The sun brought beams of warmth through the dirty shop window that Monday morning. Rays of light shone fiercely, like they’d just escaped a grand darkness that they never wanted to experience again. A small spider weaved a web in the upper corner of the window as the bell above the door rang, signalling that the first customer of the morning had just arrived.
Frank finished tying his black apron around his robust figure and went to the front of the shop.
“Well good morning Mrs. Jackson! What have you got there?”
Mrs. Jackson was known in the community for a certain ‘air’ she had. Coming from a certain wealth, everyone in the town steered clear of the fiery darts of excitement in her eyes, not wanting to be her next victim of gossip.
Somehow, Frank had patience for her that few others had. He saw the humour in her quest for power; it didn’t escape him, but rather brought amusement, much to her frustration.
She pursed her pink lips a little bit tighter and stuck her chest out further, hoping to make a point.
“Well you see, Frank,” she said as though his name was a four-letter-word, “My daughter went and wore these boots right on through the mud this weekend. They’re absolutely filthy and I don’t know if they can ever be recovered. What do you think?” She asked as though she knew the answer already, and stretched out her hands, dirty boots and all.
Frank carefully lifted them from her hands, carefully unwinding the tight white-knuckled fingers of Mrs. Jackson. The noise that escaped her lungs was a combination of relief, hurt, and a hiccup. It was all up to the Cobbler now.
“Why don’t you go out shopping for a while; meander the streets. Come back in, oh, three hours. Then I’ll show you the new wonders of these boots!”
“You mean … you can fix ‘em?”
“Mrs. Jackson, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know what I’m doing. This here dirt doesn’t scare me!”
To Frank’s surprise, the upper left corner of her mouth rose to a near smile, or perhaps a twitch, and she whisked herself out of the store.
It was only a few minutes later and the tin bell over the front door rang again. This time, it was Anna. A sweet southern lady who always came for visits, and always took good care of what she’d been given. And nearly every time she came for a visit she thanked him profusely, and often with sweets.
“Mr Cobbler man, I do declare, you’ve done it again! You were right about these here shoes of mine,” she said with a drawl known only to her, as she lifted up the hem of her ruffled purple skirt. “I’ve just gone and lost that there polish you gave me and need some more! Can’t go wasting what good work you’ve done!”
Frank went to the back of the shop and came out with the polish he had originally recommended to Anna.
“Oh yes! That’s the stuff! I sure do love coming to visit you.”
“Care for a cup of coffee? I’ve got time.”
She responded without hesitation, hands clasped, “That would be lovely!”
And so for the next two hours Frank and Anna chatted about life. Her family. Her struggles. He was like a father to her and she melted into his comforting presence.
Frank handed her the newly cleaned shoes.
“There you are my girl. Nothing a little polish here and there can’t help!”
“Oh Mr Cobbler man you are the best. I tell everyone about how good you are. Oh!” she reached into her velvet purse, and pulled out a brown paper package, tied with strings (because before there was a Maria singing through the Austrian mountaintops, there was Anna 😉 ) “I made extra of this fudge, just for you!”
She hugged Frank, and walked out the door with a fresh skip in her step.
A little more time passed; the cobbler’s shop was quiet. No one coming in, and no one going out. Frank heard an old familiar song on the radio and turned it up louder. Music helped him create.
He took out some old leather and nails and began to form what he called “his special shoe”. It’s what he made for first time leather shoe buyers; the ones who’d never experienced a hand-crafted shoe like this. For the ones who after experiencing it, would never look at shoes the same. Those kinds of people.
The bell above the door rang for a third time. Frank looked around over his counter top.
“Hello?” He questioned the air.
“Hello mister,” came the tender voice from somewhere in the shop.
Frank stood up and looked over his counter top.
Before him, stood a young girl, about 7-years-old. Her blonde hair had clearly seen better days. Or maybe it hadn’t, and that was the real issue. Her tan skirt and white t-shirt looked like they were on day nine, perhaps 12. Her smile showed the innocent gap where front two teeth were missing; like they’d been stolen and never replaced.
As a cobbler would, Frank stared at her feet. Her bare dirty feet.
“Where are your shoes young lady?”
“I heard your music. Does it make you want to dance?”
“Yes. Sometimes it does. But people don’t usually see me dancing.”
“Can I see?” She smiled. And now he melted.
Carefully bending over, Frank took off his shoes, then his socks. His feet had seen better days, but not from lack of protection, but from the life in his years.
Frank put his arms in the air, as if to embrace a lady, and clumsily showed the little girl his dancing steps. Feeling silly that he was dancing alone, he took her two small hands in his and for a few moments, the little girl and the cobbler became one in movement.
She laughed. Innocent and free, forgetting whatever dirtiness and despair she had just come from.
When the song stopped, Frank fell onto his chair and the little girl kept twirling around the shop. The sunbeams followed her, as if their escape from darkness was meant for her alone.
“Little girl, can you tell me why you came in here today?”
She stopped twirling and became serious all at once. Looking guilt, her brown eyes locked with his, and in that moment Frank knew what he needed to do.
“I heard the music, and I just couldn’t help myself.”
“Have you ever heard of special shoes?”
“Special shoes?” her eyes shone with excitement and curiosity.
“Special shoes are made just for one person. No one else can wear them or they’d flop around and look funny. See, I’ve been working on these shoes. And I believe they are meant for you. Would you like to try them on?”
The little girl nodded her head without hesitation and ran towards him, placing her hands on his knees in absolute trust.
Frank melted again, and then pulled himself together to grab the box he had just put the finishing touches on.
The cobbler bent down on his knee, the good one, and looked her in the eye.
“These, my girl, have been waiting for you. And my music knew you were the one to wear them.”
He took her ankle in his burly calloused hand and the shoe slipped on. Perfection.
She looked up at him and threw her arms around him.
“Thank you mister!”
“Now you can dance in these. Just don’t forget to come in to get them cleaned any time you want and have a cup of hot chocolate with me, okay?”
“I won’t!” And the little girl ran out the door, the light following her as she ran out.
To some, he was just a cobbler; someone to fix things. To others he was known as Frank, a kind man who owned a shop, but someone they saw only once in a while. And to some, like this little girl who responded to the music, he became the very one who changed their world.
Copyright Lani Lupul, 2015
(image taken from Google images)