“A black shoe in the entrance to a building” opens the story by young Palestinian writer Hisham Naffa. It seems that the main protagonist of the story is a single, not very scruffy, black shoe left in the entrance to a building. In fact, the true protagonist is the humdrum routine that gives the shoe the importance ascribed to it and the element of surprise present throughout the text. People leave the building for work, school, and the daily grind, but they leave and return and the building always remains the same. How strange then that this repetitive flow of existence, where everything is fine, should be disrupted by an unwanted guest seemingly outside of time and place, without an owner or seeker, and perhaps stranger yet without its matching shoe.
“A single shoe in good condition at the entrance to a large building wasn’t something that happened every day,” writes Naffa. But in fact, the extraordinary event is not the presence of the shoe, but the person who notices it and the thoughts that occur to him. The action in the story takes place in an extremely limited space of time – the time it takes the narrator to go out to buy a pack of cigarettes and some tomatoes and come back with the cigarettes and without the tomatoes – during which the residents of the building walk past the shoe without ascribing it any special significance, and should one of them have done so, that remains beyond the consciousness and mental world of the narrator. All the same, the shoe leads the narrator to an outpouring of feeling and ideas that make him wonder about contemporary human existence, civilized, urban, alienated, and based on repetition and routine that causes individuals to feel indifferent to their material and immediate social surroundings. Within this reality, the constant presence of neighbours caught up in their endless routine does not make the narrator (who represents us) anxious about the wellbeing of others part of his environment or about the essence of his existence in the way that the shoe interests him. The shoe is alien, invasive, shocking, tearing at everyday appearances, and calling for a reappraisal of the fundamental and social truths that support him.