Saturday 14 September, 2013:
By 6 pm I’m ready to go meet Mia.
We go into the city, which is cool – and a little bit not. It is, and I yet feel kind of dowdy, all the same. My skin and my hair and my eyes and everything seem just so dull and plain. I want to be glammed up, but I’m just wearing jeans. I wish I’d made more of an effort, I guess.
Because Mia looks pretty. She’s wearing this T shirt which has a little ruched ribbon thing through the scoop of the neckline, and a skirt that picks up the colour of the ribbon.
I get home to find Tau drunk, in the sleepout. He’s alright though – I guess – and no-one’s been over, apart from the trustworthy Raphael.
When I say Tau’s alright… he is and he isn’t. My heart hurts for him, a little bit. His gestures and expressions and posture have that real trusting, almost exaggeratedly childish quality to them that sometimes tumbles out, when he’s drunk and not holding everything in as much. We share a ciggie and talk. He offers me a sesh as well, but I turn it down of course, not wanting to let that paranoid feeling hit me like a kick from a mule.
He tells me how he went for a drive with Michael the other day, and they drifted sideways around a roundabout; “I liked it…” he muses. “I was scared, when we started sliding. But it was kind of interesting… thinking, am I gonna live or die? I looked and I could see 180 on the clock.” He laughs. “And then we just slid right to the side and stopped, and I got this big adrenalin rush.”
“Hey Tau, I say, with a combination of relief and worry. “Be careful, aye?”
“Algood, Miss,” Tau murmurs.” “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll worry alright,” I tell him, and he smiles at me. “Tau, I want you to stay safe, please.”
“Do my best,” he replies, implacably.
Late at night, he goes out. I’m in bed by then and hear a car pull up, then leave. It must be been 12 or 1 by then, and I fall back asleep. I think I hear Tau’s footsteps returning sometime in the early dawn.
Sunday 15 September:
This morning Kepaoa texts me, he’s leaving town today:
Thanks mis fo seeing me. Hardz ms gna misu mis, chilin and dat wichu.
Naaaaaw, algood. im gona miss u too, egg.
There is a kind of poignancy to this, knowing that we aren’t just talking about ‘till next time’. Kepaoa’s court case, which has now been relocated, is next week. And his lawyer’s told him he’ll very likely get home detention, minimum of 6 months.
I drop Tau round at his uncle’s, via the liquor store (the one off Rangitikei Rd).
“They must be missing you here,” I remark, as we pull up outside the shop.
“Saw me Saturday,” says Tau, with no fuss whatsoever.
“Oh my gosh, Tau,” I can’t help saying, but my tone makes him laugh, albeit briefly.
Raphael is with him. I’ve never seen Raphael drink, which I’m pleased about. Tau looks after him, I must admit. It’s Tau I’m concerned for, though. He sits very tired and relaxed in the car, smelling like he hasn’t had a shower for a week at least (which is probably the case). But that in itself don’t matter a thing. Tau’s so… familiar to me, honest truth. Familiar/familia.
Doesn’t mean I’m not worried though.
When we get to his uncle’s, Tau just puts ten dollars down on the seat, saying gently, “Gas, Miss.”
“Ohhh Tau, you don’t have to…” I begin.
But he nips out of the car and away, turning back to look at me and smile.
Monday 16 September:
This morning when I get up, I see Tau’s come back and made himself a feed – my mind eases a little.
Another day at MC. I have 9 Social first up, and afterwards Ezekiel waits behind and asks me, “Miss – where will you be at break time?”
“Right here,” I tell him.
“Are you gonna stay here?” he checks.
“Yup, I usually do,” I say truthfully. With some kids I’d bullshit them and say I have to go upstairs, but I can sense what’s coming next, and, like I said… there’s just something about Ezekiel, I don’t know quite what, yet.
“Um…” he begins. “Is it alright if I stay here too?”
“If you want to,” I say. “Slade usually kicks it here as well – he’ll probably be along in a minute.”
“Who’s Slade?” he asks me.
“You met him one time,” I tell him. “You might not remember, though.”
“I think I know who…” he says, and sure enough, a moment later he points out the big windows to the block, saying, “That’s him coming now, aye.”
“Yup, sure is.”
Slade comes in and greets Ezekiel without apparent surprise, and in a friendly way. They don’t really say much to one another, but there is a slightly companionable vibe all the same, between these two aloof characters.
When the bell goes, Ezekiel asks me, “Miss? Where do you go, next break. Do you go somewhere?”
“Not usually,” I tell him.
“Is it ok if I come back?”
“Course it is,” I say, lightly. I’m not sure if something is going on, or if he just needs a little rest from his mates, today.
