I am out running.
It’s a bright, sunny afternoon – one of those near-mythical crisp days which make me almost understand why people love autumn. I’m jogging along, listening to music through my headphones, totally lost in my own little world, when all of a sudden, two things happen almost simultaneously:
First, I feel something hit my shoulder and fall to the ground at my feet.
Almost immediately afterwards, a girl of maybe 10 or 11 (I’m terrible at guessing people’s ages, so let’s just go with old enough to know better) runs up from behind me and gets right up into my face, laughing and jeering at me, all the while pointing at whatever it is that just hit me.
What DID just hit me?
I look down, and see a small, plastic object. It is bright yellow, and about the length of one of my fingers: I have no idea what it is, exactly, but even although it hasn’t harmed me in any way, the fact that someone has deliberately THROWN SOMETHING at me, and is now laughing in my face – and RIGHT in my face, too – is enough to bring out that famous temper we redheads are always being told we have.
(Because we are all the same, us redheads. All exactly the same. It’s almost like we’re one person. Amazing, isn’t it?)
I’d already stopped in my tracks when the mystery missile hit me: now I pull my headphones out of my ears and confront Jeering Girl, who is still standing there laughing, like this is the most! hilarious! thing! ever!
“Did you throw that at me?” I ask calmly, pointing to the mystery object.
Instantly, Jeering Girl’s expression changes. She is utterly shocked to be addressed like this. She obviously thought she would throw something, hit me with it, laugh in my face and then we’d all be on our way, like nothing happened.
She is wrong.
“It wasn’t me!” she tells me, smirking. “It was one of them!”
I turn. Sure enough, standing behind me are two other kids: another girl, around the same age as Jeering Girl, and a boy who looks a little bit older, so maybe about 12 or so. He is holding a gun.
A GUN, people.
“OMG!” I think. “I’ve been shot!” But whodunnit?
Obviously Gun-Totin’ Boy would be the prime suspect in this crime, but he’s having none of it. Neither is Other Girl.
“It wasn’t me!” they exclaim simultaneously. “It was one of them!”
And then they all point at each other, in a move so perfectly executed it was almost like they’d practised it. It was like Spartacus, but with cowards.
“Look,” I tell them, “I don’t care who did it. You’re all idiots for throwing things at people in the street. Do you realise how much trouble that could get you into?”
(Yes, I know: shouldn’t have called them idiots. Bad of me. Realised that the second the words were out of my mouth. Felt pretty stupid. But still, was annoyed. And also: had just been shot in the street! And seriously: our town isn’t exactly Disney. It really IS pretty stupid to deliberately try to provoke passers-by, and it was clear from the behaviour of these kids that this wasn’t just a case of them “playing” and me getting hit by accident – they were deliberately trying to provoke me. If they’d picked someone else, a lecture might’ve been the LEAST of their worries…)
“Shut it, gingernut,” said Jeering Girl.
It was at that point I realised I was fighting a losing battle. I mean, “gingernut”, seriously? It’s a long time since my hair has been used as the insult of choice, I’ll tell you that. Why, I can’t even remember the last time someone slowed down and yelled “ginger” out of their car window at me, for instance. Perhaps I am losing my touch?
(Aside: I’ve always wondered what the correct response is to someone who shouts “GINGER!” at me out of a slow-moving vehicle. Should I yell back “Brunette!” or “Baldy guy!” or something? What IS the etiquette for this kind of thing, anyway?)
These kids may have proven themselves capable of a) shooting a moving target and b) correctly identifying my hair colour, but I suspect my short but (I thought) eloquent speech on Why We Do Not Harass People In the Street or Use Their Genetic Makeup as a Stick to Beat Them With was pretty much lost on them. I suspect this because the whole time I was making this speech, they were still calling me “ginger”.
I made the speech anyway. I did it for ALL the redheads. I did it because… well, because I might be crazy (I think they called me that too, actually, now I come to think of it?) but I just think it’s important not to harass people, you know? And when I was done, my three assailants looked at me, in silent hatred.
“They’re just little girls,” Older Boy managed eventually, conveniently forgetting that HE was the one holding the smoking gun at the time. And, of course, he was right. They’re just little girls. But one day they’ll be older girls, and then they’ll be women, and they’ll be the kind of women who think it’s perfectly OK to throw things at strangers, or call people names, because no one ever told them any different. That makes me sad.
And that, my friends, is the strange story of how I was shot in the street that one time. It’s the kind of thing that could only happen to me: or, OK, to anyone else who happened to be running past at that particular time. (I’m actually quite surprised it’s taken this long for something like this to happen. I’m used to people – both children and adults – stopping in their tracks to stare at me with open hostility as I run past them, but I’ve heard some absolute horror stories from other runners, so I have a feeling I’ve gotten off pretty lightly.) Someone else might have been called “fat” or “ugly” or some other equally offensive term: I got called “gingernut” because, as I am all too often reminded, to some people, red hair is just as bad as those other things, and just as cutting an insult.
Unfortunately for my three assailants, their insult of choice failed to have the desired effect. I didn’t rush home and cry into my pillow, or hack off the offending hair with a carving knife or anything like that, because, well, they were the children in this little story, not me.
I did, however, renew my determination to move house at some point in the next year. It’s never a good sign when the neighbourhood kid are armed, is it?