Sunday 18 November, 2012:
Teri inboxes me round midnight. The first message says she’s worried about Kepaoa. Things between the two of them are alright; that’s not the problem. But, she says, Australia’s not good for him – he hates it, and he’s homesick. There’s an issue with his return ticket though. He was supposed to come back on Wednesday, they’d rung the airline to check the flight and were told that someone had cancelled it. His family – she doesn’t know how, and she doesn’t know who.
Her second message says she’s been trying to cope, but she’s getting really stressed by everything. She wants to know if I can ring Kepaoa – but not tell him that I’ve talked to her.
So about 1am – it’s 11pm over there – I call him. He picks up straight away, sounding so clear that he might have been in the next room.
We chat for a bit – I tell him I’m just ringing to see how he’s doing. At first he says he’s ‘good’, so I don’t push it, we just talk about this and that… then, after a while, I ask him when he’s planning to come back.
“Umm… Miss?” Kepaoa began.
“Um – I don’t know aye,” he goes on, hesitantly. “Something’s gone wrong. I was supposed to come back on Wednesday – I rang the airline to check what time I should be at the airport. And they told me there was no booking under my name.”
“Aye?” I say. “So what happened?”
“I’m not sure,” he says. “Miss… it looks like someone’s cancelled it.” Then he kind of sighs, and starts talking – that’s when I hear the whole story (or as much as he knows).
As far as Kepaoa can tell, the booking’s been cancelled from the NZ end. He doesn’t know how it’s happened. He’s at a loss – all he knows is that he’s stuck in Australia. He’s thought about it, and he thinks it’s his mum and dad. He heard (from Paki) that they were really angry when they found out where he was. But Paki hasn’t been in touch either since the booking got cancelled.
“I don’t know how anyone can cancel the booking,” I say. “I can’t work out how they would be able to – unless they had all your details and everything.”
“I don’t know either,” says Kepaoa, unhappily. “But they have. I think my mum and dad have gone online and cancelled it, and got the money.”
“Yeah, well I can try to check that out,” I told him. “I’ll ring the airline myself. But I need the information – the flight details and everything. Your passport number, all that stuff.”
And he says he’ll mail it to me today.
Then we talk about things more generally. Kepaoa tells me he hates it there, and wants to come home. It’s been good to see Teri, but she hasn’t even told her family that he’s there, and he hasn’t met them. Sometimes she texts him to come over, but he has to wait outside her house for her to come out. Waited for five hours the other day. He says he doesn’t mind… but he sounds kind of weary, all the same. Tells me Teri is pretty insecure about things. Thinks he’s playing up. She’s telling him what to wear, everything. Won’t let him wear a throwback…
“Won’t let you wear a throwback?” I say, in disbelief.
“Nah…” he says. And then, “And Miss, there’s hardly any Islanders here. People think I’m from the States. They don’t know anything. I hate it here. It’s full of Lebs – I hate them.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“Lebanese – they all carry guns, little bitches. Can’t fight like men, so they pull their guns out.”
I can’t help snorting. “Yeah, yeah… says the guy who pulled out his gun at school.”
“Haah…” Kepaoa says, conceding this. “I did – but these guys can’t even fight, so they just walk round with their guns the whole time, thinking they’re tough.” He gives a little sigh, and, “Miss, I just wanna come home,” he goes on, softly. “New Zealand’s the life, compared to here. I fuckin hate it here.”
“I know, and don’t worry – we’ll sort it out,” I told him. “We will, ok?”
We talk until my phone runs out of charge. I know the battery’s about to go flat, so I remind him to mail the flight info, and his passport details… then we’re cut off.
I wake up late, after the midnight phone call. By 9:30 I haven’t even pulled the curtains. I’m about to get up, when I hear the front door open and close, quickly. Actually, it gives me kind of a scare, to begin with. Then I go out, and Tau’s just sitting there on the couch.
“Hey…” I say, just like nothing unusual is happening (which is always the way to go, with Tau).
“Hey, Miss,” replies Tau.
There’s a short (and friendly) pause. I don’t sense any note of panic or stress in Tau’s manner. I just say, “So… how’s everything?”
“Ok, jaaaacc,” is the reply.
“Everyone good? At yours?”
“Yeah,” Tau shrugs noncommittally.
I don’t want to push him, not one little bit. Don’t ask any more. Just say, “Well, it’s cool to see you anyway, Tau. And, you’re looking good.” It’s true – he looks kind of clearer, somehow.
He grins, modestly.
