Monday 6 February, 2012:
In retrospect, I know I’ve taken care of everything; gotten us all safely there and back again. But there are still times when I think I can’t handle worlds colliding; everything all up in my face.
We set off on Saturday morning to paint the wall: Tau, Mischa, Leroi, Noa and Kost in one car; me, Inia, Zion and Alexander in the other. We’re just leaving, when I get a text from Riley that stops me in my tracks:
Miss did Kepaoa die?
I reply at once, saying that he was alive and well yesterday when I saw him. I try to sound kind of light – but I’m actually scared.
Within seconds, she texts back:
ea igota tx sayn he died, th tx ws like at 7am
I tell her I’ll text him – and I do: Kepaoa – u ok?
I try calling: no answer. I phone Elroy’s number too: still no answer.
And by now Riley’s freaking out. “Go round there…” she begs. So I tell her I’ll go round to Montgomery Rd and check that everything’s ok.
Meanwhile, she forwards me the text she received (from a random number):
R.I.P KEPAOA ‘C’ZA’ ALESI 1993-2012 DIED AS A BROKEN RIB PIERCED HIS HEART, WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU MAYBE DEAD BUT YOU WILL ALWAYS ND FOREVER LIVE IN OUR HEARTS!! XOX. MISIA OE SON:( LOU FATU UA TA’E ;(
I feel a shiver of actual fear run through me. It crosses my mind that it could be true, then I push the thought away. I ring Tau and explain what’s happening, tell him we’ll catch up with Mischa’s car – and we arrange to meet halfway to the site.
I get to Kepaoa’s – it’s only his little brothers who are home. I don’t say anything about the text, and they tell me he’s gone out somewhere. They haven’t actually seen him though. They seem perfectly calm and normal, but again it crosses my mind that maybe they don’t know; maybe it’s true and no-one’s told them yet.
And my passengers, who have all got out and are standing on the footpath watching me through the shed door, say exactly the same thing.
But there’s nothing more we can do right then, and we have to be on our way. Tau texts me: ‘is it tru c’za’s gone mis’. Even the boys have got the text by now – it’s obviously doing the rounds. I tell them everything’s ok, though inwardly I’m not at all sure.
We meet up; stop for pies at a small town café, then drive on into the countryside. Suddenly my phone beeps:
Hey miss jst on comunty servce break im gud whys that?
A jolt of relief goes through me, and then I call him – I need to double check.
He picks up the phone: “Miss?”
“Kepaoa – you’re alright!”
“Yeah… what is it?”
I forward him the text. He’s mad as hell about it: Ea thts fkd uhp!! Tawkn sht bowt theaz kynda dngz ae, du ugt tha numbr tht sent it miss? Kepaoa’s on the war path again, but I’m still buzzing with relief.
After that, the whole day’s like high summer. We get there and start painting within the hour. Music blasting from the speakers; the sky shimmering with heat. Everyone gets sunburned, especially the light-skinned ones: me, Mischa, Alexander. I take photos and videos all afternoon and into the evening, as the wall progresses. Leroi and Mischa don’t paint, instead they take control of the barbecue and cook us a feed.
We go to the beach that night; Rob drives us down in his car; bumping over the back roads to the coast. Kost, Inia and Tau ride in the open boot; the rest of us pile into the car. Noa says to me, “Listen to those niggas out there, tickling each other’s balls,” and we’re helpless with laughter.
At the beach we light a fire, making sparks shoot into the night sky. I start to feel shivery as the air grows cold. Everyone except me and Zion is drinking by now. Zion’s the only one still at school, and it’s taken for granted we won’t let him touch a drop. But I’m quiet and a little dreamy at my semi-distance from things. Rob is starting to bug me though, thinking he’s a funny guy or something. He asks me to go for a walk with him, and I shake my head. It makes the boys laugh, but then I feel stung by something like despair and kind of a feeling of outrage, that I’m not some pretty girl on the beach anymore. And I think: well, maybe I ain’t really anything. I don’t know what I am.
After a while I get up and start walking up the hill, heading for the shed. But it’s dark and I can tell I’m going to get lost. With a sigh of acceptance, I realize I’ll have to go back and wait for the others. As I come down the path again, I hear some of the boys talking by the car. I pause, and listen to the conversation.
“He might play up…” (this is Alexander)
“Yeah, he might try it on with Miss,”
“Rob’s a dodgy cunt. “
“He asked Miss to go for a walk, and she didn’t want to go. Miss is feeling… uncomfortable.” (this is Tau; I’m touched by his perception and his concern).
I materialize at their side, and Tau exclaims in a relieved tone, “Here she is! Where were you, Miss?”
“I was gonna walk back, but you know me… I might have got lost.”
Tau laughs, but then says more seriously: “Miss? We think Rob might play up.”
“Nah, it’s ok, I’m sure that won’t happen.”
“We think he might though, Miss. If you sleep in the house, he’ll try it on. And we might not be able to hear you.”
The others nod, and murmur their agreement. “How far away’s the house?” they ask, earnestly and in worried tones.
“Look you guys, I’m sure everything’s fine – but if it makes you happy, I’ll sleep in the shed with you.”
“Ok!” they chorus.
So it’s settled.
It actually is not very restful, sleeping in the shed. Noa snores all night, Mischa talks in his sleep, and phones go off at random intervals. Plus it’s a little bit cold, and I only have one light blanket. But it makes me happy too, to be there with them. I stop questioning things as much. I think: well, they want me to be here. I don’t know who I am, but I know that I’m admitted here; I’m not an outsider. And right then, it’s enough.
There’s been a slight drama on the way back from the beach. Kost and Tau are riding in the boot again. Rob’s driving up the hill when he realizes that one of them has climbed right onto the roof of the car (this turns out to be Kost). He cuts the engine, gets out, and yells at them, “Get off the roof of my fuckin car!”
The minute I hear his tone, I know Tau’s gonna snap – it’s a foregone conclusion. Mischa knows it too. We don’t have to say a word to each other, we spring out and are at at our posts within milliseconds. Mischa covers Tau from the front, and I from the side, holding onto him firmly but also gently. Even as we do so, we hear Tau begin in outrage: “Fuck you cunt, are you fuckin talking to me?”
“It’s ok, Tau…”
“All good, Tau…”
“No-one tells me to fuck off. Do you wanna hiding, cunt?”
“Look, mate, sorry.” Rob backs down immediately. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yeah, and what? And what?” Tau lunges towards him again. “Get fucked, fuckin smash you cunt, fuckin telling me to fuck off… no-one tells me to fuck off…”
“Don’t worry, it’s ok Tau, it’s alright Tau…” I murmur. “Just caalm down, we got it aall sorted.”
“Yeah, I gotchu,” Mischa soothes, with a gentle voice. “I gotchu… all good, I gotchu baby.” This touches my heart so much, and I feel a strong connection between us all, at that moment.
And somehow Tau lets himself be calmed. His shoulders relax under our touch, and he exhales once or twice, bumpily returning to a kind of equilibrium.
Later on, Rob tells me, “I’ve got the utmost respect for you, just… the way you are with them. And jumping out of the car like that.”
“Well, I know Tau,” is all I say. “There are reasons why he reacts the way he does. And we know how to take care of him.”
That’s so true. We know how to take care of him. Me and Shay. Mischa and Noa and Inia. Tau says to me, earlier on in the evening, “Miss, I won’t get into trouble when I’m here. I would, if I was with someone else. But not here, cos… I know people will look after me.”
There’s something about Tau, that makes those of us who love him want to protect him so fiercely.