A Muddy Pair Of Shoes

A Muddy Pair Of ShoesA Story byOscar Elizondo

Everyday it was just like the previous seven years for Panchito. Classmates in school would turn their heads as he would make his way to his seat. The students would often stare at his muddy shoes as they constantly left a trail on the concrete floor. At other times the dried mud would cake up and drop down beneath his desk. His seventh grade teacher in middle school did just as his previous six other elementary teachers had done in the past and it was to instruct the young lad to wipe the bottom soles of his shoes clean because of the mess he repeatedly created. While the teacher checked her list for students that were present or absent he could be found outside of his classroom cleaning his dirty shoes.
The oftened bothered students routinely made faces at him as he walked by them while taking advantage of the busy teacher. After being sent outside the taunting continued as he could hear them from the opened window. They would not stop the teasing until the teacher would catch onto what was happening and make them. Somehow it would have seemed obvious that after all of those years of torment and harassment he would have learned a lesson, but it didn’t.
Panchito would politely step outside as instructed and take off a lot of the mud. When he returned the appearance of his shoes stilled showed some signs of mud on them anyway, but for lack of not wasting anymore time, the teacher accepted all that he could do. What remained on them didn’t seem to fall off and it no longer posed any messy situations. Only the young lad knew the secret to that.
The 7th grade teacher would sent notes home that would direct the parents to talk to their son about not walking through the mud on his way to school. The letters would always come back signed and with the understanding that it had been taken care of, but nothing really changed. Panchito’s home address indicated that he lived somewhere up in the rugged mountains nearby. The problem with that was that there were no safe roads to travel in order to confirm his address. The principal at the middle school was obsessed at not being able to satisfy the complaining teachers and one day she decided to make a home visit herself.
One day Mrs. Rodriguez, the principle, decided to follow up on the incredulous stories the seventh grader would come up with and secretly watched him from a distance to observe the route he took home. She had made previous attempts to take him in her car to his house, but when she saw how dangerous the trails were she would turn back. She felt that the boy was not being indignant and that there had to be a more assessable road to reach his house. She sensed that he was keeping it a secret. She decided on a different approach and one day she waited for him to enter the dense vegetation that surrounded the mountain before secretly following him from a distance.
After only a quarter of a mile on the trail she realized that it would be impossible to keep up because there were many obstacles to prevent many people from reaching the mountaintop. She knew she had not made the shrewdest of choices because the treacherous path to climb up the monster rock would be unforgiving for people not used to the devastating dangers. Giant snakes, wild apes, mountain goats, and perhaps other crawling creatures awaited even the bravest of mankind to risk their lives climbing the different sections of the mountain.
The educated woman grimaced as she made her retreat from the rugged mountainside. Her faced had a tolerant look for the respect she had gained for Panchito after learning first hand about the difficulties the small boy had to endure everyday on his way to school and back. Principal Rodriguez rested for a while as she pondered at the numerous times she had spent scowling the boy with the muddy shoes. She even visited her memory further back recalling how she had waited for him outside the gates of the school to escort him to a cleaning area.
One not so nurturing moment she wanted to forget was when she lost her patience with him and said, “Panchito, why are you so hard headed? There was no rain last night and look at you! How can you tell me that your shoes are muddy again because of the rain? ” The poor child had not even responded to those harsh words and she was now feeling guilty knowing what she knew then about how he made it to school.
The teenage boy had sensed the tension on the principal’s voice, yet he never lost his composure. He tried not to smile too much because he didn’t want her to think that he was disrespecting her. He kept his head and eyes faced down at the ground instead and kicked some rocks next to him to loosen the mud off his shoes indicating to her that he understood where she was coming from.
Panchito had the loftiest respect for her and he was mortified at the scene that was taking place. Students had already gathered around them and some of them even had the audacity to add insult to his troubles by expressing their feelings. However, the principal quickly put a stop to that and she sent everyone on his or her way.
