The Red Shoes

by Chandra Sundeep
Cover pic

His warm breath fogged the windowpane, blurring his view. Across the glass was a different world – a world filled with variety. It was just a step away, yet miles afar. Max felt his empty pocket. Little Anna’s words sneaked into his thoughts as he stood glued outside the showroom. “I can’t go to school tomorrow.” 

The next day was ‘Red Day’ at school. All kids were to dress up in red, from top to bottom. Anna had cried, looking at her hand-me-downs and her sole pair of black shoes donated by some charity. 

“Ugh.. could you move away from the window? Our customers are getting uncomfortable” A harsh tap on his shoulder shook him from his reverie. His ears burned hot as he looked into the eyes mocking him from the other side. His pallid skin singed with shame. Muttering a quick apology to the guard, Max dashed into oblivion.

My sister, my responsibility. He remembered his promise to their dying mother. She knew Pop couldn’t be trusted to care for them.

“Anna, I promise you’ll go to school tomorrow, all in red!” 

With a radiant smile, she had hopped away. Her worries – forgotten; Max’s burdens – quadrupled. A silent din of anguish haunted Max. There’s no other way. Determined to not let her down, he set off. 

The garbage mounds showed he had reached his destination. His feet felt heavy as he dragged his frame into the dilapidated building he had sworn to never enter. A burnt plastic smell greeted him as he tread onto the broken steps. “Well, well, the boss is still in business.” 

With a mock salute, he greeted the men sprawled on the floor. A wizened man scrunched his eyes, trying to recollect the visitor. In a moment, his eyes lit up. A grim expression soon replaced the short-lived delight, “Kid, why’re you here?” 

Max’s knees gave away, and he kneeled down, “I’m sorry, Boss. I should’ve never left.” He stifled and continued, “You were right, it ain’t easy being honest. I need some quick cash.”

“Do you remember why you left?” The question sent a cold shudder down Max’s spine. It was a day he never wanted to remember, but the haunting memories stayed. He’d supplied meth to a group of teens. Unfortunately, they had overdosed and three of them had died. With boss’s help, Max had vanished from the scene, but the guilt refused to leave him. He blamed himself for those lost lives and had sworn to never walk that path again.

And yet he was back. Once a peddler, always a peddler. With the small packet tucked safely in his pocket, he stepped out to seal a deal. No regrets, not anymore. Anna’s happiness means the world to me. 

Anna squealed in delight. “Yippee! Red frock, red shoes! All new!? You’re the best bro!”

I dread the day you get to know the real me. Until then, let me enjoy being the best bro, Max put on a smile for Anna’s sake. 

 

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