Mastery

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…”

“More, 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?”

He shrugs

“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.

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Work

Tuesday 15 October, 2013:

Tired, after two days of school. For a Tuesday, it’s not so bad though. At breaks, I just kick it with Slade. Couple of times I look at his glossy, ringlety rat’s tail and think: Gonna miss you. Oh my gosh, gonna miss you alright. My best friend, at MC.

Ezekiel comes in as well; same as yesterday. He’s a good kid. I don’t know what he wants, really. To know he’s not alone, I guess. Same as the rest of us.

 

Wednesday 16 October:

I don’t even open the edits doc last night. Hop into bed at 9:30 instead, and fall to sleep just like that: bang.

That’s ok, until 3 am, when I wake up with some kind of pain in my heart that I just can’t shake. Oh, I try to go back to sleep. But nothing I try works. In the end, I give up and weep. Cry my stupid eyes out, until my nose runs and my pillow is all wet with tears. And I cry for Tau. “I can’t believe you forgot about me,” I sob. “Me.” Futile as it is, I know. But there’s an amount of disbelief, and something like indignity in my heart, that makes me keep right on sorrowing and sobbing. To think that maybe I’m just another person after all. Ha, it’s so ridiculous, but it’s the truth.

There’s no way I can sleep; by 4 I know it. I get up, make a cup of tea and bring it back to bed, where I remain. It’s a bit cold, but I don’t turn on the heater – the wall plug needs fixing. It’s been making a buzzy noise, and giving out sparks. Yesterday I mailed the property manager.

And ohhhh fuck it, it’s Wednesday, suckiest day of the school week. Honestly, you’d think I could get a little bit of sleep before the frickin staff PD

 

I get up at 7, take a shower and leave for work. Stop on the way to get gas and a coffee, but I can feel that sparky tired feeling jamming my brain, and I have to consciously pull up my thoughts and turn them into routine words and actions. Even the standard electronic transaction seems difficult, and as for putting air in the tyres – I almost give up on that task’s complexities.

But I make it to school. Drink my coffee, head to the staff PD, and kind of let my brain jam a bit more, listening to Karys go on and on about ‘Where are we now?’ and ‘Where to from here?’

I last the day, somehow. And later, the total relief of coming home. It’s warm, and I’m tired, and I can just crash on the couch for a couple hours, TV on, cuppa tea…

 

Thursday 17 October:

Ezekiel… there’s stuff going on with that one, I reckon. Don’t know what, yet. Today, when he jumps out of the car, there’s a phone on the seat. So I toot the horn; he comes running back, and I pass it over. “Thanks Miss – it must have fallen out of my pocket,” he tells me. “Lifesaver!” he adds, with what appears to be the most genuine relief.

Later on, La-Verne asks if I’ve found a phone in the car – she thinks she might have left hers there when we went for coffee.

Ohyup, and Ezekiel just acted as natural as the day over the whole thing. No hesitation in his eyes, just pocketed it. And I totally believed him!

It’s just a old phone – La-Verne isn’t too worried about it at all. But all the same, if I’m honest – it shocks me a little. Not the acquisition of the phone itself (it was hardly even theft: technically I offered it to him). And I’m not that hung up on property, anyway. But straight out looking me in the eye and lying about it. Tau and Slade, the meanest thieves (of their own admission, too) would have told me the truth on that one. They’d never take anything from me without checking first. They’d have tried for the phone for sure – but it would have been this way: ‘It ain’t mine, Miss – but you should let us have it.’

 

Friday 18 October:

Feeling dismally unmotivated, even about my own stuff. Of course about school, too – but that just goes without saying.

There are a couple of developments. First up I tell Slade about Ezekiel and the phone, this morning before school. He is immediately outraged on my behalf.

“Knew he was a sketchy cunt,” he mutters. “Fuckin sketchy lil kieeent…” And then, “Can I jab him for you Miss?” he suggests, helpfully.

I shake my head at once. “It’s alright. Don’t start any trouble. Miss Poirier said it was just her old phone.”

“But that shit ain’t on,” he insists. “You just don’t do shit like that to people who look out for you. I’d never do that to you, Miss.”

“I know you wouldn’t,” I say. “That’s what I thought, soon as I found out: Slade would never have done that.”

“I wouldn’t,” he says. “I would have told you straight away – it’s not mine, Miss. And then I would have asked – can I have it?”

We both crack up laughing, at that. “Yeah, you would,” I agree. “All the boys I know would have been straight up about it.”

“Mmm…” ruminates Slade, and then, “Aww Miss, you should let us jab him for you though.”

“Nah, leave it,” I reiterate.

 

However, just as I’m starting off 9 Social, Slade appears at my door and beckons me over with a happy swoop of his arm. “We did it, Miss!” he confesses, grinning gnomishly. “Me and the bro Cruz. We saw him outside his first class, and we stepped him out. He sacked it.”

“Oh my gosh…” is what I say. I feel grateful and worried and alarmed all at the same time.

“Don’t worry Miss, we didn’t fuck him over or anything. We didn’t even touch him, we just stepped him out in front of his boys.” He demonstrates, drawing himself up and looming over the imaginary figure of Ezekiel. “We were like… where’s our fuckin phone? You better give that phone back – and fuckin sort it out with Miss. And don’t mess with the bro’s,” he adds, for good measure.

“Well, thanks… I guess, yeah, thanks for that, Slade,” I sigh. Because I know it was a kind act, in its way. “And what did he say?”

“First he tried to deny it. But then he admitted it. And he left it at home… but  he said he’ll bring it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I say.

“Aw shit, that’s right, the little fuck, I’ll go see him, tell him to go home and get it now.”

“Nah, nah, don’t do that. He’s probably scared enough as it is. I’ll try taking him home at break, kay?”

“Ohh… kay,” Slade agrees, with just a touch of disappointment. I don’t think either of us are all that sure we’ll see Ezekiel at break, after what has just transpired.

 

And then, at break, Ezekiel does turn up. He looks scared shitless, to be honest, after being stepped out by the year 13’s. He comes to the door, hesitates, and then walks in kind of bravely.

“I’m really sorry…”  he begins, and then, “I made a mistake.”

“Mmm,”  I say, non-comittally.

He goes on, “I thought it was mine, but mine was in my bag…”

“Yup,” I tell him, with slight impatience. “I’m not sure I believe that, but whatever the story, the main thing is I need the phone back.”

“It’s at home,” he replies.

“Well I can’t imagine why it’s at home, Ezekiel,” I say. “I mean, if you know it isn’t yours, why wouldn’t you just bring it to school and give it back to me?”

