Irene Farley slipped into a booth at Woolworth’s, opened her compact, checked her cherry red lipstick and admired her new up-do. As she looked toward the front door with anticipation, she was catapulted back twenty years to her youth, when things were simple and everybody believed that everything life had to offer was theirs for the taking.
In high school she was a trend-setter so it was no stretch to think that she wouldn’t still be sporting the latest hairstyles, clothes and accouterments, tweaked with her own unique panache. She had always danced to a different drummer.
She was unusually tall, standing just shy of five feet ten inches in her stocking feet. All through school she stuck out like a sore thumb, especially next to the much shorter boys who had yet to hit their growth spurt.
From one week to the next, it was pure speculation as to what style or hair color Irene would have when she showed up for class. It could range anywhere from platinum blonde to jet black or a combination of the two. It could be slicked back into a ponytail or hanging loose around her face.
Everybody remarked about how much the different hair styles and colors completely changed Irene’s appearance. She was far from what you would call beautiful or even attractive but there was an air of mystery about her that was appealing and eventually people would start to notice.
She wore make-up and lots of it. She wore nail polish in colors that nobody had ever seen. She wore designer clothes that had been bought at high dollar department stores up North. For every outfit, she had shoes to match.
None of the other girls in school wore make-up and most of their clothes had been hand-made or bought at Roses’ Discount Store. They had but one pair of shoes that were worn all year with the exception of the required tennis shoes for physical education, when held in the gymnasium.
She didn’t fit in with the smart crowd nor did she fit in with the popular crowd. She was an oddity. She had been transported from New York to the South where people talked slow, things moved slow and most folks were poor.
Every day, she was delivered and collected by a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. When she walked up the more than fifty steps to the entrance of the school, the students stepped back, resembling Moses parting the Red Sea.
Everybody wanted to know what her father did for a living and where she lived but they didn’t dare ask. They were a bit afraid of her. Her deep raspy voice, coupled with her height, fed a rumor that she was really a boy pretending to be a girl. There were also rumors that she belonged to a coven of witches and those rumors spread like wildfire the first time she died her hair black.
If the whispers she heard as she walked by bothered her, she never gave any indication. She walked with an air of confidence and looked almost as if she was in tune to an entirely different universe. She seemed to be one of those people who didn’t need or want friends but soon, three girls would come into her life in a most unexpected and serendipitous way.
One day between classes, Irene dashed into the girls’ bathroom. She immediately heard “shh” and then noticed six legs in one stall. She could smell the cigarette smoke as she entered her own stall. The girls quickly tossed their cigarettes into the toilet and separated.
When Irene came out, she walked over to the sink to wash her hands and without warning, the door flew open. Mrs. Grant, the guidance counselor, walked in and said “alright, girls. Come on out here.” The three girls slowly opened the doors to the stalls and walked out. Mrs. Grant said “I know somebody has been smoking in here. Which one of you was it?”
They all stood in silence, trading glances, knowing that if you were caught smoking in the bathroom, at best you would be suspended and at worst, you would be expelled. Mrs. Grant said “okay, if nobody is going to speak up, you will all be going to the office and you will all suffer the consequences.”
Suddenly, Irene spoke up and said “It was me, Mrs. Grant. I was the one who was smoking.” Mrs. Grant took her by the arm and angrily said “then you come with me. Now! You other girls get on to class.”
Irene didn’t know it at the time but because of her selfless sacrifice, she had just made three lifelong friends.
To be continued_______________