A Room Full of Sandals


Haig looked across the hot street. He reached back and closed the door behind him as he dashed barefoot over the blistering cobblestones to the shade of his father’s shop. Father was inside making the candies for which he was known all over Cairo.

“Ah, Haig, you have braved the hot stones to come to see your father,” Krikor said, handing his son a broken piece of candy.

“Thank you,” Haig said, and went into the back of the tiny shop to get the tray his father would need to take the finished candies to sell at the marketplace.

Krikor glanced fondly at his son who had brought the tray, and said, “So, in two days you will begin school. And to think, you will ride on a bus, and it stops only a mile from the school. When I was a boy in my home country I walked to the next village each day to have my lessons from the village priest.”

“But, Father, how am I to walk to the bus with no sandals? The ground is so hot that it is cracked and broken.”

Father looked up from his work, his hands pausing for a moment. “Well, now, I don’t know, Haig. Sandals cost twenty piasters, much more than we can spare right now.” Then more hopefully Krikor added, “But perhaps I shall get such a good price for my candy today that there will be enough extra to buy your sandals.”

Haig looked around the crowded shop at the boiling candy and at the bottles that held flavorings to mix with water for sweet drinks. His father had often explained with pride that in Armenian the family name meant “candymaker.” I wish, Haig thought now, that our family had been sandal makers instead.

That afternoon as Haig’s mother prepared supper, he heard children singing outside. He knew there were few Christians living in Egypt, but from the children’s song Haig could tell they were, like his family, Christians. “Listen, Mother,” he called, “the orphans.”

His mother opened the door and smiled at the ragged children. When they finished their song she handed their leader a small coin. As they passed on to the next house, Haig noticed their feet.

“Look, Mother, even the orphans have sandals.”

“Yes, I see, Haig. They are fortunate for that. But sandals for you are another matter. Your father has saved five piasters to buy some for you, yet it is not enough.” She looked into his eyes and smiled. “When we have done all we can and still need help, what must we do?”

“I know, Mother, and I have prayed.”

“Why then, we pray again. Tonight when you go to bed, ask our Father in heaven to help you get sandals so you can wear them to school.”

After Haig said his prayers that night, he overheard his parents talking in low tones.

“Today I hoped to sell my candy at a good price so I could buy Haig a pair of sandals, but business was no better, worse even, it seemed,” his father said with a sigh. “I had to lower my price in order to sell the candy at all. I may have to take two of the piasters I had saved to buy sugar for tomorrow’s candy. Maybe next week I’ll be able to buy the sandals.”

Next week! Haig agonized. Why, I’ll never, never be able to go to school. I shall never learn to read and write.

Haig dreamed of a room full of sandals that night—all shapes and sizes. As more and more sandals tumbled into his room, he called out, “But I only need one pair!” And suddenly he was awake and it was morning. Hopefully he looked across the room. No sandals. Quickly he climbed off of his bed and searched the room. Still no sandals.

He dressed and went into the other room, sad-faced. There he found his mother talking with a woman. Haig did not remember ever seeing her before, but he heard her say, “Yesterday evening I said to my husband, ‘I feel impressed that I must go to visit Arminé and Krikor; I have not seen them for a long time.’ So I caught the night train from Alexandria and here I am only four hours later.”

His mother saw Haig standing in the doorway. “Son,” she said. “Come meet a special friend of our family. This lady and her husband stayed in our home when you were born. They were refugees from Armenia during the terrible war. It was she who gave you your name.”

The lady smiled at him. “You are indeed a fine boy.”

She turned to Haig’s mother. “My husband and I have wanted to give Haig a gift for a long time. I would have brought one with me but I wasn’t sure what he might like. If you can suggest something, I’ll buy it for him today.”

His mother looked at her son and smiled. “I think Haig would like a pair of sandals very much,” she suggested.

“That is good,” the lady said. “Today we will buy a pair of sandals.”

Haig was excited. “May we go now?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” his mother answered, laughingly. “First, breakfast. Then the shoes. And tomorrow—school!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Don Seegmiller