Ultramarine Canvas Shoes
#AtoZChallenge – Flash fiction based on life’s philosophy or mood or emotions, interpreted using colours.
The dreaded, Sister Helen at our convent always checked our uniforms after the assembly when we were supposed to march down to our classes. She expected the uniform to be washed, starched and completely white, along with the canvas shoes on Wednesday and Saturday (yes, we had half-days of school). She wanted the shoes also to be of the same white color as the uniform’s. While the uniform was maintained by my mother, the responsibility of keeping the shoes shining white or shall I say blue-white lay with us children. It was an arduous task for us younger siblings, since in those days if the shoes were not torn or damaged, they used to get passed on to the younger kids.
So on one bright day before the school, there I was—third in my generation—examining the pair of canvas shoes worn by my sister then my brother. By the looks of the shoe, it seemed it was never washed or mice had played hide and seek around it during the summer vacations in the store room. I groaned for leaving the chore for the last moment, and silently scolded myself for not listening to my mother who had been repeatedly reminding us to check and clean for the past one week.
Then began the process of me sitting at the hand-pump in a corner of the open verandah and brushing furiously at the two year old white-turned-yellow-pock-marked shoes using Nirma washing powder.
After an hour of arm-aching horizontal motion and groaning, the shoes looked cleaned, but no amount of washing powder or brushing could remove the mice-what-not stains. Sister Helen’s disapproving frown etched in my memory made me go at them again. I didn’t want to stand outside the classroom on my first day of senior school.
‘When it is slightly dry use chalk on them,’ my sister advised. I glared at her who was she to advise, being the eldest she always got new ones.
‘No, chalk is brittle and dusts off too soon. Best is moist khadiya (white indian chalk) dipped in the neel (ultramarine laundry blue),’ added my wretched brother. I listened to him since I considered him the experienced one in shoe-washing.
And lo behold the shoes were matt-white with streaks of blue and spots of brown peeking from the white-blue khadiya mix, the canvas cloth no longer visible. And I put them on a newspaper for drying and went off to sleep with a heavy heart. I dreamt Sister Helen ordering me to stand in the corner while all the children proceeded to the classroom wearing brand new canvas shoes and sniggering at me, throwing disgusted looks down their pert noses.
I woke up to find it was drizzling, then remembered the shoes. I ran out of my bed and my worse dream came true. The chalk had run-off due to the rains, leaving the blues streaks more prominent and shoes soaking wet. It seemed I had not mixed the ultramarine powder and chalk well! My mother tried to help asking me to wear black ones and that she would write a note for the school, but I couldn’t dare go without the canvas shoes.
I was in the seventh position in the line to the classroom and the checking started. My heart sunk to my stomach, I dare not look down. The first one went ahead past sticking her hands out to show the trimmed nails as well. The second one got reprimanded for not getting the knot in the tie right. She couldn’t find fault with the third kid. I couldn’t help and peeked down at my now blue and yellow zebra striped shoes and felt the world tilt on its axis. The kid ahead of me moved in front of her and I was ready to sink to the ground. I took a reluctant step forward…
“Sister Helen…” the Principal called, “May I have a moment, please.”
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