Sunday 11 March, 2012:
This morning I get a text from Kepaoa: Ms plez kum!!
Then: Kanu kum pk me nd ma sduf uhp frm myn please? Im fucckn movng owta dhs fcckn hme!! Fuckn waste of lyf living hea!!
I’m not sure what’s happening, so I text back, drive over to Montgomery Rd and just wait in the car.
After a few minutes, another text:
Holuhp ms jucct gna try bring da sduff thru window
I gently suggest he leave his belongings inside, and come talk to me first. A moment later he’s in the car, ruffled and agitated; head down as he blinks back tears. I put my arm around him and he sniffs, trying his best not to cry. I’ve never seen Kepaoa like this before, shoulders bent over unhappily, and desperate to keep his emotions in check.
He says his dad blames him for Elroy going off the rails, tells him he wishes he’d never been born; he should just go away and not come back. Kepaoa’s taken it so to heart. He asks if I can take him to the bus station. I advise him not to make big decisions when he’s upset, and he nods, settling a little.
“But I don’t wanna go home…” he reiterates, unhappily, and then, with sudden hope: “Could we just go for a drive?”
So we go into the city and get lunch. Kepaoa demolishes his burger and fries in the time it takes me to eat about five fries. He finishes everything, then looks up hungrily.
I laugh, saying, “Hey Kepaoa, do you want my burger as well – I’m alright with just the chips.”
“Noo Miss, it’s ook…” but he eyes it with longing, then grins as I experimentally push it towards him. “Ok then!” he says, and chomps it in seconds.
“Um – do you want a sundae?” I ask, seeing as he’s obviously not at all shy about eating.
We get sundaes, and I sip my coffee, and we just talk. We see the harbour bridge in the distance, and he tells me he’s never been across to the Shore before, so that’s where we head next.
“I’m liking this buzz,” comments Kepaoa as we perambulate our way along the waterfront. His antenna has twitched initially, though: “Faar, this is a white person’s beach,” he says in alarm, staying close to my shoulder. “I just don’t feel comfortable with these white folks.” For a while he sticks to me like glue, regarding the ‘white people’ with deep suspicion.
“If Elroy was here, robberies up – look at all this flash stuff, Miss, and no-one even locks it! And all this…” and he sweeps his arm out towards the wharf and the ferry terminal: “Would all be tagged.”
But with me as his ‘prop’, Kepaoa starts to enjoy the weirdness of it all – like being in a foreign country. Of course it’s a bit that way for me, too.
When I drop him back home he flings his arms round me, saying, “Miss… thanks for today.” His fingers touch my back, completely unselfconsciously.
Around midnight, I get a succession of texts. His parents aren’t listening, they keep bringing up the past. He says he doesn’t care, he’s getting patched up for the Blacks soon, anyway; doing all sorts of deals.
And then I get one more, saying sorry and telling me that he won’t do anything like that, none of that gangsta shit, straaaight up.
Monday 12 March:
Tau stays at course all day; he tells me he did extra jobs for Wayne – measuring and cutting wood. He looks so damn happy to have had a good day.
Not a good day for Kepaoa though. He’s hyping up; I can feel it in his texts, which come every little while. Wanting to scrap like a maniac, is Kepaoa. I don’t take as much notice of it as I could – I’m teaching all day. After school, I start to think about it more, and it troubles me. I’m actually texting him to check everything is ok, when I got a text: Mis are u at sch?
I’m in the car park, as it happens. La-Verne and I are on our way to get coffee. I tell Kepaoa where I am, then I get another text straight away, asking if I can pick him up at the back end of Municipal Rd. He says he came for a scrap with someone, but ended up pulling a gun on a teacher. I don’t know if it’s true or not, and don’t have the time (or the head space, honestly) to consider whether this might be just Kepaoa’s bravado doing the talking.
I don’t have time to worry about La-Verne, either: she’s in the front seat as I go uplift Kepaoa, just get him right off the street and into the car. Within a minute of this manoeuvre, two cop cars with sirens blaring come past, but we’re already headed the other way; over the bridge and round the corner into a side road, where we rendezvous with Elroy. Elroy is with a group of boys who include Levi and Skat. The story unfolds, and indeed Kepaoa has pulled a gun and pointed it at one of the PE teachers, after stepping out a boy on MC grounds near the gym.
I leave Kepaoa in their care – he and Elroy have decided not to go back to Montgomery Rd yet; trouble will definitely be brewing. They tell me they’ll wait at Levi’s place a while… and meanwhile La-Verne and I just go get our coffee. I don’t know what else to do. Nothing, technically, has happened – there hasn’t even been a fight. But I know it was a dangerous situation, or at least it could have been – and yet I’ve taken Kepaoa out of the clutches of the school, and the law, without a second’s thought.
“What’s going on?” says La-Verne – quite calmly – as we sit at one of the plastic booths at Macca’s, waiting for our coffees.
“I’m not… really sure,” I say.
Around 6, I get another text: ‘Mis kanu take me home? Plez?’
