Return to base

Tuesday 16 November, 2010: 

9 Social are good this morning. And at the end of class, Andre calls out as he leaves, “Miss, thanks for the lesson Miss – thanks for teaching us Miss.”

I dunno – sometimes that class really gets right into my heart. Ana-Hela says quietly to me, “Miss? We miss coming to your room.”

“Me too,” I say. “But I can’t use it again until after exams.”

I do miss them, but I can hardly tell Kuli I want his room at lunchtime. My heart kind of aches, then I push it away because I have to.


I email Marjorie, re her thoughts on project next year. I want to know if graff can still run, so I hustle – but very carefully, as yet.  I ask, though not straight out. I suggest it’s a good idea, and give reasons.  I just… mention it, is all.

I also start doing a little bit of hustling for this term’s project week (which is juniors only, because of exam leave). Staff have unceremoniously been placed in teams of ten, each group having to come up with its own large-scale activity for the three scheduled days. It’s framed as a strategy to let everyone get more experience. But really, it’s because some people are bloody useless and do absolutely nothing on their own.

So it’s emphatically not my preferred scenario. Fortuitously though, my group’s ‘Team Leader’ is La-Verne. And she has been quite adept at managing a diverse and irritating combination of the the eager, the arrogant, the reserved, and the uninterested.

Kindly thinking ahead, La-Verne has put me down as ‘Director’ of the artistic activity. Naturally I think: graff. But we’ll have large numbers and a wide range of kids; not just the graff artists. I decide to target my niche market anyway, and realize that it could be difficult; the year 11’s (backbones of the whole enterprise) are on study leave, as are the year 12’s. And the year 10’s don’t know what day of the week it is, hardly.


I think about the year 10’s. Leroi’s the one I know best. But Leroi’s far too shy to be the means by which information could be disseminated. I give it some serious thought, and the person who comes to mind is Libya. There’s something about Libya; I really do hardly know him, but he always sssshes his friends when I’m talking, and he does as I ask – and furthermore he has some kind of mana which the others seem to respond to.

I check online: his class has English in the library, so I go over and there they are, in the fiction section. I see a whole groups of kids just sitting round talking, on the big chairs near the window. One has a jacket on with the hood pulled up over his head, and he looks up as I approach, and smiles at me – Libya.

“Oh, hey Libya,” I say, just low key. “I was hoping to see you here. Can I have a quick word?” All the year 10’s look at me, and obviously there’s going to be an audience. Aperamo’s brother Kaspar gives up his chair to me, and pulls over another for himself.

“Is Teki here today?” I ask.

“No, he’s away,” say the others.

“Oh, ok,” I reply. Teki and Libya are in the same English class, and if Teki was there I would have included him in this matter too. But really, Libya’s the one I think might be able to help out.

“He’s probably off hitting Loko somewhere,” says Libya, with a grin.

“Probably,” I agree. “Actually, I think I saw a LOKO yesterday on top of the stairs.”

“Did you, Miss?” says Kaspar. “And did it make you loco?”

I laugh. “Yup – it made me loco.”

Everyone else starts laughing as well – all the year 10’s sitting round in that group. The only ones I know are Libya, Kaspar, and a girl called Tarsha.

I sit down and say to Libya, “Well, I wanted to ask your opinion about something.”

“Ok,” says Libya, looking interested.


Right then, I see his teacher going by, and so I ask her if it’s alright if I borrow Libya for a minute. “Of course,” she says. “I don’t think he’s doing anything, anyway!” and at exactly the same time, Libya’s saying helpfully to me, “Yeah, cos we’re doing nothing over here anyway,” in frank tones, and she and I both start to laugh. And so I ask him about the kind of material that would be good for making painted banners. That’s how I start. I don’t say anything about project – I’m not trying to give him any pressure.  I don’t really know the guy that well, and I just want to see how the conversation goes, first.

And he thinks about it, asks questions, establishes what I’m after – and then he makes suggestions. He tells me, “Well, if you wanted something not too expensive, the best thing would be the stuff like the blinds in the classrooms are made from; that kind of material. Paint doesn’t sink into it like it does with some things.” And he points out the drawbacks of certain other fabrics that I’ve suggested. He says, “What are the banners for – how come you couldn’t use boards instead?”

“It’s for banners for teams, and you’d have to carry them,” I explain. “Boards would be too heavy.” And then I tell him, “It’s for project week,” and explain how it’s different this time, and how the teachers have been put into groups.

Libya says, “Oh – and what’s your group doing?”

I explain as best I can, how it’ll work. I try to make it sound… alright, but I don’t pretend that we’re just doing graff either.

He says, simply and decisively, “I’m gonna choose it – I’ll pick that one.”

And Tarsha says, “Me too.”


“Ok, cool,” I say. “I could really use some help with planning the banner activity. Maybe you could come and help me get the stuff.”

Libya says, “Yes, I’ll come,” straight away.

I say, “Thanks, Libya,” and I feel kind of like I read it right; it makes me feel happy that he wants to be in on it. I hoped he would, but I didn’t know him well enough to be sure. I say, “I had a feeling you’d be a good person to ask about this stuff.”

Libya looks really happy at this.  He says, “You know, Miss, you’re the only reason I ever came to school on Wednesdays.”

“What – project?”

He nods; grins.

I say, “Ohh, well I’m glad you liked it.”


Later I read Libya’s notes on the database: causing wide-scale disruption; swearing at teachers; being removed from class. ‘Trying to play the gangster’, one of the Deans writes. And yet, out of all the year 10’s, I think of Libya as the reliable one, and that’s why I came today.

So it’s good – and I think maybe he’ll get a few of the others along for project. And you know me: it’s not a project without the gangstas. They soothe my heart like nothing in this world. Just sitting there in the library, I feel, for the first time since I moved out of my room, just completely calm again, like I know what I’m doing. Message sent, received, and understood. Honestly, in the nature vs. nurture debate, for me – nature carries the day. I don’t know how it all works, but somehow like responds to like.

We talk about cans and nozzles, and I give Libya an Astro and a German skinny. I feel like life’s very normal again all of a sudden, when I can sit in the library and produce nozzles just cos they’re in my bag, like a regular item; like lip balm, or a pen. And no-one looks surprised, it feels like an everyday conversation, and makes my heart return to base again – bird on its branch.


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