But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless

Monday 24 September, 2012:

In my room for lunch break are Slade, Zion, Carlos, and Tyler (the new boy).

“Miss, can I kick it with your class next?” asks Slade, who is standing by the window. “Cos I ain’t going to Maori Performing Arts anyway.”

“Nah, I told Matua I’d try get you there.” (this was true, and I had been successful in this aim last week)

“Aw, Miss… but I don’t like going to MPA on Mondays.” He scowls. “It’s cake on Monday.”

“So what are you gonna do, then?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Dunno… . But honest, Miss I ain’t going to class.” He cocks his head at me, hopefully.

“I’ve got my year 11’s,” I say, in a non-committal way.

“I know,” Slade replies, and I can’t help laughing.

“They’re awgud Miss, can I kickit with your class? I’ll just draw…” he pleads.

“Look,” I told him. “I know you aren’t going to MPA. But Miss Kirk’s back today. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” I think about this, and add, “Or me, either.”

“Fuck her,” he replies, mildly.

 

“You should get us all outa class,” suggests Zion, with the greatest of ease. “I never do anything in Maths.”

“I don’t do anything in English either,” Carlos hastens to add.

“Geez… no, no!” I scold. “Yes you do, you guys. Just get to class.”

The bell is going, and they leave without protest. But Slade remains, for one last crack at it. “Please, Miss?”

I know he won’t make it to MPA, no matter what else happens. My intention wavers… and Slade looks joyful. “Ok,” I tell him. “Go on then, go get a netbook. But if Mrs Kirk comes in, God knows what I’m gonna say to her.”

 

I sort out 11 Social for a bit, then as I come back past my desk, Slade says, “Hear about Shanice, Miss?”

“Nah, what about her?”

“She got taken away by the cops last night.”

“Aye?” I say. “What for?”

A girl comes up to ask me something, and I see Slade back off a bit. “Um… just stuff,” he says. “Can’t say, in front of these fullas,” he quietly adds

“Ok, tell me later.”

And he nods.

 

A little bit later, he tells me the story. To be honest, I’m not really listening at first. Cos I’m expecting… what? I dunno; the usual stuff. Disturbing the peace, or possession of cannabis. But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless. Something about Shanice’s boyfriend. Some beef with the neighbours… he went round there, took a gun in the car with him. Cops came, he gapped it. Later, Shanice was driving the car, and the cops stopped her. She got mouthy, and they took her to the cells. There was no proof of anything, so they let her go. Meanwhile, their car was smashed up (on the side of the road, by the same neighbours), as retaliation for the visit.

 

And then Slade says, “They’re overs…”

“Huh?”

“That family. They’re overs… they got it coming.”

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“It’s all planned… for tonight.” He moves closer to my desk and then, urgently: “Miss, you can’t say anything about this… even Shanice doesn’t know.”

“What’s happening tonight?” I say. I feel a strange stirring in my blood which mingles with a tired feeling and makes me kind of float.

“Everyone’s gonna get it. Even the girls.”

“Aye? What you talking about?” I say.

“Shanice’s cousin, and some other people are going over there. To end it.” He shakes his head, and deploys his favourite expression: “Oh well.” He follows this up with, “Well, they started it…”

“And what exactly are they planning to do?”

“Gonna fuck everyone up, it’s all planned. The only ones they’re not touching are the little kids. And this girl who’s in a wheelchair. Everyone else – tough.” He gives me that ‘Oh well’ look again. “They wanna mess with us like this; they gonna get what’s coming.”

“Do you think it’s really going to happen?’

“Yes, it’s all planned. Shanice’s mum set it up. Shanice doesn’t know anything though, I’m the youngest one that knows.”

 

“Slade?” I ask him. “Are you going with them?”

He nods. “My job’s to watch, outside… and if anyone comes, I have to let let them know. Cops – or anyone else.”

“Watch… with what?”

“With my bat,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say. “Slade; something might happen.”

