Saturday 10 December, 2011:
Monday morning at staff briefing, I get a text from Kepaoa. It says he’s not going course today, one of his boys tried to hang himself, and he’s at hospital with him. The boy’s name is ‘Kontend’ (real name I don’t know).
So I text back, telling him just to let course know he’s away today, they’ll understand, no problem. But Kepaoa asks if it’s ok to come to school afterwards, please. He says he’ll catch the train to Municipal, then adds: ‘or?’
For some reason I feel Kepaoa’s looking for a little bit of comfort, more than anything else. So I pick up on the ‘or’, and offer him a ride back from City hospital at lunch break. Which he accepts, immediately.
At 1 o’clock, I’m outside the emergency department, and out comes Kepaoa. Grey sweat pants; white basketball singlet; white snapback; smelling of Lynx. He jumps in the car – it’s like summer’s arrived.
“Hey Kepaoa, how’s your friend?” I ask.
“Gone,” says Kepaoa.
For a second, I think he means discharged from hospital, but then I see his face, which is troubled and edgy.
“Aye?” I say.
“Yup – gone. All gone.”
“Fuuuck,” I exhale.
And on the way back to Municipal, Kepaoa talks: about his friend, and then about wanting to smash someone; start something; shoot someone; go inside – he says he doesn’t care. “Even if I go in as a little bitch,” he tells me, “It’s all good, cos I’ll come out hard.” He bobs around in his seat, all full of upset energy, and laughs a bit maniacally.
“Kepaoa, nah, don’t talk like that,” I tell him, gently as I can.
“Nah, fuck it Miss, I don’t care, all good. Sometimes I just wanna start shit with any random niggas; anyone I see. Me and Biz… and I wanna get me a gat; yeah hard,” Kepaoa continues.
One way or another we get to school, get the visitors pass – and then head over to the ROR, passing Marjorie by the cafe. Kepaoa greets her with an exhilarated and hyped-up familiarity, bordering on belligerence, and I just give his elbow a little flick, to say ‘careful’, and ‘take it easy’.
Lunch is almost over, and I’m due upstairs for a planning meeting. I leave Kepaoa in my room with a note, and I email the SLT too, to confirm he’s here with a pass. I just want to make sure he doesn’t have run-ins with staff coming by; not in the mood he’s in.
I nip down halfway through, to check everything’s ok – and Kepaoa’s lying there asleep, on the bean bag. First I think he’s just kicking back, but no, for I hear a little snore and he twitches a bit.
So I just kneel down beside him for a second, and say, “Kepaoa?”
No answer – he slumbers away.
“Kepaoa, wake up…” I tap his leg, and he stirs.
He rubs his eyes, looking disoriented. “Miss… “
“Sorry, it’s just that I have to go back to the meeting, will you be ok here? I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I tell him.
“All good Miss – I’ve got all afternoon,” he replies, adding in a slightly bewildered voice, “I’m really tired, I dunno why.”
“Well, you’ve had a shock today, with everything that’s happened. I’m not surprised you’re tired,” I say.
Kepaoa looks kind of relieved, and then he just rolls on his side and drops half back to sleep within seconds, and I say, “K then Sleeping Beauty – see you soon,” and he nods, without opening his eyes, and his face twitches again, and then relaxes.
It’s not till almost 2:30 that I get back to the ROR. Kepaoa’s awake by then and is sitting there alert and patient, listening to music on the laptop. We just talk a while more, about everything that’s going on. And Riley, too – Kepaoa says he’d take her back, if that’s what she wanted. But she’s seeing her old boyfriend now. His friends say he should have beef with the guy, but he can’t be bothered. “Even though he thinks he’s hard,” he scoffs. Then he laughs; kind of shakes his head at himself.
Later I drop him off, and when we pull up outside his house in Montgomery Rd, I say that for all his talk before, I know he’s a humble guy – and to stay calm.
“I will, Miss,” says Kepaoa, and then, “Other people always think I’m gonna start shit. But you know, it ain’t like that.”
“Course it ain’t,” I say. “Course it’s not like that, Kepaoa,”
He nods, and puts his arms around me – he’s all damp with summer heat, and Lynx spray. Bare arms and warm skin unselfconsciously pressed against me.
“Take care aye – and be good,” I say.
He grins, and looks a bit more like his old self again.
Tuesday: Tau gets mail from the TI – notification of admissions for next semester. He holds the envelope for a few seconds with a look of trepidation. “Cross your fingers,” I say, and he tears it open, takes out the letter, peruses it quickly, and then puts it down on the table.
“What does it say, Tau?” I ask, unable to work this out from Tau’s face, which wears a slightly nonplussed look.
“Ah… I think I made it in,” says Tau, and hands me the letter.
I look at it: ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted into…’
We grin at one another.
“Oh! You got in! Tau, I’m so proud of you!” I look at Tau’s face, which is still somewhat bemused at this happy outcome. “Honest to who, I’m sooo proud of you…” I coo, and he allows himself to look pleased at his own success.
But as the news sinks in, Tau goes quiet and seems a little bit ambivalent. Later he comes inside, sighs, and sinks onto the couch.
“Everything ok, Tau?” I asked.
He nods, unconvincingly.
Tau hangs his head, saying, “Um… it’ll be alright I suppose.”
“Huh?” I say. “I thought you’d been looking forward to this for ages.”
