At seven years old I was chubby and pigeon-toed. No one wanted me on their team during a game of kati. I was slow at ducking. I was mostly the helper, fetching the ball when it went out of bounds. My siblings made fun of my feet and everyone called me Sherry Boxy. I didn’t like it one bit.
My dad would get tired of buying me new shoes every term as I outgrew them so fast. Faster than my brothers.
To make matters worse, my centre of gravity was completely altered by my feet, and I would keep falling over, cutting my forehead on pavements. I even rolled down the stairs once, after losing my footing. I have the scars to show for it. And if you stand very close to me you can still see some of them.
The orthopedic recommended I wear my shoes chiko-leko for some time so my feet would re-adjust. The only shoes that allowed chiko-leko –without pinching my toes- were safari boots. Signature brown, but my pops would dye them black.
And that’s how I remember primary school: Chiko-leko safari boots. Other girls had the right school shoes. Some even had a cute ribbon on their shoes. The right shoe went into the right leg, and vice versa. I was the different, awkward and there began the long arduous journey to self-acceptance.
In class six boys were excited about that Science topic: Reproduction. I was taller than most of them. They’d giggle at a diagram of the vagina, and I thought they were too naughty for my liking. We had an ugly brown school uniform, and every girl had cornrows. My only 2 close girlfriends grew breasts quicker than I did.
Boys would hit on them, and place mirrors under their skirts. I don’t remember any boy showing that kind of interest in me. I was not a girly girl. I walked like a boy. My voice wasn’t soft. The only girlish game I could stand was cha mama; otherwise I preferred riding bicycles and climbing trees. Or maybe those boys just weren’t digging the chiko-leko vibes.
Then in class 7 I lost the weight. I still had no boobs, but a rounded bum was looming in the distance. A boy named George was also looming, dropping hand-written notes on my desk, and gifting me with chewing gums –appealing to my adolescent affections via my taste buds.
Still, being different is what I knew best. I was always in my own bubble. I had imaginary friends. I talked to them when my brothers didn’t want to play cha mama with me. My shosh would think I’m mad, and would say to my mom, “Pelekeni huyu hospitali aangaliwe.”
I wonder what she’d say about my big feet when she went back to the village.
I’ve never been too hot about my feet. They’re long and slender, and my toes have an unusual slant. It’s hard to explain the shape of my feet, really. It’s one of those things to which you say: “You have to be there to witness.”
I’ve always been self-conscious about my feet. Which doesn’t help because I also suffer from social anxiety.
I don’t wear open shoes, and I rarely wear heels –unless it’s a good brand that offers good support. I’m uncomfortable displaying my feet. Most times I just rock sneakers, and when I go shopping I head straight to the men’s section. I own many pairs of men’s sneakers. It’s like shoemakers couldn’t even begin to think of a woman in size eight and a half UK.
By campus I figured I was never going to fit in any circle. I was the square peg, a loner, an out-of-placer, taller than most, reserved, small chested, and no stomach for the social scene. I was in JKUAT, Juja, studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
During graduation someone turned to me and said, “Haiya, you were in this school for 4 years?”
I was a day-scholar, and I spent most of those years commuting from Lang’ata to Juja. I tried boarding for one semester, but even then I’d go straight to my room after class. I had no social life to speak of and campus life was just not my thing.
Boys would often knock at my door, and I’d bang the door on their faces.
I’d be like, “Go. What are you coming to do now? Oh, you want me to cook for you dinner? Hit the road, Jack.”
Shish! The audacity.
I was having none of it. Messing around felt like a waste of time. I got along nicely with my class rep, though. He used to help me out with assignments. I think he liked me. But I can’t say I made lasting friendships.
And then there was the hugging business. Why did Uni people hug so much? Like, I was with you yesterday. So why do we need to hug again?
Hugging felt strange and unnatural. First I had to stoop, and then to awkwardly wrap my hand around the other person’s shoulder; it was uncomfortable as hell. Weren’t my feet enough trouble? All eight and a half sizes of them? I’d never been hugged before. No one was a hugger back home.
Campus seemed like a conveyor belt of hugs, drink parties, and meaningless sex, and I found it hard to join the club. We were told Uni would be easier than high school, but it wasnt. It felt like one big rip-off.
Everyone wore full suits in my first year –sons and daughters of rich tea farmers from Eldoret, Kitale, Kiambu, Nyeri… students hailing from as far as Kisii and El Bagon.
Their eyes burned a gaping hole in me when I’d walked in ten minutes, in jeans and a crop top. Even the lecturers would always look at me like I was lost, in the wring class. It was hard to blend in. And it’s equally hard for my siblings too.
I guess it goes back to our childhood days.
We were rarely allowed to play outside as kids. My folks were strict like that. “No TV. Read a book. The TV is for news.”
We’d be allowed to go out maybe once or twice a month. Those days were pure bliss. I never wanted to go back inside. And I didnt want something as frivolous as lunch disrupting all the fun. So I’d carry carrots in my pockets, to munch on whenever I got a hunger pang. You didn’t want to risk it by going back in; otherwise there was a chance you’d be told you’ve had enough fun, and that you should sit tight until the next month. “Thanks for playing, kids.”
In some ways I’m grateful to my parents, because I wasn’t exposed to many things. Yes, I never knew how to flirt (Still don’t know how to ) , or watch porn, but I also didn’t feel any societal pressure weighing down on me. I was okay in my bubble.
I never went to any high school funkie. I didn’t do drama or sports. I wasn’t interested in any of those things. Meeting a boy from the neighboring school -in his shorts, and his corny lines, and his raging hormones- so he can tell you about his funny Bio TA was not my kind of fun.
Besides, what if they saw my feet?
Mike was no exception. It took some time before I let him see my feet. I always went to bed in socks, even if the room was warm and toasty. But Mike was way past that. Things like big feet didn’t matter to him. He helped me get comfortable with myself because he was also comfortable with himself. Also, Mike has far much worse feet than mine. They look like they belong to Shrek.
Right now, though, I’ve given up on finding pretty shoes my size. I’m okay with how I look, with my sneakers and my misaligned toes.
The older I get the less I care about my looks. There are bigger problems in this world, surely. Like school fees and securing a future for our kids.
I still harbor some insecurity. I’m still mindful about my weight. I wouldn’t wish to gain weight again. I got very big after my last-born. And it took three years to shed off the extra fat – 36kgs to be precise.
I’m also afraid of swimming pools. I can’t swim well. I don’t even think my feet would help me paddle better. But I can float and look good in a bikini. (Heeeeyy)
In your 20s it’s hard to ignore your flaws. You get unsure of your abilities. You get thrown out into the world, and you crave to fit in a box, or a circle, or wherever the lights burn bright and the adventures are plenty. They don’t call it the best and worst of times for nothing.
But as you get older you learn to accept yourself. You say: You know what; maybe I’ll never have a petite body, or have the ideal feet, so what? Find your space and be happy in it.
Other people are also less apt to play on your insecurities when you love yourself. Call me Sherry Boxy, and see me smile in a glimmer of nostalgia, and no shame.
My big feet have taught me some shoes will fit. And others won’t. And that’s okay too.