Have you ever noticed a single shoe lying in the gutter? Just one. An incomplete pair. Lost in every sense of the word.
Does it ever give you cause to wonder – who did that odd shoe belong to? How did they lose it? How did they walk away without realising they had left it there?
Once you start looking it’s surprising how often you can spot these solitary, misplaced shoes.
More often than not they are the miniature shoes of children. In these cases, the logic of how they came to be abandoned is more simple.
A bored, frustrated, or possibly just mischievous, toddler tugged it off and flung it out of their buggy while their frazzled mother was trying to negotiate busy traffic, or find their child drink, or placate a tantrum, or pick up the other shoe which was scattered in the opposite direction, and it went unnoticed.
Sometimes a kindly soul picks these shoes up and puts them on a bench, or on top of a litter bin. Somewhere closer to eye level in a bid to help the frantic parent who may retrace their footsteps to find the mislaid footwear.
But usually they remain unclaimed. And you pass by that single shoe on a low wall beside the park day after day after day.
What happens to the other shoe? The one that wasn’t lost but is now rendered useless?
One summer’s afternoon a mother returns home to the realisation that her child has lost their shoe.
She had actually noticed when they were yanked off and hurled onto the pavement. She had scrabbled around to scoop them up and stuff them under her already-loaded-pushchair, full of groceries, and ran for the bus. She plodded up the hill to home, hoping the toddler would fall asleep but resigned to the fact they would not.
When they reach the front door and the much wished for nap has not come to fruition, she stoically begins to unpack the buggy, but finds only one shoe.
She curses, and her mind reels quickly back through time to all places it could have jolted out. The pavement, a shop, the bus. She steps out onto the road and peers down the street, willing herself to see a flash of red on the ground, but knowing deep down it did not fall so close to home.
She rifles pointlessly through the bottom of the buggy once more in vain.
Her toddler says, “Mummy sad”, and hugs her legs. She replies, “I am sad because we lost your jelly shoe. But it’s just a shoe. I’ll get over it.” She smiles and her toddler smiles back, “Mummy happy.”
But the mother can’t move on. That remaining odd shoe, lying in the corner by the door, niggles away at her. It means so much more to her than a lost rubber sandal. It may not be an expensive First Steps shoe and it was soon to be outgrown, but it has been left without purpose.
It reminds her of all the other things she has lost since becoming a mother.
The buggy toy dropped here, the board book fallen there. The new coat left behind in a baby changing loo.
Her time to herself. Her job. Her sense of identity. Her ambition. Her direction.
Then the next morning the child’s father sends a photo on his way to work. He has found the lost shoe on a bench at the bottom of the hill.
Knowing the pair are complete again gives the mother a flooding sense of relief, reassurance. It brings her peace. She can move on.
Her daughter will keep walking in those shoes. And she will keep walking on her path through life as well.
No longer lost in the gutter, but climbing towards the stars.