“I’m sorry,” he says, his eyes not quite sure where to look. “It’s… it’s my fault.  I’m really sorry.”

“Look…” I sigh. “It’s not the phone itself that’s the problem. It’s not worth any money, that’s not it. It’s just… the boys I know don’t do that stuff. You don’t steal stuff off people you know, huh? That’s why Slade came to see you – he was just trying to look out for me.”

Ezekiel’s head is down, and his eyes are looking at the floor. “I… know,” he murmurs. “I’m really sorry, Miss.”

“Yup,” is all I say. I feel sorry for him, but still pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. He’s certainly contrite – but I suspect this is more about getting snapped. I don’t know, and I can’t really be doing with investigating any further, just now.

 

So I just say, “Ookay,” and then, “Cool, just bring it back on Monday, Ezekiel. With the sim.”

“I… that’s the thing… the sim. It… got broken.”

“What?” I say. “How could it get broken?”

“My little sister…” he begins.

I just feel annoyed, now, at the thought of another excuse. “Ezekiel,” I tell him. “I don’t know what the real story is, and I guess I’ll never know. But it’s Miss Poirier’s phone – and she wants the sim back, it’s got all her contacts on it. So it’s a hassle for everyone now, do you get that?”

He nods, saying nothing. But his eyes flicker to mine, then away again quickly.

I look at the clock, break time is rapidly coming to an end and I need a coffee.

“Kay,” I say, more abruptly than I intend to.  “I need to go do some stuff now, Ezekiel. “You better go have some break time out there, c’mon.”

 

Ezekiel’s shoulders tremble, and I see his eyes have gone shiny. Even then, I can’t figure out whether this is all part of an act. So I just look at him, almost ready to shoo him out.  But he bends his head and I see tears trickle down his cheeks. He wipes them away and more drip out.

It gives me an ache in my heart, to see him cry. “Ezekiel?” I say, way more gently this time. “It’s ok, it’s not the biggest drama in the world, you know.”

“It’s my fault, though,” he sniffs. “I’m sorry – and now I’ve got you into trouble as well, Miss. I didn’t wanna do that.”

“I’m not in trouble,” I tell him. “It’s only a little hassle, that’s all. Not a big deal, no need to cry about it.

“But I did a bad thing…” And he lowers his head and the tears run down his face.

“It wasn’t that bad…” I say, trying to make him smile. Then I just go over and put my arm round his shoulder, and stand there with him. “It’s ok… really. You just live and learn, huh?”

He nods, still sniffing.

 

Ross comes in, sees Ezekiel and mouths, “Oops… sorry. Shall I go?”

“Algood, just give us a couple of minutes,” I tell him, and he nods and goes out again.

“I didn’t mean to do bad stuff again,” Ezekiel cries, quietly. “I didn’t wanna do anymore bad things, and I don’t wanna get sent away…”

“Sent away?” I ask him. “Why would you get sent away?”

“Cos if I’m not really good, for the rest of my life – my whole life – I might have to leave my family. Cos our family’s, um… it’s managed by CYFS,” he chokes out at me. “And that’s what nearly happened this other time.”

“What other time?” I say. “What do you mean, Ezekiel?”

“Well… I did something else really bad, at my old school. And Miss Kirk knows, because CYFS sorted it out that I could come here, but I had to see Mr Arlon, and…  if I’m not good for ever and ever I think I’ll have to leave and go to Hamilton,” he explains, bemusing me considerably with this blend of apparent fact (William Arlon is the Director of Guidance) and obvious inaccuracy.

“Hamilton…” I repeat.

“There’s a CYFS care place there,” he says, in misery. “For kids who can’t stay with their family. They were gonna send me there before.”

“Ohh,” I say, seeing things a little bit more clearly – and at the same time, realizing the account is not exactly accurate, partly because it’s from a child’s level of understanding of the whole process.

 

So then I say to him, “Heey, Ezekiel, I bet you whatever you did, it wasn’t that bad at all. Honest to who.”

“It was.”

“Was it… stealing?” I ask him

He nods.

“And Miss Kirk knows?”

More nods.

“Well… it doesn’t sound that bad to me,” I say, truthfully. “If it was real bad, she wouldn’t have let you come here. And you know what else?”

“What?” Ezekiel asks. I can tell he’s listening.

“Well, CYFS don’t send kids away cos they’re bad, you know. They send them away to keep them safe, sometimes. It’s never easy, I know that. But it happens.”

“My family’s got problems,” Ezekiel tells me. “With me doing bad stuff, and being out on the streets, and not doing what I’m supposed to do. And there’s… family violence as well.”

“Well, you’re not shocking me,” I say, matter of factly. “Ezekiel, you’re not, truly. It happens, I know that.”

He nods again, saying, “Miss? I don’t wanna leave my family, or leave this school and go away.”

“Course you don’t,” I say. “But that’s not going to happen just cos of one little phone, you know that?”

 

He looks so relieved at these words that something else dawns on me. “Hey, Ezekiel,” I say. “Did you think I was gonna tell people… like Miss Kirk, or Mr Arlon?”

“Yes,” he says. “Aren’t you going to, Miss?”

“No, of course I’m not…” I begin, and then break off, saying, “Oh man, Ezekiel, I should have said that right from the start. Did you really think…?”

In answer, he just nods, letting a few more unhappy tears trickle out.

“Ohh, God no – not at all!” I exclaim, putting my arm back around his shoulders at once. “I’m not like that, Ezekiel. That isn’t my style at all. I won’t tell them about the phone.”

He looks at me in surprise.

“You don’t really know me that well, huh,” I say gently. “But I promise you I’m not lying. I told Slade… cos I trust him. But I’m not gonna say a word about it to any of the teachers. Promise.”

I can see he believes me, though he is still surprised.

 

I see Ross still hovering around outside, so I say to Ezekiel, “Oh, I better go and let Mr in, he’s got to set up for tutor.”

After that, the bell goes, so I walk Ezekiel to his tutor. Then at lunch, we go for a little ride to get the (snapped) sim, but not the phone (it’s a long story, and I’m not entirely sure of its verifiability, yet – but apparently I’ll get the phone on Monday).

I don’t (and won’t) tell the school about the phone – just as I said. But I feel like I should ask Chloe (definitely not Marjorie or Karys) if she’s in the loop with any of this other stuff. So  I just go have a quiet word with her. I don’t even mention CYFS – I just ask her if she knows anything much about Ezekiel.

 

“No…” is her first response. She wrinkles her nose, thinking about it.