The principal could never get herself to punish him because he was not a discipline problem. Other than the muddy situations he never got himself in any trouble. His classwork and homework were always on time and his grades were better than average. The head administrator’s recollections of the boy were not all negative and she pondered going back to the campus and explaining to the faculty of another failed attempt of getting in contact with his parents. She didn’t want to make a spectacle of her efforts to find his house and talk to his parents. Mrs. Rodriguez kept the name of the person who had tried to find his house anonymous because she still had rue feelings about the boy.
Panchito had vivid recollections of his past. Whenever he had time he entered a date in his diary and write as much as he could remember. If he was too tired then he would read prior enteries. One of those memories was when he was in the sixth grade in elementary school and his class was out in P. E. It was the time when he almost shed his reputation for having muddy shoes.
Teams were pitted against each other in running events and the winning team was to be rewarded with some pizza and cokes. His friends were cheering him on since he was the last one to run from his class. The relay teams were winding down to the last person and his team was nowhere in the lead. His class was trailing all the others and their hopes of winning were dwindling fast.
When Panchito got the batoon the other boys and girls were already half a lap ahead of him, but he was in great shape from all the mountain climbing that he did over the years. His legs were strong, powerful, and the altitude of the mountains made him enduring and fast. By the time there was only a quarter of a lap left to the finish line he was right on the heels of the other runners. He could hear the jubilation from the cheers of his classmates as they took notice of his blazing speed. He was encouraged by their sudden support and he kicked his legs high in the air in order to gain the momentum needed to take the lead.
The runners ahead of him were all bunched up and there was not much room for passing. He could see the finish line and his eyes gazed for an opening. Suddenly an opening on the inside track became visible and he made his move. His enduring power and an extra burst of speed propelled him into the lead. Only a few yards more remained and his team would be rejoicing their come from behind victory. He could hear the cheering getting louder and louder, “Go Panchito go, go Panchito go, go Panchito go!”
His heart was beating faster, his breathing speed had more than doubled, and his eyes seemingly stretched out and tried to bring the finish line even closer, but something else caught his attention. There ahead of him was a patch of grass on the track that had not be mowed or trembled over by other feet and he had no time to react. His shoes had very little traction because of the mud under the soles and just when he thought he had it won he slipped and fell short of the finish line. He tried getting up, but it was too late. All the other boys and girls had passed him by and the damage to his frailed reputation only got worst.
“You clumsy boy, we could have won, but no-o-o-o! You had to have mud on your shoes like always. You caused us the race and now we have to watch the winners eat our pizza because of you! We don’t ever want you on our team, better yet we don’t want you in our class. Why don’t you move, or maybe go back up the mountains and stay there!”
He felt guilty about it; however there was nothing else for him to do but to listen to the boys and girls say even harsher things back inside the classroom. He was alone again, but he was used to it by then because many other things had happened to him even before that. For a minute or two he had them roaring for him and he thought that he had finally made friends at last, but he was wrong. He craved for true friendships, yet he knew that even that would have to wait after the new disaster.
Again he recollected other events in his life that he had recorded. When the boy with the muddy shoes was in the fifth grade he had saved money to eat in the cafeteria everyday. Nobody knew that he had no parents and that the money came from little odd jobs that he did. One day as he made his way to a seat in the school cafeteria he slipped on something that had fallen from someone’s tray and with the mud on his shoes it was easy to loose one’s footing. In order not to hurt himself from the fall he let go of his food tray as it spilled all over the floor. Some of it landed on the clothes of some students that were seated nearby.
Most of the students quickly stood up and walked away from their tables trying to get as far away from him as they could. They laughed at him when the cafeteria workers made him clean it up. Panchito swept the food onto a pan and then mopped up the mess he had created. Then with a soapy rag he cleaned the table until every part of the mess was gone. While he was doing so, some mud also slipped off his shoes and it exposed some of the holes that had been covered by some of the dried mud.