“It will happen,” he says calmly. “It’s too late now.”

“I mean… something might go wrong, someone might get hurt.”

“Yeah, could do,” he agrees. “But shit happens. I don’t give a fuck – this is family business, this is revenge.”

“Revenge…” I murmur, just thinking this over. And there’s no point saying I don’t get it, cos I kind of do – but I’m scared, all the same. My blood keeps on pounding, and 11 Social are working away on the netbooks, and Slade’s just talking to me in that same, low, urgent voice, and the room and the other voices kind of recede… and we keep discussing it, calmly and quietly.

 

“I wish you weren’t going,” I tell him.

“Too late now,” he says.

“I know.”

“Miss, you can’t say anything,” he reiterates. “No-one knows, even Zion don’t know. I haven’t told anyone else. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, in case someone says a word here, or a word there. Cos it’s all planned – it’s gonna happen. It’s got to.”

I say, truthfully, “Who would I tell? There’s no-one to tell… it’s not like I could just tell the cops.”

“I don’t trust the cops, Miss. They don’t do shit. We tried to tell them about all this ages ago, but they never do anything about anything.”

I shrug. I don’t know.

 

Meanwhile, 11 Social are just in the background. I think how I’m a crap teacher, today. Not that the class seem to mind. They’ve all got work to do, and just do it. The usual suspects are quiet as quiet can be. I get the impression that Neon, at least, can sense something’s going on.

 

I say, “And Shanice’s mum… set it up?”

“Yeah, she’s got all the connections, honest to who. She’s a gang woman from way back.”

“And she wants you to go?”

“Yup.”

“But didn’t she say that you had to be good, or else she’s gonna send you back down the line?” (cos Slade’s told me this often enough)

“Yeah,” he explains patiently. “But that’s at school, this is family business.”

“Oh, I see.” Which I do, I guess.

 

“Slade?” I say, in slight hope, and not in any way accusingly. “Are you just… talking this up a bit. Cos I hope you are.”

“Nah,” he tells me, and shakes his head. “I’m not talking it up.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t happen… or at least, not that way.”

“I dunno what’s gonna happen, Miss,” he says. “But something gonna happen, one way or another.”

“Are you scared?” I ask him.

“Nope.”

“Hyped?”

“Yup,” he says.

“What time’s this all meant to happen?”

“Late,” he replies. “When everyone’s sleeping.”

And I keep thinking: What am I supposed to do with this? I’m not supposed to do anything. The only reason I’m hearing it is because Slade wants someone to talk to – because it’s hard to not say anything, and for no-one to carry things with you. And I guess I know that feeling, too, in my way.

 

Marjorie comes in with one of the IT guys, they’re checking the data projectors in the blocks. She’s friendly enough, and says hello to Slade before she leaves – but I’m also aware that Marjorie could easily check whether Slade’s meant to be somewhere else, if she so desires. And she might desire, considering the current situation with the Karys letter. I think to myself: oh well.

 

Slade tells me, then, about his sister’s ex-boyfriend. “My uncle… I guess, well I call him uncle,” he says. “I think of him as my uncle. He’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met.”

I nod, and Slade continues. “He’s a fuckin scary motherfucker, I used to hang out with him all the time when I was a little kid. He used to take me around with him, to all his robberies and everything. Walk into the dairy, just say to me: Take whatever you want. Lollies, anything. Walk down the aisles grabbing anything I felt like… once he put his gun right up in the man’s face, cos my uncle was fried, frizzled as. The dairy owner, this Asian man, he was just blubbering: Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.”

 

Right in the midst of 11 Social, this tale is being recounted quietly. I have a slight awareness, in my peripheral vision, of Riana, Casey, Alex… the students I’m ostensibly teaching. And Slade keeps on talking. He says, “My uncle used to make me wear the T shirt for the prospects. Wore it every day, just walking round with him…”

“How old were you?”

