Thursday 29 November, 2012:
This morning I pick up Tau first and we go get Zion, then Slade. On the way, Tau sits placidly and just talks about this and that. He seems quite peaceful, and not overtly stressed. But he’s also frank, and tells me, “This year’s been the worst year of my life, Miss.”
“Aw, has it?” I say, sympathetically. “Well, just think, this year’s nearly over! Maybe next year you can have the best year of your life.”
“Maybe…” says Tau, with scepticism, tinged with a little hope.
When Slade gets in the car, bringing in a sudden whiff of cigarette smoke, I can’t help but laugh. “Maan, all sorts of smells in this car!” I say. “Ciggie smoke from the back seat… a bit of weed from the front.”
Tau starts chuckling, and I can hear Slade laughing in the back as well.
I remind them, “But that’s enough for now, ok? Other people are going to be on site too, and you need to remember that.”
“Yup, Miss,” they say.
“I can have a ciggie there though, can’t I?” asks Slade. “That’s ok, isn’t it.”
“Umm.. I guess so, just not inside,” I tell him. “You can go down the drive and have one by the car.” Then, “As for you,” I instruct Tau. “I can take you for a little drive, if I have to. But tell me, don’t just go off down the road…”
“All good Miss,” they say.
As we drive, everyone is pretty quiet to begin with. I can sense that Slade and Tau are just checking one another out. They seem ok, and have shaken one another’s hand at the start, but said little else. Slade isn’t even really talking much to Zion either, at first. I get the impression that he’s still trying to read the atmosphere, ascertaining whether he’s on the outer.
I just start chatting to Tau, quietly. I think also, that this might settle Slade and give him a bit of space to talk to Zion. It does seem to do the trick, too. So we have two conversations going, for a while. From time to time, I direct a casual remark towards the back seat. But it’s Zion who responds – Slade is still shy in front of Tau
“So how’s your puppy?” I ask Tau.
“What puppy?” he replies, with that laconic air that always tickles me.
“Dixie’s puppy – you know,” I tell him. “It was there last time I came over.”
“Oh – it ran away,” says Tau. “Like about… two days after that.”
“No!” I exclaim in dismay, and he laughs.
“Poor Dixie, too,” I add. “She had kind of a hard life.”
“Ha, yeah she did,” Tau agrees.
“Yeaaaah… guess she bit the neighbours’ kids one too many times, though.”
“Ohwell,” I said, finding a happier thought. “What about the cat – Coco?”
“Um…” Tau begins, trying to let me down gently. “Miss, my mum ran it over.” He looks at my crestfallen expression and grins.
“Ohhhh,” I lament. “Animals don’t have much luck at your place.”
“Haard,” says Tau, and we start to laugh at one another.
I feel the atmosphere gradually settle, as we drive out to the site. Tau and I are very companionable, and I hear Slade and Zion start to talk and laugh quietly, as well. I lose my way every now and then, and Zion says, quickly, “You gotta hang a left here Miss,” just before I sail past the turn off.
“Oh, shit! You guys should have told me it was coming up. You know what I’m like with directions…” I scold, but gratefully, as I enact a quick manoeuvre across two lanes.
Slade snorts at me, which indicates he’s feeling a bit more relaxed.
Latika is there at the site, along with three tilers. They’ve already turned their radio on, and the boys look perturbed at the prospect of a whole day of ‘Classic Hits’. “Nah, don’t worry,” I say to them, sotto voce. “We’ll be in the garage, and I’ve got the speakers.”
We set up, taping up dropsheets and masking the metal frames of the sliders. I have to borrow an extension cord from the tilers – they seem quite friendly. With some sounds going, we position the panels and equipment. Tau is by far the best lifter and shifter. He gets the tricky roller door up, then moves boxes out of the way methodically, and pushes the sliders into place without bumping the ceiling paintwork. I feel a rush of love for him, seeing him happy and not alarmed by the surroundings. Latika speaks to him approvingly, thanking him for his care in moving the sliders, and he smiles at her.
It’s just us, now. Latika has gone to pick up something; the tilers are working inside the building. The boys have sorted out the allocation of panels, they arrange themselves accordingly and begin their outlines. I watch, take a couple of photos… keep my eye on Tau. My heart’s in my mouth a little bit, to start with. I know Slade and Zion are always pretty confident about their painting. Plus they’re comfortable working alongside one another. But Tau hasn’t painted for months and months – and he’s not a confident starter at the best of times (which I really get). Usually Inia reads the vibe, and jumps in and jams with him on the outlines. But here I’m not sure how anyone’s going to play it. I look at Rook and Quest rocking their fancy stuff, one letter at a time. And meanwhile Tau’s solid piece is taking shape – he seems ok; calm. I click the phone camera a couple more times, taking a few random photos of the country scenery as well.
Any jitters Slade has are subsiding, as he hits the zone. He starts to get that cocky, happy look in his eye, doing his ‘S’. But then he turns and grins at me, saying, “That’s a awguds letter, aye,” before coughing ‘modestly’.
I know Slade’s very sensitive to the general atmosphere of things, usually liking to know he’s at the top of the pecking order. But I’m aware that he’s displaying a more humble side today, and is ok with it. “All good,” I acknowledge with genuine regard, and he nods, happy with this feedback.
Tau just paints quietly; a couple of times he grumbles at drips. He isn’t trying any new styles out, just sticking to what he’s good at: solid, clean letters, no fancy tricks. But I don’t care, I just want to see him paint again. When I look at Tau nipping up and down on the paint pail to reach the high spots, stepping back and appraising his work, cleaning up and doing cut aways… I feel so happy to see him like this again. I go stand by him for a bit, and I felt him kind of rest his energy against mine, saying, “Miss, what colour should I use for the fill, here?”
“Um… do you want a light colour?”
“Anything, Miss – what do you think would go with my other colours?”
“Ok, then how about this blue?” and I pick it out and hand it to him.
“Oh, that’d be good,” he says, taking it at once.
I instinctively feel myself mirroring and supporting him. As I walk back and forth I lightly touch his shoulder from time to time, just the way I used to do in the room of requirement. And Tau leans towards me when I do this, the way a big cat inclines towards a friendly hand.
“What else do you reckon I should put in, Miss?” Tau continues to seek my ‘advice’, which is, to be honest, limited in its expertise. Still, it isn’t really that that he wants. Not artistic input, but unspoken confirmation that he’s going well, and making a good job of things.
And I can see he isn’t shamed to be here, and be part of it. My heart aches, because I just wish Tau never had to be scared, or shamed.
Oh, I wish I never had to be, either. I get so tired of the way everything feels, some days. Like there’s something wrong with me and the day, from start to finish. But not today. Today, with Tau, I feel like I don’t have to be ashamed at all.