He thought nobody had seen what had happened, but someone was watching his every move. She was a quiet girl that was in his current class and she had been in all of his previous classes since the first grade. She saw him run outside after he was through cleaning and when he came back he had some fresh mud on his shoes. It was the first time she had seen the shoes without the mud and it finally dawn on her why he covered his shoes with mud. She wanted to run up to him and tell him something, but she knew it would be embarrassing enough to go back into class knowing what they were saying about him and so she decided to keep it a secret.
He didn’t eat that day, and many times after that he avoided going to the cafeteria. He would hide in the boy’s bathroom stall with the door locked and lift his feet up so that nobody would notice him there. It was not until towards the end of the school year when a teacher saw him going to the bathroom and not come out quickly enough that he was caught. However, the teacher believed that Panchito was ill from his stomach and only told him to take something for it at home, or to go see the nurse right away if necessary.
During those times that he stayed away from the cafeteria he was not totally without any food. Mysteriously everyday a sack lunch would appear by his desk with his name on it. He would look around to see who it belonged to and sometimes he would ignore taking it right away in hopes to see who was leaving it there. When he walked away from it the teacher would catch up to him and tell him that he had forgotten his lunch. Even when he explained to her that it wasn’t his, she would show him the name on it and then hand it over to him.
He dared not eat it at school but instead waited until it was time to go home. He would run out of the school grounds and hide in the confines of the mountain trees. He would gobble his food down without noticing that someone was watching from a distance. That person would look out from one of the windows in the library with a pair of binoculars and could see him enjoying his meal. The adjusted lenses painted a picture of a proud young lad enjoying the different kinds of foods that were inside the sack. It was obvious that he had never had such fine food and it revealed to the person watching that Panchito was poor and in need of help.
The hardships did not end there because further back in time while he was in the fourth grade more incidents had transpired that scarred his image. He was walking towards the building wing where he had his classes at when he came across a damp step that was right in front of the door. It had been washed earlier and water was still visible as he carefully stepped on it. He knew it was slippery and he was cautious as he approached the entrance to the building.
The mud on the soles of the shoes made it very hard for Panchito to stay upright. When he lost traction his head went down first as his feet flew high into the air. His head hit the pavement hard as his mouth absorbed the impact. Blood spilled out as two teeth broke off from the front, and the skin on his lip got cut too. He reached out for one tooth when he heard voices right behind him. He quickly stood up without being able to retrieve the other one.
A group of boys and girls let out in laughter as they saw his mouth. One of them said, “What do you have there in your hand Muddy Shoes?“ When he saw what it was he hit his hand until it dislodged it’s contents that fell to the ground next to the sidewalk. The boys kicked the two teeth out of sight with their shoes and taunted him about his new look. Panchito tried to find his lost teeth but it was impossible since he hadn’t seen the direction they had been them kicked to.
The rumor about his mouth getting busted and his teeth missing soon spread throughout the campus. Students would go out of their way to be near him and to see how they could make him talk or laught if it was possible. He tried to hide his pain by not speaking to anyone in class that day, but his own personal and emotional pain was tough to swallow. Especially when those around him pointed at his muddy shoes with a smirk on their face.
The next morning when he went to class he found a surprise waiting for him inside his desk. When he reached in he found a cute little red box. He looked around to see if anyone was staring, but he saw nobody looking his way. At first he thought it might be a prank since it often did happen. Then after he opened it he wasn’t sure about what to think of it. Inside the box were two clean teeth and he knew who they belonged to. Beneath them was a one dollar bill with a message that said, “From your Tooth Fairy.” Nobody ever came forward to confess and so he never knew where it came from.
It was a rough year for Panchito with his front teeth missing. When he spoke it was hard to understand and laughing at him became quite routine at school until after summer when they grew back. Many times he would run out of the room after the last bell rang in order not be made fun at. When he was delayed for some apparent reason it was a nightmare for him because another nickname had already been added to his other one and regardless of how he felt about it. Everywhere he went it was, “Here comes, Muddy Shoes Toothless Pancho!”
