The Red Shoes
She had been standing at the shop window for twenty minutes. She couldn’t take her eyes off them. She was enthralled by the shape, the design and most importantly, the vivid red colour. She knew none of her classmates had such a pair. Wouldn’t she be the centre of attention at her best friend Heena’s birthday party next week, when she would walk in wearing these beautifully crafted red designer shoes?
Tanya’s thoughts were broken when she received a gentle tap on her shoulder. She looked up to see her mother with a questioning look in her eyes, which almost seemed to say ‘What’s going on?’ Tanya long believed that her mother had superpowers for she would always know what she, Tanya, was thinking. She wasn’t wrong either, all mothers have a superpower like that.
She didn’t say anything, but merely tilted her head towards the shoe shop window with an imploring look in her eyes. Her mother sighed and shook her head. It was more a question of discipline than anything else. She had just bought Tanya a fine pair of shoes last month, and did not want to spoil her daughter by giving into her every demand.
The shake of the head was expected, but Tanya still furrowed her brows in irritation. Didn’t her mother understand that she absolutely needed those shoes for next week’s party? She tried to explain, but, her mother’s firm glance meant that there was no more to discuss on this topic. She stormed away furiously and Anusha smiled at her 14-year-old daughter. It’s a tough age, when you are trying to fit in and yet trying to stand out. Anusha remembered how she had been as a teenager: rebellious, brash and prone to anger at the drop of a hat. Now her mother’s constant refrain ‘You’ll understand when you have a daughter’ came back to her, louder than ever before.
The next morning was spent in silence. On the way to school, as her mother drove and tried to make conversation, Tanya just stared through the window, giving monosyllabic replies. At the school gate, she said a curt ‘Bye’ and walked into the building, never so much as looking back at her mother. Anusha knew at that moment that she had been defeated.
She drove to the mall and purchased the red shoes. Her husband, currently on a business trip abroad, wouldn’t like it that she was coddling Tanya.But she would handle him. Besides, there are but a few fathers who understand how a mother-daughter relationship works and her husband was definitely not one of them.
She went home with the purchase, happily thinking about the big smile on her daughter’s face when she saw her surprise gift. She turned on the TV and turned to the news.
A video feed of the exterior of a school was being shown. She recognized the school gate for was it not the same gate where she had dropped of her daughter a few hours ago.
Anusha wanted to scream.
Anything which made her feel human again.
But she could not feel anything.
For the eyes watching the fire and smoke billowing from the school’s windows would not shed a tear. The mouth which wanted to scream and pray to God for her daughter’s safety would not move. The hands which wanted to tear out her hair in despair could not be coaxed to do so. Her world had become a blur and nothing made sense anymore.
She shook herself and fighting back the tears, drove to the school. A large group of parents had already formed who were being held back by a police barricade some distance away from the school. It was pitiable to see the mothers wailing and to see the fathers standing helpless. Somehow, the helplessness pained Anusha’s heart more than the women’s cries.
She had no choice but to wait. While waiting, she prayed to God.
The same God in whose name the terrorists were attacking the school.
Every minute felt like eternity. But finally, there came news that all terrorists had been killed and the army was bringing out all the hostages and taking them to a hospital for medical attention.
Along with the children, they also brought out the stretchers. Stretchers covered with white sheets. White sheets which no parent wished to lift for fear of what would lie beneath..
Along with the other parents, Anusha made her way to the hospital and once there, began asking anybody and everybody, almost mad with grief ‘‘My daughter, Tanya , do you know where she is?’
An army officer heard her and beckoned her to a room. Anusha sensed a glimmer of hope. Yes, she was going to see her daughter again. She was probably getting medical attention. Anusha would hug her, kiss her and never let her go. She would take Tanya home, give her the red shoes she had bought for her and they would try to forget that this ordeal ever happened.
But, inside the room, were no patients. There were only boxes, papers, filing cabinets and the like.The officer reached into a box and withdrew something.
He handed Anusha a small, almost burnt piece of plastic. Only the name printed on it could be deciphered.
Her daughter’s name.
‘Where is my daughter? How is she? Can I see her?’
‘I’m sorry ma’am, her face and body have been riddled with bullets. It is impossible to identify her from her face. We could only identify her by her ID-card. I will take you into the morgue to claim the body, but before that I just wanted to hand over to you some of the things we found on it.‘
And then the mother took from the army officer, what remained of her daughter.
A school ID-card.
A small burnt purse.
And a pair of shoes.