SHE GAVE ME BACK MY SHOE
by Anton Wills-Eve
<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/pay-it-forward/”>Pay It Forward</a>
Prompt:Tell us about a time when you responded to an act of kindness with one of your own.
SHE GAVE ME BACK MY SHOE
The last thing anybody wants to do is make a fool of themselves in front of their friends and peers and especially not at the age of twelve when the whole school is watching. Well I managed to come very, very close to that in the cross country championships that year. We had an immense playing field, big enough for four rugby pitches and four tennis courts and a pavillion, with the perimeter measuring exactly one and a quarter miles. The cross country course was three laps of the fields starting and finishing at the pavillion.
I was among the fancied thirty two entrants for the under fourteens race which was held first at 2.00 pm with the senior race an hour later. So the assembled watchers numbered about 250 boys each cheering for one of the four houses that the school was divided into. Another 100 or so parents and family members also turned out for what was always the highlight of the athletics calendar in the Easter term.
There were eight boys from each house in each race and about half way round the first lap I was in the middle of the leading pack of some twelve runners all bunched together when I went over on my ankle on the slippery grass and my right running shoe came off and bounced into the spectators. Well that was my race over, or so I thought. Suddenly a little girl of about ten came rushing out of the crowd with my shoe which she gave me shouting,
“My brother’s in your house and I can’t physically help you. Get that back on and catch them up.” She could tell which house I was in from the colour of my running top. I have never re-tied a running shoe faster and although some 25 yards behind by then decided to pace my way back up to the leaders if I could. A lap later I was up into sixth place but still had four good runners some 15 yards ahead of me. Still I refused to sprint and just gradually increased my pace until I was up in third place with only some 300 yards left. The little girl who had rescued my shoe was racing round to the finish and never took her eyes off me. I was never more glad I had kept my head because I knew I had the best sprint finish. I caught the two boys ahead of me and still waited until we were all only fifty yards from the end with the finish line and pavillion in my sight. I forgot my opponents and just ran flat out until I felt my chest breasting the tape and collapsed in a heap.
The girl who had really won the race for me was cheering and in tears at the same time. I had no idea who she was although I assumed I must know her brother well. I did, it was James Marshall and he came in fourth. As a team we won the overall under fourteens cup as well as my individual one. He clapped me on the back laughing. I only realised his relationship to my saviour when he said, “You lucky so and so, Anton! My little Angie certainly saved that race for you.” After changing and waiting for the senior race he took me over to his family and introduced me. They lived miles from the school and I only knew him as a fellow pupil in my year. I shook hands with his parents and then went up to a very shy Angie and shook hands saying,
“Thank you more than I can say. You certainly saved my race and if I can ever do as much for you in the future you can be certain I shall.” The poor girl was blushing furiously and after a few more chatty words I said goodbye to Jim’s family and went back to watch the main race. Jim and I went on through school together for the next six years and were good friends when the last term of all at last came round. I was just eighteen that spring and would be leaving for university in September.
It was customary for the sixth form leavers ball to be held in the school and all of our year were keen to show off our latest girl friends. However, I had a flaming row with my current girl in February and was with no one five weeks before the dance. I hastily wondered who to ask. My own sister would have been a real downer in the eyes of my friends. Then an idea struck me. I had never met Jim’s sister since that cross country race and I suddenly thought that Angie might like to come. So I asked her brother if someone else was taking her as I hadn’t even met her since that race all those years ago.
“Heavens, didn’t I tell you, Anton, she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer several months ago just before her sixteenth birthday and is still in hospital. She’s had a hard time poor thing as she never lost her shyness and gets really lonely and depressed. The family have been badly shaken by her illness even though the doctors are confident she’ll be able to make a full recovery. But it could take ages.” I was shocked by Jim’s news and asked him to do me a favour. I said I wanted to drop her a line and get well card and asked him if he’d give it to her. He was delighted and said she’d be really pleased. The next day I gave him an envelope addressed to her and when she opened it that evening this is what she read.
“Hi Angie. Sorry to hear you’ve been so ill and even sorrier that we’ve not been able to keep in touch since I kicked a shoe at you. But I was hoping to give you a late sixteenth birthday surprise and invite you to the sixth form dance at the end of June. I don’t suppose there is any chance you could come with me, is there? If you’re not up to dancing I’d still love to see you again and take you with me. I’ve put my mobile phone number on this note so you can ring or text me to keep in touch and let me know if you could come. If not at least can I come and see you?”
From all Jim told me she was amazed to receive my card and invitation. She deperately wanted to ring me but was too shy and asked her brother to give me her number. She also asked her doctors if she would be strong enough to leave hospital and have an evening out by the time of the dance. When Jim told me this I rang Angie and we had a really long and enjoyable chat. The doctors had planned to discharge her that week anyway, so they thought a night out to look forward to would do her the world of good. But she was told she had to take it very easy.
I waited until she was home before arranging to visit her and was surprised at how pretty she was, especially suffering from that type of illness. She was going to come to the dance but said she couldn’t do more than sit quietly and watch. Not what I thought. When the evening arrived I collected her in a taxi and several of Jim’s friends were very glad to meet her. We had to have a quiet time, naturally, but when it came to the last dance I just looked at her and said,
“Angie stand up. Come here, put your arms round me and even if we can’t dance properly I can at least hold you close to me for a few minutes. I’ve been wanting to all evening.” The joy that lit up her face was all we needed to spend the next few minutes just holding each other close . In the taxi on the way home I kissed her and thanked her. “Not for being so lovely tonight, Angie, but for returning my shoe all those years ago.” She laughed and had tears in her eyes as she hugged me before going back indoors at home.
I had all sorts of plans to give her little trips out for the odd day during that summer, but on July the seventeenth I received a phone call from her mother to tell me she had had a relapse and died early that morning.
“But thank you for making the last few weeks of her life so enjoyable and such fun, Anton. None of us can ever thank you enough for that”. And nobody can ever make me forget her and what might have been.