“Are you sure? Cos he mentioned William, and… “

“Oh!” she says, remembering something. “Yes, there was something about CYFS, and then William saw him… they don’t share anything about cases though, you know – so that’s all I know.”

“So, he was telling the truth…” I say, thoughtfully. “I like Ezekiel, but I’m sure he makes up a bit of stuff, too. It’s just that… this sounded like it had something more to it. I mean, how else would he even know who Mr Arlon was?”

“Exactly,” says Chloe. She looks at me, saying, “I’m not surprised he came to you, out of all his teachers.”

“Hah,” I agree. “Yeah, I was thinking about that, too. My radar’s being picking up ‘Ezekiel’ signals for ages.”

“You and your radar…” says Chloe, with something close to affection. Cos there’s some degree of understanding between me and Chloe. Yeah, the tutor programme sucks, but I think Chloe’s a good woman. Anyway, all the tutor directives come directly from Marjorie; can’t hold that against Chloe.

 

At the end of the school day, I tell the wistful-looking Ezekiel to take care and have a good weekend.

“I could… bring the phone round to your house,” he suggests, kind of hopefully.

“Just bring it Monday, don’t even worry about it,” I say, thinking it’s better to let things lie for the time being.” It’s all sorted, and there’s no dramas.”

He nods, and I look at his still uncertain face, and give him a little pat on the shoulder. To be honest, I’m not sure that the truth’s been told, even now. But I can’t be cruel, and I’m not going to be.

 

I write this stuff down, and then realize I haven’t worked on the edits at all. But that’s ok – because this is more important, that’s what I think. It’s the most important thing I have to write, some days. And that’s ‘work’, you know? Really and truly, I feel like work’s been done, today.

 

Restoration

Tuesday 3 September, 2013:

Leroi’s outside on his phone, before 6 am. He seems upset… but at the same time, it’s all about Leroi, you know? Conversation right outside my window, and the front door flung open, back door left unlocked. No thought as to me whatsoever. And that’s the problem. I feel like I’m just ‘there’, like some kind of unimportant detail, at least as far as Leroi’s concerned (and maybe Tau as well, I sometimes think). Boys coming and going – sure, they’re not drinking any more, that’s been a battle I’ve won. But they still don’t really take any notice of my wishes.

Things can’t go on this way. I can’t insert my energy underneath theirs, anymore. Right now I’m feeling buzzy with a suppressed vitality that craves to be released. My heart and solar plexus are kind of shirring with it.

And I haven’t seen Slade since we argued. It feels like there’s nothing to keep me anchored at school. Oh well, but if that’s how he wants to play it, that’s okay. I can’t be doing with subordination, not to anyone. Not Tau, not Kepaoa, nor Slade.

 

Most classes today aren’t bad; 9 Social are not at their best. I find it so frustrating, to be dealing with lil babies. A few of them bring out my tender side: Deshaun’s one, Lauren is another. But honestly, a lot of fuss over nothing, from so many of the dorks. Voices floating around my ears:

“Miss, make her give back my pencil…”

“Nah, I haven’t got it… Misss, she’s annoying me!”

“And he wanted to have a one outs ge…”

“Fuck, he’s a lil bitch…”

“Fuck up, you guys are all shit,” says the splendid Lauren, apropos of this babble. “I’m tryna concentrate on my learning, and you’re fuckin annoying me.”

 

“Miss… what’s our reflection?” asks Jackson at the end.

Someone else takes this up: “What’s our reflection, Miss?”

That’s when I say, somewhat abruptly, “I don’t want to have a reflection.”

“What?” they gasp, stunned by this display of unteacherly behaviour.

“What’s our reflection?” someone else repeats, plaintively.

“Oh okay, I’ll put it up on the board,” I mutter, backtracking. I make one up on the spot: ‘Reflection: 3 things I have learned today about writing a good essay.’

 

They wave their books under my nose. “Look Miss… my reflection.”

‘Body paragraphs, Structure, Punctuation’

‘Introduction, Body paragraphs, Conclusion’

‘Well structured paragraphs, Specific evidence, Discuss and explain ideas,’  lists Lauren, elegantly.

I say to Lauren, “Do you know what? If you came to school every day, you’d get Excellences for everything.”

“I’ve been coming every day for the last two weeks,” she tells me proudly.

Lauren’s mum is Miria, who runs the crack house. It’s Slade who’s told me all this and more, adding with a note of panic: “But you can’t tell anyone! Don’t tell anyone, Miss…?” His eyes beseech me, looking momentarily shocked by his own lack of caution.

“I won’t… who would I tell?” I murmur. Chloe, Marjorie, Karys? There wouldn’t be any point, not at all.

 

School day over, rest of my life kicks in. It’s almost 4 now, and I should go home. I kind of fantasise that I could just ‘go home and relax’. Didn’t know how lucky I was, when I could do that.

But I was lonely sometimes, too.

 

Wednesday 4 September:

Deshaun and Jackson have an altercation. It is (apparently) over some noise that Jackson has made with his chair. They wrestle one another and I send them both outside to wait for me. Deshaun takes off immediately. I deal with Jackson, and he goes back in (‘to complete his learning,’ as I log it on the pastoral comments later). Then I go to look for Deshaun. He’s roaming, by now he’s fallen in with AJ (from 9 Social last year).

When they see me, AJ says, “You better go with her.”

“Nah, I ain’t going back to class,” Deshaun tells us, without rancour.

“Nah ge, go with her, that’s the best teacher in the whole school ge,” says AJ.

Deshaun shakes his head, but walks beside me uncomplainingly.

“Straight up, this is the best teacher at school,” AJ repeats.

This touches my heart, and “Aww, thanks for helping out, AJ,” I say, and he smiles at my appreciation of his good deed.

I liked my 9 Social class last year, they were kind of cool. Halfway through the year, AJ was switched to another class (something Chloe cooked up, trying to pair him up with her ‘good kids’. The move backfired though, and AJ spent the rest of the year in the desultory pursuit of distraction, who can blame him? He would have done better to stay where the tone was more gangsta; definitely more simpatico.

 

Thursday 5 September:

Neither Leroi or I know where Tau is, and Leroi’s upset, thinking he’s gapped and left him all alone (some story about an argument earlier). He asks if he can get a lift over to where Sheree’s staying.

I’m not really happy with Leroi myself, to be honest. So I question a couple of things he says, and demur about a lift, and then Leroi walks away fast, and I hear him wailing, and punching the shed wall, and then he goes down the drive yelling, “Stupid bitch! Fuck! Fuuuuuuuuuuck!” He just keeps on screaming, all the way down the road. I feel a chill in my heart, thinking about him walking through Municipal like that, and then, right when I don’t expect it, this big wave of compassion kicks in for the frickin idiot.

