Tuesday 25 March, 2014 (contd):
On the drive back out to Carthill, “I’m the black sheep of our family,” Michael tells me. “My older brother and sister finished uni and stuff. But I got into trouble, with gang people.”
This could well be true, I surmise.
And he goes on: “I ended up owing them a lot of money… so I gave them the car. To end it,” he concludes. “To just put a stop to it.”
“And did it? Put a stop to it?” I ask.
“Yeah, it did,” he tells me.
“Well that’s one thing, I guess…”
“Yeah, guess it is,” he agrees.
I consider that whoever Michael gave the car to might be racking up more fines. Ownership papers won’t have been changed. But I let this thought lie, for now. Because Michael keeps talking. He’s rambling a bit – but the whole story has a basic coherence to it, and so I listen.
Turns out that he’s had ‘a lot’ of money, ever since he was 16. He did a robbery, with one of his friends. “A really big one,” he says, quietly. “I got a lot of money from it, and it changed my life. I think that was when all the trouble really started.”
Something about Michael’s manner tells me that he’s not lying, at least not in the essence of things. I don’t know how ‘big’ this robbery was, exactly – and I’m sure he’s exaggerated the amount of cash involved. But I’ve always wondered how he was able to lend Tau so much money, and how he bought his car, and paid for those hotel rooms. The job at the store was a bagatelle really – one or two days a week, on call.
And I just keep on listening, while he explains that after he got all this cash, he started to find out who his real friends were. People kept on hitting him up for money, and then after a while it got even worse. He couldn’t trust anyone, even the people he thought were his best friends.
Michael suddenly says, “That’s what happened with me and Cluzo, Miss.”
“Oh,” I say, not commenting, just waiting for him to go on.
“I don’t know if I should tell you,” he says. “In case… it changes how you feel about Tau.”
“It’s ok,” I say. “It’s up to you what you tell me.” I add, truthfully, “I don’t think anything could change how I feel about Tau.”
Michael just nods, at this. And then he tells me Tau tried to ‘rob’ him, too.
“Rob you?” I say, just curious, not challenging his story.
“He did, Miss, he tried to steal from me.”
“But are you sure?” I ask.
“I’m sure,” Michael insists.
“Did he admit it?”
“He was part of it,” Michael says “He set it up. Even Sheree was involved.”
I just think – well, I don’t know.
“I really trusted them, Miss,” says Michael. “I did everything I could for that family.”
“I know you really cared about them,” I say.
And it could be true, I guess… it could be. When people get desperate, sometimes it happens.
I remember one time, it must have been back in 2009, back when I first got to really know Tau… I went into the sports office after school, to use the photocopier. Tau came with me, he was going to staple the sheets together for me once I’d copied them. I opened a drawer and there was the stapler, with a ziplock bag of money underneath it, which I guess was kids’ sports fees and stuff.
Tau saw it and drew his breath in, saying, “Miiisss, can I take that money?”
“No,” I told him. “You’ll get me in trouble.”
“Ok, Miss,” he said, but adding as an aside, “If you weren’t here, I’d just take it.”
“No doubt,” I said matter of factly, making him laugh. “But I trust you – so I’m sure you won’t, now.”
“Miss?” Tau said earnestly. “If you went out of the room, I wouldn’t even take it then.”
“I know,” I said. “Thanks for that, Tau.”
“Miss… you could leave a thousand dollars right out on your table in your room, and I’d never touch it,” he told me.
And I believed him, and I still do. I trust Tau completely – and I’m not saying anyone else should, you understand. It’s just that I do.
Michael also talks about his drug habit. At first it was just weed, he says. And he still needs a lot of weed, just to relax. He’s not a big K2 user: “Fucks you up,” he comments, and then in the next breath, “But I need to cut down on the crack.”
“How long you been into that for?” I ask.
“Been using crack since I was um, 15,” he tells me. “Not too much… to start with.”
“Well, yeah,” I say. “It’s not a thing to get into.”
