The Shoes

The school bell had rung, announcing that the school was formally in session. Students were pouring into their classrooms. In the third-grade class, boys were entering the room, horsing around, making loud and cheerful noises and goofing around before gradually settling into their seats. Upon entering the room, the kids noticed a new student sitting alone on a bench at the end of the class. He seemed different. He was sitting there quietly. From his appearance, it was obvious that he was not from that neighborhood, possibly from a different city and most probably from a different province and a different segment of society.

He did not appear to be wearing the same type of clothes as the rest of the students. His clothing was the testament of a boy from the poor and low-income segment of society, where his parents were not able to provide him with the same clothes as most of the other students. His clothes were rickety and mostly torn.

Everybody was looking at him. They were all staring at him, not knowing who he was. His head was slumped over his chest as he was trying to avoid making eye contact with the rest of the students. For the most part, there was a nagging silence in the room, except with the whispering of some of the boys who were looking at him and sarcastically snickering. Soon the teacher arrived and all stood up. The teacher motioned them to sit down. They all did.

“Rajab, where are you hiding?” the teacher called out. Rajab, the new kid, stood up with his head still bowed, looking at the floor. “Children, we have a new student today. His name is Rajab Moradi. The kids laughed at the name; Rajab? What kind of name was that? That was not a name that belonged to the high class of society. Many of the kids’ butlers were named Rajab. What kind of name was that?

“Which part of Hamedan are you from, Rajab?” The boy remained silent. “Ha, boy? Can you talk? The mouse has stolen your tongue?” the teacher inquired. This set the class laughing. Rajab kept his head down. “Are you going to answer me or you want me to put the stake to your body, boy, so you would talk?” he angrily uttered.

Rajab lifted his head: “I come from a tiny Village near Hamedan, agha.”

“A villager?” the kids repeated. One, in fancy pants and jacket, who was sitting in the front row, claimed: “I have never been in the same class with a villager before.” Another boy, sitting behind him, mentioned: “They say that villagers have fleas.” All the kids burst into laughter. “They are all cow and herd raisers, and they stink like them too.” The teacher, laughingly, motioned them to be quiet.

“How long have you been in Tehran, Rajab?”
“About four months, agha.”
“Then how come you are just reporting to school? It is about three months into the new academic year.”
“Because I had to help my father’s work, agha. He is old and needs me to help him.”

“What kind of work does he do?”
One of the kids responded: “Probably the minister of treasury.” The kids laughed out loudly again.
“I asked you what he does, boy.”
“He is a porter at the market, agha. He cannot lift heavy stuff any more and I have to help him.”
One of the boys interrupted: “But you are too small to lift heavy weight. Look at you. You are so skinny that you may be lighter than my five-year-old sister. Do you ever eat?”

“That is enough. Open up your books,” the teacher instructed. “Open to page 30, the chapter about the importance of earth and life. We are on page 30 now.” Then he turned to Rajab: “Oh boy, you are behind.” Everybody turned to page 30, where the chapter was about the “earth” and “life”. The teacher began speaking.

“In this world, there are important things that are essential to our existence. For example water, food, air, heat and many other things that our lives depend on. But there are also other things in our society whose absence can make life rather uncomfortable and even somewhat impossible for us. Who can tell me the most important item in our life?”

Several fingers went up. “You, Bahram, what is the most important thing to you?”
“The most important thing to me is our leader, whom father says without him our lives would be very difficult and repressed.”

“Good. Who else can give me an example? You, Shahriar.”

“My father always says that the most important thing is his a car. If he did not have his car, he could not go to his office, nor he could take us out on trips and picnics.”

“Ok. Anyone else? Bahman, you.”
“I believe that the most important thing is our house. If my father had not bought us our house that we live in now, what would we be doing in the cold of the winter, or where else do we go for swimming in the summer?”

The teacher praised him too. It was beginning to snow hard outside. The teacher looked outside and told the students that Bahman’s example was a very good one due to the coincidence of snowing outside. “How about you, Rajab? What is the most important thing to you?”