So after a few minutes I chuck on my jacket, do up my shoes, and go look for him. He’s striding along towards Rangitikei Rd. I pull up alongside him and he ignores me for a moment, but then wheels around, bursts into tears, and gets in the car. I put my arms around him, and, “Everything’s so haaaaaard, my life’s fucked up, I got no-one, I got nothing,” he sobs.

“Yes you have,” I tell him. “It’s alright sweetie, it’s gonna be algood.”

“Tau’s gapped… I got nooooo one!” Leroi sobs. “My life’s fucked, it’s too hard… I dunno what to do.”

I note that he’s clutching a can of Cody’s, and when I enquire, he tells me he’s just stepped someone out for it, on the corner. Told the guy that if he didn’t give him a can, he’d take the whole box.

Leroi gets a bit calmer though, as we speak. He says he doesn’t want to go see Sheree after all, they’ll just end up fighting. “I don’t respect her,” he tells me. “She’s never done anything for me, she’s all shit. She don’t care about me.”

So I drop him off at his Nan’s. He asks me if I can get him a box (he has money). I tell him no. Then I come back home, feeling  kind of over everything. Yeah, I have compassion for Leroi, how could I not? But at the end of the day – I’m on my own.

I mail Tau, just before I go to bed. Just to say goodnight, and tell him Leroi’s safe, and to let him know things are ok.  And he replies, Gudnyt miss.  It soothes me a tiny bit.

But I feel like curling up in a ball and crying and crying. Not to be special, and not to be important. Tau and Leroi and Slade think they’re the only ones with problems, huh. And yeah, I know. They do got some pretty big problems. But yup.

 

Friday 6 September:

Things are not easy, that’s true. But there is a feeling of slight restoration in the air.

First, with silly old 9 Social. They start out by dicking around all over the place. I’m bored to tears. I walk around, trying not to yawn, wishing interval would come.

Deshaun keeps getting up, down, up and down. Sitting on the floor in the corner: “That’s cos my bum’s sore,” he tells me, cheerfully.

“I don’t care,” I say. “Get your bum back on the chair,” and he does, adding, “I need help, I don’t get what we have to do…” and he waves his hand towards the blank paper on his table.

“That’s cos you weren’t listening last time,” I growl.

“I wasn’t here!” he protests. “Remember? I left, and walked around outside.”

“Exactly!”

We look at one another, kind of facing off.

“You have to help me,” he instructs.

“Deshaun, I’ve got like five people who are waiting patiently for me already, then I’ll come help you, ok?”

“Ok,” he says, and puts his feet up on the table.

“Put your feet down,” I sigh, and he complies, turning to talk to Jackson instead.

 

Ten minutes later, he’s scuffling with Precious.

“Deshaun!”

“I’m waiting for you to help me,” says Deshaun, in a matter of fact way.

“Okay,” I tell him, unwillingly. “I just have to see Lauren, and then Michaela… then I’m coming over.”

 

Finally, I bite the bullet and wind up at Deshaun’s desk.

“What do I do?” he asks me, pushing the paper around and around with one finger.

I deliberate on how much I should actually be getting Deshaun (a ‘client’ of the usual imputed needs programmes, literacy being one) to do. But, “Well…” I say. “You’re gonna do your introduction, then plan your paragraphs – and then start writing your essay.”

“I don’t know how to do that, whadda I do?” he asks, in a not especially perturbed way.

“Well,” I say again, and pull up a chair. For some reason the boredom is actually leaving me, and the class, seeing Deshaun is currently occupied, loses half its potential for distraction. A slight hush falls on the air, as I begin to explain, patiently, how to write an essay.

 

To my amazement, Deshaun seems actually quite content. He picks up the pencil I’ve laid before him, and starts his intro. “How do you spell Inequality?” he says, then, “olity-olity,” he remarks with a quack, making his companions grin.

“A, l, i, t, y…” I say, and Deshaun writes it down.

“How do you spell suffer?”

“Double f,” I tell him. “That’s right.”

Like that, we get through an intro, a planning page, and a paragraph on ‘social factors’.

 

When interval rolls around, I’m proud of him. He’s had a minor run-in with Jackson: “He keeps looking at me,” complains Deshaun, at one point standing up and issuing a challenge across the room; “Is that us then?”’

“No it isn’t you,” I say, “Or you,” I address Jackson, who’s also risen to his feet. “Sit down, you two eggs,” I tell them, and they comply, though with several scowls given and returned. And then Deshaun gets  back to work.

He hands his essay to me, and I save it ready for next class.

 

9 Social leaves, and in walks Slade, with another boy as his ‘prop’. The boy, having done his part, stays all of 30 seconds, and Slade and I just look at one another.

“Heey,” I say.

“Hey, Miss,”

“Chu up to?”

“Jacc”

And then we just sit down next to one another and talk, and for the first time in ages, time seems to gently expand once more, instead of contract.

 

So until then, I’ve been thinking Slade’s had a cool week, kickin it with the boys, but:

“Jaaaacc,” he tells me, laughing. “I’ve been going to chess club.”

“Chess club!” I exclaim.

“Yeah, in the library.” He sighs, adding ruefully, “Didn’t know what else to do.”

We crack up laughing, and I tell him, “I’ve been bored as, by myself.”

“Same,” Slade says with conviction, then, “I thought you might still be angry with me.”

“I wasn’t even angry. I just got the wrong end of the stick,” I say. “I’m a dick, sometimes. It’s cos home’s been stressy – not that that’s any excuse.”

“It’s algood, Miss,” he reassures me. “My home’s been stressy as well. I know how you feel.”

And I just think how I can cope with stupid school, having a friend there again.

Crying for the moon

Thursday 26 April, 2013:

Kepaoa and I make plans to go the mall. I pick him up, and the minute he gets in the car, I say oh-oh, to myself. He’s outfitted to the maximum. Everything about him says he’s looking for trouble.

Kepaoa grins at my expression. “What?” he says, flashing his teeth.

“Oh… it’s like that is it,” I say, raising my eyebrows.

“Like what?”

“Got something planned?”

“No… um, what you mean, Ms?”

“Like stepping to gangstas, for example.”

“Nah, nah, nothing like that,” Kepaoa assures me.

“Oh whatever,” I grumble. “Just be good, if that’s possible… looking like that.”

In reply, he just grins again, settling back with a happy and insouciant little roll of his eye. I can’t help but be amused.

 

“Miss,” Kepaoa says, with a yawn. “I still can’t get to sleep. I’m tired as.”

