Wednesday 22 December, 2010 (contd):
After a while, we decamp to the open door of the block, where we pull up chairs to get the only little bit of fresh air that’s on offer. And we sit and put our heads together, and think about the problem of how to transport the boards…
“I could still ask my uncle when he gets back,” says Tau. “If we can’t do it any other way – I could.”
“Ok, then let’s leave that as a last resort; let’s think about it first.”
We sit in the semi-cool air, and talk. The conversation is affectionate, idle – but all the same, frank. The only thing I don’t mention is what Leroi told me, about Tau hitting Shae again. I don’t know how to bring it up.
Though Tau does say to me, at one point, “Miss, I’m still getting angry when I get wasted – still going all psycho.”
“Are you, Tau,” I say, and then, mildly and without reproach, “That ain’t good.”
“I know, Miss,“ he sighs. “I dunno why I go like that…”
“And what about your drinking?”
“It’s been ages since I had a drink,” Tau tells me with more cheer. “Probably like this whole month.“
“Well – that’s good,” I say.
“And honest, Miss – I’m careful with my dealing,” Tau reassures me again. “Last night the police were at our house, and they didn’t even come in.”
“Why were they at your house?” I ask.
“To arrest my mum,” he replies, without undue dismay.
“She was horsed,” shrugs Tau. “And the neighbours rang the cops. And then it was worse when the cops got there, cos my mum just gets all mouthy when she sees the cops.” He continues, “The cops were all coming up the drive, in the dark, pointing their torches at my mum. And my mum was just standing there getting all lippy, just getting worse and worse – and they arrested her and took her to the cells.”
“And what did you do?” I ask.
“I did… nothing,” says Tau, in a reasonable way.
We look at one another with slightly amused expressions. “Ohh,” I say. “Poor Sheree.”
“I know,” Tau says.
“Where is she now?” I ask.
“Still at the cop station, I think. My dad’s gonna go pick her up, later.”
We contemplate the boards again.
“So,” says Tau. “We need a van – or a truck.” He considers this. “A van or a truck… we need a van or a truck…” And suddenly, something dawns on him:
“Hey!” he says. “Doesn’t the school have a van?”
I sit up and take notice. “Yeah, it does.”
“Well, we could borrow it – you can drive it.” Tau looks at me, adding rather airily, “Vans are easy to drive.”
“Hmmm,” I reply, less than sure of this fact.
“They are,” Tau assures me.
“How do you know?” I ask suspiciously. “Have you ever driven one?”
“No-oo,” he says.
“Well then – maybe they’re easy to drive. I dunno”
We consider this new development for a few minutes, and then I decide: “I’m gonna email Ray.”
“Who’s Ray?” asks Tau.
“He’s the property manager, and he’ll be in charge of the van – if the van’s even here, in the holidays.”
I mail Ray, and we wait. “He probably won’t be working today,” I say. So even if there’s a van that I can borrow – we might have to wait till after New Year’s.”
“That’s ok,” says Tau.
But a few minutes later, Ray replies to my email. Yes, there’s a van – and I can borrow it to move the boards. He’ll put the keys in my pigeonhole, in the staffroom.
Tau looks very admiring at the success of this initiative.
“Well, let’s just hope I can drive it…” I mutter.
It turns out to be very large – at least to me – a 12-seater mini bus. Tau stands to the side, with a practical, cautious expression, while I back it out of its shed. It doesn’t seem that hard, but then, “Tau!” I cry. “Where’s the handbrake?”
He comes speeding over. “Ah, um… oh, there, Miss,” he says in triumph, spying it beneath the dash.
I pull it out, and take my foot off the brake, giving Tau the keys to unlock the boom gate and lower the shed door again. He waits at the gate while I drive out and park on the roadside, then he runs up and jumps in.
“Is it ok, Miss? To drive?”
“I think so,” I say, and Tau settles happily in the front seat, saying, “Ohh.. big!”
“Yeah,” I say. “When you have your 15 kids, you’ll have to buy one of these…”
“Fuck off,” says Tau in horror at the thought, and I grin at him.
We set off down the road, turn into the main gate, then drive around the back of the carpark and right through the middle of the school grounds. As I pull up outside the block, Tau says in an understated way, “How will you get out again?”
