To polish a shoe

blog1Brother Traore refused to speak to us. He continued polishing papa’s shoes, absentmindedly.
As I watched him, I realized his eyes were completely devoted to the shoes; the angle he held them up as if he was examining their originality, the same way mama would hold shoes up in the market to check for my size before buying, the way he shove his fingers into them at will, pushing deeper inside when he needed his grip to be firmer and letting the shoe hang on the tip of the index and thumb when he needed a bit of distance so the polish could be applied quicker. I also realized he possessed the deftness of one who enjoyed doing this particular activity, the speed with which he transferred the shoe from one hand to the other, the lightning movement with which he dipped the brush in the polish. It was almost as if he had the mathematics of it figured out already; what quantity to scoop, what quantity of the quantity scooped should be applied to what portion, how many times the brush needed to travel back and forth a part of the shoe. It was like he knew just what level of blackness he wanted from some parts of the shoe. And he knew just the way to go about it. He was even architectural about it. He knew where the foundation of the polishing should be, where it needed to be applied lightest and in other cases, thickest. His hands grabbed the curved frames of the shoe, steadying his grip just before the other hand lifted the brush previously dipped in the polish and plastered its jet black content on first contact, journeying back and forth along the sewn lines of the shoe to give permanence to the shine.
He exuded the firmness of an experienced shoe mender, the local handymen who went from place to place bearing little wooden boxes. He even meandered like they would, tilting his shoulders at just the right angle whenever the shoe looked like dropping from his firm grip. He sat on the edge of the large mat we all slept in, almost as if the activity of shifting in and positioning his butt fully inside would distract from the finish of the shoe. Or maybe the cold wet floor helped to keep him alert and focused on the job. He dipped in the little red roundish brush which scooped a sizable quantity of the jet black polish. He dabbed softly around the edges of the shoe, meticulously ensuring the polish kept faith with the edges of the shoe and not spilling any on the parts where he wasn’t ready to apply the brush yet. Just like the careful local handymen would!
He then dropped the little brush for a while and picked up the bigger hand brush. The hand brush which he used to follow through with the edges of the spots the little brush had left jet black portions before. The same hand brush which now he used to course back and forth the same spots furiously so, until they shone so bright they made the sun wish it had its own polish. He then dropped the hand brush, picked up a small folded brown paper which he used to flatten the edges of the shoe, smoothen the parts where the brushes had left their marks.
Brother Traore’s palms were darkened in bits from the activity. But he enjoyed it. I think he even spent longer time doing it than most handymen. Because I’m sure if most handymen spent the time he did on a regular day polishing one shoe, they’d never make enough to pay for the bus trip from our house to Coulibaly’s house. Besides, if they were this meticulous about one shoe, their services would not be needed tomorrow.


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