Rajab seemed reluctant to answer. His head was still lowered. He did not seem too well. Perhaps he was too shy. “Ha, boy. I am asking you a question. If you ignore me once more, I will beat you up severely.” Rajab raised his head. He was shaking. It was probably due to shyness and fear, or maybe not. Maybe something else was troubling him. There was no trace of defiance in his eyes, only fear lurking. He looked directly at the blackboard.

“Are you going to answer or you like to get hurt?”

The teacher walked towards Rajab, grabbed him by his ears and nearly lifted him off his seat. All the students laughed. Rajab did not moan or cry. His skin was too thick, or it was possible that something else was preventing him from feeling the pain. The teacher shoved him back on the seat. “Are you going to answer my question or you want more?”

The trembling voice of Rajab barely crept out of his throat: “Shoes, agha.” Upon hearing the response, all the students began laughing. The boys were telling each other about his response and cracking up.

“Did you say Shoes? Why shoes?”

Rajab kept his head down. The teacher walked away and went to the front of the class; a class that was still amused with Rajab’s response. The teacher asked another question. “What is the thing that you most desire to have?” Again fingers were raised. Answers consisted of a wide range, such as CD players, ski equipment, cars, traveling to Europe and America and many other materialistic goods.

“How about you, Rajab?”

“Shoes, agha,” he responded.

The entertainment did not seem to be ceasing. The kids were laughing. The teacher walked to Rajab and ordered him to stand up. He did so.

“Let me look at your feet. Are you wearing any shoes at all? Yes, you are. You do have shoes on. Then why such an obsession with shoes?”

The boy did not answer. He stared at the floor.

The teacher angrily grabbed the little boy and lifted him from the seat and slapped him several times on both cheeks. “You answer me when I am talking to you, boy.” The atmosphere of the room quickly changed. Everybody became quiet. “And why are you so warm and sweaty? It is not that hot in here. It is almost below zero temperature outside. Why are you so hot? Why are you so wet? Do you ever take a shower, or your filthy body pours out too much sweat by itself?” The jubilant and funny mood returned to the class. The kids laughed and laughed.

The teacher returned to the blackboard. He wrote on it: “What is the most difficult thing to achieve in your life?”

“You, Payam.”
“I think the hardest thing to achieve is a Mercedes because my father has been wanting to trade his BMW in for a Mercedes for a while and he says that is very expensive.”
“How about you, Sassan.”
“I believe that it is even more difficult to buy a bigger house. My father knows it. He has been trying for sometime, but either the house does not have enough rooms for all of us, or the living room is not large enough, or the swimming pool may be… ”

“Alright, we got it. How about you, Rajab? And do not tell me shoes because you are going to get it.”
The poor boy did not know what to say. He hesitated. He was scared to respond. He was frightened. He tasted the words in his mouth. He was reluctant and intimidated, but he was also a truthful boy: “Shoes, agha.”

Once more, the class exploded and rejoiced with laughter. The teacher had reached his limits with this boy. He was at the boiling point for strongly believing that this village boy was mocking him.

He dashed towards the little boy, took out his stake and raised his hand. The class sighed. His tall and towering figure dwarfed the little, frightened boy. The stake had reached its pinnacle, about to descent to strike the boy, when a knock on the door was heard and it opened. The teacher aborted his action in midair. It was the principal, announcing that the snowfall had become too severe and the cold temperature was too rigid to keep the school open, and he wanted all the students to be sent home.

Immediately, a cheer of happiness and jubilance spread throughout the room. Everybody stood up and in a matter of a minute began exiting the classroom. The principal escorted his beloved, favorite students out of the room and then proceeded to his office.

The teacher was pissed with Rajab. “Get out. Don’t you want to go home? I will continue with you tomorrow, boy. I cannot stand you. Just get out of my sight now.”

Rajab got up. He could hardly walk. His body was burning with fever. It was aching. He did not want to leave the classroom. Not because of his love for it, but at least in this room there was some heat. No assurance that he would find the same degree of comfort at home. As he was walking towards the exit door, drops of sweats were rushing down his shivering, skinny, weak body. The teacher was glaring at him with fury.

The floor behind the little boy, where he was dragging his feet on, caught the teacher’s attention. He had left a long track of mud on the floor. There were different marks and imprints left on the floor. Among all the mud tracks, the teacher easily recognized the imprints of ten tiny, little toes smeared on the tiles of the classroom.

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