The alarm sounded, and instantly Tantie Aurelia’s work-worn body jerked into action, though not quite mimicking the alacrity of her long-awake mind. She slipped her feet into the pair of cheap, black, threadbare, house shoes she had picked up at Payless close on seven years ago.
“One of these days I’ll throw them awaym” Marcus had threatened.
“These still good, boy,” she protested, leaning on her left foot to ease the strain on her swollen right knee. Some day, she thought, I’ll still get that pair of red stilettos I’ve always wanted. The time never seemed right. Red stilettos reminded her of pride-of-place, a sense of comfort, belonging, and rootedness she did not yet feel –- not in this foreign land.
Tantie Aurelia prepared his breakfast then stood watching him negotiate the long driveway and speed down the narrow lane, music blaring, tires screeching. As she turned, she noticed something sticking out under the half-closed flap of the large cardboard Goodwill box in the garage. She shuffled over to inspect a hardly-used pair of black Reeboks. His feet had been growing longer as he got taller. For years she had been saving every pair he outgrew to take home, but so far she had not been able to do so. Muttering her disgust, she retrieved them, hitting the soles together to dust them off. She looked around. She was running out of hiding places.
Shoes had always fascinated her. She loved to visit DSW, if only to feast her eyes. She was the cook at Liz’s Roti House on Covington Highway and did some catering on the side when her health permitted. She made sure Marcus wanted for nothing or felt different from the other kids his age. Even now that he used his pizza delivery earnings to buy his own clothes, shoes, gas, and for pocket change, she still struggled with the other bills, and could buy little for herself.
Aurelia hated to throw things out, especially shoes. Somebody back at home would be glad for them. She wondered if this was the “maid- mentality” the African Americans talked about with such scorn when referring to West Indian immigrants. She didn’t care; her heart lay with those poor relatives at home.
“You know how many of your cousins back home walking ‘bout barefoot?”
“But they have small feet. Some of these are twelve and thirteen? And besides, how they goin’ wear boots? It ain’t got no winter there.”
In his Papa John’s uniform -- green polo shirt, khakis and cap, Marcus, tall, thin and tattooed, shook his head and flashed the grin he knew never failed to melt her heart. It wasn’t that long ago when she, too, was considered good-looking, but now worries furrowed her brow and she felt much older than her forty-six years.
“Aunty, these shoes too heavy to travel with. They’re going to Goodwill. Where the box at?”
“Boy, you ain’t learn yet not to put a preposition at the end of a sentence? You too American now? I sure your mother turning over in her grave. Don’t worry ‘bout how I goin’ take them back; I goin’ find a way! And is Tantie, not Aunty.”
The shoes continued to pile up. If only she could save the money for two airline tickets. But then she knew she would also have to have enough to spend lavishly when they got there. West Indian immigrants had kept alive the myth of basking in the lap of luxury in America for so long, she wouldn’t want to shatter it now.
Then the idea hit. Where was that Caribbean Shipping Service business card she had picked up at Liz’s? Hadn’t she put it in a safe place? She found it wedged between the pages of her Jerusalem Bible. With trembling fingers, Aurelia dialed the number and asked the woman with the Guyanese accent for information.
When she hung up, she went to check the Folger’s tin where she kept her savings. She had exactly $1096. If she spent the $180 standard shipping charge, she’d have to replace it before the end of the month when she had to pay $1000 deposit to hold Marcus’ place at Morehouse College before his scholarship kicked in. Aurelia turned over the figures in her mind and decided it was possible. She was about to realize her dream. The shoes were going home, although not with her.
It was after eleven that night when she heard Marcus pull up in her car. She was relieved. She couldn’t sleep when he was out there at nights; delivering pizza was dangerous work. “Aunty, you can’t hide me from God,” he had said, but it didn’t stop her from worrying. His footsteps paused outside her door,
“Aunty, you awake? I could come in for a sec?” His six foot one, eighteen-year-old frame filled the doorway. “Just reminding you -- the Morehouse deposit is due tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? But I thought you said August thirty-first?”
“No, Aunty. August first. Classes start in two weeks.”
Once again, Aurelia watched her dream disappear like soap bubbles. Strangely this time she felt neither sadness nor disappointment. He was her first priority, she understood that more clearly than ever now, and right here in this America helping him realize his dream was where she belonged.
Next morning she was up early, humming to herself as she fixed breakfast. On their way back from Morehouse College, they stopped at Goodwill to drop off the box. Marcus grinned broadly as Tantie Aurelia laughingly waved away the tax receipt they offered her.
“One more stop,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow, put his I-Pod earphones into his ears and reclined in his seat while she drove to DSW at Stone Crest Mall. Her knee was still in pain; she did not yet have an appropriate occasion for them, nor anything to wear with them, but it didn’t matter. She was buying that pair of red stilettos.
©KP Lewis (Kalypsoul