“Haven’t you?” I check, just gently, cos I can see something is bothering him.
“Kind of,” he agrees.
“So… what’s not to like about it, then?” I coax.
Tau looks down for a second, then says tentatively, “I just don’t like wearing those… overalls.”
“Oh, right,” I say, with only a little bit of surprise, because this actually makes sense now, being exactly the type of apparently trivial thing that has the potential to upset Tau’s equilibrium.
“Nah, I don’t wanna wear the overalls,” he says again, looking miserable at the very prospect.
“Ohh, so what is it that you don’t like about the overalls?” I say, in a matter of fact way, to signal that I don’t think he’s being silly. “Is it because… they’re hot?” I take a guess.
“Yes, they’re hot,” murmurs Tau. “And… and they just feel… funny.”
I nod, sympathetically.
“We had to wear them for Trades sometimes… I didn’t like wearing them.”
“Ohh, k, I get it now, Tau,” I say, and at once he seems to relax, having spoken of it. We discuss the matter some more, and Tau gradually adjusts to at least the idea of overalls. He even chuckles at himself, ruefully, realizing that he is going to have to contemplate the situation further.
After school Thursday, Shae drifts in on her own. “It’s just me, Miss,” she says. “Tau’s round at his Nan’s – they’re drinking – his cousin just got out of jail.”
We look at one another a bit dubiously, and she gives me a wan smile.
“Is he ok to get home – what do you think? Shall we text him and tell him we can pick him up?” I ask.
“Oh yes please Miss,” Shae agrees with relief.
I send a text, then Shae does; and we receive a few in reply, the last of which reads: ‘ok im spuwn up need to kum home’.
We go and uplift Tau from the park, near his Nan’s house. He leans wearily against the car door, large and suffering patiently; and when he gets home he throws up and goes to sleep.
Shae and I watch TV and talk, doing up the new timelines on facebook.
“Miss?” begins Shae. “You and me… we really look out for Tau, aye.”
“Yeah, we sure do.”
Friday, Tau tells me that Scott and Sheree might be evicted from Fitzroy St, if damage to the property remains unrectified. He’s worried, not least because the damage in question, which Scott has been told he has 7 days to fix – involves the shed: the door that won’t close, and the hole in the wall.
“Oh, I didn’t know there was a hole in the wall too,” I say, just mildly.
“It’s right next to the shed, where the house starts,” Tau begins, looking mournful and tense. He adds, “That was when my dad got drunk and drove the car in, and crashed into the side.”
“I know… I know Tau, try not to worry.” I say.
“But, my dad can’t pay.”
“Yeah – are they not allowed to pay it off?” I ask. “Like, the landlord pays for the repairs and then your dad pays some off every week?”
“I don’t think so,” Tau says. “The guy just told my dad he had a week to do it, or else they’d get kicked out.”
“Did he give your dad a letter?”
“No.” Tau shakes his head.
“Well – they have to. I’m sure they have to put it in writing. And I don’t think it’s right to say one week, either. I’m sure they have to give him longer than that…” I consider this, trying to remember what I know about tenancy law. “I think they can ask your dad to fix it by a certain date – but they have to give him a letter, to tell him. And if he can’t do it, he can ask for mediation – that’s when him, and the landlord or the real estate people have a meeting with someone who can help sort it out… and then maybe he could pay it off.”
Tau’s nodding, and very interested. “Miss,” he says. “I think you should tell my dad all this – I think he’d want to do that.”
“Well, I will then, definitely – but let me check first, to make sure, and then I’ll ring up and find out more about it next week – there’s bound to be a tenancy helpline.”
Tau nods again, enthusiastically.
I pretend to sigh: “Next thing they’ll have to come stay in your shed – we can put a curtain down the middle.”
Tau snorts indignantly, saying, “Fuck off.”
“The barbecue area, then,” I suggest, waving my arm towards it. “And we can put up a tarpaulin around the sides…”
We both dissolve into giggles.
But, you know – even though that’s just a joke, Scott and Sheree gotta live somewhere.
This evening, we go to pick up DVD’s. We’re heading into the store when I hear, “Miss!” and there are Kepaoa and Elroy (and some other boys with them). Kepaoa is in blue from head to toe, with a blue rag hanging out of his pants. They’re catching the train to Christmas in the Park – and stop to talk.
“Isn’t Cluzo going to Christmas in the Park?” asks Kepaoa, looking at Tau just up ahead.
“Nope,” I say. “He’s just staying home,” adding, “Anyway, Tau needs a quiet night.”
Kepaoa is intrigued by this: “Ohh, why does he?”
“He just does,” I say, and Kepaoa looks at me and smiles.
“Hey Miss, I know where your house is now!” puts in Elroy, cheerily. “And I’ll never rob your house, or even your street – I promise!”
“Ok, good on you Elroy,” I tell him – because what else can you say to that?
In the shop, I ask Tau, “Did you know who that was?”
“No – I don’t think I’ve seen any of those boys before,” he replies.
“It was Kepaoa.”
“Aye?” says Tau, looking quite astonished. “Which one was he?”
“The one all in blue.”
“Was that Kepaoa?”
“Yep – and you didn’t recognize him.”
“He looked different than I remember…“ muses Tau. I think he and Kepaoa are actually reasonably well disposed to one another now, at least in principle.