Monday 22 August, 2011:
Wake up feeling like crap. It’s partly physical, partly mental. I’ve got a big rash on my neck, and I feel knocked out. Maybe I should go see the doctor.
But obviously it’s more than that too. My soul gets all pummelled around by what’s happening. I just find it hard to do things like… like people do things. Get groceries; watch TV (yes, even that!); read a book; shop for anything that isn’t a grabbed essential. I do pretty much nothing for pleasure. The things that have power to move me are not exactly, or not simply ‘pleasure’, and everything else feels kind of empty. And I can scarcely remember how it is to be some other way.
Just now – a text from the TI. No Tau today. Oh my poor Tau. What the hell’s gonna happen? I’ll try get in touch with him, but who knows if he can even charge his phone.
Man, just getting dressed is a hassle. Looking at myself in the mirror is a hassle. My eyes seem big and afraid. Just seeing my eyes can make them fill with tears for a second.
Not taking the day off though. I don’t have to fall into those traps; I passionately believe I’m not burnt out – that’s just a word to describe something else that’s really going on. Can I not be affected… should I not be? On the contrary, I believe I should and must be. But there are smarter and better ways to play it than burning out. I want to be part of the ‘war cabinet’.
Thursday 25 August:
In 12 History I take Kepaoa out for a little tête-a-tête. This follows a conversation with Morris yesterday; actually not about Kepaoa (Morris is there to see me about someone else) – but then his name comes up. Morris is adamant that Kepaoa is a drug dealer. He’s seen (from his office window in the block) money changing hands – or so he thinks. Not only that, but he’s noticing him out of class more. And apparently Kepaoa’s name has been ‘mentioned’ by someone who’s been stood down for drugs.
I tell him I’m convinced Kepaoa is no dealer – I say I have it on good authority (this is indeed true). Morris allows me my opinion, but he’s ambivalent at best, and I can hardly mention who it is that’s told me, or Levi’s role in all this, or the trade in cigarettes.
Well, it seems a good idea, after that, to approach Kepaoa more directly about these matters. When he arrives to class, I say quietly, “Hey Kepaoa, I need to talk to you later.”
“Ok, Miss,” says Kepaoa, and then with good cheer: “What’s it about – is it about my brother?”
‘No, it’s about you,” I reply, thinking there’s no point in beating around the bush.
Kepaoa looks uncharacteristically taken aback; then ten minutes later, he asks me as I go by, “Miss – when do you want to talk to me?”
“Oh, now’s good, then,” I tell him.
“Outside?” says he, getting to his feet.
“Yup, outside,” I say, just matter-of-factly.
At that, the boys at his table begin to whoop and whistle with glee, but Kepaoa just comes along with me, his expression giving nothing away.
We go out to one of the benches in the block and sit down. “Kepaoa -” I begin. “One of the Deans came to see me yesterday. It was about something else, not about you… but then your name was mentioned.”
Kepaoa responds by looking instantly alert, but waits to hear what I have to say. So I go on: “A lot of people think you’re a dealer – at least the DP’s do, and some of the Deans – and I just think you should be careful.”
He nods, weighing up what he’s hearing, and I continue, “I told him that I was sure you weren’t dealing – but I don’t think he believed me. He said that he’d seen people handing over money, and that someone had mentioned your name as a dealer.” Then I say, frankly, “I’m sure you’re not dealing, Kepaoa – well, not drugs, anyway.”
His eyebrows shoot up.
I say, “I’ve checked with… people, and I’m satisfied that you’re not selling weed. But you’re selling cigarettes, right?”
Kepaoa nods, putting his cards on the table. “I am, Miss,” he says, and we regard one another steadily. He continues, “I know I’m not supposed to, and actually, I never started out to – it just happened. One day I had two cigarettes on me, and someone wanted to give me two dollars for them… and then I just thought: I could make some money, and that’s how it began.”
“I get it,” I say. “But you’re right – you’re not supposed to. And they think you’re selling drugs, so my advice is: be careful.”
“Do you think I should stop selling smokes, Miss?” asks Kepaoa. It’s a serious question, posed with some dignity.
“Yes,” I reply. “I think that would be a good idea, at least for now.”
Some calm and considered discussion follows.
“I know the Deans and the DP’s don’t like me – I’m not sure why,” Kepaoa reflects. “They think I’m dealing, yeah – but the reason they think I’m dealing, is because they don’t like me. They reckon it’s me that’s a bad influence, not Elroy, or my brothers… they put most of it down to me.”
