The Shoe Man


The bald-headed man came to the thrift shop every few weeks, always wearing a black-and-gold Iowa sweatshirt, faded jeans, and well-worn running shoes. On each visit, he bought two pairs of shoes. First, he would try on some size 9s and walk back and forth the length of the aisle several times until he found the right fit. Next, he would pick a second pair from the children’s shelf after carefully examining each shoe, from sole to laces, toe to heel.

He paid cash.

One day he arrived just as my shift ended. I waited by the bus stop on the corner until he came out with a plastic bag in hand. He turned right and walked north, so I headed the same direction on the other side of the street, lagging behind a little in the hope that he wouldn’t notice me.

Five blocks along, he turned right again and headed toward the pedestrian bridge over the parkway. Above the westbound lane on the far side of the road, he stood facing the traffic, watching vehicle after vehicle speed by below him. He reached into the bag as the traffic thinned, pulled out a child’s shoe, and pushed it through a gap in the chainlink barrier that arched over the bridge.

The shoe landed on the shoulder of the parkway, inches from the outside lane. He stood there and watched several cars and a bus pass below him, then descended the ramp on the far side of the bridge and walked away.

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