Pencil Heels


It is a Friday. Himi wakes up early in the morning. Although most of her friends have the habit of sleeping in on weekends, for Himi it is just the opposite. Fridays are always special for her as her mother stays at home on that day. On the other days, mother has to hurry to reach her office on time. 

Himi’s mother, Fatima Begum, is a woman of 42. She is very hardworking and she is in charge of a government office. Everybody at her department respects her for her honesty and sincerity. Not only at her job, but also in the place where they live, Himi’s mother Fatima Begum is well-known for her social work. There is not one relative to whom she has ever said, “No” in their time of need. 

Usually, every Friday after her morning shower, Himi goes outside onto their balcony. There, holding on to the iron rails, she tries to see the outside world more clearly. She tries to feel the cool morning air, and in a strange way, she tries to smell the time as well. This may sound strange, but it is because all Fridays smell the same to her. She connects the smell of the day to the sweet and familiar smell of her mother’s body as she moves around their house. 

Fridays are also different in terms of breakfast. Mother makes special Paratha, fried egg and Sujir Halwa for them. Sometimes, it is Khichuri with Gawa Ghee, while sometimes it is Hilsha Polao or Atab Chaler Jau with coconut. After having breakfast, mother usually makes some dry snacks, which they have the whole week round. The main meals are always done by Phulir Ma, the maid who has been serving them for more than 10 years. After the sudden death of Himi’s father, it has been difficult for Fatima Begum to keep Phulir Ma, as the cost of living has increased day by day. However, considering that Phulir Ma needs the work, and also the needs of Himi and her younger brother Fahim, she has somehow been able to keep the maid on. 

As Himi is standing outside, she suddenly notices a white Mercedes car arriving at their house. Is someone visiting them, she wonders? After her father’s death, only her uncles and aunties from her mother’s side of the family visit them. Relatives from her father’s side hardly ever stop over.

Himi rushes to the kitchen and tells her mother about their visitor. The next minute, they hear the door-bell ring. Before there has been time to make a proper arrangement of all the cushions on the sofa, Fahim has opened the door. To everyone’s surprise he shouts, “Ruby Chachi!Fatima Begum rushes to the drawing room, bursting with joy. “What a pleasant surprise! Ruby, you are here!  I cannot believe my eyes. Have you come alone?” 

Sitting on the most comfortable chair in the living room, Ruby Chachi says, “Yes Bhabi, I have come alone. What else could I do? Everyone in my house is busy preparing for Daisy’s wedding ceremony.”

Fatima Begum excitedly says, “What good news! Daisy’s wedding! Where will it be, and when? Who’s the lucky man?”

Ruby Chachi explains that he is an officer from the Defense Department, and the wedding reception is going to be held next Friday at the Shenakunja Community Centre. She hands a beautiful invitation card to Fatima Begum then immediately asks for her leave. She has to take invitation cards to many places. In the meantime, Himi has brought breakfast, but Ruby Chachi has much to do. She goes as quickly as she came, and has hardly touched her tea.

After Ruby Chachi leaves, they read aloud the invitation card a number of times. Fatima Begum says excitedly, “The ceremony is going to take place in Shenakunja! What a lovely place for parties at night! You are surely going to love it there, my dear children. You have never been to Shenakunja! I once attended a wedding ceremony for an army officer there with your father.”

“Will there be only a wedding reception? What about the other wedding events?” asks Himi curiously. Fatima Begum becomes silent for a moment and then says, “It is better to be invited to only one event. Do we have enough time to attend everything? I don’t think we do.” 

To change the subject, Fatima Begum begins to talk about their clothes for the party. They decide that they are all right with the party dresses they already have. Himi decides to wear the fashionable new pencil heels she recently received from the U.S from her Boro Khala.  She has tried on the heels only for a few minutes, and has kept them aside to wear on a special occasion like this.


The next six days pass in the wink of an eye. It is Friday again and Himi starts her day with extra excitement as she looks forward to attending Daisy Apu’s wedding reception in the famous Shenakunja Community Center. She dreams about the place, imagining the beautiful flowers and colourful lights. She is delighted as she thinks about the coming ‘get-together’ with all of her cousins. She also wonders what her cousins will say when they notice her beautiful pencil heels. She imagines how proud she will feel as she explains that they are not available in Bangladesh, and how jealous of her they will be. 

