We should start with the feet. Not because there is anything special or distinctive about them, but simply because they are what grounds him to the earth. Literally. They are the wheels, the tracks on which he runs – both metaphorically and semi-literally. In real terms they are feet that have not been without their problems. An ingrowing toe nail, for example – the result of too much furtive picking when he was a child – for many years caused occasional pain but little impediment. It was something he had always meant to get sorted, and of course was forced to a while ago when he found himself often on the beach; a time when he realised having feet that were good to look at was worth something. Not that you would be able to deduce all that by looking at him now, as he sits there, absorbed by the newspaper he is reading, his feet – his real, warm, vaguely manicured feet – camouflaged by bright yellow socks and brown lace-up brogues.
Had they been professionally manicured, examined by someone who knew what they were looking at – other than the simple fact they were feet, one of each inclination – then those involved may have been able to highlight other anomalies, idiosyncrasies from which further deduction could be made. Those shoes – the leather highly polished, disguised to appear of better quality than they really are – hide hammer toes; specifically his big toes. The main knuckle joint is frozen, unbending. Has been for years. That hasn’t stopped him from running or playing football or badminton. They may have stopped him from playing them better, of course, but that is something he has not considered. Our professional chiropodist might seek to suggest reasons as to why his big toes have developed in this imperfect way, eventually landing on a theory of persistently ill-fitting shoes when he was a child. If it sounds plausible enough (and it is, in his case) then we might accept it and move on, bowing to their superior knowledge of the subject – and to our wanting to avoid any situation that might lead them to put something to the test. You suddenly have an image of someone breaking toes while trying to bend them, and feel sick as a result. Better to just take their word for it.
But then someone – and it may as well be me – asks you “Where do you want to start?”. And you are clearly confused, a signal given by the frown that appears on your face and the echoing of the last word I said. “Yes,” I say, trying not to sound a little disappointed in you. “Start. The ingrowing toe-nail? The being on a beach? The yellow socks, perhaps? Or what about the leather shoes? What might they tell you? Or maybe his sporting history? Or his childhood? What dire circumstances might have resulted in him wearing shoes that were too small for him for too many years? Start with his feet, by all means, but be prepared to go where they take you. As it were. Did you see what I did there? I put that last sentence in verbal parentheses, just to demonstrate how bloody clever I can be when I put my mind to it! So, what’s it to be?”
And now I wait for your answer.