(translated by Saokot Hossain)
The lady arrived right after the evening. Taking out of a polyethylene bag, she put a pair of shoes on the wooden box. Shushanto was mending a pair of sandals with deep attention. He was stitching one of the torn crossed shoelaces. It was about three months now that he has been sitting in this place of the market. Two others also sit here since long. He had chosen this place under an electric pole. Though the light turns thin and feeble here after sun set, but still he finds comfort here. At times, he could relax leaning back to the pole. The slight comfort he gets is very precious. There are two elections posters upper portion of the post at both sides give at least some shades for a short spell of time in the high noon. The photograph in one of the posters is a person sporting a cap on one’s head and the other showing a guy with long hairy mustache. Both of them have smiles on their faces. Shushanto, however, uses an old black umbrella, in case the sun blazes a bit harshly. He heard that the umbrella was of his grandpa’s time. Its most of the places contain patches and stitches. It was even used by his father.
Almost round the day people mingle here about. Naturally he has little time to spare, and remains engaged in either stitching or polishing shoes. Sushanto was stitching a piece of sandal leaning back on the electric pole bending his head a little. The small box made of kerosene-wood was placed at his right hand side. Inside it various kinds of shoe-polishes, creams, sheets of leather shoe-bases, coarse threads, and glues are kept in order. He can pick up the things he needed without actually turning his gaze. The soul of sandal was frayed to the point of foot being bare. He had not looked to see the features of the person who brought those for mending. By seeing the pair of shoes, he has presumed his state. Shushanto does not usually look at the faces of those who bring their shoes for mending. His job is to pay attention the shoes rather. Nevertheless, sometimes, for reasons unknown, looking at the shoes, his eyes shot up to the faces.
So, while completing the task at hand his gaze turned to the pair of shoes put down by the lady and Shushanto’s eyes shot up. Though the lady’s features are not so clearly visible in this poorly lit place, but he could see the pair of the shoes quite clearly. Wow! What a beautiful pair! These are not sandals, rather or a gorgeous pair of shoes of maroon and black. Shoes of this kind usually do not come to his way. Seeing the shoes, glimpses of happiness touched Shushanto’s heart.
‘What kind of repair do you want?’
‘The souls are frayed away a little, nothing much’ the lady showed the shoes turning them upside down.
‘But the shoes are almost brand new; only the souls are frayed slightly’.
‘Yes, these are not used much. God knows, how that was happened.’
‘Have you brought these from abroad?’… ‘It’s so clean, not a grain of dust sticks on it.’
Shushanto picked up the pair carefully and softly.
`Because I keep these properly cleaned’.
‘It is evident that you do so’, holding the shoes in his hands, Shushanto put a smile on his face.
‘How long it will take to repair?’
‘It will take over half an hour. Should I fix the bases in both of these? If it is done, you will be able to use them for long.’
‘O.K, agreed. Then I’ll be back finishing other errands in the market. Please also do the polishing. How much should I pay?’
‘It’s one hundred taka for mending the base and extra twenty for polishing’.
‘O.K. you do carry on….
Shushanto’s father Shyamal Das was also a cobbler by profession. At his age of 12, Shushanto learnt the workmanship of shoe-mending from his father. After reading up to class two, he could not continue his studies.
‘Why wasting time, when there is no way but to pursue the same profession for earning livelihood!’ his mother once said tersely.
At the end of the day’s work, his father almost always used to carry back one or two pairs of shoes to home. For reason of the owners’ mistake or perhaps because of owners’ lack of time to pick them up, some pairs of the shoes were left with his father. Whenever a pair of shoes was brought home his father and mother would check them, sometimes they even put them on as well. Once, his father had brought a pair of sandals that fitted very well to his mother’s feet. Shushanto still can recall his mother pacing around wearing those sandals until it was bedtime. His father had tried to make her refrain in a mild voice but then thought better of it. Rather, he stared at his mother’s feet as though he was admiring the feet of some goddess. That unique look of his father is still alive in Shushanto’s memory. On that day, he had promised to himself that when he would grow up, he would buy his mother a pair of sandals of that kind. Alas! He had not got that opportunity. His mother suddenly passed away only while he started earning. The pain caused for not being able to buy his mother a pair of sandals still revives in Shushnto’s core of heart.
