Blue Shoes

February 2024

for Madeleine Anel

“Mum, I doh have shoes.”

Celeste looked at her granddaughter standing in the doorway of the small wooden house. The child was fully dressed for school but had no shoes on her feet. Celeste looked down at her own bare feet, toes spread out on the carpet that had been there for so long it had become part of the wooden floor.

As she gazed at her feet, she recalled her perpetual antipathy toward shoes. She was eighty years old now, and shoes were never important to her. She came out of her dying mother with ready fists and splayed toes. Her mother gave birth while working in the fields. There were no doctors for kilometers, and the men and women with whom she worked were unable to stop the tsunami of blood that rushed out of her to inseminate the earth. It was her uncle who took her home after she kicked and scratched her way out of her mother’s womb and absconded with her life. Her uncle took her and raised her as his own. No one knew who her father was, and nobody really cared. She was Miss Liza’s child, so she would always be looked after.

Celeste did not remember if she wore shoes as an infant, but it was earth she recalled beneath her first steps. She felt the richness of the naked ground, the jagged edges of rocks, the gentle caresses of freshly cut lawn and the persistent pricks of vengeful weeds, broken twigs, and thirsty patches of grass. Her feet grew accustomed to the earth. Nothing surprised them—not even the shards of glass that some drunkards would leave behind as proof of intoxication. Her feet hardened and were wrought by the earth.

She grew up with a strong back and a fighting spirit and never saw shoes as essential. She walked thirty kilometers to tie and feed her uncle’s animals. She wielded her cutlass to clear out plots of land and climbed ladders to deflower and bag bananas. She worked all day and climbed coconut trees when the desire to quench her thirst arose. When she was hungry, she picked Mango Julie and other fruits and devoured them. She grew up strong in her loveliness and was admired by both men and women.

When she went out to La Woz festivals with her cousins, she tied her head with bright colored cloths and often wore dresses that matched. She never considered shoes. Not even to attend the small Catholic church that was just up the street. She was raised with young people like herself who wore the best attire for church. They scrubbed their skins in the nearby river and rubbed their bodies down with coconut oil. Their bare feet often shone as they ambled to church.

She was an ardent churchgoer. Sundays were the days to lay down her cutlass. Friday nights and sometimes Saturday evenings were for enjoyment. Impromptu fetes would begin in the community and people who had labored all week, would dance around in the street to the music of La Woz and La Magwit. She was part of the La Woz festival group and sometimes, she would argue, good naturedly, with her cousins who had joined the La Magwit team.

When George, an industrious young man in the neighborhood who owned many acres of land, saw the gracefulness in the manner Celeste handled a sickle and danced in the street, he could not help falling in love. On many occasions, she too observed him, wielding a pickaxe, a spade, a sickle, and many other tools. She could not help but admire the strength of his back and his urge to labor on. So when he asked for her hand in marriage, she could not decline.

On his land, he built her a wooden house that weathered storms, hurricanes, and death. And he provided her with enough land to plough, plant, and yield whatever she desired. On their wedding day, they stood before the priest and family members, barefoot and in their best attire. After the wedding, they moved into their two-room wooden house and had ten children over the course of eight years.

Celeste ensured that though she was not a wearer of shoes, her children were. She worked hard. As did her husband. And they made sure that each child was not only clothed but was properly shod. Her children never felt the warmth of silky-smooth earth or its rough spots. She, as a parent, thought that she had to shield them from what she was told was misfortune and poverty. She bought them house, church, school and out shoes. But Celeste never considered purchasing them for herself. She was too used to the warm earth, the blazing streets, and the feel of slippery mud on a rainy day. She felt the earth in every beat of her heart. It was the earth that made her formidable; it used her feet as conduits to empower her. But her children had been spoiled. And she often wondered whether those shoes had somehow weakened their resolve. Her children were not as keen to pick up a tool and help plant manioc, dasheen, yam, or sweet potatoes. They were not interested in selling the beef the cows yielded so painfully or even deflowering and bagging bananas.

They had been spoiled, and as they grew up, they insisted that she too had to conform and wear shoes. It was not proper to have their mother walking about with bare feet. They were ashamed to walk past her in town selling fruits and vegetables with her feet planted on the hot pitch, toes apart. They urged her to change her ways and she tried.

She bought a pair of slippers and some sneakers. But they were both imprisoning her. She would wear her slippers to the farm, and as she walked she felt the discomfort of being separated from the ground. The slippers slowed her down and made her paranoid about falling. This was when she decided to leave home with shoes to please her children, but as soon as she was out of sight, she took them off and held on to them as she hastened her footsteps. She would set them down somewhere safe and begin to labor.

Celeste did not like shoes but had come to realize that they were a necessity for the current generation. Or at least they saw them as necessary. Those who were unable to wear shoes were supposed to feel shame. And those who could not afford a good pair of shoes should experience a similar feeling. She hated how important shoes had become for her children, and now her grandchildren.

She stared at her granddaughter’s feet and wondered about her. Janice was the daughter of her last child. And like Celeste’s own mother, her daughter had died in childbirth. It was Celeste’s job to steer the child away from shame and pain while offering her knowledge that she had somehow omitted from her own children’s education. She had been correcting her mistakes while raising Janice. Celeste allowed her to run freely with bare feet in the yard. She placed shoes on the child’s feet only when they were leaving the neighborhood. So Janice wore shoes to church, to school, and to town. Her feet were not as hard as Celeste’s, but the earth had done some work in her.

