SHOE POLISH by Neville Diony
When cars drive by, the dust will cover the sky before settling back down, only for a few minutes, as another vehicle speeds through the local highway, only to raise the earth again. The village sky remained mostly dust brown until the early hours of the evening. That’s when Uncle Joe will walk to his old pair of black hard sole shoes that had been out in the sun, grab them, and walk back to his front porch. He usually sits on that front porch, or veranda as they like to call it, with an old water bottle filled with palm wine, a small battery-powered radio with very long antennas, tuned to an AM station. His t-shirt hangs from a clothesline on his veranda, and his sunburned ashy skin begs for a smear of lotion.
Why he has the radio on is beyond every passerby, as he always sings to his favourite traditional music, sometimes singing so loud that you can hear him from the village square. It is impossible to ignore the emotions with which he sings, but it would be criminal to say he’s a good singer.
With every stroke of his brush, he smiles as he not only sees the dust flies off his shoes but begins to imagine the number of compliments that awaits him when he wears the pair. Routinely, the left shoe is worked on first, before the right one. Occasionally, he spits on the shoe before using an old cut out t-shirt to “spit shine.” Every wipe provokes a broad smile of appreciation, revealing his dark brown teeth from much tobacco dipping.
When both pairs are done, he walks out, holds them under the setting sun, dance to his now loud uptempo singing, before going inside the house to place them on an old broken shoe rack. Next to the well-polished shoes are a pair of old slippers which he wears after admiring the shoes for a while. This was his routine – a daily routine that gets the neighbours to hang around and watch him. And if you are new to his village, the best advice you’d get is to try not to have flies enter your mouth, as he is sure to leave you with your mouth open.
“Captivating,” some of the villagers described him. “A mad man,” one man will always stand and shout the entire time, occasionally trying to take the shoes away from Uncle Joe, reminding him that he has nowhere to go. Unsuccessful, but he maintains his effort anyways.
As I stood there and watched uncle Joe, I realized a few things were certain; he was passionate. He was sincere, and even more importantly, happy. But why this form of happiness, I became curious, and ultimately asked one of the villagers. “Is he okay? Why is he popular?” The young man leaned over and whispers, “He’s a mad man. He lost his wife some years ago, and rumor has it that he never recovered. So he polishes his shoe every day, waiting for her to come home so that they can go to a local dance.” “What about the other guy?” I asked. “Oh, that’s one of the village leaders, he’s the principal at the local school.” he filled me in.
I then began to question our definition of insanity. Because what I witnessed was a man who, whether unstable mentally or not, was having the time of his life. Shoe shining a pair of shoes every day for apparently no reason, except for the pure joy of doing so, it seemed. The audience never phased him; he never made contact or even seem to be concerned about their stares. He never addressed the principal who always tried to interrupt. He was just happy.
I started to wonder where happiness, joy, fulfillment, and peace come from. If the narrative of his wife is real, I began to wonder if he was this happy while she was alive. If he is indeed insane, I wondered if that’s where peace lies. But what I couldn’t fathom was who was indeed insane? The principal, or Uncle Joe?
Our lives will always remain a mystery to others. Once we begin to find genuine happiness, we’ll start to look crazy to our neighbours. A narrative to justify why we are different will be formulated. The ones who are “not crazy” will try to stop us from being happy because we seem insane to the norm. But are you ever crazy or just different?
I wanted a narrative directly from Uncle Joe. After three knocks, he opened the door to a curious me, standing nervously. “Can I help you?” he asked in a very colonial British influenced accent. “I just want to know your story, the whole shoe thing, and the dancing,” I responded. He smiled and said to me, “I love to polish my shoes, son. It gives me peace.” I was puzzled. “Peace?” I thought. “But why shoe polishing?” With a broader smile, he asks me, “Why not?”
Author Neville Diony’s Bio:
Neville Diony is an aspiring film director and now an author. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, with an M.B.A. in Marketing and Finance, he decided to pursue a path of entrepreneurship. He started a small advertising firm and later opened a local restaurant. His love for empowering others became very strong that he decided to engage fully in writing and publishing inspirational self-help books.
He currently resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and family and is the Director of Operations for a startup TV and Radio station – Cryout Radio TV, based out in Houston. When Neville is not writing books, he is writing film scripts, editing videos, or watching anything sports-related.
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