Colm Craig is a first year English student at Queen’s University Belfast: “I love the short story form mainly because it captures moments in such beautiful detail. I enjoy writing about cities and communities of people, I find their interactions very interesting.”

‘Samuel’s Shoes’ by Colm Craig

Samuel’s shoes were too tight. His feet swelling against the taut laces, Samuel shambled, out of Tottenham Court Road tube station onto the A40. It was late; Samuel did not know the time, he just knew it was late – it was one of those days where everything was late. His legs escorted him past lonely Londoners; Samuel wondered if he were to collapse, due to a dangerously ‘malignant’ and ridiculously ‘aggressive’ brain tumor, if they would step over his still twitching corpse – or if they would stand on his puffy, gasping face. Or maybe they would scream, rush him to hospital, he would be saved at the last minute by a skilled brain surgeon and become a world-renowned success story, charities would be set up in his honor, and papers will be written about his neurons. He didn’t know which eventuality he preferred more.

Samuel found himself in faux-Elizabethan quaintness of Soho Square Gardens he had to sit down, his feet were transmuting into one, throbbing blister – ready to pop if he were to take one more step. He didn’t even want these shoes, but he was told that he had to ‘break them in’, because they were got special for his birthday. Samuel wished someone had ‘broken him in’; maybe he needed to be worn down to be ready for this life. An elderly man, slowly – with great care and precision – promenaded towards Samuel’s bench (not that Samuel’s buttocks had claimed this bench, Samuel just was perturbed by the man’s presence). He installed herself next to him and, after two squirrels had past, took out a copy of The Independent. Samuel, needing some form of distraction from his burning feet, took a highly extended glance at the broadsheet: ’12 die in murder suicide.’ It read, ‘Cult leader Elkanah seduced 2 families to commit horrific acts.’ Samuel looked away – his eyes began to prick. And then, as if the agony from his inflamed feet overtook him, he cried. He tried to hold back but he found himself possessed by sobs. As soon as the warm tears touched him though, he found them evaporating. The man looked up at him through thick, black glasses. “Oh gosh, are you ok?” he requested – his voice barely higher than a dog whistle. Samuel opened his salty eyes and peered into the old man’s obsidian lenses. ‘Yeah’, Samuel paused – somehow knowing the man deserved an explanation – ‘I guess it’s just what the paper was saying, you know, about the 12 dead,’ he explained. ‘Oh gosh, 12 you say, that is sad,’ the old man hesitated, ‘I wish you’d never told me,’ he finally uttered, morosely. Samuel, confused, pointed to the overbearing headline – ‘But it’s there, how can you miss it?’ The man laughed and folded the paper up. ‘The trick is to not read it,’ he answered and removed his frames. Underneath were dead planets, pupils of slate quivering in the moonlight, wet and unseeing and blind.

Samuel roamed on, his feet crumbling away at every tread, he found himself in Chinatown. White gawkers absorbed in other ethnicities from a safe distance rubbernecked shop fronts causing the train of pedestrians grind to a halt. Samuel’s pace slowed, he considered the mass of people he stood within, the collective hive-mind. He stood next to a middle-aged woman, and he wondered if she was as alone as he. Samuel wondered if she too, just wanted to touch someone again. If she held herself at night, imagining the arms were someone else’s. If she too, wanted to hold his hand, just for the briefest of moments, just the smallest contact. But, the congregation moved on, as did Samuel.

Samuel’s feet were numb now; he did not feel them as they carried him towards Embankment Pier. He checked his phone, but no one had text. He told them not to though. So what did he expect? He had expected a lot by now, he had expected a wife, maybe even kids; he had expected it to all just happen – but it hadn’t. Samuel stood over the Thames. He sat on the edge of the pier and removed his shoes; he inspected his feet, expecting blood red welts but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Samuel let his feet fall into the raw and glacial river but did not feel the cold. Samuel unbuttoned his shirt and removed his belt and felt nothing but warmth. He had expected someone to stop him, but in the end only He stood in the way of becoming one of the forgotten. Only he could stop the apathetic waters funneling him away to be distant memory.

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Recorded in the QR studio by Lucy Smith and Emmet McGonagle.