Still further back to the third grade his muddy shoes were well known. The whole class was involved in putting on a play for the whole school. It was PTA night and the auditorium was full to capacity with parents wanting to see their sons or daughters performing. All the actors had on beautiful white costumes, well, almost everybody. Panchito was the only one without a glamorous outfit since his parents had not brought in the money to pay for the material to have one made. Little did anybody suspect that his parents did not exist. They were not there that evening and had never attended any other social event at the school either.
The curtains opened, the audience applauded, and the special event got started. The play unfolded and his part was to walk to the front with the three main characters while pulling a yellow cardboard camel on wheels. There wasn’t a lot of room up on the stage and the three kings were bunched together. He was right behind the other two when one of the wheels got mired on something on the wooden floor. He attempted to free it as he turned around and started backing up while the other two students ahead of him had stopped. He hadn’t noticed that he had stepped on the long robes with his muddy shoes.
When the two kings took off again he was stepping on parts of the long robes and off they came right in front of the stage. The audience roared in laughter as the two boys put their costumes back on. However, the white material bared the footprints of Panchito’s muddy shoes. That brought even more laughter from the capacity crowd as the play continued on. Panchito couldn’t wait for the play to be over because he felt so bad for his classmates. He knew nobody was there for him, but he felt sorry for the other boy’s and girl’s parents.
When the play finally came to and end the young boy quickly slipped out through the back door. He didn’t wait to hear about any of the details about how things had gone that evening. Just the thought of getting scolded by the teacher and hearing the people laughing was scary enough for him. Also the idea of explaining the absence of his parents that evening was something he didn’t want to be confronted with.
The young boy didn’t show up for school following the embarrassing Thursday night and the two weekend days was an escape for him. When Monday came around he hoped that everything that had happened would have been forgotten, but it wasn‘t. As he walked down the hallway he could hear the voices all around him whispering, “There he goes, the boy with the muddy shoes that ruined the play."
He never meant to ruin the play, it had been an accident. Even though they didn’t think much of him, he still held his head high even though he felt like saying something back at them. He wanted to defend himself from the criticism, yet through it all, he kept quiet. He was afraid that if he told them his secret something might come about that would take him out of school. School was very important and he knew his parents would have wanted him to stay and learn as much as he could. It had been their dream and school was what had kept him going.
When he sat down in his chair he noticed a paper sticking out from one of his books. He pulled it out and started reading it. It was a program from the PTA night and it had his name underlined in red ink. Below it was a picture with all the characters in the play. He was not in the picture. Panchito was about to put it away when he found an attachment on the back of the program. It was a large size picture of him pulling a camel, but he was caught walking in reverse. He could see his behind and very little of his face. Below the picture was inscribed, “You were the star of the play. Thanks for taking the pressure off of us. You are my hero." Again, there was no name on it and he had no clue as to who might have taken the picture and written it.
Second grade was a nightmare for Panchito because it was a year that tested his faith, his character and his courage. The students had voted to exchange gifts for Christmas. He was reluctant at first because he had no money to buy a gift. Since it was not up to him to decide he went along with it. For days on in he had no idea how he would be able to participate until he came across an old lady that used to watch over him since his parents had died.
They showed him how to weave baskets and so he made a beautiful one. It was adorned with wild flowers that had been especially preserved in an old Indian custom. He picked wild and exotic fruits from the mountains and placed them carefully inside. When he set the basket down under the Christmas tree at school his teacher made the comment, “What a beautiful basket and what lovely, sweet looking, colorful fruit!”
All the student’s frowned because they had presents wrapped with decorative Christmas paper that their parents had bought. They were jealous since the teacher did not say anything about theirs. Little did they understand that it was only because she couldn’t see what was under the wrapping paper.
