Shoe tree

by Eddie Joyce

Crack houses, domestic violence, redundancies and holes in the road fill the local press. Terror in Pakistan, cholera in Zimbabwe and Mexican drug lords are on my television.

And all I can think about are the shoes in the tree.

They have been there for six months hanging limply from the branches, resisting rain, wind, birds, insects, seasons and all that Mother Nature dares to throw at them. They are black, about a size six and the left shoe hangs lower, reaching out like a hand from the void, clinging onto life.

I have never met or even seen the owner of the shoes but I know everything about him. I know he is of school age and which school he goes to. I know how his school uniform which drowned him a mere six months ago now falls short from his feet and pulls up around his arms, leaving his hands hanging awkwardly by his side. I know he walks with his head hanging low, terrified of making eye contact because every one of his fears and weaknesses are clearly there for all to see. He is painfully quiet, shy and angry.

He is angry at the boys who pinned him to the ground, stole his shoes tied them together and threw them in the tree. He is angry at the girls who stood around laughing, shirts hanging over their skirts, socks pulled up over their knees crying out for adulthood to reach them soon, desperate to leave their childhoods behind as though they were merely a figment of someone else’s poor imagination. The same girls who cried out to have their childhoods given back when used relentlessly and tossed aside by some guy called Paul with a Vauxhall Corsa. He is angry with his school, his parents, his uncle, his gran, his church, me, you and himself. He never had any expectations of life, yet it still kicks him in the balls.

Every.

Single.

Day.

He doesn’t love, like or hate anyone or anything. Animals bore him. Football is passé. Books and music are a chore. All he has is his anger and fear.

I decided to call him Derek. Oh, and he wears glasses. And they are crooked.

Derek’s plight seemed to fill me with the same fear he felt. I empathised with him day and night, losing sleep with worry over what he may do. I hatched plans for revenge, to hunt down the boys and girls that did this to him and pin them down, strip them and throw them out into the street, into the traffic crying, yelling and gnashing their teeth. But revenge wasn’t what I sought. I had the notion to seek out his parents. To speak to them. To plead with them to take Derek’s life in their hands and to steer him towards something. Anything but the bleakness I considered his life. I wanted to see his uncle and gran and shout in their faces for letting him down. For letting me and you down. I wanted to find Derek walking home and tell him everything I knew about him. To let him know that someone cared. To tell him not to be another Tim Kretschmer or Eric Harris.

I waited outside the school, ignoring furtive glances from parents, teachers and children. My heart leaped when I saw a small boy with jaunty glasses and unruly hair, yet it sank as quickly when I saw his friends run up to him and a smile tear across his face. My Derek didn’t smile.

That night I went home to reflect some more when I heard a knock on my door. I swear, my very soul nearly jumped out of my body, and as I ran to answer it I knew he had come to me. To the only person who could help him. Together we would resolve all of Derek’s troubles and in some way give reason and esteem to my being. The Talmud says, ‘To save one life is as if you have saved the world’. I would save Derek’s life, and he in return would save my world.

I opened the door to a pair of detectives who had received complaints about a man seen lurking near the gates at the local comprehensive school. I agreed it was me and went to the police station to help with enquiries. After three hours they were suitably convinced that I wasn’t a child sex predator and let me go with a warning to not hang around schools. In hindsight it is good advice. I chose to walk home from the station, lost in my thoughts. Before no time had passed I came across the tree with the shoes, except the shoes had gone.

Eddie Joyce lives in Blackburn, but not for much longer. He has never lurked outside a school.

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  1. #1 by Fiona Glass on May 6, 2009 - 2:44 pm

    A powerful reminder of the bad old days at school. Thanks (I think!) for bringing back the memories.

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