As the lady left, Shushanto finished the repairing the sandal he had in his hands fast. Its owner did not ask for polishing, but still he put a coat of shoe-shiner on them. Finishing the task, he picked up the lady’s pair of shoes and examined them turning round. Taking out soul-sheets from the box he cut a piece in measurement of the soul of the shoe. Now drawing out the glue from the glue-pot he applied it first to the frayed soul and thereafter applying glue to the cut out soul sheet he pasted it from the head of the soul with his hands. At the same raising his gaze a little, he saw two boys chatting on some topics standing at some distance. It occurred to Shushanto that he had seen them here since pretty long. What they had been talking about for so long?
Returning to his job, Shushanto tries to let his ears to catch a bit of their conversation. Nah, he could not hear anything. How old these boys can be- 18/19? Health is not good, completely skinny, thin buttocks, no flesh at all.
Are they heroinechi (Heroin addicts)? What sort of trashes the boys of these days consume? Some of them had even tried to make an addict out of him. Once coming on the plea of repairing sandals, they built up relationship with him and took him to their den. His father got the hint on the very first day and had left the locality taking the son with him. Shushanto has never gone to such places again since then.
Fixing souls to both shoes is done with. Now he will keep them for about 10 minutes, then when the glues dry up, he will polish them. Meanwhile, a Jhal-Mureewala stopped before him, the extremely strong smell of lemon and onion made Shushanto’s mouth water at once. But his soiled hands compelled him to suppress the temptation. If asked, they can make sort of a spoon out of paper, though. Nay, he will not eat JhalMuree now; but he wishes to eat something nevertheless. It will be 10 O’clock in the night by the time he will be able to reach home. By then ‘a mole will run inside his stomach’ making him very hungry. Shushanto looks around-people are crowding all around. The two boys are no longer in the view. Coming to the vacant space a Badaamwala (Nut-hawker) hanging a basket full of nuts from shoulder stood there. At one side of the basket, a small oil lamp was kindled. He knew his name; they were acquainted in this very place. Sarafat. Sarafat smiles at him and he asked him to give nuts for taka 5/-.
Dragging the water bottle out, he drank water when the nuts of 5 taka were consumed within five minutes. Feeling somewhat satisfied having the nuts and water together Shushanto once again resumes stitching the shoes. Nope, these can wait for ten more minutes.
It would be very nice if the lady does not turn up to-day. If he gets a scope of taking these home, he would ask Shova to walk for a while putting them on. Shushanto knows very well that it would never be possible for him to buy shoes like these. The lady surely walks insolently wearing these, without giving a damn. Does she wear these with saree or with the pair of trousers! Now-a-days, the rich people have attire of various kinds for every occasion, a kind of dresses to attend offices, another for using in houses and yet another for travelling. He knows all these details from just sitting in the bazaar. His companions earning money working like him usually discuss such things. Even while repairing some kind of shoes, they at times would utter, `where does the chick go wearing this sort of sandals? Why brought them for mending rather not throwing away!’
‘I think, the pair is used at home’, remarked the other one.
‘Who knows, given to the housemaid, may be?’
‘Why, nah! No, In that case, she would not have come for repairing this herself’.
‘Perhaps, these are for shopping at the grocers’. They need things of different types. One is for going to the office; the other is for attending the wedding receptions. Another for going to the banks.’
‘We are through with a single type, what-dya say! The life is finished soiling hands with other peoples’ shoe-dust and wearing a pair of open slippers at heels, ha ha! My daughter was pestering me for buying her a pair of shoes for the school-to buy that for her, I am saving money for a month’.
‘The other day, my son was also pestering…’
Shushanto is damn sure that Shova would not be able to walk insolently wearing these. She is in fact a very soft-natured lady with a mild face. His father had indeed taste to choose her. Shova’s father used to work with his father. After seeing her, he had decided to settle his son’s wedding to Shova. Shushanto was not deceived. Shova is really a blessing for him.
