The shoes on my feet have seen three generations and passed down four hands. But they will end on these feet because my father has two sons and I am the last. Maybe. The shoes — brown, Italian, and blue tuxedo-matching-ankle-length-wears — are made by Clarks and co. They have tiny perforations at the streamlined tips where leather covers the knuckles of the toes, dotting the shape of a semi-circle from one side of the foot to the other. I have seen Clarks company shoes; most have dots that extend in a W from the medial side, apexes above mid knuckle, and then reach to the lateral side, but none like these ones. The soles are different too; black and made of hard English rubber (so my Grandfather claims), with the name of the company Clarks italicized on the part that lies below the center of the foot, and bevels upwards to meet the half-wood, half-car tire heel — car tire because the original rubber material got worn out and was changed by my father in 2004. So I wear history on my feet, three countries (Italy, England and Nigeria), and antiques that would have been retired to a museum if I had been born into the family of Prince Charles.
My Grandfather was a carpenter, but he was a carpenter in America and that made all the difference. He worked with Julio Bros & co., California. If you go to the walls of his sitting room, you will see pictures, different pictures of him with white men in these same kinds of shoes, and he stood out like a dark spot on a white spread. He would tell me this is what it means to be different, pointing at each and explaining the events surrounding the photograph. He was a good man, my Grandfather, and I missed him a lot when he died in 2002. I was only seven and I cried all day in my Mother’s lap. One of the things he left my father was this brown pair of shoes and in his final days, he left the history in our ears — it was a birthday gift from Mr. Julio Martinez himself in 1985. ‘He walked up to me and threw the weighty paper bag into my hands, patted my shoulder and said “Happy birthday ei!” The way he said the “ei!” baring his tobacco-smudged teeth to the gums made me laugh.’
So when my father started wearing the shoes, I heard my Grandfather’s footsteps and his voice the way he slid into his Americana accent to order for coffee at the tea shop — some sugar for me and plain for him when we went on long morning walks. That way I did not miss him that much, and also because my father started drinking coffee at the tea shop on Saturdays after Grandpa died, and usually I went with him. It was as though the mild fruity aroma of the coffee had a way of filling in the void death created. The shoes fit my father more in appearance and occupation because he had bigger feet that filled in properly and made them taut on him. He was a clerk in the ministry wearing a Clarks pair of shoes. His co-workers admired these shoes that had survived a decade and seven years; how? Because Grandpa wore them only on special occasions — Easter Sunday and Christmas. Father looked like a senior officer in them and one day they got his name filled in for a promotion when the Director told him, ‘you look too good to be a clerk.’ My father retired as a Director at the State Ministry of Agriculture in 2015, and he told people his success was in his shoes. Only we could relate.
When Onome, my senior brother, slipped his feet into the shoes late 2015, they were snug and perfect for a freshman Doctor, and he said at the hospital his colleagues would never stop talking about them. Under the shoes now were inscribed NATI, just below the Clarks. This was a tradition my father began, to keep memories alive. My Grandfather’s name was Nathan so the NA. My father’s name was Titus, so the TI. When Onome dropped the shoes for me earlier this year, 2017, he added ON. So here I am, a Law student, wearing a Clarks-NATION that has outlived my age and seen the transition of this country from military to democratic rule. Yet the ladies gush at them when I pass and say how they look old but cute.
Old and original things have a way of blending in with the fashion taste of this our society. Have you tried a pencil-mouth-blue pair of trousers on white shirt and red spotted tie and then brown Clarks shoes? You will look prim and proper like Obama. And ladies love men that dress well, a lot! When I’m done with these shoes, I will inscribe AL after the ON because my name is Aloysius and so it will read Clarks-NATIONAL. Then I will hang them on the wall of my Grandfather’s sitting room, alongside the old framed yellowing pictures so that when we tell the history of our family to our children in the future, we will tell the story completely and with evidence.
Image: Pixabay.com remixed