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from the August 2009 issue


The clamor of children grew more faint.

"It's good you came to get me early. Mom always takes forever."

"Your mother works late."

"Why don't you pick me up every day?"

"I had today off. But I'd like to be able to come and get you every day."

"I'm already asleep when you get home and then you leave before I get up and you never come and get me at school."

"Oh, is that right? What about today?"

The boy smiles and squeezes his father's hand. They cross the street and walk some more in silence. Although the father isn't walking very fast, the boy has difficulty keeping up."And why did you come and get me at school?" he says, stopping to ask the question and look into his father's eyes.

"Because your mother couldn't come."

He grabs his son's hand again. They approach the curb. "Let's cross, this is the dumbo's side."

"Why is it the dumbo's side?"

"Because it's where the sun hits. People who walk on the sunny side are dumbos, that's what they say."

Finally the boy laughs and repeats "the dumbos' side . . . the dumbos," as if he'd memorized a new lesson. Cars drive right past them, and his eyes follow the speeding colors.

They wait for a lull in the traffic before crossing the street. The boy occasionally looks down at the ground and sees his shadow lengthening on the asphalt. He slips away from his father and gets under a little tree pruned in the shape of a bell.

"Dad, you're a dumbo," he exclaims, proud of his intelligence.

"Well, a little sun isn't a bad thing." He laughs faintly and grabs his son by the hand again.

"And the ones who go by car, Papa?"

"They're like us, only they don't need to walk."

"But they're on the sunny side."

After a while the boy stops again and points at his left shoe. "Look, there's a hole in it."

His father examines the worn-out sole. "Why did they wear out so fast? I bet you weren't taking care of them. You kids at school, with all your running around."

"But I take them off at school when I play."

"I've seen how you twist your foot around when you sit down. That'll break 'em, I've told you a thousand times."

"Mama has too."

"You have to learn to take care of things."

"If we had a car I bet my shoes wouldn't fall apart. Wait till Mama sees them!" he says, his voice breaking. He pulls on the sole and then puts his foot on the ground. He checks whether you can still see the hole. "How come you don't buy me a new pair?"

"How come? How come? Because there aren't any . . . There aren't any shoes anywhere."

Worried, the boy lowers his gaze.

"It's no big deal," the father says, patting him on the head. "I'll take them to the shoemaker and you'll see how they'll look like new again."

The son stops and looks at his father gratefully, even admiringly. He looks happy again.

"Before Mama sees them, so she won't notice what happened."

"Maybe, but we have to get going."

They pick up the pace. The father walks faster without noticing that it's hard for the boy to keep up. They turn to the right and walk a few more blocks.

"Look what a great truck," the father says, pointing toward the street. But his son has his eyes fixed on a store window. A big display of shoes is the source of his astonishment. "Look, Papa, they have shoes here. Will you buy all of them for me?"

The father is speechless, dazed by the sight of the show window, the shiny glass, the colourful ribbons, the lights—unlikely wonders on display.

"Those shoes aren't for sale," he says finally, pulling at his son's hand but without turning around, to keep his face from being seen. "It's a museum," he adds.

"Oh," his son whispers, "a museum." He glances back at the window overflowing with new shoes of different colors and sizes, so many that he didn't have time to count all of them.

When they stop to let the cars go by the boy looks his father in the eye, smiling, still impressed, and says, "What a beautiful museum, Papa."

Translation of Zapatos. Copyright Luis Rafael Hernández. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2009 by Tobias Hecht. All rights reserved.

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