t you say you thought you saw a church downtown that serves breakfast?” she asked. “I saw a church with a bunch of people out front, and they didn’t look like holy rollers. I am pretty sure they were there to get food. We should check it out,” I replied, pulling an old tank top over my head. I opened up the car door and stepped out onto the hot pavement. I looked down at my feet. I had lost my boots a few states back and had been walking around the city barefoot. No sign of ringworm but my soles were black and hardened. There were blisters forming along the sides of my feet. I was going to have to find myself some shoes, but we needed to find something to eat first.

We woke Maribel out of her drunken slumber and rolled on out of the edge of town towards a hope that downtown would promise us some food. The old church was easy to find due the long line of vagabonds wrapped around the corner and down the street. We parked our car and added ourselves to the end of the line. The morning heat persecuted the people in line as they waited, sweating in their tattered street garb. The line moved slowly like a trickling stream as an old black lady in front of me tinkered with her wrist watch. “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have the time?” Cyndie asked the lady as she tried to shield the sun from her eyes with her arm. “Mmm. Hmmm. My watch ain’t working all that well but I think it’s about eight o clock. They be getting ready to serve in a little while,”she exclaimed giving me the once over. “Do we have to wait in this line? It is too hot and I feel like I am going to throw up,” Maribel groaned as she sat down on the dirty sidewalk. Pigeons cooed from the rooftop above. “What other line is there? We need to eat. We have at least three more days before we reach California. We aren’t going to make it on an empty stomach,” I shot back. “Or an empty gas tank.” Cyndie offered.

The minutes felt like hours as the line of beggars fanned themselves with newspapers and other belongings. There was a creaking sound as the large doors on the side of the church opened up. We walked slowly and entered a gigantic room that was warm, and faintly lit by rays streaming in through the small windows. We made our way to the front of the line and I noticed there was an old lady in an apron paying particular attention to my feet. I looked away from her and grabbed a paper plate. The scent of fried eggs and hash coming from the kitchen made my mouth water. I waited patiently as an old man scooped generous amounts of food onto my plate. I searched for a coffee carafe, and when I didn’t find one I began to make my way to a large table. I was stopped by the woman in the apron. She had old pointy glasses like the grandmother I never met wore in old photographs. I paused as her words came out like hot sauce. “Where do you think you are going with those feet of yours? We do not allow bare feet in this church,” the old lady said, staring. I looked down at my feet. I shifted uncomfortably and tried to say something but my throat felt like sandpaper. “Do you want a pair of shoes?” she thundered. People turned away from their meals to look over at me. I wasn’t all that interesting but it made for good morning drama. “Uhhh, yeah.”I muttered. “Was that a yes?” she paused. I nodded reluctantly.”Alright then,” she said, hands on her hips. Her white apron had nary a stain on it. “Come with me and we will see about getting you some shoes.” She grabbed my plate and set it down on a nearby counter top and with whisked me away before I could say anything. The old lady took me to another wing of the church, far away from tables and people. I looked around and was taken in by how spacious the rooms were. White washed walls echoed with the sounds of clanking pots and pans from the kitchen. We moved to another room and the sounds drifted away. There before me was a the largest room in the church. It was lined with pews, an unfortunate reminder of my childhood. As my attention tuned back to the present moment, I was ushered over to a pile of cardboard boxes which were filled with clothes. “Let’s see here….” She rummaged through a few boxes and pulled out a giant pair of men’s sneakers. She held them up and squinted. “Come here and try these on.” She waved me over. I was now beyond the point of embarrassment, so the fact that I didn’t have any socks eluded me. I sat down on a pew and put one old blue sneaker on my right foot. I let out a sigh. “Put the other one on,” she commanded. I put the other sneaker on and stood up. I took a step and they almost fell off. I looked over at the other boxes and assumed  there must be more shoes to choose from but beggars can’t be choosers. I was not about to ask for another pair. I looked at the lady with a half-smile. “Thank you,” I said glumly. She put her hands on her hips again and studied me. “See how lucky you are.” She threw one hand up.” There are plenty of people in this world who would love to have those shoes. You can’t be walking around without any shoes on your feet. This isn’t Africa, young lady.You might catch a disease and lord knows what else.” “I know. I appreciate you helping me,” I said as I turned to make my way back towards the kitchen. I felt dizzy and hot. “Go get yourself some breakfast and say a prayer.” I stopped and turned my head around. She shook her head and added,”I am sure your mother would be very upset if she saw you in this state.” I bit my lip and stood there for a moment, as if pondering a deep philosophical question. “Hmmm,” was all I said as I made my way back the cafeteria. I found my friends at a large table and sat down. I reached for my fork and paused, looking down at my shoes. I smiled and took a sip of coffee.

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