“Ay, can’t you?” I say. Because it’s been like that for days now.

“Nah, I tried… I just can’t sleep. I had a little bit of sleep this morning, around 6:30.”

“Aww, man,” I say. “And when was the last time you had something to eat?”

“Yesterday,” he admits.

“Kepaoa – you gotta eat!” I scold him. “No wonder you can’t frickin sleep.”

“I know… I know,” he agrees. “Fuck, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, sometimes.”

“Idiot,” I say, but extremely tenderly.

 

At the mall, Kepaoa might as well have a sign round his neck saying ‘Scraps up.’ He’s like a magnet for every gangsta in the place. They eye him up; he just pulls gang signs and laughs. “Little bitches,” he comments (to me, but in audible tones), before saying, more directly, “What you lookin at?” Twice he almost has a fight: once outside Paper Plus (when I go in to get a Vodafone top up), and then again at the entrance to Stirling Sports. Eventually I manage to get him out to the car, and he allows himself to be kind of bundled in, still hyped and bouncy.

“Gaawsh!” I say, sarcastically. “That was a fun shopping trip.”

“It was all good,” says Kepaoa.

“For you, maybe – not for me,” I tell him.

“Sorry Miss,” he says, with a little shrug. I just hate the way peoples always look at me, you know?”

“Yeah well, they will, when you’re prancing round like that,”

“Yeeeeeh, I know, but…”

We sigh. Go home and make noodles.

 

Saturday 28 April:

Sometimes I’m very aware how it must look to “everybody else”, that I open up my house like this; let Tau and Kepaoa stay with me like they’re family. But I can’t be any other way, even when it’s difficult, which of course it usually is. The logistics for a start: food, transport – just the cost of ordinary, everyday things. Not to mention the additional difficulties: drugs, alcohol, and emotions that veer up and down (mine included). And I have work to contend with, at the same time. Got to make the rent.

Last night, La-Verne invites me for dinner and I stay over. She lives in another world. A world full of ‘Stuff White People Like’. And at her place, I feel it. I sense a big difference between how we interact with one another there, compared to when we’re in neutral territory (such as school, or sitting at a cafe). Our conversation falls flat. We should be pouring another glass of wine, talking about all the things we talk about when we’re not at La-Verne’s place. But instead, we just watch a DVD, and then La-Verne says we should get some sleep (it’s 10pm). Everything is very like the world I used to know, and ought to have belonged to, I guess. But even when I was a little girl, I knew I never really did. And ain’t that the truth.

Early this morning I lay awake for a while, I put some music on but I can’t sleep. I kept thinking about what to do, and how to do it. You know… a place a time. That’s how it is.

Then I get a kind of ‘aha’ thought, round 5, 6am. Thinking how I need to kind of… address the bigger world, I guess you could say. Rather than teachers. I need to think about how to communicate something to others.

I don’t know, but I feel my blood beat hard. The idea resonates. And I just lie there and think, Oh, it isn’t a bad time to come into my own ways. I just wish… I just wish I knew all these things already. Wish I knew how to proceed. Wish I was already confident. Wish I had more to throw at this. But I’ll take what I’ve got and use it, all the same.

 

Thursday 2 May:

I take Tau to PD this morning. He tells me he was drinking until 5am with the CP boys, round at Clancy; they’re supposed to be doing the same thing tonight. I just say, “Oh…” because what else can you really say?

But honestly, Tau looks ok. He drinks far too much, but at the same time, he seems to have got something back: a calmer and more hopeful look in his eye. And that pleases me in a sense, for it’s a long time since I’ve seen Tau looking that way.

 

Saturday 4 May:

Marking the year 12 assessments. Done half (ish). Going to get them finished today, seeing as it’s nearly the end of the vacation.

Honest truth, it’s really just money and Slade that’ll get me back there Monday. And I’m not even sure Slade’s coming back – I’m never sure. He goes down the line and goes off the radar, every holidays. Two weeks of drugs and getting on it, I’m sure.

I’ve heard from him a couple times, on chat. Even he wasn’t sure if he was heading back up these ways or not. His head’s not in the same space, down there (he’s told me this before, many times).

 

But I don’t know how I’d stand all the faking, without Slade. I find it harder and harder to function at school, because I literally don’t care about hardly any of it. I only care about it in as much as I can help anyone else to get through. I used to think I was like a thief in the temple; a spy in the camp. But now I’m just… I’m just barely flying under the radar the whole time. I’m not a very good spy anymore. I can hardly pretend to be part of it. And I don’t see any point in being there alone. So I hope Slade comes back, but if he doesn’t?

Of course I don’t actually tell him that he’s at least half of the reason why I still stay. But it was that night… the night he told me about cooking crack, and cried, and said the only reason he came to school was to kick it with me. I knew I couldn’t ditch him, after that. Because you need somebody, huh? At school, which is a place that manages to be both sentimental and without pity.

That night was not without its other repercussions though. Lois, for one thing. Even though that’s pretty much sorted now. And I think Slade still freaks out a bit that he’s disclosed all this stuff to someone. He’s been cranky as fuck since then, no lies. But he’s a good boy, and I care about him, and I’ll stay for as long as it helps to make things bearable for him. And everyone needs someone to… just stay. God knows I do.

 

But the fact remains that I have to pretend so much about all the other stuff that it drives me bananas. House this and Learning Team that. Professional Development. Meetings and Goal Setting. It just makes me so tired to pretend and pretend, all the damn time. And even when I’m standing there and my classes are coming in, I just feel like… oh man, can I just quit pretending that any of this is actually about ‘learning’.

There’s some good reasons to be at school, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t care so much about Slade holding on there. But they have hardly anything to do with learning. For me, they’re about taking your chances, subverting intentions and instructions, and getting through all the gaps you can possibly find. Using all the tiny little things and moments that are either allocated or unpoliced, to make something completely different. And I can’t ever ignore that now. I can’t ignore it when I teach, or when I’m at meetings, or when I have to act and function as the mouthpiece of a system that grinds people into the dirt.

There’s only one way to go with this, obviously. And that’s to be more open about it,  not less. Yup, it’s about time I threw something else into the mix. And I guess that something is “honesty”. To some degree, at least.

 

It strikes me as funny I should write that down, when you’d think teaching might be all about communicating honestly. But to me it’s not, really it’s not. It’s quite the opposite, when I look at it that way. It seems to be all about concealing things. Whereas I want to say things, and mean them. Not just sub rosa, or in some undercover operation. But all the time, so that these things make sense to me. So that everything I do proceeds from the same place. And so that I can be of more use to the people I care about.