When it was time to pick a present from under the tree nobody wanted to select his except for one little girl. She had a great big smile on her face and she was ecstatic at what she had gotten. She walked close to Panchito and said, “Thank you for your present.” Then everybody else started doing the same by thanking the unknown giver of their gift by saying, “Thank you, whoever gave me this present.”
When they were done a student looked towards the tree and saw one gift still there and said, “Teacher, look there’s one present left. She walked on over and read the name tag on. She was surprised because every one of the students in the classroom had already picked a present. The extra one was addressed to Panchito. It didn’t have the name of the person who had given it to him and everybody had already opened their gifts from their exchanged classmates. He didn’t want to open it, yet the peer pressure was growing as everybody was gathered around him and encouraged him to pull the paper off.
Once the Christmas wrapping was off it brought tears to his eyes. Under the paper was a jar filled with mud with a message on it that read, “Mud for you and your shoes!” Nobody came forward with the name of the person who had written it, but it was obvious that it had been done by an older person. The writing did not match any of the second graders and the teacher believed that perhaps an older brother or sister of one her students had done it. He endured the day and he was happy that the Christmas holidays would start after he went home that day.
All of those memories were still fresh in his mind, but it was time for him to get back to the present and he was in the seventh grade. Middle school was a totally new experience and he had to prepare himself for whatever new encounters or challenges laid ahead. The beginning of the new year at a different campus brought new hope to Panchito as he walked down the hallway. There were many familiar faces and many new ones too as the year started for him in a most positive way. He did his work with pride and his grades showed how devoted he was to his studies. He made new friends, but the nickname stayed the same. Word had it that he never cleaned his shoes and the previous events still haunted him as rumors were still being spread around in school.
He met a girl in one of his classes that would talk to him and asked him for help every now and then. She pretended to know very little about him, or so he thought, and what the other students had to say to her about Panchito did not bother her at all. She knew him for the kind gentle person that he was, always ready to help in any way possible, and quick to avoid trouble at any instance. He even joined the football team and it was where he finally made his mark.
At first he was reluctant to join the team because he needed to bring a pair of extra shoes to play, and he knew he couldn’t afford any. He kept going to practice and at first it didn’t matter about his muddy shoes. The coach thought it was because of his hard physical play and was not aware of the years gone by and the nickname of Muddy Shoes that had been bestowed on him. Pachito always did his best and he soon won a starting job as one of the linebackers.
In his first true game he slipped a lot on some plays and the team lost the game opener. There were many finger pointers directed at him for missing some tackles, but there were other players that did not do their job either. However, with his reputation already tarnished because of his muddy shoes the members of the team focus more on him. It was a way to relief there own frustration and the coach tried to keep him positive about their next game by telling him to change his shoes and that things would work out for him.
After carefully thinking about it he was ready to quit playing football, not because of the pressure put on him by the team, but because of not being able afford a new pair of shoes. Little did he know that somebody had been watching him from the stands that Saturday morning who would help him stay with the football team.
It was the same girl that had watched him fall in the cafeteria and expose the holes on his shoes. She had also given him a picture that her parents had taken of him. The Christmas basket he had made was still sitting on top of her parent’s coffee table and had been admired by many visitors. Her father and mother had also pitched in to help her buy and select his new football shoes.
All through Panchito’s football playing days her family watched him become a great player. He lettered in football and got a scholarship to play football at the University of Texas. Panchito later became known by his true name of Frank and he married his middle school sweetheart.

OSCARELIZONDO
COPYRIGHT2008OSCARELIZONDO

A Muddy Pair Of Shoes

oscarelizondo

Harlingen, United States

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Artist's Description

Students teased a little poor boy that always showed up to school with muddy shoes. However, there is a good reason why. The teacher tries to find out the reason for it, but it becomes hard to follow him up the mountain trail. Now, it’s your time to follow him and if you do, you will be glad you read this story.

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