Daiyu wondered if she had a sign on her back that said “Looking For Owner”. What other indicator would make some particular people – she would rather not say it, but to be more specific, men – want to own her? Own her time, her friendships, her solitude?
It could have something to do with the long history of pale people owning brown people. But Daiyu has a newer theory that it is because she is female and not very large in any one dimension, more pet-like.
However, her feet are the exception. Her large feet – size nine! – for her not-large size. Those size nines used to be size eight – already large enough for her not-very-large frame – but grew a whole size larger after two pregnancies, as though her size eights were not adequate to provide the out-rigging for her enlarged body of forty extra pounds per child carried. That was plus one-third her weight. In spite of the fact that she shed those added pounds after each birth, her feet mysteriously remained a size nine, even after the additional stabilizing contact with the ground was no longer needed.
Sure, her mother had told her at age fourteen that she was chubby, which she was not, let it be known, but no one had to tell her that her feet were large, because she could tell, when she walked into a shoe store and all the displays were a size six. Furthermore, it did not take much calculation to notice that there were many females taller than she was – she never got moved to the back row when it was picture time. And since she was on the shorter side of things, it would seem reasonable, or proportional, to think her feet would also be on the shorter side of things, but they were not, even at a size eight. And it did not take long to understand that a shorter foot should go with a shorter frame, but her dimensions just did not work out that way.
The month of September had always meant her birthday but also a pair of saddle shoes for school. She loved the ones with the rounded toes rather than the pointy ones she noticed cheerleaders wore. If she had been an adult then, that would have been the time when she could have claimed she was a size six, or even a size five. Going back that far and throughout her life she has always loved bringing home a new pair of shoes. But she also loves taking them off – the moment of the day when she can drop her shoes by the door to be disregarded until the next time she has to go out. And when she is unshod, she often takes her socks off, too. Her father always told her not to go around barefoot – which she was doing all the time, hence his comment – because it would make her feet rough. She guessed that was a negative. Who would care if her feet were rough or not? It was only years later that she understood how it happens that people learn many rules no one has to actually say. Some of those rules became her own thoughts before she knew how to slam the door on them.
Her grandmother had bound feet, which meant bound and bound and bound and bound, tighter and tighter, year after year after year, until her feet fit into little three or four-inch shoes, and that is not the width. Daiyu saw a pair of those shoes in an ethnographic museum once. She has always wondered this about her illustrious ancestors: how does a woman walk on four inches of crumpled bone and mashed flesh? The young girls would cry out. The feet would rot. Writers wrote about the stench. Women had to be carried. Forget running away or running for your life.
Those women (or were they girls?) were especially prized for intricate hand-embellishment on their intricate miniature shoes. They had a pair reserved for sleeping with their husbands, who so preferred little embroidered nubs. For at no time would anyone want to look at that which was once a foot in its naked deformity. So to Daiyu’s mind, it was some form of luck to be a poor farming woman whose family needed her big feet to work the fields and carry water. That rural woman may not have eaten bird’s nest soup or had her picture taken at the monastery dressed in robes, but at least she had her feet.
Daiyu sits on the side of the tub and places her feet on the bathroom floor, lining up the left edge of her right foot along the grout line, her longest toe meeting the far edge of the twelve-inch square. All four corners of her feet in contact with the floor, as her yoga teacher would say. She takes measure of her foot being five-sixths the length of the tile. She affirms the grand width of her metatarsus, the spread of her toes. She even affirms the spaces in-between, as important, she thinks, as the rests between musical notes. She says Yes to those toes and to their knowing unboundedness, their knowing what it is to wiggle, their knowing how much their small articulation means freedom.
© 2013 Lillian Hsu