X was a native of Pottering, a small town near the border with Redditch. Redditch was much bigger than his own country, but like his own country it was populated by people who were kind and generous. It was a gentle giant, kind to its neighbours as to itself.
As is often the case with borders, it was quite porous, people from one country living in the neighbouring country. They might do it because they had intermarried, or because they had employment there.
Whatever the reason, there were red-haired people who lived near the border, some of whom were from Redditch, and some not.
The only Redditchers in the country were those who lived near the border.
Some people could prove they were from Redditch. Some could show that their antecedents were from Redditch. And some red-haired people in the country could not prove with certainty that their ancestors had come from Redditch.
So consequently there was a division, you could say, between those who could claim with some authority that they were Redditchers, and those who could not claim ancestry in Redditch.
Red-haired people who lived deep in the country or in the capital were definitely not from Redditch. That, no one disputed.
It seemed that it has always been that no one cared where you came from or what colour your hair was. Instead, people rubbed along with their neighbours while pursuing their own lives.
Then the Nationalist Party came into power. It was only by a slim majority but it was enough. There were accusations of intimidation by the Nationalists at the polling stations, but the country accepted that the Nationalists won the election.
The majority regretted the way things had worked out, but felt that the country could ride it out to the next election.
But then things changed rapidly when the Government introduced new laws.
Hard though it was to admit it, even to themselves, people changed. When before, one could hear people defending free speech and liberal values, now they were quiet. Not only were they quiet, but by small steps they started to talk like the Nationalists.
People who wanted to connect across their differences found themselves under suspicion for not going with the crowd. For those that had eyes, a fog of fear had settled on the country.
So that was the situation, and of course, you want to know about the red-haired people.
It started in the smallest of ways. Barbers and hairdressers were forbidden by law from cutting the hair of red-haired people. The reason given was that the pillows that were a mainstay of the export economy had to be stuffed with hair from the heads of people of pure stock.
The law applied to all red-haired people, including those who were from Redditch. The Government’s position was that a purchaser could not tell from the hair whether the person from whose head it was cut was from Redditch or not. Therefore, the law applied to all red-haired people.
Everybody it seemed agreed that it would hurt the economy to have to destroy old stock, but then the purity of the hair had never been made a selling point before.
And of course, it was a slur on the people of Redditch, and things became tense on the border.
It may not have been clear to people how having red hair made a person less pure, but you had to know the mood of the time to understand why that point was not argued.
Then the Nationalist Party introduced a law that all businesses had to have at least one partner or shareholder who was of good stock.
One of X’s neighbour’s at the time was from Redditch, and she left to go back to her own country. She could cope with the law on hair cutting because she could go over the border to get her hair cut, even with the new travel restrictions.
But as the owner of a jeweller’s she stood firm at having to take in a non-red as a partner, and a majority partner at that, so she left to go back to Redditch. It was said she lost a lot of money selling the business.
Why didn’t she stand firm with the red-haired who couldn’t show Redditch ancestry? It’s a question that perhaps she did ask herself, and decided it was a battle in which she could not challenge the Government alone.
The roundup began on a cold day in late November.