Hard

Saturday 26 February, 2012: 

Everything feels… just as hard as little stones; as cold as hail and ice in my heart. I don’t sleep – except for a couple of hours intermittently, sometime between 4 and 6 this morning.

 

Last night begins with just me and Shay. Tau’s gone out drinking somewhere, with boys we don’t know. All the same, we’re contented enough. We just talk and watch TV. I make butter chicken with rice; she does the dishes.

Around 11 pm I take a shower. I’m in the bathroom when I hear footsteps coming indoors: Tau, and drunk – I can tell by his heavy, slow tread. I don’t hear voices, just the sound of Shay’s little running feet, out to the shed behind him.

There’s no sign that anything is really amiss. But I have this feeling that something isn’t right. So I go out to the shed, and gently push the door open.

Tau’s standing there, looking across the room. His arm is raised, as if he’s just swept something before him. No sign of Shay.

“Tau – where’s Shay?” I ask.

Suddenly the closet door opens, and Shay literally pops out. She has a mute expression of terror and entreaty as she looks at me; then Tau. “Miss, I’m ok…” she whispers.

“Fuckin’ shut up, cunt,” Tau shouts at her. “Shut the fuck up, bitch!”

I just automatically put my arm around her tiny shoulders, and she looks at me as if she doesn’t know whether to beg me, ‘Stay,’ or ‘Go.’

Tau knocks a few things from the shelf to the floor, then begins to cry and breathe hard, and flings himself to the far end of the room. He sobs on each breath, muttering, “Fuck, gonna kill that nigga… gonna fuckin’ smash that nigga,” in a high-pitched, soft, wail.

“Who?” I mouth to Shay, and she shrugs.

We go closer to Tau – Shay putting her hand on him timidly – and sit on either side of him until his sobs ease. Then he sniffs, rubs his eyes, and draws himself up again. He stands without a word, and walks out of the shed and down the drive. We hover a little distance behind, and see him turn left onto the street. Shay shakes her head, and, “Oh, where he’s going?” she says sorrowfully.

“Don’t go with him Shay – come inside,” I say. She hesitates, then suddenly turns and runs after him, up the road and away. I try to pursue, but she disappears down the alleyway into the park, and is gone.

I feel sick with fear. I lock the shed door and take the key inside, just because I don’t know what else to do. Then I lay down on my bed. I can’t sleep.

 

A half-hour later, the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel: Tau, on his own. He looks at me, nods briefly as I unlock for him, then goes into the shed without a word. Through the partially closed door I can see him rifling through his things – I seize this small chink of opportunity to go look for Shay, unobserved.

As I walk down the driveway, towards the gate, I hear a rustle in the bushes to my right. The girl who hides there, half-concealed, looks like a little imp; honestly, that’s the first word that comes to mind as I see her peer up from behind leaves, lit by the moon. Her face is swollen and stretched and tear-stained, and her right eye is just a lump.

“Miss…” she whimpers. “Where’s Tau?”

“In the shed.”

“Can I come with you? To hide… in the house?”

“Yes, I came to get you, that’s why I came: to look for you!” I say – with urgency now, and pulling her towards me.

“But he’ll see me…” she cries, desperately afraid of him, yet coming into my arms.

“No, he won’t – just be quick,” and she flees into the house, her feet flying and making barely a sound.

I follow with slow, deliberate steps to put Tau off the scent – I need him to think it’s just me coming back. Then I go in after her and shut the door.

 

Shay is in the lounge, standing still, as if she’s afraid to move at all. When she sees me she turns away and crouches, saying, “Miss – oh, my eye.”

“It’s ok, shhhh,” and again she springs into my arms, saying through her tears, “Ooh, it’s so shaming!”

“No it’s ok, you don’t have to be ashamed, sweetheart,” and she clings to me, sobbing.

But I’m still aware that we’re right in the lounge, lit up against the window. “Ok, we can’t stay here – he’ll see you if he looks in.”

“Then where shall I hide? The laundry?” she says, helplessly wheeling around, her eyes big and roaming .

I tell her, “No, go into my room.”

And she does.

I keep the light off, and sit next to her where she huddles in the corner behind my bed.

“You ok?” For now – that’s all I mean.

“Yes, Miss.”

“Then I’ll go back out.” I want to deflect him from the house. “I’ll say you’re gone.”

 

Tau’s hunting for her outside now, and when he sees me he calls out hoarsely, “Where’s that bitch?”

“Shay’s gone. She ran away.”

“Fuck, she’s here – don’t fuckin’ lie!” Tau shouts at me.

