Only when Mitchell had walked down the stone steps did he realise that the whole bay was covered with shoes, thousands and thousands of shoes. One of the policeman stood on the sands at the bottom of the steps, ordering the prisoners to collect as many as possible before the tide turned. No word about how they had come to be here; no word about why it had to be done. Against the edge of the field, a camera crew gathered around the governor of the prison. Mitchell had seen this man only once, walking along a corridor flanked by administrators, all of them grey in the way that all such people are grey. The prisoners began near the long tines of the faded wooden groynes, but most of the shoes had been dragged back by the tide, so soon everyone moved away from the shore. Now and then Mitchell would look back at the police and prison guards, expecting at any moment to have passed a forbidden point and to be summoned back. But the officers he could see were stood close together by the steps from the headland, laughing and joking, a handler bent down to a dog. Soon Mitchell had crossed half a mile of the beach, the sand hard as ribs of sculpted wood beneath his feet, impervious even to the sack he dragged behind him. The shoes were a mixture of all types and styles, boots, trainers, high heels, sandals, children’s pumps. It occurred to Mitchell that the prisoners would be asked to reunite all the disparate pairs of shoes. During the extent of his sentence, this would be the closest he came to guessing at the point to his punishment, and there and then it felt almost acceptable to spend the next two years basing his life around such an odd routine.
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