Lenara and I have been friends since our first grade. Don’t ask me how. Sometimes the girl gets on my nerves, but she has stuck with me through thick and thin. As cringy as it might sound, I do love her to death. Besides, our ability to annoy each other while simultaneously caring for one another is a feat quite unique.

Lenara is what one might call quirky at best and weird at worst. Once in the fifth grade, we came across a cat, and she dragged me to follow the poor thing around because apparently it had the exact same tail of a cat she had seen in her dreams. After three miles of pursuing this random cat, she recalled that it was in fact a komodo dragon she had dreamed about, and not a cat.

So, you see what I’m dealing with here?

Lenara had this “special” pair of slippers that she loved like nothing else. They were comfy flip-flops with tiny red daisies painted on a canary yellow background. The red-line straps had a velvety feel to them. They looked like they might tickle your toes, but once you slid your feet in, your toes would find bliss in their softness. I’ve seen her wearing them since… well, since forever. They were huge for her tiny feet in the early years of our lives, but, as time passed, she grew to fill them out with her stinky feet.

Whenever I asked where she got them from, she would come up with some new ridiculously wild story. It was an inside joke of sorts. Another one of her quirks, I guess.

In our last year of graduation, we decided to take a trip to the nearby beach town of Orygia. It was one of the only touristy places in our state, a very popular one at that too. We had been there with our families, but never with each other. Both of us were house cats and considered a trip to the nearby ice-cream parlor a big journey, so we had never really thought about going on a real trip. But since it was our last year of school, and we had our respective colleges at the opposite ends of the country, we decided to venture out and have some last bit of fun out by the sea and under the sun.

We set out with our backpacks full of useless junk for a weekend by the ocean. Her slippers, obviously, kept us company through the whole train ride and for some time after that. We had booked our room in a nice travelers’ hostel near the beach and had finally settled down on the pleasantly warm sand, Lenara with her kalimba and me with my book. Oh, just in case I didn’t mention it already, Lenara plays the Kalimba very well. Quirky, isn’t she?

After half an hour of lounging, we decided to go for a swim in the very inviting ocean. Her precious flip-flops were buried in the sand under our towel and her kalimba was quickly taken back to the hostel room, which was right beside our spot on the beach. I only had my book and some cheap slip-ons, so I just threw them on the towel carelessly. We were sure our things would be completely safe back there. There were no dogs or other stray animals around and the off-season meant that people were few, if any at all. We threw caution to the wind and ran toward the ocean.

After a really fun water-war and some peaceful floating in the ocean, we came back to our spot on the sand, ready to go back to the hostel and gorge on some sandwiches. All those plans went out of the window as soon as we realized what had happened to our belongings while we indulged ourselves with a nonchalant water-splashing session. Our towel was strewn about, and someone had dug out the yellow slippers and stolen them. We found that all of our other personal effects were safe. It was just the slippers.

This was weird because someone had actively dug the slippers out as if they were here just after them. It didn’t look like any animal’s work, nay it could not have been an animal’s work. It seemed rather purposeful. Lenara was on the verge of freaking out. Her slippers had been lost before, but this time it seemed a little different. However, her bullheadedness kicked in and, soon enough, off we were on the quest for the yellow slippers.

There were some faint footprints visible in the sand that seemed to be heading for and then going back from our spot on the beach. Naturally, we decided to follow them. The beach town was a family favorite when it came to vacations, so we were pretty sure we could turn a blind eye to the streets and alleys. Moreover, we had Google Maps to give us company, with her condescending guide to judge our dubious navigational abilities.

Etheria lived alone in a weird house

The footprints came to a halt at this weird house with slanting thatched roofs propped up on stilts. It seemed like some bizarre combination of a summer home and a pirate’s hideout. We looked at each other, shrugged and knocked at the door. At this point, I’d like to tell you, Lenara had been barefooted, because, as she put it, “putting on another pair of footwear whilst on the quest for retrieving her favorite ones would be an insult to the very Shoe God”, whoever the fuck that was supposed to be. However, being the practical one, I sneaked off to buy an extra pair, just in case we had to walk on burning coals on our way to the yellow slippers. You never know.

