Equality

Thursday 17 November, 2011:

At the station, Kepaoa spots me from the overbridge and comes down. There in the car park we stand and talk a while. He tells me about his relationship with Riley, which is ‘on a break’ (Riley’s choice).

I say, “It’s like that old saying. If you love something, set it free… if it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

Kepaoa nods, saying, “Yeah, I like that, thanks Miss.” He laughs softly, adding, “You know, I like poetry and shit like that.”

Do you?”

“Yup.”

“I never would have guessed – but that’s cool, Kepaoa,” I tell him.

When we part, to my surprise Kepaoa suddenly throws his arms around me and hugs me tight. I find it rather humbling that Kepaoa, who carries himself like a man, and is a proud person, would be moved to embrace me this way.

 

Friday 18 November:

Tau tells me how much better the shed is here than the one in Fitzroy St. “It’s far warmer,” he says. “My other shed had broken windows, and the door wouldn’t close properly, cos it was all kicked in.”

“And who kicked it in, Tau?” I enquire with just a little bit of amusement, because I know the answer already.

“Me,” he says acceptingly, and then, “I couldn’t smash my dad, so I’d just smash up his stuff instead – wanted to smash all his property.” He adds, wearily, “I’m not… I’m not a good person, when I’m angry.”

“You are a good person,” is what I reply, and he just smiles, and then sighs.

 

And every day there’s like a shifting and a settling process that seems to be taking place with everything. I don’t know really how to describe it best. Sometimes I feel afraid, and then it settles again. As this shifting, moving, way of things does, in the last few weeks.

Regarding the foils on Wednesday: Tau is very well-organized, careful, and respectful about things. I guess to the untrained eye, you might not think that. But then it depends on your perspective (which is why, obviously, I won’t tell many people – I won’t even tell La-Verne). Tau has grown up around this. He’s discreet and efficient – and he has a head for business; that’s something I’ve learned about him too.

And, as usual these days, there’s a two-track playing in my head. Part of me just accepts it, and understands, right away. And then there’s a part of me that worries about what ‘other people’ might think.  Other people I care about, anyway. Like La-Verne – and Kuli.

But I just keep thinking how I knew all this before, when I made my offer. It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about it, or didn’t imagine it would be how it is. And I know, somewhere in the scheme of things, it matters – that there’s a time and a place.

 

The only person I tell, maybe surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly at all – is Kepaoa. Today he comes to see me at school, wanting help with some online paperwork for a course application. I get him a visitor’s pass, lifting what was only an informal ‘ban’: Karys had said she didn’t want him on site once seniors finished – she sent an email to ‘All Staff’ last week.

In between form filling and teaching, we talk about a lot of things. He says that he and Riley haven’t exactly broken up yet… but to all intents and purposes, that’s what’s happened. I can see his pride is hurt, and yet he suffers her decision, waiting with a patience that is rare for him.

And for some reason, I just trust Kepaoa Alesi. I honestly think my guiding principle is ‘equality’. It isn’t age, or status, or a job, or a lifestyle (real or apparent), or any of those things, which guides how I respond to people. It’s something else, a feeling of: Ohh, we are equal. And so, Kepaoa; 18 years old, and perceived by the SLT as a gang-affiliated (true), dealing (false), thug (true in one sense, not in another) – he’s someone I trust. And you got to tell someone, sometime… or it makes you crazy.

 

So I do. I tell him about what’s been happening out in the shed. This is after a more general conversation, in which Tau is mentioned. And Kepaoa is very interested in Tau, and in the fact that he’s staying with me. I can see that Kepaoa has already foregone the notion of keeping the beef going, and is willing to accept my take on the situation. And when I tell him about Tau’s ‘Peaceing it is for little bitches,’ comment, Kepaoa says, “Yeah, that’s how I feel too. Peaceing it’s for bitches… but I ain’t got beef with Cluzo.” And I just think: ok – this person I trust.

Kepaoa listens very calmly, and he says to me, “Miss – that’s your business. I won’t say a word.” He goes on, “I understand what you’re saying, and why it’s like this. I know some families, their whole life’s built around dealing. And I’ve thought of doing it myself. I understand how it is when your family can’t make enough money other ways.”

At lunch, we sit right out in the open, at a table in the café, Kepaoa displaying his visitor’s pass (on his knuckles) as strolling DP’s and Deans walk past. I’ve already emailed the SLT (politely) to notify them that Kepaoa is on site for a legitimate purpose. Yet it’s fun to be so blatant about it. Kepaoa gives them all his best calm and insouciant looks as they walk on by. “I like pissing off the DP’s,” he says, biting into his chicken burger.

 

Monday 21 November:

A successful morning with Kepaoa – the Automotive course go out of their way to smooth the enrolment process. They even bring us coffee and cookies while we sit and do the application forms. I can see Kepaoa beginning to relax, after starting the day with some trepidation. Then the tutor shows us around, and takes a great shine to Kepaoa, for his demeanor (respectful and enthusiastic), his results (Level 2 in the bag), and the fact that a teacher is there in the flesh to recommend him. Not only does he offer Kepaoa a place on the course (starting tomorrow), he also personally sorts out a work placement for him – two days a week at a mechanic’s workshop. This is actually quite unusual, as we’ve been told already that students are expected to find work experience for themselves. But the guy says to Kepaoa that he’s prepared to give him a chance.

Afterwards, he’s buzzing out. I take him home and go in to tell his mum the good news, at Kepaoa’s request –  he’s not sure she’ll believe him otherwise.

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