The delight of the strange

The shoe sits on the sidewalk, slightly askew. A well worn trainer, perhaps Nike or Adidas, with lemon yellow laces and a hole near the toe. No one is around and I stop in the middle of my morning walk to take a photo, wondering: How did one shoe end up here? Where’s its partner? Did the person wearing this shoe walk home barefoot? Were they still wearing the other shoe? Did they limp/hop back to their car? Strange.

I’m a person who notices strange things. A random shoe abandoned on a sidewalk. A playing card, often an Ace or a Queen found on the side of the road. For some reason it’s always just one playing card, never the entire pack scattered. How can someone lose just one playing card? Are that many people walking around Kuwait with playing cards so loosely tucked into their pocket that one falls out so easily?

Once I found a straight back chair sitting upright smack in the middle of the road. I was driving home late from work, it was dark and this stretch of road had no lights, the houses set far back off the highway, city heading into suburb. Only by luck and a quick swerve did I manage to avoid hitting the chair with my car.

“What the heck!?” I screamed out loud as I swerved back into the right lane. Thank God no traffic had been coming from the other direction. I could have ended up in the ditch on the roadside, tall grass and weeds burying my shattered car.

How did that chair get there? Did it fall off a truck filled with kitchen chairs on its way to a party? Or more likely, did some bored teenager place in it in the middle of a quiet road in the middle of the night in hopes of causing a crash? Ten years later and I’m still wondering…

Last week while shopping, my daughters and I came out from a store and were shocked to find a taxi with two shrunken turtle shells in the back window. “Gross!” my older daughter yelled. “Ewww,” her sister chimed in. Why would anyone display such grotesqueries in the back dash of their taxi window? On closer inspection, we realized that the shrunken turtle shells were actually deflated, brown leather soccer balls. They had been placed, one on each end, of the taxi’s back window dash and likely deflated by the heat. They were also covered in dust, sunken in and frankly gross to behold.

We went on about our day, finished our shopping and enjoyed some ice cream and didn’t give the yucky soccer balls a second thought. But the next day on my way to work, I noticed that the taxi in front of me also had soccer balls in the back dash window. This one looked like a fairly new soccer ball, still white and inflated properly. “Odd,” I thought. Then a few days later, another taxi, another two soccer balls. These were black and gray triangled. So is this a trend? Taxi and bus drivers often decorate their vehicles. Most of you have probably noticed the rainbow colored caterpillar or the fake flowers stuck in the grill of the bus or taped to the back windows. Soccer balls are a new phenomenon, though, or at least new to me.

Curiosities are delightful. They add interest and texture to our days. They surprise us in unexpected and wonderful ways. They often lead us to pause and reconsider something ordinary that we otherwise would move past without a second thought.

Take for example Kuwait’s Mirror House. This unique and unusual work of art, also a functioning home and museum, is one of my favorite tourist destinations in Kuwait. Entirely bedecked with murals made from broken mirrors, it combines art and whimsy with the practical. I always take visitors from abroad to see it, and if we’re lucky, meet and talk with the artist, Lidia Al-Qattan, who has spent a lifetime creating it. There are many lovely museums in Kuwait but the Mirror House delights in an entirely different way because it is so unique and unexpected.

Finding a solitary shoe on the sidewalk similarly delights. It’s odd, out of the ordinary. A curiosity to ponder. A child’s shoe, I can understand. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a mom was pushing the child in a stroller and the toddler kicked one of her shoes off and mom didn’t notice until they reached home. This makes sense, there’s a ready and simple explanation.

But an adult shoe? In the middle of the sidewalk? I’m not talking about one washed up on the beach (though there is sadly a horrifically bizarre story of single shoes with the feet still in them washing up on beaches in the Pacific Northwest. So far at least 15 lone feet, most of them ensconced in an athletic shoe or sneaker, have been found this past decade. Google it.)

Thankfully for me, the shoe I found on the corniche had no foot attached. The size 10 Nike was fairly clean, fairly new looking but wholly abandoned and without a partner. I picked it up and checked the label and then planted it on the concrete bench facing the water. Perhaps its owner will return, looking for it, and if not, others may also notice the solitary sneaker, looking out to sea.

By Jamie Etheridge

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