The door opened to a large hall decorated with bamboo and driftwood. At the center of it was this wrinkly old lady sitting on a wicker chair with tinted round glasses looking straight at us. She was stroking a large tortoise on her lap as if it were a cat. The whole scene was very spooky to say the least. “What the ocean takes, it gives back as well” she said in the raspy tone that reminded me of the voodoo granny I had recently seen in a documentary about New Orleans. “So true” said my dumbass friend. “Greeting, O kind woman of wisdom, my name is Lenara. This is my sidekick Inana. We are looking for a pair of yellow slippers. Have you, perchance, any knowledge about the same?” she said with a comically grandiose manner that made me roll my eyes so hard that they nearly popped out.

“Why are you talking like that? This ain’t a Shakespeare play” the old woman replied and I let out a guttural laugh that I couldn’t contain any longer. “I don’t know, you seemed very ethereal” Lenara squeaked without any trace of embarrassment.

“That I am. In fact, that’s my name. Etheria. Nice to meet you” the old woman grinned. Her insouciant smile gave away the fact that some of her teeth were missing.

“Etheria… what a beautiful name!” I said, trying to butter her up.

“It sounds so very knowledgeable. Please help us find these slippers, Etheria. My friend here has had them since she was little” I implored as Lenara made optimal use of her puppy eyes to sway the woman further.

“I don’t know what you are talking about; I only have my own slippers. Here, take a look.”

She wiggled her toes in front of us and, lo, we found the very thing that we were looking for – the yellow slippers.

“Hey lady, these are mine!” roared Lenara. “How could you just steal them?” she growled as she lunged for the woman’s feet. Etheria, however, was a lot faster than she seemed. She jumped out of her chair, letting the tortoise fall onto the floor. The reptile seemed unbothered as it crawled away.

“Are you calling me a thief, you little pissant?! These are mine; I found them in the beach.”

Before the matter could escalate, I butted in. “Let’s calm down, all of us, shall we? Etheria, when you say you found them, do you mean you dug them out of the sand from under a towel?”

“Why, yes. I was out on a treasure quest. And I found the treasure! These slippers! Just look how colorful they are!” she squealed with delight.

“They indeed are, but you know we actually buried them there because we didn’t want to lose them. That towel was ours you see. We really need them, Etheria. Please give them back.” I tried to reason with her.

All of a sudden, she started crying, shaking her head with her eyes closed, throwing a tantrum like a child.

“But they are mine. My dad buried them for me. He always does this on my birthdays. It’s my gift. You cannot take them away from me. Please, I… I won’t let you take them. He’ll be coming back from the sea anytime now.”

She started blabbering and whimpering and there was so much we could do to calm her down. Finally, with a lot – like a million – words of comfort and the assurance that we weren’t going to take away her slippers, we let her rock herself on her wicker chair, as Lenara and I looked at each other. It was clear now that the old woman was a delusional soul looking for some comfort.

We put two and two together and concluded that her dad used to take care of her and had possibly died at the sea. After throwing a few questions at her, all the while careful not to upset her, we found out that she lived there all alone and a woman dropped by every morning to feed and bathe her before leaving a few hours later. Her dad was a sailor and had gone to the sea. We couldn’t quite fathom how long it had been since she had last seen him, but it was evident that she had been waiting in vain for quite a long time. By then, Lenara had gone unusually quiet as I entertained the woman with some stories of our own. And then, all of a sudden, my best friend started talking, ”You know Etheria, my dad got me slippers like these, too. I was very small then. My feet were too little. But my eyes were stuck on them and my dad could never say no to me back then. We had the best day when we bought them. My dad got lost on the same day, though. I couldn’t ever find him again after that day. But I kept those slippers with me. I’ve found them again and again.” She smiled at Etheria as she finished.

Lenara’s dad suffered from chronic depression. I had always known him that way. Lenara never talked about it unless it was a really, really bad day. On those days, she would just come to my house, lie next to me on the bed and listen to old songs on the radio. I would ask her how she got her slippers, she would make up some ridiculous story and then we would look at each other and smile.

Etheria looked at Lenara’s wet green eyes and then down at her bare feet. Without any words, she got one of the slippers out and handed it to Lenara. “Here. The sea gives back whatever it takes. Give it time. But till then, keep this” she said.

Today, Lenara keeps that slipper behind the headboard of her bed. We visit Orygia every time we come back home in the holidays. Etheria wears only that one slipper, even if we fruitlessly keep trying to get her to wear a new pair. Tomorrow we’re taking her to the ocean. She wants to say goodbye to her dad.

This birthday, she didn’t find any treasure in her treasure quest. So, that must mean he’s gone.

…now that you’re here

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