His grin broadened. In the drowsiness of the noon, Aw Nuur Jaamac’s heart pounded in thrill as the messenger handed him the gift. From the checkered lines of the sole of the shoes, he saw the ups and downs of his long life. And his son came to mind. The tall, Ahmed-Saafi. He was so tender and sweet in his childhood.
‘Aabo, milk.’ He would say. And the father never disappointed. Thanks to Gabbad- his lone she-camel. ‘I wouldn’t have exchanged Gabbad for ten others’, Aw Nuur once told Qabille, his cousin. ‘So much milk.’
Looking again at the bottom of the shoe, the tartan-like patterns interwoven as a tassel, like a broken mirror of memory, flashed back the scene he still dreads. He saw the flocks of crows circling the sky in the horizon. And imagined the red in the talons of those cruel birds as it sailed over his flesh. His camel. They had just eaten the last pieces of meat off the bones of Gabbad. And Aw Nuur fainted. Twenty years ago. Gabbad succumbed to that ghastly jilaal. So inconsiderate! The jilaal or the she-camel? He was not sure, which one is to blame.
‘May Allah bless him with plenty of boys and milk! He made me happy. Gone are the days when I have to pick prickles out of my toes,’ Aw Nuur couldn’t thank enough. The pair of shoes his son sent from ‘outside’ was the first of its kind for his feet. For the village, as well. He wore, in his entire life, a pair of sandals locally made from cattle hide; simple soled with supporting straps at the back end. He is, nowadays, the only wearer of the shoe with the distinctive footprints in the whole village.
Sensing envy in the eyes of the village elders, something jingled in his mind. Before Ahmed-saafi ‘finished the twelve rooms’- as Aw Nuur sold one sheep after another to keep him in school; what were they saying? Was it not ‘the dung beetle’ that they used to call him?
He wanted to scream loud like the ant that bemoaned with glee the insect’s indiscretion in the La fontaine tale of the French. When the winter set in (and the insect found itself without food and home), the ant asked, ‘what have you been doing in the summer?’ The insect replied ‘I was singing’. The ant, then, said ‘Dance now! Dance!’ and left it in the cold. Aw Nuur almost heard his scream: ‘what were you doing, villagers?’ insulting me? Cry now! Cry!’
He knows he bequeathed the good art of of valour and prudence to his son. Prudence that made the young boy relentlessly pursue education, in the face of enormous difficulties. Yet, he would be selfish to attribute all to himself. Ahmed-saafi was also made by the iron fist of his mother- the late Cibaado.
But, it didn’t take him more than two weeks to realize that the shoes were proving to be more of a curse than a blessing. His life and privacy was messed up.
‘Aw Nuur, you were with Cali-dhuux last night. I saw your footprints next to his house.’
‘Why didn’t you come in? For the ducco. We know you went back from the door. Anyway, we sent some meat and rice to your wife’.
The talk of villagers who spotted his footprints here and there was getting to his nerves. His wife, Dahabo, rebuked him for not coming home directly from the mosque. She told him that the ‘marks’ of his shoes are everywhere that some impish neighbors started to tease her. ‘Is the old man a policeman in a nights shift? He treks around too much.’
It was getting nasty. The shoes must disappear. Disappear totally. He threw them into a not-so-far swamp. It was the rainy month of the year. He could hear the crocking of the frogs in the mud that evening. What were they so happy about? The new company -his shoes? Or was it that routine delight rain brings to this land. If only the frogs knew how fleeting it is! And after all, who cares about it anymore? Not Aw Nuur. He lost the reason to wait for the gritty dusts that swirl from the distance heralding the arrival of new life- the rain; when Gabbad perished.
The next absurd Monday, a young girl who went down to the river to wash clothes found it. She gave it back to his wife. Aw Nuur came out of the house five minutes later, half-awake. ‘Thank you, young lady. It is good of you’. On any other day, he would have taught ‘this girl is the perfect match for my son. She wears all the emblems of the good breeding of olden days.’ Aw Nuur was not happy, though. That is why after three days, he threw it on the grass and soil roof of one of the mud houses in the village.
The same afternoon, the twin brothers -Ilmo Dhegacadde- were playing with a ball made of old socks. One of them hit the ball high and it went to the top of the house nearby. The boys knew they can not climb up the roof. So, they waited until their friends arrive. The friends arrived and quickly threw down the ball to the ground. One of them gasped, ‘Haaah! Aw Nuur’s shoes!’
‘Adeero, we got your shoes. Bless us.’ They said cheerfully.
