Altruism

When you’re sat gazing at rows of shoes on the shelves of Primark as your daughter browses for just the right pair, what happens? An opening line pops into your wandering mind. What do you with it? Well, when you exchange your seat for one outside the changing rooms waiting for said daughter to try on a whole new wardrobe, you write the rest of it. Keeping me company was a mannequin in skinny jeans and bored-looking husbands and fraught-looking mothers, none of which feature here.  

Altruism

They had taken the shoes from the feet of the dead, piled them high on display. Families peered through the windows.

“In a line, please,” said the proprietor. “Everyone will get a chance. We play fair in here.”

Obediently, they shuffled into line, worn clothes, battered shoes or even barefoot. All hoped to be shod. They did not expect to become Cinderella and for a magic wand to be waved over their lives, but they prayed the shoes would fit.

In they went, one at a time. That was the rule. Husbands and wives, mothers and children, all were separated.

“Don’t worry,” they told one anxious woman as she lifted her babe into their arms. “You’ll be together again, shortly.”

“She’ll be alright,” whispered her friend behind her. “She’s a lucky little girl to get taken on so soon.”

Lucky? The mother was not so certain. What child had died so that hers could wear their shoes?

Inside, the shop was dark, protected from the view of those queuing by the pile in the window display. Occasionally the colours changed but the number never did, remaining constant, reassuring people there were, in fact, shoes for all.

“Put the brat over there,” said the proprietor, handing the screaming toddler to his assistant. The child was strapped into a low chair at the end of a row of other children. Behind them sat the adults. All were quiet, having received their shoes. Only the new arrival continued to scream.

“Such dainty feet,” said the cobbler. “I’ll have the perfect pair for you in no time, black souled of course.”

His boss looked on approvingly. “So easy to buy the poor. A handout here, a donation there. They’ll follow you anywhere for such compassion … even to Hell.”

The cobbler grinned, this latest recruitment drive had proved a real winner. The Devil could be altruistic when he chose and as the shoes were continually recycled, he was eco-friendly too. Pity he got such a bad press.

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