“Nine, ten…” he says. “I used to go everywhere with him… up North, everywhere… he’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met…” Slade’s voice gets quieter and trancier. “One time I went to his pad up north, his gang pad… and they raped this lady…”

I just look at Slade, and he tells me without affect: “This lady… she was there, and they raped her… she wasn’t even young, she was just this random lady.”

“How did she end up there?” I ask.

“Dunno,” he shrugs. “I think she was just in the wrong place, or something. And they must of picked her up – and everyone raped her. Her face was all smashed up, there was blood all over her face, they kept on punching her, I saw her. My uncle and everyone raped her… I saw her.”

“You were there?”

“I was right there.“ he says. “I was right there.”

“Slade? How old were you?”

“Eleven,” he says. “I was eleven, and my uncle made me promise not to tell anyone. He said, if you tell anyone, I’ll find out… then I’ll kill you.”

“You couldn’t tell anyone,” I repeat, gently stating it.
“I’ve didn’t tell anyone,” he replies. “I’ve never told anyone, ever.”

“You were scared, Slade,” I say, just staying real calm. “Of course you didn’t.”

“I was so scared… I was shitting myself,” he says. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. And my sister – I couldn’t tell my sister. I knew that if I did, he’d find out. But I wanted her to know. I wanted her to get away from him.”

There’s a little pause. I say, “Do you know… what happened to the lady?”

“I don’t know,” he replies. Then he looks at me real serious. He says just softly, and with some dignity, “Miss? I don’t think they could have let her go. I think… I think they killed her.”

“I guess she could be one of those ‘missing persons’,” I say, thinking about it.

“I think she probably is,” Slade says, and I can see he’s gone over all this in his mind a hundred times before. “That’s what I think, too. She’s a missing person. And no-one will ever know what happened to her.”

 

“My uncle’s in jail now,” Slade tells me. He’s been in and out, in and out, for heaps of stuff. Other stuff.”

“Yup,” I say.

“But I stopped hanging out with him, after that.”

“It must have changed things,” I say.

“It did.”

And he makes a fist with his hand on the desk, and says very quietly, “I hate him. I hated him after that. I still hate him.”

 

I check the time, and it’s almost 3:10. We’ve been talking quietly, in one spot, for an hour at least, and the class are gonna have to pack up soon. And I feel wired, and at the same time tired, and at the same time as calm as calm can be. I’m aware that sometimes you have to carry something for someone else, even when you don’t know how. Slade’s been doing that for the last five years, and now he’s trying to do it for tonight as well, and so I think maybe he just had to share something, with someone. And so maybe it’s not my business to do anything except listen. It’s not my business to go do anything with it, because I don’t know what it is, or what’s gonna happen, or even if anything’s gonna happen. I don’t know. But my blood’s kind of pushing around in my body, all the same. It’s not a bad feeling, it’s more like that ‘oh well’ of Slade’s.

There’s a lot more said, more than that. But trust goes both ways, of course, and there’s a sense of speaking freely.

When Slade leaves, I just very sincerely tell him to please take care, and that I’m going to be worried about it till I see him tomorrow. Because what else can you say, really? And honestly, what else would I say, and to who? And for what it’s worth, I hope it helped, a little bit.

 

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Sincerity

Wednesday 8 February, 2012:

Kepaoa comes in early to do his Winz forms. It only takes half an hour, but: “Can’t I just stay?” he asks, after they’re done.

“Nothing much happening here,” I say.

“All good, could just kick it here anyway?”

“But… you can’t really roam round the place, even with a visitor’s pass,” I tell him, thinking that’s what he’s after. “You know Ms Kirk will get you off the school grounds if you’re walking around on your own.”

“I don’t want to walk around,” Kepaoa tells me, implacably. “I just wanna stay in here.”

 

And so there he is, all day. He doesn’t talk to many of the kids; a couple of seniors come in at lunch to see him. He pretty much ignores my classes (politely) – just sits there with his earphones on, looking content enough.

