CHAPTER XXV of “The White Shoes”
No shoes, no freedom
Margarita’s diary: December 17, 1953
By: David Camacho Colón
When it was time to eat, the guard knocked on the door two times and then opened a small service hatch at the bottom. That was the only chance I got to feel a ray of light. If I positioned myself in front of the hatch like a crocodile—chin, elbows, knees, and ankles hugging the floor at the same time—I could take a good look at the pair of white shoes that brought me food. Normally, there were three guards watching over me: a man with big fat feet, which he lazily dragged over the floor and whose rumbling could be felt from a mile away; a newbie with brand new shoes clumsily trying out key after key until he could find the one that opened the hatch; a woman who, with her small feet and her delicate manners, was difficult to hear coming, showed up at my cell unexpectedly, and gave me no time to get into position to greet her shoes.
The hatch was my only portal to the external world, accessible for only five seconds, three times per day. For the guards, its sole purpose was to slide through there a stainless steel tray that was designed to last forever at the hands of prisoners with a lifetime sentence. I was served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a ruckus as the tray banged the edges of the hatch, the same way pots and pans do as they slip away from soapy hands. The shrieking and scratching as it ran across the floor, in and out of the cave, gave me an unpleasantly coarse sensation within my teeth and gums.
Blinded by darkness, I would look for the spoon, carelessly thrown into a random deposit by an inconsiderate fool who didn’t care to think that there might be someone trying to find utensils. Evidently that person wasn’t part of the cooking staff, because my days of freedom taught me that the people serving the food keep a strict discipline and rigorous order of things.
I liked eating my food following a specific order, which was not an easy task considering I couldn’t see what I was putting in my mouth. Luckily, the military discipline followed by the cooking staff made things easier. The first thing I needed to do was to touch the back of the tray with my hands. That way I could feel the relief of the pressed metal, the size of each different deposit, and then position it with the larger of the two middle deposits facing toward me.
The upper right end of the tray was reserved for the dessert, which could consist of pineapple slices, pears, peaches, apple purée, or mixed fruits. I always ate the dessert first because it was the sweetest thing on the tray, especially that delicious nectar that came along with the fruits. It cheered me up, except for those damned days when they chose to serve papaya candy. I can’t understand how after preparing them with so much sugar, vanilla notes, and cinnamon—as delicious as those ingredients are on their own—such an aberration of nature could be created. People waste so many well-intentioned hours of their life preparing that dish, delighting some whose sense of taste I sincerely put into question, but to me serving as the most efficient vomit inducer ever invented.
Mixed vegetables, located at the upper left corner, followed dessert. Vegetables are hard to mess up. The cooking staff maintained a stable offering of steamed corn, green beans, peas, and carrots.
While I finished my vegetables, I would dip my nose into the deposits closest to me and see what I had as a main course. Beans were on the left: white, pink, or red, each broth unmistakable from the other. I mixed them with the white rice in the middle deposit and with either the beef, chicken, or pork chops at the right corner deposit. If they didn’t serve rice, then they served mashed potatoes or spaghetti noodles with meatballs.
I have to say that whenever I got the mashed potatoes, I wouldn’t eat them because I always had to rush to the toilet. I had to leave what I was eating and run before I soiled myself. Then I ended up with such a strong stomach upset that I wasn’t hungry anymore. On the rare occasions I was able to continue eating, the size of the room was so small and the stench so dense that even bread tasted funny as it touched my lips. It was better to avoid eating, if I could. Besides, it was disgusting for me, given those conditions, to lick my fingers after eating those yummy smoked pork chops.
The water was in the upper middle deposit. It was good for me not only because it helped me digest my food, but because it relieved my dry throat. I spent my days screaming. Otherwise, they would have surely forgotten about me. My mom always said: «The squeaky wheel gets the oil. »
What did I do? Did I do something wrong? Why am I here? I wouldn’t get tired of shouting questions at them, but I never got any answers back. They always ignored me. My only interaction with the outside world was through the hatch that brought me food. It was the sole way to console myself as I was filled with doubt, knowing neither my captor’s intentions nor their willingness to cater to my needs.
