I don’t know when it started. I might have been seven. That’s not true, I know exactly when it started. It started when my cousin came to play in her beautiful patent Mary-Janes.
‘How do you lose just one shoe? Isn’t it with the other one?’ my mother had said, exasperated, as she turned the house upside-down when it came time for my cousin to leave.
I had waited till my cousin had gone, pitiful and shoeless, and the adults had drifted on to the next dilemma before I had extracted my treasure, buried in my bed, tucked anonymously under the fitted sheet.
That’s where it started. At first, it was just about opportunity. A rogue sneaker. A baby’s shoe dropped on the pavement. But as I got older, something changed. I became more interested in the wearer. I began targeting my acquisitions.
A cherry red stiletto was almost my undoing. It had taken some time and maximum effort to attain and I couldn’t quite bear to put it away just yet. It was sitting on the coffee table when my mother dropped by my flat unexpectedly.
‘You know these shoes will ruin your back,’ she said as she picked it up and turned it over. ‘This isn’t your size.’ She frowned at me.
‘A friend left it,’ I said as I breathed out. I didn't leave any of my collection out after that.
Call it mother’s instinct or happenstance or serendipity – whatever it was – I found my mother in my flat again a week later. She had cleaned out my wardrobe. There, on my living room floor, was my entire life’s work, laid out in leather and canvas.
‘I just want to know why,’ said my mother. ‘Why shoes?’
‘You don’t understand,’ I said. I looked at my mother’s feet. She was wearing lilac pumps. She had looked for a year for shoes in that colour. This was the end of it, I knew. Or maybe it was another beginning. ‘It’s not the shoes.’ I looked back up at her. ‘It’s the souls.’