In praise of the shoes I walked into the last decade in by Latifa Akay
Like most meaningful things in life, I didn’t realise how the shoes were going to touch me when I first encountered them. I wore them most days for five years. They were an ex-display pair so one shoe was a lighter shade of gray than the other. They were my second Ebay purchase. My first was a fridge magnet that said God in Arabic for my mum.
Over the years I had the gray shoes repaired many times by a cobbler off the back of Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul. The shop had no sign and was down a small flight of stairs. I think it’s gone now. When the leather of the shoes started to part and tear, the cobbler asked why I didn’t just get new shoes. I said something about habit.
Years before, in my first job at Tesco’s café I had to wear steel toed shoes while serving beans and chips. They were ugly and mine were a size too big, but I learned then that heavy feet made me feel safe, maybe even strong.
In my early twenties my sister told me that my dad had asked my mum why I was wearing men’s shoes. Despite this, my father said it was a ‘shame’ when I couldn’t find another pair of shoes similar to the gray ones. He has complimented my shoes over the years and I, his. In ways this feels like some kind of acknowledgment, somehow enough.
I’ve now been wearing doc martens for years, along with 80% of the rest of the population. Looking back I’m not sure about the aesthetic of the gray shoes, but I know they were right for then.
Once during this time my mum said your hair looks like a young Bob Dylan. I told her some others had said the same. She laughed said, well you look beautiful. In that there was something of enough as well.
When we went to busy mosques on family holidays my dad would insist we carried our shoes inside with us in plastic bags instead of leaving them in the racks. Said, people steal shoes. I had a lot of questions about that. Who would leave someone without shoes? How do we know people aren’t stealing shoes right now? How would I prove these are my shoes?
Sometimes I find myself thinking of the man who threw his shoe at George Bush in Iraq. His name is Muntazer al-Zaidi. That was the decade before.
He said - the invasion turned our homes into funeral tents.
He said - a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.
He said – the opportunity came, and I took it.
He said - when I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing of my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country
and casting out its sons into a diaspora.
Didn’t we then walk in the shadow of that time? Didn’t everything change? Who got to walk the same after that decade? Who didn’t?
The decade before that decade I am sitting staring at my shoes in an airport in London – they have crocodiles on them, and one patch, and laces as well. My father is getting questioned – both his voice, and security’s voice are getting louder. Why is he only asking Baba questions, why did everyone else get to walk by, why is he asking the same questions over and over again? We are sitting there, my mum, me and my two sisters in a line. I keep my head down, I’m counting the crocodiles on my shoes.
Earlier this year my sister and brother-in-law were visiting London. Brother-in-law came home one day insisting we go to the corner shop to buy shoe polish. Said, everyone’s shoes are shining in this city, I need to polish mine. Didn’t say – but said, something about still always feeling like you have to prove yourself.
Like many people, I like walking when something is heavy or stirring in me. While for the most part I believe we are guided by our heads and hearts, on some of these walks I believe instinct takes over. Maybe the feet make decisions. I’m grateful to my feet, to the gray shoes for carrying me into curiosity, picking up speed / slowing down when necessary, grounding grief. For delivering me – to this point.
On that day (…) their feet will testify what they have earned (Quran 36:65)
Sometimes when I look at my mum’s shoes, I want to kiss them. I don’t need to know that the Prophet (SAW) said, ‘paradise lies at the feet of your mother,’ to know that this is true.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote, 'There are years that ask questions and years that answer.' Recent years have taught me that as much as I think I know myself, every year I learn more.
Paths are shifting, every part of me a compass.
Latifa Akay is a writer from Belfast. Her poems have appeared in The Good Journal, Popshot magazine and OOMK zine. She is the Director of Education at the charity Maslaha in London and formerly worked as a journalist in Istanbul. @LatifaAkay