“The shoes are cursed,” I mutter, as the number that’s always floating in front of my eyes drops from fifty years to seven seconds. I hastily pull away my hands and see it change back to fifty years.
“Phew. Dodged a bullet there.” The man passing me looks at me strangely and I laugh as I realize the absurdity of the situation. It must look strange to a stranger–but isn’t that what strangers are for?–to see a homeless man reaching to tie his shoelaces, mutter that the shoes are cursed, and then keep on walking without tying them. He has no way of knowing that I just came within an inch of dying.
I keep on walking, deciding that the risk of tripping over my shoelaces apparently won’t alter my fate in any consequential way, whereas tying them definitely will. And I see why seven seconds later as I trip over my shoelaces, fall face first onto the pavement and feel the whoosh of air pass by me as the derailed tram thunders across the street and crashes into the building on the other side.
Everyone around me stares at the literal train wreck for a moment before coming into action and rushing over to the train. Some are seeking ways to help, others mere curiosity seekers heading over for the thrill of it. The man who gave me a funny look only seconds before now regards me with suspicion, awe, and fear as he realizes what just happened.
“How did you know?” he asks, incredulous.
“I never know,” I reply.
I decide to keep walking. Chatting with this man would cost me four years of my life, so I continue on, leaving him in his state of bewilderment.
It had not been the first encounter with chaos caused by these shoes. They really are cursed.
When I try to take them off at night, finally having arrived at the familiar overpass that almost feels like home, the years of my life again drain away. Now, all that is left to me is ten minutes. I put them back on, lie down under the stars, and wonder about the nature of my existence and my unusual gift.
I slept on a piece of cardboard and a blanket, makeshift beds I have stowed in several places in the city. I found that the numbers are highest when I move around a lot. Every decision in my life is based on the numbers in front of my eyes. Every tiny thing I encounter tells me something about my fate, which is inevitably hinged on all these tiny aspects of life and what I choose to do or not do with them.
And now these shoes. I found them in a garbage can, fake leather worn all the way through. When it rains, the water seeps in through the holes in the soles, and they were supposed to be a temporary solution, but now it seems that they are stuck on my feet. Taking them off seems to suggest almost imminent death.
As I walk through the city that day, I can’t help but think about the shoes weighing my feet down. I can’t walk on them for much longer, but living without them seems to be out of the question. People avoid my gaze and swerve around me, thinking I must beg them for money, not realizing that my situation was a choice, not something pushed on me by fate. Well, in a way, it was pushed on me by fate, as this particular life path was the one that made my life expectancy the highest.
The numbers have certainly provided me with an interesting life. It puts things into perspective, causes you to see everything that is insignificant in the face of things. It allows me to live my most important possible life.
Unless it provides me with an uncomfortable situation like the one I am in now.
I have been walking around on these shoes for months now and have not been able to take them off once. They have gotten the worse for wear and the harsh winter weather has not done them any good. My feet are blistered, swollen, and cold, and one toe is peeking out.
I traipse through the city for days, in desperate search for a new pair of shoes that won’t end my life, and just when I’m about to give up, I lay eyes on the boots of a young man. They look sturdy and warm, and most importantly, without holes.
And I feel as if I’ve just won the lottery when the floating numbers go up upon looking at the shoes.
All I need to do is convince this man that my life depends on his shoes, hope that I will be able to take the fake leather boots off for long enough to put the new ones on, and then continue on with my life for the next 68 years.
I laugh, mutter to myself, and just continue walking.
Image Credit: René Magritte “Le modèle rouge III” (The Red Model III) (1937)
Chiara Nova writes stories in various genres, ranging from fantasy and science fiction to the darkest of horrors. She loves to get lost in other worlds, which is why she turned an entire room in her home in The Netherlands into her personal library. Besides reading and writing, she loves to play the guitar, paint, and learn Spanish. During the day, she works as an Economic Psychologist. She is currently writing her first novel. For more updates and (very) short stories, visit her Instagram @nova_chiara.