I look around. Somehow I’ve parked between two poles, with rocks in the ground to both front and back. “Um… I dunno,” I say, and we snort at one another.
“Never mind – let’s just get the boards, then think about how to get out.”
We load the three boards into the van. It doesn’t take long; they fit easily in between the back seats. But then comes the difficult part: how to get the van turned around and back out to the carpark.
“Come on Tau – you can direct me.”
“Ok, Miss,” says Tau with an air of confidence. He stands, palm raised, signalling my manoeuvres: “Come forward… forward… forward… stop!” he commands. “Now turn hard… hard… hard… STOP!”
I’m half a centimetre away from one of the poles. “Fuck, Tau, be careful…“ I mutter.
“I am being careful, Miss,” says Tau in an injured way. “I said turn hard – really hard – as hard as you can turn.”
“Alright then. Just keep directing me.”
After a few minutes, we successfully swing the van away from the block and into the open yard, where rocks abound at every turn, set into the grass between the gardens.
“How are we gonna get out of here?” says Tau, wiping his brow.
“You’re doing good, Tau,” I tell him. “Next time the lights break down, you can jump out and start directing the traffic.”
Tau chuckles to himself at this thought, and resumes issuing instructions with alacrity: “Come up… come up… right up… stop! Now hard… this way… this way… keep going…going…going… stop!” He assesses the situation. “Ok. Miss, you can’t move any further this way – or else your wheel’s gonna go over a big rock. So we’ll just have to go through the garden.”
“What – right through the garden?”
“Ok,” I say, bravely. “You keep an eye out that side; make sure we don’t hit the rock. But Tau, isn’t there a drop where the ground goes down, into the garden?”
“Yes, there is. But I think if you just drive hard, it’ll be ok.”
We have no choice. And so, I drive the van full throttle into and out of the garden – avoiding the large rock to my left – and then suddenly, we’re in the clear.
“Yeah, Miss!” Tau leaps back into the van, looking elated.
“It can’t be so bad driving to your place now, after all that!” I rejoice
Once we’re on the road we start to relax. I feel so absurdly contented, calm, capable… like everything kind of makes sense; works out. Even though I know, of course, it can’t be simple at all. But just for now; just for this moment… it feels simple.
At Tau’s, we begin unloading the van. I see someone peer out the front door, then come unsteadily down the steps towards us: Scott, holding a can of Cody’s. He embraces me as Tau carts boards down to the house.
A little girl of about four drifts up too and looks up at me, saying, “Hello.” She rests next to Scott, and then leans against me, and I stroke her hair. I feel like I always do there… I just feel safe.
“Thank you so much for all of this,” says Scott, and we look at Tau’s large and happy figure come bounding back up the drive. Touchingly, he adds, “You know him really well, don’t you.”
“Yup,” I say. “I think I do.”
We regard Tau from a little distance.
“I’ve been talking to him about courses,” I say. Even if he doesn’t want to do anything about that yet. I mean, I could find out about what’s available, I’d -”
Scott grips my hand, and I see that he’s trying to keep himself in check. “Please,” he chokes out. “Yes, please.”
“Course I will,” I tell Scott. “We’ll have a look, to see what he might be interested in.”
“Oh please,“ Scott almost whispers at me. “Just… try.“
There’s a wave of emotion between us, and I say, feeling suddenly like I can’t waste time, “Scott – Tau’s very honest with me. I know what he’s doing, and – ”
I see shock on Scott’s face as he registers this information.
“It’s ok, Scott,” I say. “I think Tau’s such a smart, resourceful person, but I’m worried. I don’t want him to end up in prison… Scott?”
Right then, a guy in a red T-shirt walks up to the driveway, and Scott says, trying to sound casual, “Hey bro, just give me a minute, I’ll be with you then.“ It’s a customer; he nods and steps back to wait a little way down the street.
Tau comes up to me again, now that the boards are moved. “Thanks Miss,” he says, and then, “Can you text me, Miss?”
“Definitely,” I tell him. “And you just be good, ok Tau?”
“I will,” he says, grinning. And then, usually it’s me who reaches out, just to pat his shoulder or his arm. But today, Tau who opens his arms wide, and puts them around me, and hugs me real tight. I hug him back.
As we part, the guy in the red T-shirt comes back up to the driveway, and Scott beckons him in. And I close up the back of the van, and drive back to school.