‘I bless you’ Aw Nuur felt despair inside. ‘Why can’t I lose this damn shoes’.
Only last night, in his dream, he was murdered. His killer lurked on a corner of one of the narrow alleys Aw Nuur used for the first time. He was coming back from the house of his friend who was sick. On the funeral -in the absurdity of death in dreams- he could hear what the grave-diggers were saying.
‘The killer confessed that he knew the whereabouts of Aw Nuur by following his footsteps from the village market.’ Sacaba-weyne said. He also understood that apart from Xaashi, No one vowed to avenge his death. So much for tolnimo.
‘It is good to know who is a friend and who isn’t’, he said in the morning, ‘in your dreams’. He also refused to tell the dream to anybody. ‘Bad dreams are not talked about’ he knows.
Aw Nuur set out to get rid off the shoes once and for all. He traveled for a full day, meandering in the bush and finally laid it beneath thick shrubs. Not together. But one here and the other further apart. He saw to it that no one will ever find it, again.
When he came back home, he was a relieved man. That night, he wandered through the village from house to house, gossiping, having tea with friends and practicing poetry with Cali-dhuux. Cali-dhuux is the best poet in the village. And in the morning, no one came forward with the irritating ‘you were there, last night’ hassle.
His relief lasted only for four days. According to the man who found the shoes, he suddenly went inside the bush to relieve himself, (when returning from the latest safar (journey) to the town), and found one of the shoe.
‘I was shocked. I thought a lion ate you. Yet, I saw no blood.’ The man said and handed back the shoes to the owner; adding ‘it took me and the rest of the group quarter of a day, before we located the second shoe’. He said, ‘the journey itself was not good this time around. We didn’t get good prices for the sheep.’
The men left. For Aw Nuur, it was time to do some serious thinking. Why is this shoe sticking to me like a gum glued to a tree? Is it a sign of good or bad things to come? The spirit of my son felt bad? Might throwing it be an affront and ingratitude?
He decided to wait for a while until he sees another dream. He trusts his dreams. That will be after he comes back from the big town. He has planned to go to Hargeisa, long time ago. Ahmed-saafi told him to go and check his eyes.
The bustling city of Hargeisa was too fast for the eyes of the old man. Too many cars and too many people. And people don’t great each other. How rude! He was taken to the house of a relative. Later in the afternoon, he went to a mosque nearby. He made the prayers and emerged from the mosque a happy man.
The shoes were nowhere to be seen. Was it not at the main gate that he left it? How many gates has the mosque got, anyway? He checked all. No shoes. He decided to speak to the small congregation remaining in the mosque. ‘Has anyone seen a shoe with…’ he almost said. And then it occurred to him. It might be the sign he has been waiting for. He preferred to leave it there.
‘At least, I won’t be bothered again when I go back to the village’, he thought, with a tinge of delight in his weary eyes.
The noise coming from cars and people was deafening. Aw Nuur woke up. Back in his village, the cooing of birds in the nearby roost was refreshing in the mornings. Soon, a small car full of soldiers arrived at his guest’s house.
‘Is anybody by the name Aw-Nuur here?’ the police man asked.
‘Yes, he is. What is…, why, who wants him?’ Ducaale, the owner of the house was anxious.
‘The Chief Inspector. The chief inspector wants to have a word with him.’
When they ushered a bewildered Aw-Nuur inside the office of the station chief; a short man with a bloated belly greeted him. The face of the man beamed with fondness.
‘It is so nice to see you. I haven’t slept last night. Congratulations. We caught the thief who stole your shoes. We interrogated him intensely thinking he might have harmed you. Thanks God, You are alive. When I saw the shoes-presented as an exhibit, I recalled our small village. I was there three months ago.’
‘Who are you? Aw Nuur inquired said with a repressed rage.
‘Oh! My mistake. I shouldn’t have assumed you know me. I am the son of Sheekh Ibrahim. The Imam of the village, who is also your close confidant.’
‘haaa! You are the son of the Sheekh? I am your uncle then. Thank you for the concern and support.’
A triumphant inspector opened the drawer of the cabinet on his right, and took out the shoes. ‘Here It is. Your shoes. Please watch it carefully; this town is infested with thieves.’ He warned. ‘The thief is in custody. We will take him to the court.’
‘Can I ask for a favour? Aw Nuur’s voice was getting reedy.
‘At your service, uncle. What can I do for you?’ the chief inspector stood up from the chair he was sitting on.
In life, some things just won’t leave you alone. Like this shoes. Aw Nuur wondered why. The old man, then, pleaded. ‘Would you please set the thief free and instead detain the shoes?’