“No, she’s gone, Tau. She took off.”

“Fuckin’ outa my way, bitch,” Tau says, exerting his way along the deck to the front door.

“She’s gone – she ain’t here,” I say as calmly as I can.

“Nah, fuck you… fuck off, bitch.” He peers into the lounge window, cupping his hands to see, before banging the glass. “Bring her out!” he commands. His face is lit up in the moonlight for a second as he turns to me, and his eyes glitter like dull iron.

“She’s not here – she ran away, Tau.”

“Fuck you, nigga,” is his reply. He’s looking right at me, but I can see that he’s not even talking to ‘me’ anymore. “Fuuuck off you lil shit nigga, unless you want me to smash you – then I’ll fuckin smash you.”

He shoves past, still shouting, then looks back and calls to me quietly; heartbreakingly himself for an instant, “Miss, do you want me to go? I’ll go…”

“Tau…” is all I say. But I also know I can’t reach him – for his face shines coldly again, his eyes glint, and he says simply, “I’ll get her, I’ll break the door down.”  He kicks it in: the frame splinters; the hinge snaps – and he goes inside.

 

Lounge… kitchen… laundry (I’m so glad Shay’s not there). Then back through the lounge; into the hall; past the bathroom (he simply flings the door wide to search each room as he goes by); spare room… and then for some unknown reason, he hesitates before my room, and doesn’t enter. To my astonishment he stops himself, and just looks at me… and for one second I see my Tau’s dear and beautiful face again. Then he just turns and leaves through the broken front door. As he does, he jerks his head back and snarls, “If you just bring that bitch out, everything’ll be sweet.

“No, it won’t,” I whisper, and then, “She’s not here…”

Tau strides to the shed, throws the entire door off its frame; it groans and lists from a twisted hinge. He grabs two spray cans, and marches down the drive, panting and shouting: ”CP gang, motherfucker! This is CP turf!”

 

And I go back to Shay. She’s under my bed by now, trembling and shaking. “Miss…” she cries, and launches herself out and against me.

“Shhh… it’s alright,” I say, stroking her hair and trying to soothe her.

“Where’s he gone?”

“To do some tagging.”

“Oh, that’s good… it’ll calm him down,” she sobs.

“Unless he gets arrested first –” I say with momentary sangfroid, and she dissolves into more tears.

 

We just sit behind the bed, holding onto one another.

“Miiiss…” Shay keeps weeping. “Miss… I’m scared.”

“I know, sweetie, I know, but it’s ok… I won’t let him take you, I promise. I’ll call the cops if I have to.”

No Miss!” she squeaks. “He’ll be more angry with me, he’ll know I’ve told you.”

“You don’t have to tell me,“ I say, and then, “I can see for myself. D’oh… I’m not dumb!” and we both can’t help laughing, at the absurdity of the situation.

 

“Shay – I can’t lock the door now. Tau kicked it in. If he comes back to get you, I’ll have to ring the police.”

She nods, whimpering, “Ooh, I heard him… is it broken?”

“Yup. But it’s ok – at least it’s just a door, not you.”

We just sit there pressed together, and talk. I get Shay some panadol, and an ice pack for her eye.

 

And then – footsteps on the gravel again.

“He’s going into the shed…” I say, peering out the window.

“What’s he doing?”

“Dunno, trying to shut the door, I think…”

“Ooh… is that door broken too?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“I dunno… I dunno… ummm…” I say, trying to see without revealing myself at the window.

“Ohh, Miss – maybe he’ll just have a sleep,” says Shay, with fervent hope.

And suddenly, the lights in the shed go out, and there is silence.

 

We wait, scarcely daring to breathe. And then, gradually we do breathe, and sigh, and yawn – and begin to talk in soft voices. We talk about a lot of things, and Shay keeps shedding tears, resting her head on me. “I love him,” she tells me. “But sometimes I don’t think I wanna be with him.”

“I know,” I say. “I remember that feeling. But if he’s not careful, he’s gonna lose you,” and she nods.

After a while: “Sleep in here, Shay, don’t go out there again,” I say.

“I won’t, Miss – is it ok if I just bunk down with you?” she asks.

“Yes, that’s the best thing to do,” I reply.

So we lie on my bed, just whispering to one another a bit.

“Are you warm?” I asks her.

“I’m warm as…” she says, and she adds, as she falls asleep, “Miss… at Sheree and Scott’s, they never let me come inside when Tau was like this. They always just left me outside with him.”

And with her ice pack on her eye, she sleeps.

 

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