Boy sat on his bed putting on black leather velcro shoes


Size Nine, Black Leather, Velcro Fastening

by Jill Waters

Competition theme: 'Perspective'

Megan watched as the boy screamed, fists clenched, feet kicking. A tsunami of rage. She’d only worked here two months and was underprepared for the August onslaught of children needing school shoes. She’d had her fill of sweaty socks and girls demanding unicorns and sparkles. But this little boy was something else. She’d never seen a face so red, a child so angry. His poor mum was pretty red-faced too, simultaneously trying to calm him down whilst avoiding his flailing legs. Megan held the shoes - size nine, black leather, velcro fastening - in her hand, but daren’t hand them over in case it made things worse.

Looking around, she could see that other customers were making no pretence of ignoring what was going on and stared quite openly, muttering to one another about ‘a quick slap on the behind’ and ‘I blame the parents’. She felt at a complete loss as to how to help…

Julie crouched next to her son writhing on the floor as if he was being tortured. This had been a mistake, but she couldn’t let him go back to school in trainers again. They’d made allowances in Early Years and Reception, but Year One was ‘proper school’ and they would expect ‘proper shoes’.

‘Come on, Sam, calm down. Look, I’ve got some Cheesy Wotsits. Just try on the shoes and you can have them. Don’t kick me.’ She reached into her bag, ‘Look, here they are. Your favourite. Ouch, stop it.’ Julie was aware of the tuts and stares of the other customers. She was tempted to scream in their faces about casting the first stone and being judgemental but knew that would only make things worse. Instead, she tried to joke that she should’ve shopped online. Nobody laughed. ‘Shoot me,’ she thought, ‘Shoot me now.’ She reached over to try and move him, but Sam’s teeth sank into her arm, breaking the skin as she pulled it away.

‘What is she thinking?’ Phyllis asked her friend, ‘Why bring such an ill-behaved child into a lovely department store like this. In my day, he’d have had a swift slap on the behind. That would have sorted him out.’

‘Oh I don’t know, Phyl, she’s trying her best. I can remember having difficult days when mine were little. Rather her than me, I say.’

‘You’re too soft, Hazel. Discipline, that’s what’s lacking these days. Look, she’s offering him crisps now. Bloody ridiculous. Kick off and get a treat. What’s he going to learn by that?’

‘Oh no, Phyllis, he’s bitten her. Poor woman. Maybe we should try and help.’

‘Absolutely not. I’m not risking hepatitis for anyone,’ Looking towards the struggling woman, she raised her voice to add, ‘Come along Hazel, I’ll buy my shoes another day… when it’s quieter.’ As they walked away, Hazel glanced at Megan and shrugged apologetically.

Sam couldn’t cope. The lights were flickering overhead and making his head ache. The music playing hurt his ears and he was surrounded by shoes. He heard, ’Size nine, black leather, velcro fastening.’

Sam hated shoes almost as much as he loved Cheesy Wotsits. Shoes pinched his toes and made his feet hot. Shoes had velcro. He hated the feel of velcro. It made his tummy feel funny. His Mum hadn’t told him they were coming here. Well, she might have done but he didn’t always understand what she said. At school, they drew pictures to go with their words. At school, they gave him ear defenders if it was noisy. At school, they let him take his shoes off until playtime. But this wasn’t school. It was a noisy, brightly lit shop with lots of shoes.

Sam felt scared. He didn’t know how long he was going to be here, or what he was going to have to do. He knew that if he screamed and rolled about on the floor, his Mum would take him home. It always worked. At the doctors, at the dentist, at the hairdressers…

Today, though, something was different. His throat hurt from shrieking, but they were still in the shop. Worse, the girl had shoes in her hand. Size nine, black leather, velcro fastening. Even Cheesy Wotsits wouldn’t make him put them on. His mum reached towards him so he bit her arm. The metallic taste of blood distracted him momentarily. He shut his eyes and put his fingers in his ears to block out the World.

