Boots that walked her home

From the sidewalks of Paris to the muddy treks to the nearest store in Zimbabwe, these brown boots still put a spring in her step.

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They're not blue suede shoes, but nobody steps on my brown knee-high boots.

I bought them nearly nine years ago one evening after work in a cut-price store in Montmartre, Paris.

The boots were perched on a pile of black shoe boxes in the corner. They had zips up the insides, rounded toes, and sturdy square heels.

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I looked at those boots and I thought I heard them whisper: "Walk tall, walk tall, look the world in the eye."

"Je les prends," I said. I'll take them.

It was a season of split-second decisions. Four months earlier, I stumbled off a plane into an office in Zimbabwe's crisis-wracked capital, Harare. In my bleary sleep-deprived state, I was just able to register a handsome, honest face behind the first desk past the door. A very handsome face...

"Where shall we live?" he asked me hopefully three months later. We'd just got engaged.

My husband's heart sings at the call of a purple-crested lourie bird in the African dawn. He can trace the shape of every kopje (hill) between Harare and Mozambique.

"Zimbabwe, of course," I said.

I flew back to Paris to pack for my leap into the great unknown.

Into my suitcase I stuffed a wedding dress complete with train, two china plates, a photo frame with daisies on it, and my brown boots. Fresh from tame French sidewalks, they had barely a scratch on them.

They got scuffed very quickly in Zimbabwe. In the first few months of marriage as petrol shortages began to bite, I learned to bang the red mud off them after walks to the nearest store to buy eggs and milk.

I shook them upside down each morning before I put them on: My mother-in-law warned me a scorpion or a baboon spider might be lurking inside. Those boots kept me walking the winter I was expecting our son. I combed Harare flea-markets for secondhand Babygros and a carry-cot.

In them, I trudged through a torrential rainstorm the day that Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader who is now prime minister in a coalition government, was cleared of treason in 2004.

Like many other housewives, I wore down my heels pounding pot-holed pavements in 2007, searching for foodstuffs to buy after President Robert Mugabe's controversial price slash emptied the shops.

Though the zippers have been replaced countless times, those boots still put a spring in my step. Most of my Paris finery is gone, absorbed into the townships near my house. I'm amply repaid by the relationships nurtured by those gifts: The women who rattle at my gate simply to say hello and ask how my family is faring as they pass on their way to collect firewood.

But I'm not parting with my brown boots. They're the shoes I grew up in.

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