The screams that shook the walls of the tiny shoe store could be heard up and down the street, all the way from the bakery to the local branch of the Caisse d'Epargne.
Le Petit was trying on shoes, and he was not happy about it.
It was Wednesday afternoon, and I was grateful I'd dragged my mother-in-law downtown to help us shoe shop for I'd never have had the courage on my own.
Le Petit was still wearing the pair of velcro sneakers I'd bought him back in October. They were starting to feel tight and it seemed to me like an awfully long time to keep baby shoes, even ones only worn during brief daily visits to the park. (He's an urban baby and I'm terrified of narrow sidewalks and busy streets, so le Petit spends much of his time outdoors shod in Robeez and confined to a stroller.)
Le Petit is skeptical of novelty and particularly fearful of unfamiliar objects forced upon his feet. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, the contents of his nose was dripping down his chin, and he was screaming his indignation with such force that a well-meaning woman came up to us and asked us (half-jokingly, I hope) just what we were doing to the poor child. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law had pulled off one of his beloved lion-faced Robeez and was trying unsuccessfully to squeeze his foot into the first shoe I'd handed her.
I wish I could say that I got down at le Petit's level and reassured him with a hug and some gentle words, but my reaction was split between stifling laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation and standing and staring, helpless. We tried and tried again, but there was just no way le Petit would let a single toe suffer the insult of an unfamiliar shoe. I oohed and aahed the aesthetic merits of each pair, I pretended to squeeze my own feet into them, I commiserated and explained, I begged and promised a quick trip to the playground if he would cooperate, all for naught.
We left the shoe store in shame, walked three blocks, then circled back after deciding to buy an untested pair and try them at home. Then, a determined saleswoman (with two similarly stubborn children at home, she confided) decided to take matters into her own hands. She grabbed le Petit's feet and expertly slid them into the shoes we'd been eyeing. She pinched the toes and the sizing seemed right. It was time for a test run.
But le Petit, who'd been pathetically demanding "Marcher! Marcher! [walk! walk!]" through his tears since we'd entered the store, refused to take a single step once we liberated him from his stroller. He just looked at me and cried tragically. The saleswoman might as well have fitted him with cement shoes and dropped him into the Seine.
I played peek-a-boo, we tried to distract him in front of the mirror, but absolutely nothing would change his mind. Then I saw my last chance: ever since we'd arrived, le Petit could think of nothing but escaping the dreaded shop into the pedestrian street beyond. I picked up le Petit and caught my mother-in-law's eye. "You pay, we'll wait outside," I told her.
Le Petit's crying subsided as he saw we were headed for the door, but the inventory control gate started to beep when we passed. I hurried back inside and stood a protesting le Petit upright on top of the counter to demagnetize the soles of his new shoes. A second later we were outside for good.
I'm fairly certain le Petit's feet started to move before they even hit the ground, for he was off at full-speed, possessed by the wild energy of a liberated prisoner. He ran up to the doorway of an apartment building and pointed at the digicode pad, yelling "Bouton! Bouton!" [button]. Then he ran up to the window an appliance store and shouted out "Ti! Ti!" [petit-speak for television] . He darted left and right, giddy with freedom. The trees were greener, the sky was bluer, the cars were shinier, everything was richer after his escape.
I scrambled to keep up and noted, pleased, that the new shoes seemed to suit him just fine.