In my heart, it’s like ‘Have you tried?’  I mean, tried to be that way, tried to be that person. Tried to open it up, tried to jump the orbit all over again, up to the next level. And no, I haven’t. Not yet. But I’m going to have to. It’s like I said once before… I just want to keep crying for the moon, until that moon comes right down and lies in my arms. Shhh, shhh, and I rock the moon, and the moon rocks me.

I want to try. I can’t not try. It’s a mystery to me why that’s so, but… there it is.

Thousands of strings

Thursday 20 December, 2012:

Last night I dream that Ross and I end up in a bed in a hotel room.

“Ohh, what would people say if they knew?” I say, laughing.

The funny thing is, I guess I would sleep with him, too. Just because it’d be the most totally no-strings thing I could think of. Which is probably why I dreamed about it, huh? Cos yup, other things have frickin thousands of strings.

 

Today, we go for lunch at an Italian place in the city. Everyone else (which is Fine, Mandy, La-Verne) gets ‘lunch’ stuff, but I want the tiramisu, of all things. The owner kind of raises his eyebrows at me, when I order just tiramisu and coffee. He looks a little perplexed, and just a tiny bit offended by my lack of sense. “Should I bring it to you… at the same time as the others?” he asks me, wanting it to be a dessert; knowing it won’t be.

“Yes,” I tell him.

“And the coffee first?”

“Oh, yes please.”

But when he brings it over, he smiles, placing it before me.

 

And as we go to pay, he asks me, “Did you like the tiramisu?”

“It was beautiful,” I tell him.

He laughs, saying, “No – you must say ‘it was good’. It’s good, you are beautiful…”

This makes me smile, and actually, for a second I even feel beautiful.

Ohh, for sure I just need to be pressed close up against someone, just like I was in my dream. No strings, no thousands of strings. Just something simple, that’s all.

 

We’re having our nails done after lunch, and La-Verne just says, off-handedly, “So… do you still want to come out sometime, I’m really tired at the moment, and you’re probably busy, we should just play it by ear aye…”

I feel pissed off and don’t answer right away, just because I don’t know exactly how to reply. We arranged it – ages ago – for tomorrow. I know it, and so does she. After a minute (it’s easy to wait a minute because at the same time we’re being instructed to put our hands in and out of the heat machine things), I say something like, “Well, if you’re tired, let’s just leave it for the time being.”

“Ok,” she says. To be honest, she sounds relieved, which makes me feel fuckin snippy. I just narrow my eyes a little bit and pretend I’m concentrating on my nails (which do look kind of cool: shell pink with glitter).

Little pause, then La-Verne says, “I’ll text you over the weekend, maybe we could do Saturday…”

“I can’t do Saturday,” I say. “I’ve made plans for Saturday, cos we were down for Friday.” Because I actually want her to feel bad that I remembered. Plus it’s half-true – Mia and I have been talking about going out on Saturday night.

“Oh… “ says La-Verne, and starts telling me about how she’s not been in the zone with anything, and she’s tired from her environmental conference, and how Municipal College hasn’t been ‘sustaining’ her energy (as if she thinks it should!), etc etc.

So I just say, “Well that’s fine, we’ll just leave it until after Christmas, all good.”

And it is fine, it’s just the round about way she approached it that pisses me off. As if it wasn’t even arranged. She could have said it straight out: you know how we’re doing dinner on Friday, well I’m really tired and not feeling great at the moment, so is it ok if we just leave it for a bit?

And yeah, I know. I like La-Verne, and she has many qualities I admire. She’s tenacious, ethical, courageous, independent… but she isn’t really what I’d cal loyal. And loyalty’s like my number one thing, in a friend.

We’re different types, I get that – and it’s ok. But I need loyalty, and I need it demonstrably. I’ve said it often enough. People need to know it isn’t just a game, and they’re real, in a place; a time. I think of Tau, I think of Kepaoa, I think of Slade, Zion, Inia, Noa, Nio, Dimario, Argos. And of myself.

 

When we leave Dinah Nails, for some reason there’s Elroy right outside. I give him a ride home, and on the way he says to me: “So Miss, is Kepaoa’s stuff all at your place?”

“Yeah,” I tell him. “It’s in the spare room.” And then I say, “His stuff’s in the spare room, Tau’s stuff’s all in the sleepout.”

“Whoa!” Elroy says, “If anyone robs your house, they’re fuucked.” And we laugh until we just about cry.

 

Later, it’s so hot, and I feel limpid and quiet. I can’t sleep at first. I try just to curl up and lie there peacefully. I think about Kepaoa coming home, and how he’s got this stuff going on… and also how he’s like one person I can actually talk to too. Which is a good thing.

Anyway, I’m lying there thinking about it, and thinking how I can kind of ‘breathe’ with Kepaoa; take a breath and let some of it go, instead of keeping it all locked up in my heart. And just knowing that… I start to let myself think about Tau, and the things he told me the other day. Oh, I’ll be able to tell someone, I think… and so I allow myself to dwell on it for a moment, and I sigh, thinking: ohhhhhhhhhwel. I knew all this could happen, I accepted the possibility such a long time ago, I did, and it’s ok… it’s ok. But tears start falling out of my eyes anyway, and I hear myself kind of stammer: I don’t want… Tau to… die.  Big tears just swell up and drip out all over the place. I stroke my own arm to comfort myself, but I cry softly. I don’t want Tau to die… I don’t want Tau to die. Oh God, what the fuck’s gonna happen, please don’t forget about my Tau, please don’t forget even for one second, ok? Please please please please don’t forget. Please keep him safe. That’s all I can say.

Then I fall asleep.

 

Saturday 23 December

I do go out with Mia: drinks in the city. It’s cool, and a little bit not. I feel typecast, in that milieu. For what it’s worth, I don’t want to flee. I just try to relax, and talk to Mia.

I drink two glasses of sparkling wine and one Daiquiri, that’s all But I don’t have anything to eat except for a piece of pizza at the bar, and this morning I wake up tired, and with a headache (not a bad one). I don’t know how Tau can handle it, honest to who. That would be just a sip, for him. Just one mouthful, pretty much.

There’s a bit of noise outside (cars, a hammer… the occasional train) and I get that startle reflex so easily, ever since the Brayden days. I don’t exactly feel vigilant, but when I notice it in myself I realise it’s still there, all the dang time. Pisses me off.

And if I’m still like that, after all this time –  then no way I’m going to judge what Tau does, to cope with his life. Because it’s impossible to ‘sit’ with vigilance, you have to tune yourself out one way or another.

