Shoes With a Red Heart

Truc Nguyen


Trug Nguyen and her mother go to a favourite shoe store to find shoes warm enough to wear outside Vietnam. They choose brown sneakers decorated with red hearts. The shoes survive heat, cold, and rain as they accompany her to Wisconsin, to California, and finally to Nova Scotia.


Los Angeles, 2016. It was four o’clock on a summer afternoon, and we were in a heatwave. California had been in a drought for a long time. In the city, people were always hurrying, and the streets were always busy. I was in the kitchen, preparing dinner for my husband and me. Our two-month-old baby was sleeping peacefully in his crib. 

Suddenly, my husband burst into the apartment. 

“I got an offer from Dalhousie,” he shouted. His back was wet from sweat. He must have run home to break the news.

“Do you think I should accept it?” 

“Do you want it or not?” I asked. 

“If I accept it, we will have to move to Canada.” 

We looked at each other without saying a word. Only two years before, we had said goodbye to our friends, family and the lovely country of Vietnam to move to the United States, to Wisconsin, where my husband finished his Ph.D. program. And now we were in California. 

I remembered how all the journeys started. It was January 2014: springtime in Vietnam. The streets were decorated with flowers, red lanterns and colourful lights in honour of the Tet holiday. My mom and I went to our favourite shoe store at the corner of a local market in Binh Duong to buy shoes for my trip to the United States. We found a pair of dark brown sneakers. The funny heart shapes on the shoes caught my attention—red like the warm heart of a mother. “These will keep you warm in Wisconsin’s winter,” Mom said. I wore the shoes the day we boarded our flight. 

Up until then, I had lived my life in a tropical climate and was used to a daily temperature of 34 degrees Celsius. Wisconsin’s winter was something I could not even imagine. When we landed, it was 32 degrees below, and I shrank like a puppy trapped in a cage. Outside, the air shocked my lungs. As I climbed into our friends’ car, I realized my mom was right. The shoes had kept my feet warm long enough to race from the airport building to the comfort of the car. 

The journey continued in 2017. My husband took the job at Dalhousie. Two days after we arrived in Halifax, we decided to walk to the store. To feel like we were at home, we needed a full fridge. And so, at ten o’clock on that Saturday morning, I put on my red-heart shoes for our walk to the store. That morning, Hollis Street was empty. We had just moved from Los Angeles, where we learned to be wary of this unusual quiet. We froze. 

“Something is wrong,” my husband said. 

“Should we go back? Last night I heard loud noises and cats howling,” I replied. “Maybe something bad happened?” 

“Hey, look! Someone is coming,” my husband said. 

Two women were pushing a stroller, talking, smiling. Then a car passed by.  We realized then it was safe to walk to the store or, in fact, anywhere else. 

Here in Halifax, I wear my red-heart shoes in the spring, summer and fall. But not in winter. It’s been six years since my mother spotted those shoes in the store in Vietnam. They have travelled with me from Vietnam to Wisconsin to California to Nova Scotia. They have felt heat and cold, survived droughts and rainstorms, and their soles have gathered the dust of three countries. I keep them on my shelf, and they will be with me until they are no longer in good condition to be worn. 

TRUC THUY KIM NGUYEN came to Halifax, Canada with her family in 2017. She has a bachelor of science in mathematics and computer science and a bachelor of arts in linguistics and literature. Now, she wants to study graphic design, which she thinks could be the best of both worlds. She likes challenges and loves to explore different cultures.

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