It’s just that I didn’t even know why I was there. It was simply unfair for me to be locked up when I hadn’t harmed anyone. After all, it was he who came looking for me. They should have taken him away instead of me and leave him to rot in that hole. I was just minding my own business, sitting quietly in the hallway until I heard his malevolent little voice asking me to come closer to him and help him out.
He called me, whispering from the door of his room, sticking his head out and looking left and right to make sure nobody was coming. I was alone. I was the only one who heard him. I had seen him before in the game room. He was so skinny and cute, like a little brother. He had sky blue cotton pants on, very soft, and was used to walking around shirtless.
He kept calling me with the palm of his hand, which was almost entirely covered by a giant red birthmark. He snapped his fingers, calling me like a dog. I asked what he wanted but I didn’t raise my voice. I was curious and I didn’t want to get him into any trouble, not before I was able to find out what all the mystery was about. He signaled me to come quickly before someone saw me, and said he had something very important to show me, some secret he had hidden.
When I got close enough to the door, he grabbed me with his little hands and guided me inside. He quickly closed it and skipped childishly until reaching his night stand. From the bottom drawer, he took out something wrapped in a mess of ribbons and pieces of newspaper. He tore out the ribbon and the newspaper pieces in excitement, just like any kid would when opening his Christmas gifts.
He soon unveiled the secret; it was a snow globe with sparkling stars falling over a smiling half-moon. The child put the globe in my hands and grabbed a small key it had on the bottom. When he turned it, it played a familiar tone: «lullaby, and good night, with roses bedight…». He told me that music helped him sleep and that it may be of use to me during my sleepless nights. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I never suffered from insomnia here, but I found it cute that he worried about me. According to him, I’m weird because many people here have problems getting a good night’s sleep.
Seeing I had no use for his cure against insomnia, he took the snow globe and placed it carefully over the night stand. He took my hands and stroked his forehead with them, letting my fingers fall softly over his eyes and his mouth until resting his cheeks in between them. After a few seconds, he held my wrists and kept sliding my hands over his chest. I felt the ups and downs of his ribs and his heartbeat spike up.
I wasn’t getting what his intentions were. I felt my hands being tugged down until they were hidden below his sky blue trousers. I was speechless. It didn’t even occur to me to say no, or scream, or run away. I tried stopping him. I struggled. I resisted. I shook my hands violently with my fists closed, but he didn’t let go. He didn’t give in. He held a firm grip on me to stop me from shaking. He managed to loosen my fingers one by one until I couldn’t keep them closed any longer. I lost my strength given the pain I felt and had him—who made good use of his window of opportunity—snuggling between my hands.
He begged me, asking me to stop struggling and let him move freely over my body. He was persistent, the kid. He really wanted it and he wouldn’t give it up so easily. I had no idea what I was doing. I saw myself from another plane of existence where morality was unknown and nothing was written in stone. During the struggle, the only thing I felt from within was flattery. I found the amount of interest in me fascinating, filled with so much raw desire. His persistence was wood to the fire that consumed me. I felt desired, so I wanted to return him the favor.
It took me by surprise how well-endowed he was! He also knew how to hold me, how to kiss me, how to move, how to take my clothes off before I could even take notice. He knew how to do so many things I hadn’t learned to do. He made me feel like such a fool for everything I was missing out on in life. I couldn’t conceive how a child could make me feel better than every grown man did before him.
I didn’t notice when the light turned on. I was mesmerized with the whole of my body on top of him, both of us lying on the floor in a hypnotic trance. It wasn’t until I was tugged back by two hairy gorillas dressed in white that I came to be aware of my surroundings. I fought to stay in place, wrapping my legs around the child, but he was so light that he was raised in the air along with me. They held me firmly and shook me fiercely, trying to untangle him from my legs until they finally uncoupled me. I was taken away kicking and screaming. They locked up in the dark room.
