Her name was Alice Marie Jenkins, and the first day she walked into Gino’s café, her flaming red hair immediately had our attention.
We met each afternoon in Gino’s because it was a safe place for us and good for Gino’s business.
We referred to ourselves as the Table Five gang. We sat at the same table and felt we had some ownership of the table.
We weren’t a gang that did anything. We talked a lot, made plans, but none of us was inclined to get off our backsides and carry through with anything.
Carrots changed a lot of that.
She seemed a timid girl at first, but once we got to know her, she was anything but.
That first day she stood at the counter placing an order of chips and a potato scallop.
She ignored Hugo’s call of “Hey Carrots.” She went and sat at the far table well away from us. It was Josie who made the first move. Before long, Josie had convinced her we weren’t the ratbags we appeared and invited her to join us.
Her family has just moved to the south side of town. We knew it to be a poor area, but Carrots was a girl who didn’t seem like the usual south side kids, rude, defensive and generally unlikeable.
She was going to the State School, and we were all Catholic kids. It didn’t matter as we’d taken an immediate liking to her.
She joined in our chatter, but once her phone rang, she said she had to go. We said we were here most afternoons, and she was welcome to join us.
We didn’t see her for a week or so, and she came in wearing a beanie over her hair and looking unhappy. She ordered and was in two minds to join us, but once Josie had called to her, she came over.
She said she’d been busy, getting settled in, the new school, and she had a little brother who needed looking after most afternoons.
She was just munching into her chips when her phone rang.
“I have to go,” she said, stuffing the phone into her bag. She got up and left, and we watched her leave.
The next day the news around town was of a drug bust on the south side. That afternoon we met at Gino’s and wondered if Carrots was caught up in the bust. The word was that the cops had raided Smith Street and arrested a number of people.
The next time we saw Carrots, we were keen to hear all the gossip about the raid. She turned up on the Friday.
We had questions. Carrots was sheepish about saying anything until we discovered it was her dad who had been busted.
It wasn’t the first time. Drugs were the reason they’d moved here to get away from their last situation. She said her dad couldn’t help himself, he had debts but someone had dobbed him in.
She said they’d probably move again. She was sad about that as we were the first friends she’d ever had.
Josie invited her to stay over at her house. Josie was like that, and that was how the red hair girl came into our lives, and we liked that she had.