My Tight Shoes
During an arduous journey to escape the Taliban, a young woman suffers the discomfort of too-small shoes. By the time she arrives to safety, her feelings about those shoes change completely.
After the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, I was one of the luckiest girls because I was accepted to leave the country with a group from the Marefat High School.
I had only one day to get ready. I couldn’t buy any shoes and had to wear my sister’s. They were not expensive or brand new, just simple, shiny, black leather ballet shoes with sturdy soles and a butterfly printed on the side. Unfortunately, the shoes were too small for me. Over everything, I wore a big black hijab. It covered my entire face and body.
After fifteen hours or more, we made it across the border to Pakistan, but I was still feeling the horror and fear of the Taliban checkpoints along the way. Even though I had exited my country, I was not feeling safe. Except for the too-tight shoes, I had no feeling at all. Just numbness. I can’t remember how I passed the long hours of the drive. All I remember was that I was moving and looking out of the window at the views of mountains and the green of Pakistan.
At some point, I fell asleep. In my dream, I saw myself in front of my mom whose soul perfumes my tiny world with love and whose grateful heart symbolizes kindness and honesty. She was hugging me and telling me, “My little girl, your name means ‘angel.’ You are always my beautiful and brave little angel girl. I know the road you travel now is hard, your first journey by yourself. I do believe, my little angel, that you’ll have a safe life and make your dreams come true. Our love will always be with you!”
She kissed my forehead. I was crying as I promised to make her proud of me. Then I kissed my mom’s hands.
Suddenly, I woke up to the shouting of the old man who was driving us. He was standing next to the car and telling us something in Urdu. I could understand from his body language that he was asking us to get out of the car. We were at the hostel arranged for us by the 30 Birds Foundation.
Everyone started exiting the car. I stood up and felt something heavy pulling me down. My feet were swollen because of my tight shoes. My friend next to me said, “We have to go. Hurry up!”
We got out of the car. I took a slow, painful step, hardly moving forward. Like this, I eventually hobbled all the way to the door of the hostel.
It was getting dark. The hostel was empty and quite silent. The air was like the first night in Kabul when it fell to the Taliban. It reminded me that war had brought changes in my life and that I had to continue without my family, especially my mom. But after the second group of my classmates arrived, slowly, the atmosphere of loneliness and darkness became brighter.
Finally, at midnight, I was able take off my big black hijab and check what had happened to my feet. I remember that when I removed my shawl, I felt like I was flying to the stars. “After today I will not wear you again!” I said to the hijab.
Then I took off my shoes, dirty and dusty from the long trip. Even though they hurt me, I loved them. They reminded me of the love of my sister and my family. That love is like sunshine in the chaos of my life. My sister’s tight shoes brought me to safety. They seemed to promise to bring me more luck.
Malika Ibrahimi is an Afghani from Daikundi. She was studying at school while the Taliban came. She was forced to become lonely a refugee waiting and is hoping to arrive in Canada. In the meantime, she has developed a passion for psychology and writing.
Portrait: Leah Moxley Teigrob with Malika Ibrahimi
Women Should Not Speak Loudly,
Mixed media and collage on panel.
Header: Photo by Linda Duvall