The hours seem to pass so quickly. Although they got ready in time, they have to wait for more than half an hour for transport to Shenakunja. As the centre is so far from their place, no drivers want to go there. At last, they manage to get a CNG, but the price of their journey is high.

After reaching Shenakunja, Himi is suddenly filled with joy and surprise. Shenakunja is far more wonderful than her mother had said. The flower arrangement at the entrance is much more beautiful than she had ever imagined. She has never seen such lovely lighting in so many colours. The small lake and well-kept green grass in front of the building is mind-blowing. The red, green, blue, white and golden lights arranged around the lake are shining softly on the water. Sharing all this beauty with Fahim and her mother has given her a sense of heavenly joy. 

They enter the large hall hoping to see their cousin Daisy, the bride. They cannot recognize her with her heavy make–up and jewellery. She looks like a goddess. So many photographers are trying to catch her best look. On a screen at the other end of the hall, photos of Daisy’s childhood memories can be seen, one after another. All of Himi’s cousins are here. They are no less beautiful than the colourful lights around the lake outside. Everyone has a camera on their phones, so they take a lot of selfies together. Nobody notices Himi’s fashionable pencil heels.

In the meantime, Ruby Chachi moves quickly towards Himi’s mother and says in a voice sweeter than sugar, “Bhabi, please take care of the guests. After all, you are Daisy’s Boro Chachi.”  Fatima Begum is a little surprised, but she quickly agrees, and begins looking after the guests. After a while, she is so busy, she asks Himi and Fahim to eat their dinner without her.

In the end, when Fatima Begum finally has her dinner, it is almost midnight. All those who have a car have already left. Choto Fupu, from whom Fatima Begum is supposed to ask for a lift home, is nowhere to be seen. Himi and Fahim feel sleepy. Nobody at all seems to be concerned about them. Even Ruby Chachi shows no interest in where they are or how they will get home. Deciding they need to do something, they start to move. 

Without a word, Himi and Fahim follow their mother. The sweet excitement of the evening has turned into bitterness. It is now the middle of night. Outside everything is quiet. Most of the people who live nearby are asleep. There is hardly any light except the pale light from the lamp posts. Cars are passing by at a high speed, making an occasional gust of wind. Worst of all, her beautiful pencil heels are, in fact, hurting Himi, making her soft feet ache. She feels like she is climbing a mountain. Their journey seems never-ending and home appears completely out of reach.

They do not remember how long they walk. Surprisingly, a Tempu passes by. Fatima Begum stops the Tempu. Only three seats are left. They get into it and somehow manage to sit down. The seats are so narrow that Himi’s knees touch the knees of the passenger sitting opposite her every single time the driver steps on the brake. She feels so awkward and fights back her tears. She remembers how her father used to drop her at school every morning in their comfortable family car, how they used to offer rides to their neighbours and relatives in need. She can now understand the struggle her mother has to go through every day just to reach her office.



Like all other journeys, it comes to an end. Their Tempu stops, at last, not far from their house. But, even now, they still need to walk a little bit further. Himi gets off the Tempu holding her fashionable pencil heels in her hands. There is no-one left in this dark lonely street to notice how beautiful her shoes are. She cannot stop the tears that begin to roll down her cheeks.


Learning Activities

Vocabulary Lists: Learn (or review, if you already know them) the words from the following list…

         1. High Frequency Words from the 2nd 1000 General Service Word List

ache breakfast curiously government jewellery narrow shouts worst
aloud bursting cushions grass journey opposite shower  
arrangement busy delighted guests kitchen pale sincerity  
aside card dinner habit knees passenger smell  
asleep ceremony excitedly / excitement hall lamp photographer stairs  
attend clothes extra honesty lonely proud sudden  
aunt / aunty comfortable fashionable hurry lot quickly sugar  
awkward connects feet imagine lucky rails tea  
bell cool forward invitation / invite manage rush uncle  
bitterness cousin fry / fried jealous meantime screen wakes  


