“This isn’t my idea of fun Sarah,” Mary grumbled as Sarah looked up and down the shelf in front of them. They were shopping in downtown Nairobi for shoes for Sarah’s graduation.

“That’s your problem,” replied Sarah, “It may be the first and last time this happens in my life and you’re obligated to make it a memorable experience for me. It’s a miracle I’m even graduating.”

“I’m elated you’re graduating, don’t get me wrong, but you know I’m not big on shopping, or heels,” Mary said. “As nice as they are to look at.”

“Just try and enjoy it,” Sara said as she reached for a pair of white pumps. “Live vicariously through me or something.”

Mary walked down the aisle and looked at some of the shoes on the shelf. She didn’t much like shopping, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer number of shoes the store stocked. They had everything: from Crocs and slides to brogues and platform heels. It was a shoe-lover’s dream.

She paused at an aisle with sneakers and inspected a pair of Old Skool Vans. She thought to herself how much more practical they would be to wear to a graduation. Or the pair of Chicago Air Jordan 1’s next to them. And they’d still work with a gown. But it wasn’t her graduation, so she left the sneakers aisle for the high heels aisle with a wistful glance at a pair of Nike Dunks.

She walked past row after row of block heels, knowing Sarah wouldn’t be interested in them. She had a soft spot for stiletto heels, despite the fact that they were named after a weapon. Or maybe because of it. They could function like a weapon if you adjusted your impression of a battlefield a little. Not all battles are fought with bombs and guns. Mary remembered the first time she wore heels to her high school end-of-year dinner. It was her final year and she wanted to celebrate and do something special, something out of her comfort zone. She also didn’t mind if it came with being the object of people’s attention in the process.

So she’d gone shopping for her first pair of heels. She found them in a small shop run by a lovely heavyset woman called Brenda off Muindi Mbingu Street in Nairobi. Brenda didn’t look like she ever wore heels, but she seemed to know a hell of a lot about them. She also somehow knew which heels would look best on which feet within a matter of minutes of meeting the owners of said feet. Mary had let her pick out a fabulous pair of heeled sandals with straps that tied up above her ankle. Somehow Brenda had known, with just a photo for reference, that they would go well with the dress Mary was going to wear to the dinner.

Mary had practised walking in those heels for a month before the dinner. She didn’t want to embarrass herself and being a perfectionist, she wanted to look like she lived in heels. She started in some of her mother’s shorter heels before moving to higher mid-height heels, and then to “proper” high heels. She also avoided slimmer heels in the beginning. She got comfortable in wider, chunkier heels before she wielded stilettos. She mastered heeling and then toeing (no, not the driving technique). She wore the heels she had bought around the house when she was doing chores to break them in and get comfortable in them.

She began to fall in love with the heels too.

She loved the way they made her look: elongating her legs and adding to her height. She loved how they seemed to accentuate the curves of her body. She loved the walk they gave her, a sultry strut she didn’t normally have. She loved the way they made her feel: strong, sexy, confident, and feminine in a way no other shoes did. She didn’t love the discomfort of wearing them, but she considered it a small price to pay for everything else the shoes did for her.

When the dinner came, Mary couldn’t wait to get to school. She couldn’t wait for everyone to see how good she looked, and how well she could walk in her heels. After all her practice, her confidence was sky-high. She got to school and used the path to the hall where the dinner was held as her personal runway. She strutted her stuff all the way to her seat, attracting stares of both envy and admiration. She revelled in the attention she was getting, especially from the boys (some of whom hadn’t bothered to notice her until now).

Then the dinner ended and Mary went off to university. Her heels followed her there and were joined by a few more pairs as Mary’s love for them grew. And then, after a while, her love for them took a dive. She went through a tough time in her life and realised that she was letting people’s opinions of her drive her and the things she did. She sought to change that, and in doing so avoided wearing heels. She felt she had started to wear them just to impress other people and switched to more comfortable and practical footwear, only wearing heels when she needed to.

Even after getting herself to a better place, she’d gotten so used to her more practical footwear that she often didn’t feel or even see the need to wear heels. That is, until now. Walking through the shoe store and looking at all the heels on the shelves made her nostalgic for the days she wore them often. Although she was a confident woman and quite sure of herself, she missed the edge wearing heels gave her.

She plucked a pair of neon green pumps from the shelf in front of her. As she walked back to Sarah, she spotted another pair, this one in patent leather, and took it with her as well. Sara was hunched over a shelf with more heels, still agonising over which pair she would pick. Mary dangled the neon green pumps in front of her face.

“Oh my goodness, where did you find those?”Sarah asked excitedly.

“Just down this aisle,” Mary replied. “I thought you’d like them.”

“I love them,” replied Sarah. “In fact they’re perfect. Thank you so much for finally deciding to be helpful.” Mary laughed and rolled her eyes.

“Did you want me to try those ones too?” asked Sarah, spying the patent leather pumps in Mary’s hand.

“No,” replied Mary with a smile. “These are for me.”