However, he had bought Shova a pair of sandals during last ‘puja’ (worship) festival. Shova bought these by her own choice. She wears those on the occasions whenever they go out together somewhere. Usually she uses a pretty old pair, simply a thin pair of sandals of two laces she brought from her father’s house and still uses. The laces were replaced twice, while the lace of the pair he himself is using was replaced four times. Once a guy brought a pair of sandals for repairing but never turned up. Days gone by but the person never came back. He kept bringing those every day for about 10 to 12 days continuously; even afterwards he had waited thinking that he would come. But it is now a year that he had not came. That pair of sandals is quite large for Shushanto’s feet and as such he could never put them on. Till now these are left in a corner of the house. Once he thought that he would sell those out to Haroon, but for reasons unknown to him, he could not till to-day. The person might be no more, thinks Shushanto. Perhaps on that very day he had passed away. I should give it away to Haroon at last.
Shova, if not insolently, walks elegantly like a Queen wearing the shoes bought during puja festival. Slowly, in a leisurely posture! Previously Shova used to wear saree covering her ankles, but after buying those sandals she keeps the saree higher. This is because Sushanto himself asked her once, ‘Why do you wear your saree so low? The sandals aren’t seen.’
‘Oh, mm, is that so? The sandals aren’t seen? Wait, let me correct it exactly.’
Untying the pleats of the saree, Shova set her saree slightly upper position.
‘Okay! Now they can be seen’- Shushanto was pleased. Sitting on the bed, he asked Shova to stand a little farther. Shova takes spell of an ecstasy; put a mischievous smile on her lips. Shushanto thought that the whole world belongs to him, too.
Shushanto picks up the pair of shoes. Yes, these seem dried up. He thinks for a while about which shade of maroon would do. He puts the light maroon first and keeps it aside for five minutes; he then brings out the cream color. This will not take any other hue, but will make the color brighter like a new one. Shushanto does the cream polish with utmost care. Due to poor light, the actual brightness could not be discerned much, but from what is seen was enough to work out-nothing else to do. Inserting both hands inside the shoes, Shushanto looks for some extra light. Now Shushanto inserting his hands inside the shoes looks for better light. Seeing that a narrow beam of light coming from the hardware shop behind over his shoulders, he rises his hands in that direction. Yes, now it is visible, the shoes seem to be brand new. Shushanto studied them for some time. The glittering brightness of the shoes reflects in his amazed eyes. He started thinking that with a pair like this one he could walk straight to Feni from Dhaka on feet. His father lives there since he became aged. Despite himself Shushanto, however, cannot go there so easily, but his mind fly over so often there. For the money he could earn in Dhaka by mending shoes is more than that he could possibly make in Feni compelled him to stay in Dhaka.
Again Shushanto examines the shoes turning his hands. He feels sort of excitement, which flooded from his mind to his body. He starts for Feni putting on the shining shoes and keeps going on…. and while he was walking, suddenly a huge and hideous sound brings him back to reality from the trance; Shushanto felt ashamed for such stupidity. It was the sound of the starting load shedding. Holding the shoes to his chest, Shushanto prays that the lady does not turn up today. Surely, she should go back home without roaming around in the market in this darkness. She can take them tomorrow, what the harm there can be!
Let the pair of shoes be with him only for a night! At least if a chance is got to watch Shova wearing the shoes! It might fit, there’s no harm if does not, either. He continues praying in heart and soul. He just wants to see the shoes in Shova’s feet. That’s all; he has nothing harmful in his mind. Knowing very well that nobody will leave a costly pair of shoes by mistake he keeps the hope alive. In that moment of his fervent prayers, Shushanto saw that the lady was coming with the purse swinging in the semi-darkness. When the owner of the shoes arrived at the front, Shushanto slowly put the shoes down on the wooden box and sighed heavily.
`Oh God, why are you so miser in fulfilling so little a desire? Only a simple wish….’