My grandfather had a pair of white sneakers.
He bought them as a young man. I imagine he stood outside a sporting goods shop in Cambridge, looked down at his slightly protruding belly and vowed to lose a little weight. He pictured himself running around the vast grounds at oxford, getting a nod of approval from the blonde he had been eyeing studying under a big oak tree.
I’ve heard my grandfather was a handsome man. I’ve seen photographs. But you know how it is, imagining a man with hair slicked back on one side and slightly curled up on the other in this time is an anachronism, a little out of place, a little silly.
I digress. My grandfather had a pair of white sneakers. He bought them when he was thirty, and had won a commonwealth scholarship. He was tall and gorgeous. He parted his hair on the left. He slicked it back with Brylcreem and dabbed lots of Old Spice. I know this. I’ve never seen him young or handsome, but I have smelled the perfume and hair gel.
He would wear a sweater vest, and tuck his wallet in the pocket of his kurta underneath. My grandmother poked fun at the protruding half chest by saying he looked like half a woman. Maybe he would have found that offensive in his youth. There was something solemn about my grandfather. Like time had dueled with him and beat him at its game. He was resigned for the most part, except for the Brylcreem. Just a gentle reminder of the man he had been I suppose. Maybe I read too much into the scent. Maybe it was just God damn personal hygiene.
My grandfather came back from London and kept the sneakers in their box. He put them in his closet, at the back, because that is the reverence new shoes deserve, away from gen pop.
The years rolled on, all the while the shoes stayed put in their revered spot. He never got around to jogging in his new shoes. By the time he got around to walking the premises of his own home, it was at a gentle pace, on the doctor’s recommendation.
I’ve heard when one of my uncles was young and needed new shoes my grandmother suggested he use the white sneakers. He was excited! He opened up the box and put on the now lightly yellowed brand new shoes. He ran to my grandfather, pulled up the hem of his pants, I imagine, and exclaimed, “Abbi, look your shoes fit!”
I don’t know what happened next. Maybe Abbi saw his new shoes being paraded around and something snapped. Maybe it was the realization that he never got around to running at Oxford, or that his lovely salt and pepper hair had now become more salt and less pepper. Or simply, how time had gone by and he had seen his own potential being wasted and squandered on mediocrity. An aggressive mediocrity, the kind that chips away your being.
A fight ensued and my grandfather generally resigned to whatever fate my grandmother handed out to him, declared, ‘I am not yet dead. There is no need to start distributing my things.’
I imagine he spoke with such finality, that my grandmother, uncharacteristically, decided to back down.
My grandfather’s sneakers were no longer brand new; they were just an ugly pair of old shoes, no one cared for them anymore. The shape was too thin, the toe too pointy. They lost their place at the back of the closet. The white box that housed them was covered with wrapping paper and became a tiny store for my mother’s art supplies.
The white sneakers ended up lying on top of an old closet underneath the staircase located at the back of the house. The years went on. My Mother got married, had children of her own. I saw those sneakers lying up there when my cousins and I hid under the stairway to share whatever latest raunchy tit bit we had picked up from school. Never gave them a second look.
When my grandfather was seventy, the house was put up for sale. Everything was packed up and put in boxes. My brother climbed on top of the rickety old closet to fetch the prized sneakers. He hooked his fingers in the shoes and tugged, the cloth came apart and the soles were stuck on to the wooden top of the closet. My brother stood there, laughing at the idiocy of the situation, with a pair of tattered sneakers in his hands.
My grandfather had a pair of white sneakers. He never wore them, not even once.
Written by Tanya Shahid