“Mmm, you could be right,” I say, thinking about it. “But don’t give them any ammunition either – don’t give them a reason to pull you up, or search you again.”
“Ok, I won’t,” Kepaoa says. “But you know, Miss, they just… say stuff, whenever they see me. And when I was down the line, two of the DP’s came round to my house and talked to my aunty. They told her that I was dealing drugs, and that I was bringing a gang influence into school…” None of this (of course) has been logged as a pastoral, and I look at Kepaoa in astonishment as he continues, almost sorrowfully: “Miss, but gang culture’s been in this school long before I arrived, aye.”
“Yes, it has,” I reply.
“It isn’t fair,” he says, but in a resigned way.
“No it isn’t,” I agree. “But now – you just have to be smart. There’s no point in antagonizing them.”
“I think you’re right,” says Kepaoa. “Cos at the moment, I just look at them like they’re fags – cos they are.” He curls his lip, and I can’t help laughing. I can just imagine Kepaoa down at the DP’s, displaying way too much composure for their liking, and showing no fear.
Right then, who should stroll into the block but Marjorie and Morris. You couldn’t have scripted it better. Kepaoa and I are deep in conversation, quite obviously of a frank and friendly kind – I’m sure alarm bells ring, in light of my prior track record with Boards, advocacy, and monitoring disciplinary procedure. The two say not a word to us, but continue on their rounds ‘casually’. Kepaoa keeps his eyes deliberately averted from them, but then shoots me a look, as if to say: see what I mean.
I feel a certain camaraderie with him, at that point. “Hey,” I say. “Ok, Kepaoa, I’ll tell you who came and talked to me – it’s better if you know who to look out for – it was Mr Roberts, the one who just came past.”
“I’ve never even met Mr Roberts,” Kepaoa says, in disbelief.
“Well, he said you and your friends stand outside his window a lot – and he’s seen money change hands – and he said he sees you out of class, too.”
“Man!“ exclaims Kepaoa. “Do you know – I hardly ever leave class.”
“Well, maybe he sees you cos he wants to see you… I mean he notices when you do,” I tell him. “So my advice is to stay in class – just keep under the radar a bit – get a note if you need to go out, even if you’re just going to the bathroom.”
“K, ok then – and thanks Miss. For telling me, and all that.”
“That’s ok,” I say. “I know you’re alright – and I don’t like seeing people get set up.”
As we walk back into the ROR, I say, “And Kepaoa?”
“No-one snitched – it wasn’t like that. I asked questions, and that’s the only reason I found out about the smokes.”
“That’s ok,” says Kepaoa, thinking about it. “I’m alright with that, Miss.”
I like Kepaoa Alesi. And I can see why the Deans and DP’s don’t. He’s got way too much mana for someone they’d rather see as just a thug. It irks them that he’s got some self-respect, some dignity, and some ethics of his own.
Later there’s a funny addition to the story. I find Kepaoa and another boy reclining on the stairs in the block, period 3. Very relaxed they look, too. It’s late in the day, but: “Hey – go back to class,” I tell Kepaoa. “Remember what I said?”
“Yes, Miss – we’re in the Learning Centre,” is the reply.
“Then why aren’t you there?” I pursue.
“Cos, we got called out of class, we had to go to Student Reception – honest – we got passes (they proffer them). And we’re going back to the Learning Centre now, but we just wanted to sit for a minute out here –”
“Because it’s so boring up there.”
“Yes, well too bad – so go back up now,” I say, but with a grin at the pair, who are weary rather than evasive, at the end of a long day at school. I add to Kepaoa, “Geez man, and remember what we talked about this morning – unless you’re after a scrap with the SLT.”
At that, Kepaoa snaps to attention, sitting bolt upright and saying in a hyper-vigilant tone, “Aye? SLT – who are they?”
It takes me a second to process his reaction, and then I laugh – he thinks I mean a crew. “No, no, calm down; the SLT’s just the DP’s and that… it stands for ‘Senior Leadership Team’.”
Kepaoa is highly amused by this. “Ohh, I haven’t heard that one before – the SLT. Had me worried for a minute then, Miss. I thought you were tryna tell me that someone wanted to rumble with me.” He shakes his head, laughs. “SLT – I’m gonna remember that!” he pronounces, and then they get to their feet and softly spring up the stairs.