Red! Why red? It reminds me of danger, stop signs and post boxes. My biggest problem with red may have been the fact I was the only one in the school not in red. I moved around counties, towns and schools so often I suppose it made sense to have one uniform that ‘sort of’ suited all. My favourite colour was blue, but the uniform was grey. Grey! Why grey? Bad weather, depression, dull, lifeless and worthless come to mind when I think of grey. Oh! There is shiny grey money. No! That gets passed around, used and abused a lot.
Anyway, on the last day of primary year five, Peter King, the best looking and most popular boy in school, gave me his red school jumper. I didn’t know why, nor did I care. I later found out why, while popping into the sweetie shop on the way home for my celebratory bag of a hundred penny sweets.
“Where are you going? Why do you need luck?” The shopkeeper asked.
I immediately thought at any moment he was going to take me somewhere, do unmentionable things to me and then make me beg for all the luck in the world. So in panic I ran out of the shop, but made a point of grabbing for my hundred penny sweets first, of which I had not paid for, and shouted abuse as I ran.
When I got out of the shop I heard him shout something about the back of my jumper. I pulled it off in extreme paranoia; it had writing on the back. After apologising for basically calling him a paedophile, I politely asked the shopkeeper to read it to me. I could only read the short version of my name and that was most definitely not on there.
“Travel safe gypsy girl, good luck pikey.” The shopkeeper read.
“What does pikey mean?” I asked him.
“It’s someone who likes pies,” he explained quite shyly.
I got my hundred penny sweets for free!
After putting my grey cardigan back on and tying the red jumper around my waist, I eventually came to the corner of my street where I saw Jerry, my mum’s so-called friend, giving a weak attempt at fighting or, on second thoughts, camply struggling to avoid being shoved into a car. On first impressions, I thought he was being kidnapped, so I ran to wish the kidnappers all the best. Guttered! I realised Jerry had hand-cuffs on and the plain clothed coppers were reading him his rights.
“Stop! Do not go to the house! Stay away!” he shouted at me. “Don’t let her get in the house!” he said to the coppers.
Just because I now have a red jumper doesn’t mean I am a bloody stop sign and anyway it’s apparently my home! I legged it to the house but I was spotted straightaway, about six men came running towards me with flashing blue lights behind them and their hands out like they were getting ready to stop a bull from charging. This really amused me, I was the bull yet who was the one with the red? It was them with the aggression, the readiness to destroy and not forgetting the physical size and power of six massive men. I concentrated on the one closest to the kerb, I flew at him and sent him flying; he ended up on his back in the middle of the road about three or four penny sweets away from being ran over.
I managed to reach the front door and I noticed yet another glass panel was missing, the door was slightly open but I slammed into it anyway. The door would only open so far; it bounced back at me with a very loud scream. Only a copper, a man, would stand behind a door that opens inwards, so I tried again. There was blood and what looked like snot everywhere, I even somehow had it on my hands, well actually just one hand because the other hand was firmly holding what was left of my bag of penny sweets. I wiped the blood and snot on the copper who caught me in the front room and put me in a human-made straight jacket.
When I was released, after promising to behave, I noticed my Mum at the window, sitting in a pose of innocence with a sweet smile on her face. Oh how much I hated her right then. The hate was for the fact she didn’t love me; there was no care, no mothering, no nothing. Not even enough to put me up for adoption! I loved my Mum so much but even at a young age I knew it was that love I had for her that was destroying my childhood. She kept me because I got the bills and rent paid, having me funded her daily luxuries; her habits.
The police arrested my Mum for importing kilos of drugs hidden in beautiful wooden African carvings and for being the main distributor of drugs within the whole of the South of England. One copper banged Mum’s head on the cop car and then had the cheek to ask me for a penny sweet. Prick! They drove off blinding and drowning me in flashing blue lights. Why was blue my favourite colour? I hate blue!
Mum said she would call my sister when she gets her ‘only one phone call allowed’ at the police station. The coppers said they would call the social services to come collect me. I waited until it was darker than I wanted it to be, but my sister or the social services didn’t come. I went around the back of the house and climbed in through the tiny toilet window with its pointless lock on it. I made a hot drink, grabbed all the food I could find, found some bedding and locked myself in the upstairs bathroom.
On the fourth sleep I was still in the bathroom, I looked at the red jumper and thought about Peter King and the other kids from school. I wondered what they were doing for their summer holidays, I wondered about their parents, I wondered where they would go on days out, I wondered if they would be singing, playing, talking and eating around a table or in front of the telly or in their gardens, bedrooms or parks or maybe they were at the beach eating sand-filled sandwiches and burying each other in the soggy sand. I wondered each night if they all got a bedtime story, a kiss on the forehead and an “I love you, I’ll keep the hallway light on for you, night night, I’ll see you in the morning.” I wondered if I was just not worthy of wearing red. I wondered if maybe grey suited me best.
As I was remembering what the shopkeeper had read to me, the words ‘safe’ and ‘luck’ stood out as I heard someone downstairs. Safety and luck were both things I never had and when the person who I heard downstairs persuaded me to open the bathroom door…they reminded me as to why I wore grey.
© Jennifer Devers