“You are,” I say. “Have you been cutting back on your drinking or something?”
“Nah…” says Tau, still honest to a fault with me. “I haven’t. And I’ve been awake all night, haven’t even been to sleep yet.”
“Ohwell,” I reply, and he grins at me again.
I don’t really know why he’s turned up, but I’m not going to question it. I just sit and talk to him, and I see him kind of gradually ‘settle’. As always, it just takes my heart and squeezes it, to see Tau looking at me peacefully, not wanting to fly; flee. I know not to say anything to startle him, or anything that’s too hard for him to talk about: Shae, for example. So at first we talk about the ‘simplest’ things, like painting. Tau takes a look at the boards, and I show him one of the canvases, which I can see he really likes. The whole time, I’m aware that he’s breathing quietly, just receiving all the signals I send. That he’s safe, and I’m not about to make a big deal out of anything, and that he’s welcome. It makes me cry, even writing this down. Because it means something, that Tau still feels he can turn up at mine.
After a bit, I ask him if he’s interested in coming on the next paint job.
“Yeah, hard,” he replies. “I really wanna get back into all that.”
“Do you, Tau?” I say, gently. “I’m really glad to hear that. I was gonna get in touch with you about it soon anyway. I hadn’t forgotten. It’s just that…”
He looks at me, and I go on: “It’s just that I don’t want to interfere. That’s the only reason I haven’t been in touch more. Sometimes I want to, but then I think… oh, maybe I’m nagging you about stuff, so I just leave it.”
“It’s algood, Miss,” Tau tells me. “It’s algood if you get in touch. Only… I’ve got no phone anymore.”
“Damn,” I say, and he nods, ruefully.
We look at one another. I say, “Yeah, Tau – I really want you to come on that job. So far, it’s just Zion and Slade.”
“Who’s Slade?” asks Tau.
“Ohh, Rook – I’ve met him,” he tells me. “Last weekend, at a party.”
“Did you guys get on?” I ask.
“Um, I didn’t really talk to him much, he seems pretty quiet,” Tau says.
I laugh. “Yeah, he’s not that quiet, he can be a rowdy fulla sometimes. Like you, aye.” I add, “Always the quiet ones…” and Tau snorts at me.
I continue, “I think you guys would get on… once you got to know one another. He’s Zion’s friend, you’d probably be all good.”
“Yup,” Tau says, easily. He shows no sign of alarm at the idea of Slade coming along.
I tell him I’ve seen Nio, too. Tau is quite intrigued by this.
“What did he say?” he asks me.
“He asked about you –wanted to know if you were still at the TI.”
“And what did you say?”
“I said no, you weren’t – then he asked if you’d dropped out.”
Tau looks at me with an amused, ‘Go on…’ expression.
“And I said no, you hadn’t dropped out – you finished your course and already got level 3. Cos, you know… how Nio hasn’t even got level 1 yet!”
At this, we both start to laugh, and I can see that he’s pleased by my comment to Nio, so I decide to just ‘push’ into the idea a tiny bit more, saying, “Um… Tau, I know you’ve probably got heaps of money making opportunities at the moment, but…”
“I haven’t got jaaac,” says Tau, at once. He grins, ruefully. “I ain’t doing jaac, there’s nothing happening, honest Miss.”
“Well then, just maybe think about going back to the TI one day, huh?”
“I do want to go back,” Tau says, surprising me greatly.
“Aye? Really, Tau?”
“Well that’s cool, just keep that in your mind for next year then,” I say, amazed at the ease with which he’s able to mention it.
I look at Tau’s face, which is always real beautiful, far as I’m concerned. I can never see him any other way.
“Ok,” I say. “I better go get ready and that.” I’ve already told Tau I’m off to meet up with a friend soon.
“K, Miss. I should go soon, too.”
“Okay, but just feel free to…” and I wave around the room. “Doesn’t matter if I’m here or not, you just come and go, anytime. And help yourself to anything.”
“Thanks, Miss,” says Tau, quietly. “I might stay for a bit longer then,”
“Nah, no worries,” I say. “You know what I said before. I won’t interfere, but… well, I just want you to know that I’m here if you need something. Ok, Tau? Anytime.
He gives a little nod, and we hug one another.
I take a shower, get ready to go out. Tau’s still sitting quite contentedly on the couch. He follows me out and waves from the deck as I get in the car. As I head down the driveway I cast a glance over my shoulder and see him rolling a ciggie. It makes me feel happy to think of him being there, just having a bit of quiet time and a smoke.