“It’s not, Miss,” he acknowledges. “But lately…”
“Yeah,” he says. “Mainly since all this shit happened. My mum dying – and not knowing who to trust. It just helps settle me down, I guess.”
“Mm hmm…” I say. “But it’s not a very safe bet, Michael, don’t you think?”
“I mean, look how Tau’s dad ended up,” I pursue this line gently. “Dead at 40. I mean, that’s probably old to you, but…”
“Nah, that’s not old,” says Michael. “That’s far too young to go. My mum was only 45, Miss. My mum should have had heaps of time left. She was still young.”
There’s a pause, and then, “But I’m not like those people who are addicted to crack,” Michael assures me. “I don’t live like that.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But Scott probably said that too, when he was young and strong.”
“I won’t end up like him,” Michael says. “Once I get everything sorted, it’ll be better.”
“That’s for sure, but…”
“But what, Miss?”
“But just be careful.”
And that’s where we leave it. But I know it’s easier said than done.
Oh, and there’s one more thing. Michael talks about that day the cops turned up at my place, to look for stolen goods. They were after some boys who had come over, apparently to slang a TV. I remember that day… Lorna rang me.
But anyway – they found heaps of other shit. According to Michael, there was a couple of ounces, and over a thousand bucks (I already knew about the money; it was Tau’s savings). But not just that: several guns, and a crack pipe.
And Leroi only got done with receiving stolen goods.
Tau and I had talked about it a bit, at the time. He said it was ‘lucky’ the cops were crooked, because no-one was being charged with dealing; they must have split the money and the weed. “Fuckin cops, aye Miss…” he mused.
“Fuckin cops, alright.”
But I never knew about the guns, and certainly not the crack pipe. Maybe it was Michael’s, for him to say that. But it still begs the whole question of whether crack was being smoked in the sleepout, and how regularly.
I’m not dumb, I’m sure it happened. But I guess I never thought it was on the regular. And now… I don’t know. It troubles me to even consider this possibility, it really does. There’s too many ins and outs to think about, just now. And I trust Tau – and I believe what he said back then: he was scared of crack, didn’t even know how to drive it.
But the boys – I hardly trust any one of them. I don’t even know that I ‘trust’ Michael, exactly. I don’t mistrust him either. I just… I don’t know. And Leroi – he was always so easily swayed by others. Never really looked out for me, and honestly, I know he would have considered his boys first, every time. It’s not to say he didn’t care – just that he was ‘young and dumb’, as Tau once put it.
The guns, too. I’d told Tau (after Robbie died) that I didn’t want any more guns lying around in the shed. Legal or not, I didn’t want them there. A bit like crack, in one sense: they just weren’t a safe bet.
So I don’t know, I don’t know… and right now I feel kind of tired, just thinking about all this.
But if (and it’s a big ‘if’) Tau ever needs that space, there’s no way there’s going to be boys setting up. After what we’ve all been through, I’ll be patrolling my borders so tight that I may as well be Checkpoint Charlie.
When I actually sit and think about it, it’s pretty lucky I haven’t been in any trouble with the law myself. Oh, I know I must have some kind of profile with the cops, especially with the general circumstances surrounding Robbie’s death. But there was also that time Tau was up on drugs charges… and later that same year was the search warrant… and then the stolen goods, last year (and that’s just scratching the surface, obviously), and the cops have been round various other times, just for the usual reasons.
And you know, I feel like I’ve been somehow protected through all of that, when there was so much potential for things to go awry. Maybe because my intentions have been good… hah, but they truly have. Knowledge of ‘illegal activities’ notwithstanding, my goal has always been to care for and provide a safe space for Tau, and anyone who has found some kind of shelter in it – and I think again of Kepaoa.
But I’ve been looked after alright. I’m not sure how that works. But I’m sure I have.
Driving home… just turning into Municipal and going past the big McDonald’s on the corner, I get this one ‘clear’ moment. Who knows why, but I have this feeling of mastery. Or incipient mastery, I guess I have to go through this, until I know what I’m doing. It’s all going to teach me how to master my own job properly, and be legit with it. I’m not up to that level yet. But I will be.