A woman gave her son a red shirt, before he went away to study and told him, "I made this with my own hands and bought the material with the last savings we have. This is all we have to gift you. Every time you wear it, remember we love you and are proud of you wherever you go and whatever you choose in life."
"Yes mum," said the boy, as he kissed his parents goodbye and headed towards the train.
All along the journey, the boy watched the countryside and thought about how lucky he was to live where he lived, to have such loving parents and the opportunity to go to university. He looked at the shirt and thought to himself, “hmm, hopefully someday I’ll be able to give my kids much more than a red shirt. Maybe I’ll be able to give my parents money, a house or something of great value.”
As he arrived at university, a beautiful girl shouted, "hey! Love your red shirt! Where did you get it?" The boy smiled and replied, "it is a gift from my mother, it was all she had to give and I wear it to keep her close." The girl smiled and said, "aww, that’s sweet! Well it is absolutely fab! Come hang out with us later and tell me more!" The boy smiled and exchanged numbers thinking, "wow, this shirt might have some value after all!"
He met the girl later at a party and noticed that everyone there wore red shirts. She hugged and greeted various people and was soon lost in what looked like a sea of red. "Hmm," the boy thought, "maybe there’s nothing special about my shirt, maybe there’s nothing special about me." Someone on the stage told a story of how his red shirt was a gift from an old sherpa, who took him on a climb to the top of Mount Everest. The crowd applauded. Another said his red shirt was made from an ancient Egyptian material and was woven with gold, a gift from royalty. The boy thought, "wow, mine was just made by my mother from cloth she bought from the local fabric store. It really is nothing special," and, with that, he slipped away.
On his way home, two men dressed in blue shouted, "oy! How dare you come into our street wearing that shirt? Do you have a death wish? We don’t like your sort round here." With that they chased him and warned him never to wear his red shirt in their neighbourhood again. But he knew he needed to pass that way in order to reach his classes. What could he do?
The boy reached his room, took off the red shirt and stashed it away in his suitcase. He started wearing black instead, so not to offend anyone. He stopped talking to the beautiful girl he met, thinking she was only interested in what colour shirt he wore anyway. The people dressed in black were cool and not fussed about anything. They generally kept to themselves and didn’t care how people were dressed or what colour they wore. It seemed like total freedom, but he still felt really lonely. No one talked about celebration or shared great stories. No one talked about problems, hopes or dreams. Their unspoken motto was everyone for themselves and to themselves.
One day, while walking through the blue neighbourhood, the boy came face to face with the beautiful girl and could not avoid contact with her. She wasn’t wearing a red shirt but it was a shade of purple. "Hi!" she said, smiling and happy to see him, "where have you been?"
"I err, um," the boy stuttered, "I’ve been around." They paused and had a moment of awkward silence, until the boy asked, "where’s your red shirt?" The girl laughed. "Well, I do have other colours in my wardrobe you know," she replied. "I see you’re wearing black these days?" she queried, obviously seeking to find out more about his life. The boy smiled and responded, "well, I too have other colours in my wardrobe." They both laughed and talked for a while. The girl then said, "listen, the party I invited you to last time was a gathering of a group called 'the red shirt group’, which is dedicated to saving kids living on the streets and giving them an education. Most of us there were helped through their program, myself included."
"Oh," the boy exclaimed, "I thought it was some type of red rave party."
"Well," pondered the girl, "it is kinda a party, I guess," she continued, "being saved from the streets is a big deal and reason to celebrate, don’t you think?"
The boy thought for a while then nodded in agreement. "I wasn’t saved from the streets you know," said they boy, with a look of guilt on his face, "I was given the red shirt by my mother, who always gave me a roof over my head and whatever I needed."
"Well," said the girl emphatically, "you’ve been kept from the streets and that is a reason to celebrate!" She looked at her watch and then said, "I have to go, but nice running into you. See you around!" As she was headed off, the boy shouted behind her, "hey! Can I see you again?" The girl turned around and shouted back, "tomorrow at 8 pm! Same place we gathered! Wear whatever you like!" She ran off to catch a bus approaching and waved at him as it drove pass.
The next night, after class, the boy rushed to his room, found his suitcase and rummaged through until he found the red shirt his mother gave him. He held it, smiled, shook out the wrinkles and put it on, looking at the clock saying 7:57 pm. He was late. He then hurried off to the place where the red-shirted crowd met, running boldly through the blue neighbourhood. When he got to the meeting hall it was quiet. There wasn’t the buzz he had experienced on the first night in the city. He opened the door and it was full, but they were all listening to a lady speaking on the stage. The girl saw him and waved him over. She had saved a seat for him, just in case. The speaker spoke of their life on the streets and how they were saved by a couple wearing red shirts, who then adopted her and raised her as their own. She grew up with a great education, became a fashion designer and founded ‘the red shirt group’. She gave almost all of her earnings to helping other kids get off the street. The girl looked over at the boy and noticed he had tears in his eyes. She said, “touching story, isn’t it.” The boy nodded slowly, fighting to hold back tears and said, “that’s my mum.”