‘I’ve got light up trainers, do you wanna see them?”
She stood before me with her hands in her shorts’ pockets, her scabby elbows pointing out in right angles. The light summer breeze was rippling the Barbie t-shirt that she always wore, and flicking blond curls around her forehead. We must have been about 8 years old; yes, I distinctly remember a wad of Pokemon cards that kept falling out of my dungaree pockets. There were still wooden park benches on the green behind my block of flats and my grass stained Nikes hadn’t lost their peeling pink ticks yet.
When she spoke, I was completely dumbstruck. I repeated the words again slowly in my head: light up trainers. I still couldn’t believe it. Those shoes only existed on television, in the musical breaks between Fun House and Hey Arnold, my mother had said. If Alison owned a pair of these fabled shoes, then her parents must have performed some kind of incredible feat. Pulled them straight out of the television, or something. Because at 8 years old, I struggled to believe my mother could possibly ever lie to me. If she said those trainers were hard to get, then they were hard to get and Alison’s mum must have suffered very greatly to get them. So I definitely wanted to see them. I wanted to see them and touch them and smell them and then share the odyssey that these shoes had encouraged with my mother, in the hopes that she would also sacrifice her well-being to acquire them for me. Especially now that the likes of Alison had a pair. It’s odd actually, to think I had no concept of deception when I was younger, but knew exactly how pride worked.
‘Yeah, alright,’ I said eventually, still trying to process the information as Alison bounded back up the stairs of the tower block she lived in towards her flat. She slammed the landing door so fiercely in her excitement that she made me jump in mine. After a brief pause, and an exasperated warning from her mother, the sound of thudding footsteps echoed in the stairwell. She was so eager that she was jumping down whole flights of stairs. But not just jumping, flashing too, with dazzling pink lights where her heels had once been.
When she reached me, she began parading up and down, an ecstatic smile on her chubby, childish face. She pointed to the white trainers as she did so, to the floral accents, the neon Velcro straps, and of course the magic lights that twinkled on and off in time with her footsteps. It was as though I had stepped into the advert, and she was selling the shoes to me. Soon I was convinced that I needed a pair, watching her marching up and down, beaming with her large green eyes and toothy grin.
“They’re the best, aren’t they?” she exclaimed, jumping up and down and making her tight ringlets bob along with her.
“My dad got them for me when he went on holiday; he’s the best!”
Ah. So that explained it, to me anyway. They were foreign. Foreign was a place like Narnia, a place where anything could happen. Of course she’d got her shoes from foreign. I’d call my dad as soon as I got home and ask for a pair from his new home in foreign.
We raced around the green as she showed me all the things her shoes could do that basic, substandard trainers could not; illuminating a cartwheel, for example, so that when she spun around she glowed like a Catherine Wheel. Or brightening up a dance routine so that no one’s eyes were on the mediocre choreography; or dazzling the rope turners when she jumped so that she never got caught in the death trap of double dutch.
Finally, when she had exhausted these pursuits, we flopped down on the grass, staring up at the sky and searching for the sun that was warming our damp skin.
“You know what,” she said in her dream like, distracted, 8 year old way, “you can borrow my shoes whenever you want. Because you’re my friend. My bestest friend in the whole world, and we can share my shoes forever!”
She took them off then, and let me try them on. I remember being so happy. Almost a bit light headed with it. Not just because I had the best shoes I’d ever worn on my tiny prepubescent feet, but because I genuinely believed her. All we needed to be happy was each other and one pair of mega special trainers. We were about to embark on a multitude of adventures. There was scaffolding that had just gone up on the other side of the estate. We’d be flashing all over that soon. Bright eyed and young and overwhelmingly optimistic.
I saw her the other day pushing a pram along the pavement. I’d say I was surprised but it was bound to happen; none of my friends from home ever really moved away, we just never stayed in contact. I’d like to blame the pair of trainers for dividing us, but it was probably the pride. There is only so long that someone can put up with being put down. When I saw her, she looked old. Really old. Not just in a ‘it’s been 12 years so I’ve grown taller’ way, but in a life way. Her shoulders were hunched like they had carried a heavy load for a long time; her eyes were downcast like they had seen some trying times. Her curls were straggly, she was uncomfortably thin. The sort of things you can imagine when someone mentions the phrase ‘shell of a former self’. I barely recognized her, and she didn’t recognise me at all. Just swept past in that obnoxious teen mum way, face contorted into a grimace, bomber jacket flapping in the wind. The child wrestled with the safety grips of the chair. I couldn’t really see, but I got the impression that she didn’t have those blinking trainers anymore.