Walk a Mile Barefoot Uphill Both Ways, In The Rain

my not-so waterproof boots

Here is a feel-good story about the kindness of strangers.

So it starts with my hatred of shoe shopping. Clothes shopping in general is so stressful to me. Is it because of my being raised in such a bleak society, where all female bodies are judged and criticized? Is it because I am self-conscious about my body, and going out in public and trying on clothes in mini rooms where your every angle is magnified in the strategically placed mirrors? Is it because shoes are so so boring? I mean, it’s a shoe. Is it all of these things? Will I stop asking rhetorical questions?

Although, honestly, I get the allure of a cute shoe. I got a pair of Tommy Hilfiger in college that gave me the worst blisters, but they were so worth it! So cute! I’m glad bras aren’t like shoes. I would never buy a cute bra that would give me blisters every time I took a step. That’s insane.

Anyway, this particular winter, I had bought two pairs of boots last winter from this cheap shoe store and continued wearing them despite them clearly falling apart. I’m talking random parts of the shoe falling apart, rips, and of course wonky shoelaces because the rivets had fallen off. My “nice” boots kept leaving odd red stains on my socks that I was mostly sure wasn’t blood. So, those were the pair I wore for my hour walk to the Old City of Jerusalem.

You’d think at one point I would’ve gone out and bought new boots because of the falling apart and red stains, but no. So begins the coldest day for my feet. I venture out in the pouring rain and except for the fact that my boots were not waterproof, it was going pretty well. Walking far distances in Jerusalem is basically a hike through the mountains because, well, the famous Jerusalem Hills that David wrote about are described accurately: Frolicking hills. AKA: steep hills.

As soon as I get halfway to Mamilla, the high-end outdoor mall that is just outside Jaffa Gate, the bottom of my boot gives up and detaches, immediately drenching my entire right foot. Now, a pleasant walk in the pouring rain has become embittered. I actually do love the rain, but not when my right foot is experiencing it first-hand. Suddenly the remainder of my hour-long walk turns into one of those stories my parents used to tell me, where they had to walk uphill both ways, in the snow, just to get to school. I’m doing all this, I mused, just for dinner.

I continue to trudge through the rain, wondering if I should have worn my other pair of boots, where the rips are only on the top half of the boot. Every step, the bottom of the boot drifted onto the cold stone path and soaked up more rainwater to be transferred to my sock. My boots make this fun squelch sound against the sidewalks.

I make it to Jaffa Gate and that’s when it gets cold, because I’m not walking quickly anymore, but just waiting (for Boyfriend) on the cold, slick, stone ancient steps of the Old City. I hope the apartment we were headed to was close. Boyfriend quickly shows up after a freezing ten minutes, and we head toward the Arab shuk. The Old City is surprisingly crowded, with many people braving the rain to attend prayers and visit friends. Everyone was wearing rainboots.

To me, it felt like ages, but the walk was brief. We get to the apartment building and enter the stairwell, just as two young mothers ushering their many children out into the rain. Desperate for warm feet, I ask them abruptly if they lived in the building.

“We live in the area,” one mom answered, alarmed. I could tell she didn’t want to spend any more time in the freezing rain.

I promptly forgot the word for “boot” in Hebrew and instead showed the bottom flap of my boot, asking if they perhaps had a spare pair. I don’t know why I didn’t wait to go up some stairs and ask the hostess for boots, as she was 1) not a stranger and 2) definitely had boots 3) in the building, but hey, I panicked.

The women exchanged looks and suddenly this other woman walks into the stairwell. “How can I help you?” she asked warmly.

It was the hostess! She assured me she had boots to lend me and we head upstairs with a quick thanks to the relieved mothers, who were now heading back to their own apartments.

Immediately, this woman whom I’ve just met lent me warm socks and quickly brought me boots. “Unfortunately, the waterproof ones aren’t as fashionable,” she admitted, handing me knee-high Croc rainboots.

She herself went to change, as her brief walk to her neighbor’s left her skirt soaking wet. We have dinner, and I tentatively help serving the food, but walking was difficult as her boots were two sizes too big. Still, they kept me warm and dry. After the meal, Boyfriend and I get ready to leave, but then a thought strikes me: these are her only pair of boots.

“I can return these tomorrow,” I tell her. I was astounded. Her only rainboots, and she happily lent me them so I could be more comfortable!

“I think I’ll need them Sunday morning,” the hostess says.

My heart full, I start walking back with Boyfriend. However, the problem was that these boots were huge. They did keep my feet dry, but I couldn’t walk too quickly in them. Each step was precarious as I tried to keep my balance on the wet streets, as well as keep my feet centered so the boots would stay on.

“Let’s go to your place,” I say to Boyfriend. I hoped his mother also had boots.

After a careful walk (it hadn’t stopped raining), we get to Musrara. This neighborhood is super weird; it is a mix of ancient houses with a mix of old-school Israelis, rich Americans, and a Chassidish cult who all live five minutes from the Damascus Gate of the Old City. A very unique neighborhood.

Anyway, it’s like 9 PM on a Friday night and most Jews by now are in bed, asleep. Especially for winter shabbatot, when you start Shabbat at 4:30 PM, dinner is definitely over by 8. Then the exhaustion of the entire week hits you all at once and you get to crawl into your warm bed and feel blissful and happy that the weekend is here.

Boyfriend says that maybe his parents are asleep already. I wonder if I have to sneak inside his mom’s room and steal some boots. I wonder if she would have boots closer in my size. Crossing my fingers, Boyfriend walks into the apartment — and lo and behold, there is his mom, definitely awake! What a relief! In explaining my plight, Boyfriend’s mom was just as generous, offering me a new pair of boots that were still tight on her, so perhaps would be a good fit for me. Luckily, they fit much better than the Crocs, and I take a second pair of boots from another generous woman that night. With warm feet, I was ready to walk back home, propelled by the generosity of these great women. After that rainy Shabbat, I truly knew what it was like to walk uphill, both ways in not one but two people’s shoes.

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Alana Schwartz

Alana Schwartz

English teacher by trade, story writer for fun