Friday, October 10, 2003

Dep (but pronounced zep): An insight into mankind via plastic sandals

*Pre-note: Central to a solid understanding of this story readers should be aware that Dep is to be pronounced zep. Practice before continuing.... dzep zep zep zep zep ... got it?

She was pushing her bike as she passed me in an alleyway that leads to a café out the back. The sort of alleyway which seems narrower the further you go in, which doesn’t stop the locals driving down them. We pressed up against the dusty walls, sacrificing cleanliness to avoid embarrassing physical contact, I pushed back and she kept her head down. Both of us trying to avoid her chest brushing off me, which would be doubly regretful if she were looking at me when it happened; there’s no need to personalise such unforseen complications, I’d feel like she’d thought I’d done it on purpose. She must be a nice sensible woman I thought as I pressed myself back some more, making sure the wheels weren’t going over my dainty little toes.

As I scraped my back off the wall I noticed she was looking at my feet. At first I thought out of concern. I was wearing, dare I pun, yes I shall, a fairly pedestrian pair of plastic sandals, known as flip-flops in my part of the world, jandels to antipodeans, thongs to others, plastic slippers in Danish. Here they fall under one handy banner, simply dep.

Dep are a big business in this hot and industrialised part of the world. The sock is a strange foreigner who visits solely in winter. Even some Vietnamese people are unsure of the word sock in their own language. But not dep. Lord no! They come in all shapes, colours, and materials. Made from plastic, leather or wood there are working men dep, office men dep, svelte dep, perfunctory dep, cute as a button dep, gay as Christmas dep, girly dep, Grampa dep, shower dep and the list goes on.

But there is more to it that that. As her eyes rolled over mine, brushing past each other intimately, I saw her take in size, colour, expense and status. I saw her gaze was cold and condescending. I felt a tingle of shame. I had clearly not impressed. Should I be wandering the streets wearing such footwear? Had I miscalculated? Had I barged into the treacherously oblique realm of inappropriacy? Did I accidentally skip the page on the inflight cultural intergration manual that said there are some dep for the streets, some for the house, and some for the little boy who lived down the lane that shouldn’t be seen at all. With this one brief inspection I was instantly undermined. Like a sweeping karate kick I was floored. It was the kind of stare that reduces you to your bare facts. There’s no escaping your profile. It is as clear as Hollywood lights. You have a low salary. Are unmarried. Have scant taste. Speak with your mouthful. Pick your toenails in public, drive a cheap motorbike and probably smell in summer. It is an ephiphany. Now I know why the ladies chortle at me at the reflexology centre and play paper, scissors, rock to see who takes or returns my sandals.

I’ve wasted years in the dark, paddling around in the wrong kind of dep. But no more, I tell you, no more! I turned around and headed back out to buy another pair, right there and then, but of course all these thoughts had happened in an instant, so she was still squeezing past me trying to avoid my oafish frame and scuttle out the door unscathed. As I turned she bolted with fright thinking I was all aroused and up to no good in a dark lane in the middle of the afternoon, looking for an unsolicited rub. I would have explained my revelation if I could have, but she wouldn’t have listened, not while I wore those dep, and there was no time to waste. So I just waddled behind her down the alleyway, my flip-flops flapping in their testimonial performance. I watched her as she trooped off, in her high-heeled brogues that clicked authoritively, demanding attention, like a German Officer. My lord I thought, they’re a fine pair of shoes, and thus, by proxy, she must be a fine woman, with a decent salary, elegant tastes, delicate table manners, be good in the sack and a sweet scent must exude from her no matter whether the weather be hot or not.

That’s as good as a scientifically proven fact.