Janice enjoyed walking to the farm and helping with deflowering bananas and untying goats and the other animals so they could drink from the river, and she even had her own piece of ground where she had planted her own avocado, golden apple, grapefruit, and breadnut trees. She had the soil coursing through her veins and her fingertips bore life. Though Celeste’s children criticized the way she looked after her granddaughter, she ignored them. She sent the child to school, bought her books and shoes. She was gaining education at school, but she was doing some learning on the farm as well.

Though none of her children were inclined to work the land, Celeste knew the importance of doing so. She wanted to pass this legacy to at least one member of her family. She was old after all and knew that if she were to die now, her children would allow the land and everything on it to waste away. Neither she nor her husband would allow this to happen. They were training the intelligent and enthusiastic Janice. They were teaching her that though education was essential, the earth was what would sustain her, would keep her grounded and good. Janice was not obligated to go to market or even make money off the many acres—she could become a doctor if she liked—but it was the planting, reaping, and sharing of fruits, provisions, and even land that would perpetuate a generosity, a selflessness that her own children lacked. And Celeste was sure that Janice, at ten years of age, had already learned this.

“Mum, my school shoe unstick!”

Celeste was instantly ripped from the grips of her thoughts as she realized that her granddaughter was still standing before her, feet bare. She looked at the child’s cleanly washed face. “Bring it for me. Lemme see duh shoe.” Janice disappeared for a moment and returned with her school shoes. They were unsalvageable. The entire sole of the left shoe had come off, and tiny strings of hardened glue barely attached the right shoe’s sole. “Lawd, Jan, you couldn’t tell me your shoes was like dat on Friday?”

“I din rememba dat.”

“Chile, what’s on your mind? I was Vieux Fort on Saturday selling, I cudda buy a shoe for you. (Chupse) You will have to put on your church shoe.”

“My church shoe?”

Celeste knew from the child’s tone that it would be humiliating for Janice to go to school with her church shoes. In this community, people had begun to stratify and focus on the differences in shoes. Here, it would be a source of great embarrassment to wear church shoes with a school uniform. And the fact of the matter was that the shoes would obviously stand out because they were bright blue.

According to the school’s regulations, girls had to wear beige shirts, brown overalls or skirts, brown socks, and black shoes. For a child to go to school with blue church shoes would be, to say the least, distressing. But Celeste had no choice in the matter.

“Jan, you have tes’ today. If you doh go to school, you will fail.”

“But Mum, I cannot go school wif my church shoes. People will laugh at me.”

“Is one day, ich mwen. I will go town an’ look for shoes for you.” Janice wore her blue church shoes to school, and Celeste went to town to get her a new pair of school shoes.

As she rummaged through a plethora of styles of school shoes, Celeste shook her head. She was walking around the store wearing a pair of very uncomfortable sneakers. The shoes were restrictive. They were pressing her wide-open toes together, and she had a great desire to wrench them off. But she knew that this shoe-wearing society would not support the random removal of one’s shoes in a store. Perhaps in some other situation but not this one. She kept them on and bought her granddaughter a pair of black shoes.

After purchasing the shoes, Celeste went off to market and sold most of the fruits and ground provisions she had brought with her. As she packed up to leave, she almost forgot the sneakers she had parked in the back of her small shed. No one at the market judged her when she removed her shoes. Some of the others often did the same, especially when the temperature was unbearably hot. These men and women were about Celeste’s age. They were strong and lean and knew what it was to walk for kilometers as the earth shaped the flesh and bones in their feet to fit its image. They had grown strong and lived many years as a result. There was no judgement here.

When Celeste returned home, she found her granddaughter huddled on the floor with her grandfather sitting next to her. Janice’s face was tear stained and she was sniffling profusely. “What happen?” George stood up, his body lean and strong, and his eighty-five years barely showing on his youthful face. He silently guided his wife out of the house, and as they both sat on the root of a nearby Mango Long tree, Celeste asked again, “What happen?”

“Jan say she go to school with her church shoes today?”

“Yes. Her shoes unstick since Friday, and dis morning she tell me dat.”

“Ohhh . . .”

“She had tes’ today, so I sen’ her with duh blue shoes. What happen?”

“She say she write her tes’ well.”

“Das good.”

“She say during lunch, she was playin’ in the school yard and she fall down.”

“What? So das why she looking so?”

“When she fall, her shoes fly oup in de air, and everybody start laffin’.”

“Ah ah podjab.”

“She say duh chilren make song about it—Janice tombé tuxedo-y volé.”


“She say she doh want to go back to school.”

Celeste rose from the root and went indoors. She sat down next to her granddaughter on the floor. And as she sat, she stared at both their bare feet plastered onto the wood. Though Janice’s feet were small, they mirrored Celeste’s. Her heart broke for the child. This little incident would stay with Janice, she knew. She would forever remember that one day she did not have school shoes and she, like many others Celeste knew, would attempt to compensate for that single moment of lack. She patted the child.

“Where de blue church shoes?”

“I frow dem.”

É, é. Why uh?”

“Because duh chilren was playin’ game with them.”


“Dey was playin’ catch with duh side of shoe dat fly.”


“So when I finally get it back, I jus’ drop dem in duh dustbin.”

“An’ you walk duh whole way home widdout shoes?”


Malica S. Willie is a Saint Lucian lecturer, researcher, and writer currently working at University of Glasgow, Scotland. In 2018, Opal Palmer Adisa granted her the Orlando Palmer Prose Fiction award for her work in Interviewing the Caribbean. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the Caribbean Writer, Lolwe, MOKO Magazine, the Journal of West Indian Literature, and Poui, among other publications.

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