  1. High Frequency Words from the Academic Word List 

                                           available                 community                        finally                       job


  1. Other Words. These words are not high frequency (or common) words. You will not meet them as often as the words from the two lists above. Check the meaning in the dictionary if you need to, to help you understand the story, but only learn these words if you already know all the words in the above two lists well.

balcony coconut reception
brake defense selfies
bride gust snacks
cheeks pencil heels (very high shoes with thin heels, also called ‘stilettos’) wedding
CNG - Compressed Natural Gas maid wink


  1. Idioms, phrasal verbs and collocations 

Do you know the meaning of the expressions below? 

To wake up.         To sleep in.           To be in charge of (something/someone/a place/ an organization or task)

To be well-known for (something/doing something).          In terms of.          The cost of living.         

Hardly ever.                   To be bursting with joy/ to burst with joy.          To prepare for (something). 

In the wink of an eye (or, in the blink of an eye).          To look forward to (something)


  1. Comprehension Questions

          1.Remember: Why are Friday mornings special to Himi? (provide several reasons.)

          2.Remember: According to the story, what are the main reasons that Himi’s mother has kept their family maid?

          3.Understand: What does the sentence “The next six days pass in the wink of an eye” mean?

          4.Understand: Explain the following in your own words. “She feels so awkward and fights back her tears.”

          (Why did Himi feel awkward? What does it mean to “fight back tears”?)   

          5.Remember: Why did Himi and Fahim have to eat dinner without their mother?

          6.Understand: What does Himi mean by her mother’s ‘struggle’ in the sentence...

          “She can now understand the struggle her mother has to go through every day just to reach her office.” 


  1. Critical Thinking Questions 

These questions require learners to use Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (The skills of analysing, applying, evaluating and creating are based on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives. (See ).

These kinds of questions are useful for small group or pair discussions, when you want learners to think more deeply about the ideas in the reading, and go beyond comprehension only. If time is limited, tell your learners to choose one or two of the questions they find most interesting, and discuss only those.

Alternatively, they could be used as ideas for writing. If you use these ideas as a writing task, make sure your learners have the chance to exchange their writing with each other and to talk about the opinions they have expressed. The exchange of ideas will enrich their understanding, expose them to a wider range of ideas, and build their explanation and persuasion skills.

  1. Analyse: Why do you think Fatima Begum changed the subject when Himi began to ask questions about the various wedding events? 

  2. Analyse: Why do you think Ruby Chachi expected Himi’s mother to help entertain the guests at the reception even though she, too, was an invited guest? Why didn’t Ruby Chachi arrange a ride home for Himi and her family? Do you think Ruby Chachi was unkind to her relatives on purpose, or was she just thoughtless? Give a reason for your answer? 

  3. Apply: In the reading, when describing Fatima Begum, the writer says, “There is not one relative to whom she has ever said, “No” in their time of need.” In your view, is there ever an occasion when it is OK to say “No” to someone in your family who asks for your help? Give a reason for your answer.

  4. Evaluate and Apply: How important is it to you to be fashionable? If you owned something that was very fashionable, but at the same time it was uncomfortable to wear, would you still wear it? Why/Why not?

  5. Evaluate and Create: Sometimes, weddings cost a lot of money. They also create a lot of work for some family members. In your opinion, is this a problem? How could we celebrate special events, like weddings, in a different way, without causing so much financial stress and hard work for family members?

  6. Evaluate and Apply: How important do you think it is to help people who are not directly related to us when they experience problems in life?  Who would you be willing to help, who would you not be willing to help, and why? In your view, what responsibility does the wider community have for people who experience a sudden change in their life circumstances, as Himi’s family did.

  7. Analyse and Evaluate: Why did Himi end up carrying her shoes and not wearing them? Was it just because her feet were hurting, or do you think there was another reason? Explain why you think the way you do.

  8. Create and Evaluate: On a piece of paper, design and draw a pair of shoes that you think Himi could have worn to the wedding. They should be both fashionable AND comfortable. When you have finished, share your drawing with others, and explain your design. Say why you think these shoes would have been more suitable for Himi.