Slap, SLAP, slappity slap...
I looked behind me and pulled out one earbud to ascertain if the strange noise was coming from behind me or actually coming from me somehow. I stopped running and heard it again, advancing closer. SLAP, SLAP, slappity slap...
I waited. Mona soon came into view from around the corner, huffing and working mightily to keep a controlled gait. She stopped when she saw me, a wide grin breaking out on her round face.
We were on the second mile of a two mile run in the girls' fitness class I teach last period. Mona was a delight. Having been born with Trisomy 13, which causes mental retardation, and starting the year at almost 100 pounds overweight, she'd already built her strength and endurance where she could run part of the two miles, which she was doing now.
"I running!" she exclaimed joyously.
"I see, darlin', and I'm so proud of you!" My gaze fell to her shoes, and the source of the noise became apparent. "Oh, Mona, what has happened to your shoes?"
Her broad feet spilled out the sides of the worn canvas fabric. I could see more of her bright green socks than I could of the fabric attaching to the soles of the shoes. One toe wiggled out of a hole at the front and the left sole slapped loosely, almost free from its tethers, with each step.
"Honey, how can you run, or even walk in these?"
She looked at me with her ever present smile and shrugged her shoulders. "Grandma say we can't get shoes now. Have to wait till money comes."
Mona was being raised by a grandmother who loved her desperately, but who had few financial resources.
"Is this the only pair you have, honey ?" I asked.
She shook her head from side to side, her black braids swinging. "Other shoes in my closet, but they not fit." She giggled. "My feet grow real fast!"
Her shoe size was an 8.5, neither my size nor my daughter's. I'd heard some other teachers talking about how they were cleaning out closets of excess shoes and clothes, so I sent an email out to all the faculty, explaining I had a student who needed a pair of size 8.5 shoes.
Replies started coming back within minutes, each saying they would check in their closets that night. Just before I left for the day, though, one last email hit my inbox.
"Shelly," it said, " I don't wear a size 8.5, but I want to buy her a pair of new ones. I'll go to Academy tonight and pick her out a pair. I want to get her some really nice ones." It was from Annie, a lovely fourth grade teacher who was new to our district.
Annie met me the next morning before school, an orange Nike box under her arm. She held it out. "Do you think she'll like them?" I opened the box and caught my breath. I know running shoes well, and these were not just any Nikes, but high-quality shoes that also came with a nifty price tag.
"Oh, Annie! These are beautiful! She will adore them, and they will really help her with her running. But you didn't have to spend so much and get the top of the line ones- she would have been thrilled with anything that fit."
Annie blinked few times and drew in a deep breath.
"I grew up really poor. My birth mom gave me up to a family who loved me, but had no money. It will always be burned in my memory of going to school with hand- me- down, faded clothes, never anything new, and of shoes that didn't fit, were worn out, or looked like they belonged to an old lady."
Before she could continue, tears welled up and streaked down her cheeks.
"The teasing, the name calling, the other stuff ... well, it's hard to forget...." her voice faded.
She brushed the edges of her eyes and smiled. "It really gives me such joy to be able to do this. I have more than enough, and to be able to share some of that with Mona helps me, too; somehow makes me feel I'm also helping that little girl I used to be."
The first bell rang and kids flooded into the hallway.
We brought Mona into the workroom and Annie gave her the box. Mona's breathless silence as she pulled it opened and cleared away the tissue paper morphed into squeals of delight as she immediately wiggled out of her old shoes and into the new ones.
Annie knelt and helped Mona pull the laces tight. Mona stood and giggled. "Thank you!" she declared as she jumped a few small hops.
Annie raised to her feet. She said softly, "And I thank you, Mona."