‘Last week of the summer holidays,’ said Paula to her boyfriend, ‘Can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. Let’s get the shopping over with and we can have lunch by the river. I just want to look at the sale shoes, see if they’ve got anything suitable for work.’ She was pushed aside by an irate woman who warned them not to go into the shoe department because of, as she put it, ‘a bit of a kerfuffle’. Paula looked ahead and saw a figure she instantly recognised. ‘Oh God, it’s Sam,’ she said.

‘Paula you’re on holiday,’ Darryl pointed out, ‘It’s not your problem. Let his mum deal with it. Or the shop assistants.’

‘I don’t think that’s happening. Look. He’s screaming, she’s bleeding and the assistant looks as if she wants to be anywhere else but here. I won’t be long. Promise.’

She walked over and said, ‘Mrs Golding? Julie?  Hi, it’s Paula Thomas, from school. Everything okay?’ Julie burst into tears, overcome by a friendly voice. Looking at the girl’s name badge Paula continued, ‘Megan, is it? Could you take Mrs Golding to sit down for a bit? Maybe call a first aider for an ice pack, some antiseptic? Oh, and could I have some paper and a pen, please? Thank you so much.’

Sam felt a touch on his arm and slowly opened one eye. ‘Sam,’ a voice said. That was his name. They were talking to him. Miss Thomas from school held up some paper and started to draw some pictures:

A chair. A man sitting on a chair. A man with shoes on. A man walking. Shoes in a box. A bag of crisps. A car. Home.

As she pointed to each one, she told him what they were. He watched carefully, processing the information. Miss Thomas fetched a chair and put it next to him, pointing to the picture. She pointed to the next one, so he stood up and sat on the chair. He wasn’t happy, but he knew what to do. The next picture was the stickman wearing shoes. Sam saw the lady holding the shoes. Size nine, black leather, velcro fastening. He eyed her nervously but took his trainers off. He trusted Miss Thomas. He let her gently put the shoes on his feet. ‘Okay, Sam?’ she asked. He gave her a reluctant thumbs up. He understood what came next. Before she showed him the drawing, he started marching around, watching his feet as he moved. He circled the room and sat down, shuddering as he unfastened the velcro, and put the shoes back in their box. Everyone clapped. Sam put his fingers in his ears. His mum showed him the picture of the crisps and gave him the packet. At last.

Julie turned to Paula. ‘You’re a magician,’ she said, ‘I can’t thank you enough. How did you do that?’

‘I’m not his mum. Plus, I’ve been working with children like Sam quite some time. Learnt a few tricks along the way. After the holiday come in for a chat. We’ll see if there’s anything that will help you at home. Right, my boyfriend’s doing his ‘annoyed’ face. I’d better go. Pay for the shoes quickly, while Sam’s still eating. Then car and home.’ She rushed off, waving over her shoulder.

As Megan swiped Julie’s card, she asked, ‘Is he feeling better now?’

‘I think so. Sam has autism and sometimes it’s tricky to prepare him for what we are going to do. I kind of wish I could spend an hour in his head. Maybe I’d understand him a bit better. Thanks for the icepack.’

‘Oh, I hope it heals okay. Take care. Bye Sam.’

Sam eyed her. ‘Size nine, black leather, velcro fastening,’ he said.

All day Megan kept revisiting what had happened. Every time she fitted black leather shoes with velcro fastening she thought about Sam. The next morning she told her supervisor what had happened. ‘Everyone thought he was being really naughty, but in fact he was completely overwhelmed. Shows you shouldn’t judge, I suppose. Anyway, I’ve been thinking. Could I do a bit of research? See if I can find some ways to help children like Sam cope a bit better when they come here and try on shoes. Would that be okay, do you think?’

She barely waited for an answer before typing ‘Supporting children with autism’ into her smartphone and starting to make notes.


Photo of Jill who wrote this short story

Jill Waters, joint winner of the 2022 Ovacome Short Story Competition