Second break, Ezekiel is there before Slade. When Slade arrives, once again not a lot is said, but there’s definitely an air of tolerance, rather than irritation.
At the end of break, Ezekiel stays behind and says, quietly. “Miss… do you have anything to eat?”
“I’m really sorry – I don’t,” I tell him. Which is the truth.
“That’s ok,” he says, and then, looking around the empty room, “Don’t you have a class now?”
“Nah… but you do,” I say, gently.
“Ok, I’m going,” he replies. “But… is it algood if I come back here? At breaks?”
“Course,” I say. “But Ezekiel, don’t you wanna kick it with your friends at break times? Jackson and the boys?”
“I’m not… really good at the stuff they like doing,” he tells me.
“Ohh, I bet you are,” I say, hearing a certain tiredness in his voice which resonates with the way I feel sometimes. “But no worries, you just turn up anytime you feel like it, algood.”
I still don’t know what it is, exactly, but my radar’s picking up some kind of signal. And so’s this, I guess. Signs – and those who can read them.
Tuesday 17 September:
At both break times, Ezekiel is in my room. Once again, Slade is friendly enough to him, and he just seems tired, worn out. At the end of interval, he waits behind again and says quietly, “Miss? Could I have a coffee… at lunchtime?”
“A coffee?” I repeat. Cos he’s seen me bring Slade one, yesterday.
“Yes… is it ok?”
“I guess so,” I said, adding, “Yesterday you said you didn’t like coffee.”
“Um, it’s just… I haven’t had anything to eat,” murmurs Ezekiel. “My parents went out, and there wasn’t anything in the fridge or cupboard, last night.”
“Oh,” is all I reply, processing this information and realizing that all my instincts say he is telling the truth. My class are coming in, so I just tell him, “Come back at lunchtime, kay Ezekiel.”
“Ok, Miss,” he says.
At lunch, I go to the cafe and get a pie and a big sausage roll. I’m not going to ignore Slade, who pretty much never eats at school either (though I know he makes himself a feed as soon as he gets home, Lois always has food in the cupboards). I come back and act like it’s no big thing, just divvy up the food on a paper bag. Ezekiel waits deferentially while Slade selects his share, then he takes the bag with a look of actual relief in his eyes.
I just wish it could have been more, you know. I had to put it on tick myself, and I’ll pay for it tomorrow. Money’s tight – and at the same time, I can’t ignore Ezekiel. I can see he’s not trying to hustle me. It’d take a lot for a newcomer to hustle me these days. No, he just looks… kind of wilted. And it reminds me, somehow, of the days when I first got to know Tau, and how people’s instincts are to tell, despite the flickering sense of incipient shame.
After school I drive Ezekiel home. He sits there quietly, talking just a little bit – and then thanks me when we get there, saying, “See you tomorrow, Miss.”
“See you tomorrow,” I say.
I almost wish it wasn’t like this, and that I could just laugh and put it to one side, and tell him, hey, stop tryna hustle me, man. Cos I don’t ‘seek’ this in my days; there’s already such a lot of stuff to do.
But he’s a good boy, a nice kid, and he’s choosing to let someone know he needs a little bit of shelter right now. And I think: ohhh Tau, Tau. Because every time I’ve done this for someone else, I know I’m also doing it for Tau, if that makes sense. It’s always and already for Tau, too. Even though it might appear there’s no direct link – there’s a link in my heart, and I know it’s changed my response forevermore.
After school, I stop at the supermarket to pick up stuff to make dinner. I’m already tired, and then feeling kind of wearier at the thought of money coming in, money going out. Payday, and everything’s pretty much budgeted, right off the bat. And the power bill being so high, last month – I’ve only paid half of it so far. And yup. But what else should you do?
Leroi turns up this evening, to see if Tau’s here (he isn’t, having gone somewhere with little Michael). I give him a ride back to his uncle’s, which pretty much uses up the rest of my gas.
“He hasn’t even been texting me back…” says Leroi, wistfully, as we drive.
“It’s ok, Leroi,” I say. “I think Tau just needs some space right now.”
“Have you seen him?” Leroi asks. “Has he been staying, much?”
“Now and then,” I murmur, knowing it’s more than that, but not wanting to upset Leroi’s sensitive heart.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t text back, when I text him…”
“Like I said, I think he just needs some time out,” I tell Leroi. “You know what Tau’s like.”
Leroi nods, but I know he’s hurting, to feel apart from Tau.
Late at night, Leroi texts, wanting to know if Tau’s home, so he can walk round.
Tau’s back by then, but he asks me to tell Leroi he’s still out. I feel bad about the lie, but it’s not my call, I reckon.