I go pick him up; this time Kepaoa’s walking alone down Carthill Rd. He’s worried – as well he might be. His dad’s called, saying, “Come home now!” The use of English just signifies how angry he is – the cops have been round twice already. Kepaoa knows he’s gonna get a mean as hiding. This is uppermost in his mind, never mind the police. He’s laughing, saying, “I don’t care,” but his eyes are agitated and tell a different story. And, “Can you come in with me – please, Miss?” he asks, when we arrive at Montgomery Rd.
We walk into the garage, where Ane (Kepaoa’s mother), Pati (Kepaoa’s older brother), Elroy, and a younger brother are sitting. Ane starts to cry, quietly, at the sight of Kepaoa. She rocks back and forth, speaking in Samoan. Kepaoa perches on the edge of a crate and laughs softly from time to time, which I can see is mostly born out of fear, and the desire to stay calm. Pati, with input from the young boy, tells me what has happened there.
The police had arrived an hour earlier, while the family were watching TV. They came straight over the fence, and around the side of the house, with guns. Pati had been sleeping and was pulled out of bed by the scarf round his neck; they thought he was Kepaoa. The police searched the house, paying particular attention to Kepaoa’s room, and then left again. The second time, they actually knocked on the door to ask if he had returned; since everyone had co-operated the first time, and there had been no attempt to hide a fugitive. But they said they’d come again later on, before it got dark.
As Pati explains all this, Ane cries a bit more, and I see Kepaoa mask his emotions with little laughs and jerks of his head. “Fuck the police… I don’t care,” he mutters, with that manic look in his eye.
Ane says something to the little brother, and he goes inside, returns with coke and some glasses, and pours drinks for everyone. It’s getting cold, and from time to time I shiver. We discuss the gun, and the fact that the police suspect (correctly) it could be a real firearm. Elroy and Kepaoa decide to go down the road, and bring back a replacement – a toy pistol – from a friend’s house. Kepaoa will tell the cops this replica is what he’d taken with him to school.
Once they’ve gone, Pati and I have a talk. “He’s gonna get a hiding – when you leave,” says Pati, kind of tenderly. “His dad will give him a real big hiding. Smack his teeth in.”
“It won’t help if I talk to his dad?” I ask.
“No,” Pati says, just very matter-of-fact.
“Then…” I shrug, knowing there’s nothing I can do. But I feel sorrowful, all the same.
“Kepaoa… he always calls for you, when he’s in trouble,” Pati says to me. “I’ve wanted to meet you – my sister’s spoken about you. It’s good to meet you, too. I just wish it wasn’t this way.”
“It’s ok,” I say, and then, “It’s good to meet you, too.”
After a while, Kepaoa and Elroy return, twirling the toy gun. It looks very fake, and everyone is dubious about the likelihood of the police believing their rendition of events. However, the best option seems to be to stick to the agreed story, which does contain some factual elements: Kepaoa had gone down to school to sell a hat (this apparently was true), had stepped someone out (also true: a boy called Ata), and had pulled out the ‘toy’ gun when a teacher appeared. He had evaded the police when they were called, and eventually wound his way home.
There’s no point in me being here when the cops arrive – it will only make things more difficult. By now it’s about eight o’clock, and just getting dark – they’ll be back before nightfall. So Kepaoa and Pati walk me to the car. There’s little I can say, except to take care. I tell them I’ll ring them tonight – Pati has given me the family’s landline number (school doesn’t know they have one) and I put it on my phone.
Then I go home, picking up pizzas from Dominos on the way, and discuss the whole thing with Tau.
Later on, I ring and speak to Pati. The police arrived just after I left. Kepaoa has been arrested; the cops took him to the station to make a statement. No-one’s heard anything since then. The family don’t know what the charge is, or whether he will be locked up for the night.
Tuesday 13 March:
Crazy, hard day. I spend a lot of the morning trying to calm down the ultra hyped-up Kepaoa: he’s ready to come back to school; smack over bitches and fuck up snitches (teachers included). Eventually I kind of get through to him – at interval I manage to ring him and speak to him, and he quietens down then, somewhat reluctantly promising to stay off-site. But I’m worried enough to leave my phone out while I teach 13 History. Riley’s there, thank goodness, and we weather this together. She texts Kepaoa, after I tell her the full story (she only knows bits and pieces from Levi), and they have a long conversation. She does more to calm him down than me, I’m sure.
La-Verne is alarmed at the thought of Kepaoa coming onto school grounds – and she doesn’t know the half of it. I don’t show her the texts, there’s no point. Her PC side has come to the fore now, and she gets that therapeutic edge to her voice – the well-modulated tone and language of the reasonable, sensible, expert. Psychological jargon… and meanwhile Kepaoa is frothing at the mouth: ‘IDC’ and ‘FTW’… I can almost hear him shrieking with rage through the phone: Fcck people saying hu snicchd!?! Cap dat bicch ata! Faag man!! Nd whu wana fcck widme!! Ay whu waz eeht???!’
I don’t know how I even stay calm