Mismatched Shoes

Wei Tao Bethune


My friend Emma and I bought the same pair of shoes, but I could only wear one of mine. Four years ago, when I went skating with my husband, I didn’t know I would end up with torn tendons and a cast on my foot. When Emma came to Canada with her new husband, she had no way of knowing that their marriage would fall apart. You never know what kind of match you will make in this life. And you never really know what it’s like in someone else’s shoes.


On a Saturday night four years ago, I went skating at the community centre with my husband. The Zamboni had just resurfaced the ice, and as soon as I stepped onto the rink, my legs went in different directions, and I fell. I tried to stand up, but my right foot was very painful, and I could feel it starting to swell. I broke out in a cold sweat. My husband carried me to the car and drove me to the hospital. It was 10 p.m. by the time I finally got an X-ray and found out the tendons on both sides of my foot were torn.

I spent the night there, but I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. I had surgery the next afternoon, and they sent me home with my foot wrapped in a cumbersome cast. I was stuck at home for more than a month.

I spent my days on the sofa with my foot elevated to prevent a blood clot; at night, I lay with my cast on a big pillow, trying to sleep. My husband took care of everything, including me.

One day my former colleague Emma came to visit me. By then, I had crutches and a walking cast, but getting around was still very hard. Emma asked me if I had any suitable shoes, and when I said no, she made a plan to take me to a traditional Chinese medicine clinic on Saturday and then go shoe shopping.

At the clinic, the doctor massaged my foot and prescribed a daily dose of herbs. Then Emma and I went to the mall, where I picked out a pair of blue and white canvas flats. With a comfortable new shoe on my left foot and the cast on my right, walking was easier. Emma saw the smile on my face and decided to buy the same shoes. When she tried them on, I noticed her feet were swollen and asked her why.

She told me she was four months pregnant. Then she told me she had left her husband to live with the father of the baby.

From then on, every Saturday, Emma drove me to the clinic, and then we had lunch, both of us wearing our blue and white canvas flats. Over time she told me her story. She and her husband Bill had an arranged marriage. He had been raised in Canada, but he stayed in Shanghai with Emma until she received her immigration papers. Every day she taught him a little more Chinese. It was a happy time.

Things changed when they returned to Canada. Bill went to work early and returned home late. Emma didn’t go to ESL classes; instead, she found a job. They rented an apartment in a neighbourhood where no one spoke Chinese. Emma was eager to have children, but Bill wasn’t ready for a baby – in fact, he made her have an abortion twice.

They began to talk less and argue more. Finally, she left him and started a new life with her new man.

As I came to know Emma, I realized how much she needed support. Her behaviour was outside the bounds of traditional Chinese morality, but she had helped me, and it felt right to help her in return. I didn’t have any advice to offer, but I could listen.

Often while Emma talked, I looked down at our feet. I wore mismatched shoes, but my marriage was happy; she had a perfect pair, but her marriage had fallen apart. You never know what kind of match you will make in this life. And you never really know what it’s like in someone else’s shoes.

WEI TAO BETHUNE received her bachelor’s degree in Engineering in China and her master’s degree in Economics at York University after immigrating to Canada.

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