Free

Wednesday 8 August, 2012:

My room is full of arrivals and departures all day long. It feels kinda like old times… but you know, ‘same same different’.

At one point we talk about Tau and Leroi; it isn’t just me – the others are worried about them too.

“Leroi wants to rumble all the time, now days.”

“And Tau just wants to drink.”

“They both do.”

“I hope they’re not gonna just waste their lives,” (this is Riley, sagely and with tender concern).

“I think they might,” says Zion, in a matter of fact way.

 

And, we paint again in Urban Art. I’m conscious that we have to stay under the radar. We don’t have permission, exactly. But nor have we ever been issued with a formal ban. I decide the time is right – until now I’ve had a feeling of ‘wait and see’. But today, everything just clicks into place, and I think I can take the chance.

So I talk to the boys. Tell them we have to keep things on lock, but that I’ve made the executive decision to paint today. We have a board (from the Tech teacher – this is Zion’s good idea), and set the room up at lunch. I go over a couple of rules, the main one being no tagging anywhere: on the board, on the box, on the drops. Because if anyone comes in, everything has to be as legit as it can be.

Then we crank some sounds, and start. As soon as the first cap hisses spray, and the fumes hit the air, everyone relaxes. There’s a visible and particular kind of look on everyone’s face, like we understand one another. I don’t even need to check the cans – after the first ten minutes I know they’ll be safe.

 

Slade isn’t at school today (more shit has gone down with Aiga, it turns out), but even so, a state of real camaraderie exists, for that hour in the ROR. Kids lean over one another’s shoulders as they paint, or sit at my desk and rest a while. Andre strips down to his singlet and winds his jacket around his face, unselfconsciously. Zion gets that steadily more calm and intent look, as he works.

We all know we’re doing something ‘free’… something that just expands that 60 minutes at the end of the school day. And as usual, when it’s like this, things are both relaxed and alert. It’s hard to explain that exact sensation – but I know it when I feel it. You know, when the usual rules don’t quite apply… and you can exploit them; find the little gap and scramble right through, into a place of extra space, extra time.

 

Thursday 9 August:

Slade is back today, after a scrap with Aiga yesterday at Municipal. He has a bruise on his cheek, and looks very unsettled. After interval he asks if he can stay in my room for second period. He tells me Aiga’s girlfriend takes his next class, and Aiga often hangs around there. But Slade doesn’t want another fight at school.

So I let him sit in on 11 Social. They’re such a good class – even Neon (who later tells me he knew about the fight) doesn’t stare at Slade, or ask questions. They just assume, quite correctly, that there’ll be some perfectly good reason for his presence today.

At lunch, Slade is very keen to paint, especially because he missed out yesterday. He appraises the board (still unfinished).

“Quest’s outline’s allgood – but people have amo’d it.”

“Yeah, Zion plans to clean it up,” I agree.

“Mm, yeah…” Slade examines the letters carefully. “I could help clean it up a bit… where is he?”

 

We wait a few minutes, but Zion doesn’t show. I tell Slade to get started, as it looks like Zion has gapped… and lunch break is so short at MC.

To be honest, Zion hadn’t been quite himself this morning, in History. Nothing I could put my finger on, but he just seemed a bit down, or quiet. I say this, and Slade comments in a very nice way, “Miss, you’re the only teacher who ever notices things like that.”

Within two seconds I see that Slade, like Inia and Zion, just hits the zone when he paints. His face loses that stressed look immediately, and becomes calm and focused. At the end of lunch he goes off to his next class quite freely – and another teacher’s 10 Health arrive to my room. One of the boys helps me push the tables back into position and fold up the drop sheets. He also brings out one of his own drawings, and asks with shy pride if I want to hold onto it. He’s a lovely 15 year old boy, helpful and kind and caring. I feel.. I don’t know. Maybe unworthy. Because I think of Tau. And what do I do, really?

Oh, sometimes I’m so upset I almost can’t breathe. At the idea of Tau just drinking himself into a stupor, over and over again. Every day on fb it’s: ‘HOR.C BUZZ’ and ‘HOR.CE GANG.’  No course, nothing at all to give a little bit of structure to his day. And I think of how much he wanted to go back, and how hard he tried to hold on, last semester.

So I just feel a big swell of hot, stinging tears which I can’t let spill – because if I do that, I might not be able to stop

But inside, I think of my lovely, good, and beautiful Tau. He’s young and strong, but how long can he cope? And I feel scared to interfere, right now. I can’t do anything, yet… I know I got to pick my time, and this probably ain’t quite it. But please God, please don’t forget about Tau. Please don’t forget.

 

Friday 10 August

I get to school and walk into my room. The door shuts with a little click behind me, and everything feels so still and warm. I put my laptop down on the desk, and my eyes flicker up to Tau’s bombing; the one he came running down his drive to give me… oh such a long time ago, it seems like, when I think of everything that’s happened since then.

There’s a lump in my throat, and some sad tears brim in my eyes, then mournfully overflow. I experienced a kind of patience with myself, and go out to the block to fill up my water bottle. As I do, Mandy comes past.

“How are you this morning?” she says cheerfully.

“Um,” I begin, and then my eyes well up again. Even knowing that Mandy’s the most likely to tell other people.

And sure enough, at break La-Verne’s down with her coffee, looking concerned.

I don’t say anything though. There’s no point. What would I say?

 

Slade turns up after getting kept in for most of break (for saying to his teacher, “You’re all shit, bitch,” and other such pleasantries: “I owned him,” he scoffs).

He wants to paint, of course – but by then it’s too late.

“Monday,” I tell him.

“Monday?” he repeats, disgruntled, and I laugh, which make his eyes narrow just a fraction. “Ok, may as well go get stooooney then…” he declares.

“Oh shut up,” I reply, and Carlos just cracks up at that.

 

 

The year 9 girls, as they’re packing up, pull lotions and potions out of their bags to show me.

“Smell this, Miss…”

“And this…”

“Nice, aye.”

“Miss?” says Malia. “Could we give you a makeover?”

“I don’t think so,” I say, laughing, but I feel so tender towards them.

“But Miss, we’d make you look so pretty… prettier” Rosa entreats.

They nod, most enthusiastically.

 

Monday 13 August:

Break is the best time. The painters just fly in and set up, it takes them all of two minutes. Drops up; desks moved; ‘easel’ set up (haha, two upturned tote trays); board in place; cans out (that’s my job, because I have the key). Crank some sounds… and the first spray of paint hisses through the cap, and time just kind of swells… and lunch feels like a long break; a proper break, even with my full day. I guess it’s because I’m not trying anymore, just for that place and time.

I love the way Slade asks me things so normally, like, “Should I cut it away a bit more here, Miss?”

“Just a little bit…” I say, thinking about it, and he nods, and does it with a few clean lines.

When 11 History come in, a few wrinkle their noses, but most just take it in their stride. Some tell me they like the smell.

As for me, I feel restored by it.

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