A Room of Requirement

“A room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” (J.K. Rowling)

 

Wednesday 5th August, 2009:

The kids are acting like it’s the last day of term today – wagging and fights aplenty. I have several visitors at different stages of the day. Argos and Nio are both there with my year 9’s: Argos truanting (though he’s been to his first class); Nio kicked out of PE for his misbehavior. He loiters outside my room for a while, and eventually I go out. Just then, Kuli comes down the stairs, looks at Nio and me, and says, stopping to comment, “It’s like you two are best friends or something!” Kuli shakes his head, laughing and Nio just grins, shimmering next to me like sunlight. He comes into my room, I give him felts and an old exercise book, and he sits on the floor at the back while the year 9’s work.

Every time I come by, “Miss…“ says Nio, and I stop and talk to him, companionably. Argos arrives too, and joins Nio on the floor. They bomb quietly and with relaxed contentment, watching through the big windows as the block fills and empties like a tidal pool: an influx of kids (wagging), then a DP doing a sweep; the kids moving on, rounded up off to class, and, “Our asses are safe in here!” says Nio, with a happy sigh.

 

Though outside, at the start of interval, Nio and another boy accost one another. They’re up in each other’s faces, just about to throw the first punch when I see it and walk over.

“Nah Miss, gap…” says Nio, not at all unkindly.

But I just say, “Who cares Nio, leave it, come on…” and he wavers for a second, so I persist: “Come on, who cares… it’s the last day, come back in my room aye Nio.”

And he lets me put my arm around his shoulder and draw him away, and like that we walk back to my room. He’s agitated and his eyes are ‘white’ and kind of coated with a thin watery film. I shut my door and keep my arm on him, saying, “Just stay here for a minute, ok?”

“Ok Miss,” Nio mutters, “But I’m gonna get that cunt later.”

All the same, he calms down.

 

Then Argos – something’s up with Argos, he’s still not really ok. He seems so weary and tired and kind of distracted all week… family stuff, he says. I don’t mind if he’s up and down – he sits in my room, looking more secure for a little while at least.

 

The other person today is George, and though he’s totally belligerent to begin with, at least he’ll talk to me. I’m teaching when the year 10 Dean comes in – did I know George is outside in the block, by my room? I tell her, truthfully, that I have no idea. He doesn’t come in if I have seniors, just sits and waits. She asks if I can check the online timetables, cos he won’t tell her what class he’s supposed to be at. I check, and it’s Technology.

“Would you like me to go talk to him?” I ask.

“Oh please, would you?” she says, and so I go out and sit by him.

“Morning,” I say.

He scowls.

“Are you ok?”

“Nah.”

“Not going to Technology today?”

“Nah, fuck no – it’s gay and the teacher sucks – not going there,” he mutters.

I say, “Ms Tunbridge just came and talked to me,” and he retorts, “Don’t care!” like a little kid. This makes me laugh, and then I see him smile, grouchily.

I say, “Ooh George, you’re not having a good day, aye”

“Nah, Miss, stuff keeps happening,” he tells me.

“Oh,” I say, wanting to talk to him some more but not trying to make him ‘open up’ or anything. It’s not strategy; I just want him to know that I care – cos I do.

And he looks at me, about to say something else, and then Marjorie’s there again, saying, ‘Any luck?”

I say, “Yup, aye George – you’ll give it a try aye.”

“Spose so,” he says, gruffly.

She backs off for a moment, and George tells me he hates Technology cos they’re doing a different assessment in his new class, and he doesn’t know about that stuff, but he still has to sit the exam – and I say, “Ohh, I get it… let me talk to Miss, and we’ll try to sort that out for you.” And he gets up and he’s gonna do me a favour and give class a try. I see he hates the idea, but off he goes.

 

Marjorie says, “Thanks for that.” She adds, “He’s so difficult. He won’t even speak to me. He doesn’t relate to many of the teachers.”

I tell her about the Technology problem and she didn’t know, but understands that it would be a problem. She’s gonna send an email and try sort it out.

“Thanks for keeping an eye out for him,” she says

I say, “No problem – anything I can do, it’s really a pleasure.”

And I mean that, because George touches my heart very much.

 

Later on he’s outside my room again, truanting his next class. He says to me, “Don’t leave this school, Miss.”

“How come?”

“Cos I probly won’t come, if you leave.” He says it with a scowl and a kick of his foot, as if I’ve already given in my notice.

“God you’re grumpy!” I say affectionately. He smiles and frowns and grins and swings his feet, and I just look at him and think what a nice, funny person he is.

After George has swung his feet for a while, he regards them and says, conversationally,

“Fuck… my shoes are pretty fucked, aye.”

“That’s just what I was thinking,” I reply, and we both laugh and laugh.

 

The first of two teacher-only days tomorrow. I loathe teacher-only days with a special passion. Sometimes, honestly, I’ve been known to cry afterwards – in the car with Kuli, or when I get home.  Plain old ‘stress’ and being busy are bearable compared to the revulsion I feel when I have to participate in these things. And I do have to, despite it being total pretense on my part; absolutely enforced participation. It really mashes my mind, makes me crazy – to not be able to slide out. Cos you have to talk, write, ‘do’ stuff; presentations and the like.

But today I’m on duty, and the year 10’s talk to me out by the gym: Simeon and Levi, and Tau and Noa, and some kids I don’t know but who greet me like a friend and not a foe. As I walk across, one steps out and does a little demo of me walking, saying, “And one and two and three and turn…” which makes me laugh; I don’t really know what he’s on about, but its all good. So I stop and talk and they’re just funny and friendly –  and the sun’s out, it’s almost spring.

 

Those with patient hearts

Patience is a funny thing. It’s a quality best developed in conditions of adversity. I worked so hard all day, and was still never quite ready for the next. My mind couldn’t fathom how to get smart, how to beat something which felt so merciless, and at the same time seemed inchoate and ill-defined. But I was at least appreciative of the allies who kept me from giving up. And even though I could only offer them the most limited, constrained space or time, I patiently took all my opportunities to do just that.

 

Monday 3 August, 2009:

Argos absent all day today – Tau and I have a talk about stuff. They (Argos and Tau) have beef with one another at present (Argos alluded to this on Friday), over Argos thinking that Tau stole his iPod. Not exactly like that… Argos thinks Tau stood another boy over to get it, cos that’s what the boy says, when he can’t give it back to Argos. And Argos stole it in the first place (from who is unsure), says Tau. So it’s all very complicated. But texts are flying: they’re gonna fight, they’re supposed to fight… and then Argos isn’t at school.

