Friday 20 May, 2011 (contd):
Tau comes out onto the steps to greet me. “Hey Miss,” he says, and hugs me – and I hug him back – and we just stand there for a minute, giving one another a kind of re-acquainting sniff. I find it very hard to put in words how I feel, seeing Tau whenever it’s been a few weeks. It’s the most unselfconscious greeting; like a lioness who’s been reunited with her cub.
We sit down at the table to look at his paperwork. It’s no big problem, just a course fees invoice, and a ‘Method of Payment’ form to complete. Tau’s already applied under the Youth scheme to get his fees paid – somewhere the two forms will marry up. But it needs attending to, all the same.
Then we decide we’ll head out to get paint after dropping Zion back at school (his next class being Math – which in general he acquiesces to).
“So how’s course going,” I ask, as we drive along. “All good?”
“Yeah Miss, I’m friends with like everyone on my course now except for, um… about five people.”
“And what’s wrong with those five people?” I enquire.
“They’re the only ones who don’t smoke weed,” explains Tau, which sets Zion to giggling.
He says, then, “Fuck, nearly had a fight with one of the teachers too. On about the second day.”
“One of the teachers?” I say disbelievingly.
“Yeah, well he kept staring at me, and –”
“I bet he didn’t, Tau – bet you were just imagining that.”
“No, Miss, honest to who, he kept staring and staring at me, and finally I just stood up and said, What are you looking at me for – have you got a problem with me or something?”
“And what did he say?”
“He said, Did you do that shit on the desk? – cos there was some tagging right where I was sitting.”
“And did you?” I ask, with bated breath.
“No!” said Tau, indignantly. “It was this other guy.“
“And what happened to him?”
“I dunno… he was on the course for about three days, and then he never came back; I never saw him again.”
“Maybe he got kicked off,” I say.
“Maybe,” agrees Tau.
I say, “And, have you done any tagging at the TI?”
“Yes, some…” admits Tau.
“Not with paint though, aye?” I ask, a little worried.
“No, only with vivid,” he tells me, and I say, “Well, that’s alright then,” and Zion grins at my indulgent tone. Then I catch sight of Tau in the rear view mirror (Zion’s still in the front seat), and the expression on his face, which manages to be both sly and righteous at the same time, just sends me into peals of laughter.
But then: “I’ve been slangin’ at TI though.”
“Geez, be careful, Tau,” I say, alarmed.
“I will be – but I gotta get money from somewhere.”
“I know, I know…” I tell him. “Just be careful, that’s all – please Tau.”
Zion’s quiet, as Tau and I discuss all this seriously:
“I thought you said other people on your course were selling.”
“They are, but they don’t have it all the time – like every day.”
“And you do?”
“Yup,” says Tau. “I’m working on my own, without my dad.”
“Well, be bloody careful then, especially if you want to finish your course and then go on next semester.”
“I will,” he assures me. “I wanna go TI next semester too.”
We get to school, where the lunch bell has just gone.
“Who’s your Maths teacher Zion?” I ask.
“He’s alright; I wonder if he’d… if he lets you, do you wanna come and get the paint with us?”
“Yes,” says Zion at once.
“Ok then, I’ll ask him, but if he says no, then you have to stay at school -” I back into a parking space, saying, “Move your head for a sec, Tau… are you good at backing?”
“Yes,” says Tau, confidently.
“I bet you are, too,” I said, feeling a rush of tenderness for his particular mixture of straight-forwardness and round-aboutness. I add, “I could get you a visitor’s pass, Tau, but I don’t think you really need one, we’re not gonna be here long.”
Then we walk out into the middle of lunchtime.
We stroll down towards the café, the three of us just promenading. Tau looks completely at his ease and is receiving handshakes all the way along – although he’s also starting to get a few funny looks from the duty staff. Something about Tau being as gangsta as he is makes me feel alright with the world and everything in it. And in that moment I feel like the queen of the whole damn place.
I’ll never totally understand it I guess. I know it’s crazy; and it isn’t. There’s that side to me too, and I can’t deny it. As much as I want to just protect Tau, and shelter him and keep him toeing the straight and narrow – there’s a part of me that exults in him being exactly who he is.
Zion’s teacher is totally fine about Zion coming with me. “He doesn’t do that much here,” he says, laughing. “He might as well be doing something useful.”
“Thank you so much,” I tell him. “With some teachers, I wouldn’t have even asked.”
“There’s some who have to do everything by the book,” he agrees. “I don’t see why Zion shouldn’t be allowed to help you with project business.”
So we go back to the car. “K,” I say. “I think this time I’d better sign us out. Zion, you’ve got your teacher’s permission – guess we should do this properly.”
At the store, Zion sidles around while Tau gets straight to business – choosing braces of colours and placing them into the first box. Actually, Zion looks like someone who’s found himself in a magical wonderland, and isn’t quite sure if he’s really there.
“Do you want to choose some colours, Zion?” I say, just low key and passing him the second box.
“Um… what colours shall I get?” Zion almost whispers, as if he’s reluctant to speak out loud and break the spell.
“Anything you want – whatever you think would be good. Don’t let Tau choose all of them,” I say laughing.
Zion eyes the shelves (where Tau is currently prancing about, reaching high and low for his selection with untroubled satisfaction). “Shall I get… ahem… some light colours?” he says, hesitating.
“Good idea,” I tell him. “We’ll need lots of light colours.”
On the way back, I sense that Tau wants to talk, but is slightly restrained and slightly grandiloquent at the same time, just because Zion is there. He starts telling me about getting stepped out in an alleyway by a group of boys, when he was on his own, and goes on: “And I saw the same boys walking up my street. So I came out with my gun, and -”
As we pull up in Fitzroy St, I interrupt him to scold, “Don’t be an egg – you just keep being good.”
It’s a successful day, in lots of ways – not least of which is the satisfaction of playing school right back. Oh, I’m forced into it to begin with; I can’t leave Zion to his fate. But the second trip – well, that’s just an unnecessary risk. Because I have this feeling of: Ok, you wanna play? Then I’ll take your card and trump it!
I find pleasure in the game, today. And – maybe because Tau is shoulder to shoulder with me – I feel strong and brave again, even for this one afternoon.