I sang; I whistled; I became adept at making animal sounds: the growl of a lion, the trumpeting of an elephant, the squawk of a parrot, and the song of the coquí. I just had to silence the voice inside my head yelling at me, telling me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was useless, that I couldn’t even accomplish the simple task of running away from my family and being independent, that I would live forever as a parasite, and that I was a waste of a human being. I wept. Tears came out of my eyes because I knew none of it made any sense but I couldn’t do anything about it. I buried my fingers deep inside my ears and continued humming songs, growling, singing, whatever it took to quiet down the voice. I kept going louder and louder.
All of a sudden, I would hear the white shoes coming. I soon realized that their coming was the only constant that brought me peace instead of torture. I waited for them day by day. They were like sunrises that brought to me light and life. The brightness they brought allowed me to escape from those four walls and transport myself to a parallel version of the world, a world where I had absolute freedom to do what I wanted, where people were good and everybody loved me.
It was in that world where I made friends with the members of the symphony orchestra, whom I met during one of my strolls around the park while they were rehearsing. It was a pleasure for me to be with them those first few days, sitting on first row seats. I woke up to the flawless interpretation of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, a perfect energy booster for mornings. The feel of the vibrations resounding in my body gave me the willpower to do it all. Blood flowed through my veins. I was filled with excitement and hope.
After so many happy days, I stopped feeling tortured by nights, which were transformed into gala evenings. While the symphony rested, the pianist came and offered a concert on a grand piano with exquisite interpretations of Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’ and ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’. I sneaked out of the theater to lie on the grass, where I could enjoy the concert but also admire the beauty of the starry night. I looked for constellations and counted each and every star I saw in the sky, hoping to be lucky enough to see a shooting star that would grant me a wish before I fell asleep.
My only request, night after night, was not to have to leave, to be able to bathe myself in music forever. I loved the orchestra. I didn’t want to wait so long before I could hear them again. They pandered to my wishes and stayed for longer, interpreting all my favorites: Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovski, Chopin, Mozart, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms; they even let me conduct them with an imaginary baton!
I didn’t know what I was asking for. The orchestra ended up being a double-edged sword. At one point they came and never left. At first it was a blessing and a dream, but then it became a nightmare. While it was true that they were playing my favorite pieces, being surrounded by a symphony orchestra twenty-four hours a day was torture.
I felt an unbearable stomach ache that came and went as the orchestra squeezed my entrails. Regardless of the position of my body—lying down, standing, squatting, on my side, on my head—the stinging pain didn’t leave my gut. The orchestra, previously composed of sweet elderly people, now scorned at me and attempted to snap my eardrums in unison. I could neither sleep nor remain awake. I felt dizzy and my body was exhausted. I lost consciousness.
I woke up; I’m not sure how much time after. I felt fat raindrops pinching me, torrential rains falling senselessly from within the dark room. I smiled because the symphony orchestra was gone, the voice in my head was no more, and even the rainfall poured noiselessly. Content with being able to find myself again, I took my clothes off and began to dance under the rain.
Naked and soaking wet, I saw as, all of a sudden, the door that had kept me locked in that damned dark room was unlocked. I had only to look outside and there I found them, the white shoes worn by the nurse with small feet and delicate manners. I never doubted that the shoes would come and set me free from a world imagined by me, and would give me my life back.
The red-haired nurse was plumper than I had imagined. There aren’t many red-haired girls around anymore. Thrilled, I hugged her and let her know I was ready to leave.
If you enjoyed this sneak peek, you can get your copy of The White Shoes and Los Zapatos Blancos on Amazon or your favorite online bookstore. You can also find it at the following bookstores in Puerto Rico: Beta Book Café, The Bookmark, La Tertulia, Libros AC, K&L Books, Paliques, and El Candil.
David Camacho Colón was born in Puerto Rico and has traveled to more than 40 countries. He left behind a successful career (as an engineer and, after an MBA, a strategy consultant) to continue learning from the world and become an author. He calls ‘home’ to wherever he happens to be, carrying a backpack as old as it is dirty, but which can still take a beating.