All this must have happened on Wednesday or Thursday, I think, cos they were allgood on Tuesday. But I don’t know. And Tau just talks and talks to me. I hate to see him and Argos not friends any more, and I tell Tau that.

“He just won’t believe me, Miss,” says Tau.

“Can’t you sort it out?” I ask.

“I’m not sure,” he replies.

I’m a bit worried about Tau, when he tells me he’s gonna buy a gun.  He says so without any air of bravado, just tells me that he nearly got slashed with a machete the other day, and he needs to look after himself.

I say, “Tau… man, I hope you’re bullshitting me.”

And he just says, “Nah, Miss, nah it’s true.” And I don’t know… but of all the boys I know, Tau is the one I quietly worry about and have done for ages. He’s so big, so quiet, so watchful… and that time I saw him with all that cash… and just the way he isn’t cocky, doesn’t shoot his mouth off in public. So it bothers me, it bothers me a lot.

But I joke: “Taurangi I don’t wanna see you on the news, ok?” I’m half trying to make light of it and pretend I’m kidding, but inside I don’t know, not for sure. I hope he’s just trying to impress me – though why he would want to I don’t know – maybe just cos he’s 14 and trying to be the man.

 

He walks along with me, and we hang out upstairs for a while, I’m kind of ‘escorting’ him to his next class. And then Nio comes up and we just stand around talking, the three of us.

Nio informs me he’s gonna come to my class today: “With Sir C – you know Sir C, aye Miss,” he drawls, in front of Tau, adding, “And Romer, and Hazard…” He looks at me, curious about something. “Do you know who ‘Axis’ is, aye Miss?” he says, and waits, not sure of my reply.

I say, “Yeah, that’s you.

And he smiles like the sun came out, almost amazed at me. He says, “You do know… you do!” with delight, cos he’s never actually told me – but I just see what goes on.

Tau says, “And you know mine, aye Miss, don’t nark,“

I say, honestly, “Of course I won’t nark.”

And then we all reluctantly go to class.

 

Then 11 Social – no Dimario today, but Alexander and Jack are both there.  Alexander makes the class laugh, because over the last term he’s grown very conversational with me, and his asides are so funny. I can’t help but love Alexander, who is one of the least ‘needy’ kids I know; when he banters with me it’s cos he wants to, he likes to; and that really tickles me – and the fact that sometimes I can’t shut him up! I could never have predicted, on the first day of class this year, that one day I’d be saying to Alexander, “Oh, let me get a word in!” when he keeps going with what he’s saying about things – and the whole entire class just laugh, laugh. And to see Alexander’s gentle, amused face with its frank expression of goodwill, just makes me want to be nice to the whole world.

I never would have seen it coming. I used to keep him going with ruses and by turning a blind eye to his bombing; now I can say, “Do your work!” and he says, “Ok Miss, I will.” He says “Miss-oi,” and “Miss-ow,” when I’m walking past, in his gentle way, as natural as he’d say it to get Jack’s attention, or Dimario’s. I like him exceedingly much – as much as I like Dimario, now. He has his own charm: his own, frank, gentle, funny charm.

 

And Jack, to whom I have to say, “Stop moaning!” – cos every two seconds it’s, “If I knew it was gonna be boring today, I would have wagged.”

I say, “Look, I told you at the start it was gonna be a bit boring today,” (cos I did!)

He replies, “Well you could’ve told me yesterday…” and everyone laughs and laughs.

It was stuff about the Federal and State government, and then exam revision for geography; and I’d warned them, “It’s not gonna be the most interesting class we’ve had this term – but after exam week it’s gonna be interesting again.”

He grizzles and grumbles, drawing his diagram, answering the questions, and every time his voice starts up again, everyone grins and I pretend to be irritated, but I’m laughing the whole time and Jack starts to laugh too, and it’s funny cos he’s still doing every single bit of work, out of the kindness of his heart, and cos usually he likes Social.  When it’s time for the geo revision, Jack says loudly, “Oh no… what are we doing… ohhh… volcanoes… allgood!” all in the same breath, and the class rocks with  laughter again.

I know that class is gonna last the distance. There’s a vibe in the air, that’s for sure, and it was there from the very start… but in every moment, I’ve given, or tried to give them something… especially my particular colleagues, but all the whole lot of them, every one.

 

At the end of class Nio runs in – he’s been in Math, but “I left, Miss!” he calls to me, jumping towards Alexander and whirling about. I say, faux-grumpily, but with affection underneath, “Nio, you’re disturbing my class,” and he smiles radiantly at me.

I sometimes wonder how I’ve been admitted to a little part of their ‘secret’ world, which is not the slightest bit random, though it appears that way to the casual eye. The signs are there, you just have to know how to look. Today, I think about my DVD and how I haven’t seen it for a while… and then I start to worry a little bit that Nio will let it go too far afield, and that it might pass into the hands of someone who doesn’t even know me, and therefore not care to give it back. And I remember a casual comment from Argos, “Miss – those KS boys won’t give it back, you’ll never see it again.”

So at the end of class I go to Alexander – cos if we’re talking KS boys, he is the one you should see. And I ask him, “Could you get it back?”

And he says, “Yep Miss… I could…” He adds, considering things, “I know who’s got it… but it means I’ll have to go all the way round to his house.”

I say, “So, will you?” and he says, “Yup.”

I appreciate the favour. Favors… and the doing of favors… I take kind of a chance, and I say to him, “Cos someone told me – those KS boys’ll never give it back –”

“Who? Who said that?’ he responds at once.

“Oh, just someone…” and he’s intrigued, to hear me drop the KS moniker in like that. And so he’s happy to do me a favour, because I know he’s in that crew, and because I know he’s the one to come to… without a word of that being made explicit.

I don’t know exactly when… or even if he’ll be able to do it, but I’m sure he’ll try, and I’m grateful. For the trust that works both ways, and the unspoken assurance that things are only mentioned to those who can be trusted. Subtlety; understatement; the patient feeling in my heart sometimes, with these boys who ride at one remove from school… yet the signs are all around, for those with an observer’s patience.

 

Today in the office, two junior boys go by, past the window, past the Venetian blinds, laughing and joking… back and forth… certainly truant from class somewhere.

One of the teachers says, “I’m sick of seeing those two go past. I think I’ll email the DPs.”

I say, “Hang on, I’ll go out and talk to them first.”

And sure enough – I speak to them and they turn themselves gently round and go straight away.  One says to me, “Thanks for your… cooperation, Miss,” and I don’t even know them. I feel like the friend of the outlaws, and it’s obvious to them; the signs are there for those who can read them: those with patient hearts.