“Aren’t you getting bored yet?” I ask him, just after lunch when he still shows no sign of wanting to go home.

“No, I like it,” he replies.

“Ok,” I say, slightly mystified.

At 3:15, signing out at reception, Kepaoa reaches out and hugs me there in the foyer, in a wistful kind of way.

 

Zion’s back at school too, wearing the senior white shirt and braving the whole day alone: no Leroi yet.

 

Friday 10 February:

Sports day, and I’m rostered with the senior boys. The kids like it – or at any rate the ones who don’t just stay away. But I can’t just stay away, so I have to suffer through all the razzmatazz: Deans’ speeches; and staff costumes; and a running tally of house points announced periodically by megaphone. I feel crushed, as the day drags on, by the false feeling of pretending to care either way about ‘participating and contributing’.

The only part of the day I enjoy is when I sit on the field with Andre and watch the relays, and he talks to me in a natural and normal way – which means I don’t have to use my ‘acting’ voice anymore, but can just speak as myself again. Even though Andre loves sports day, he doesn’t care about that stuff either; in fact he tells me he came to school late so he could just miss all those speeches. He just wants to run, and kick it with the boys.

 

Then at home, Tau seems to have gone off the radar a bit this week – he’s either round at Noa’s (drinking) or back here (hungover) playing Leroi’s PS3. And although it worries me to see him like this, I think: well, things ebb and flow, they do… and I tell myself that at least here he’s ‘safe’ (if you can ever really call Tau’s life ‘safe’). He can hole himself up in the shed if that’s what he wants to do, and get stoned, and play games, and go to Clancy between times. I guess it’s something; better than nothing.

But I do miss the more open, pliant side of Tau. I miss seeing the side of him that’s into beginning the new semester; or wants to come in and watch Animal Planet, or just hang out for a while and talk. I see him kind of engineer his life into certain patterns, and isolate the other possibilities – and it’s kind of hard to talk about these alternatives with him. Funnily enough, it’s when he’s drinking that he wants to talk about it; when he’s had just three or four cans, and is on that happy buzz. But of course to stay on that buzz, he has to drink more and more… and the original ‘easiness’ goes, and something harder kicks in.

Oh I love Tau just as much as ever and no less – and I’m not judging. But sometimes it’s painful seeing him grow up, and not knowing what will be… knowing there’s a chance that things could just come off the chain, in one setting or another.

 

Saturday 11 February:

Just the usual multimedia events show of music, TV, facebook and phone. This includes another long conversate with Kepaoa (who, incidentally, would have loved sports day: yeah hard man imiss tht!! Wuda tryd nd dne erything man wuda bluragd hard!)

And once again, I’m consoled by these unpoliced exchanges between people, which school can’t monitor: the things that cross over boundaries and consolidate alliances. And I say that most sincerely, because equality’s everything to me these days, it’s pretty much all I have.

 

Because, with Tau… I’m struggling. This morning I stop into the sleepout to say hi as I go out, and I feel like I’m barely there, barely exist. My throat feels all choked up that Tau doesn’t want to talk to me, at least not today. But I think: well, it’s ok; can’t have everything – sure can’t have it all, at least not all of the time.

So I just go to the car and I don’t cry. And I won’t cry. Part of me feels crippled by the thought of Tau not wanting to… I don’t know. I guess maybe he can see I don’t have anything so great. It’s ok – but for an instant, I feel a huge, overwhelming, longing to go back to the days when I was special, or beloved, or even ‘beautiful’ in Tau’s eyes. And when things were all just starting out, and I didn’t know what was around the corner…

Oh well, I can’t go back, and guess what – I don’t want to go back. I chose my path with no regret. And even if I lose, will that matter? I don’t think it will, not if by doing any of this, I ever helped Tau, or any one of them.

 

Sunday 12 February:

This morning, I feel like someone who’s preparing to go all the way down. