In a North Dublin Catholic school, in a year that had six pregnancies, two lesbian couples and an all-female production of Oklahoma!, this story goes down in Loreto lore as the most shocking, scandalous and downright moronic thing a student has done.
It was the day of my Leaving Cert Irish oral. So, the first of the series of exams that would decide my entire future. I was nervous, naturally, though I was reasonably confident with my spoken Irish, and my learned off passages about the state of the Environment. Or Obesity, or whatever it was.
For most, it was a normal school day. You could tell who were the chosen few facing their doom on that day, those with their eyes closed chanting the Modh Coinniollach endings under their breath. For a girl about to converse with an examiner in a language she could barely pronounce, I was reasonably calm.
I wasn’t hyperventilating, at least.
I was on first thing in the morning, so I was focused, trying to get into a Gaelic zone. I though of the Burren, of the rain, of King crisps. I was getting to a positive place while my unburdened classmates chatted amongst themselves.
Just then, Selina looked down at my feet with a grin on her face.
“Caoimhe?” she said, trying not to laugh.
I looked at her, irritated to be distracted from my Celtic reverie.
“Are you wearing two odd shoes?”
I looked down at my feet. Sure enough, in my distraction and haste as I had left my house this morning, I had put on one pointed shoe with a bow, and one rounded buckle shoe.
It was beyond belief. I was trying to focus on my impending exam, but all I could think of was the fact that I was walking around with two odd shoes. I was 17 years old and hardly the dynamite ball of confidence I am now, this was what I would be my legacy, what I would be remembered for.
Sure enough, by the time we reached school everybody knew about it, people congratulating me or looking at me with pitying eyes. This would be bad enough any day for a sensitive teenage angst monster, but I was also trying to prepare myself for the exam.
I wondered if the interviewer would notice. I couldn’t stop looking at my feet, willing them to transform, for one shoe to mimic the other. There was no putting it from my mind.
The first question the examiner asks is usually “Inis dom fut fein”, tell me about yourself. I looked at her.
“I am a COMPLETE IDIOT.” I responded in fluent Irish. “LOOK at my feet. My shoes don’t match. I wear the same shoes every day, how could I mess this up? Now everybody, including you, thinks I’m ridiculous.”
The examiner looked at me, baffled.
“I’m seventeen years old and I live in Donabate. I like reading and baking. My favourite book is Harry Potter.” I continued.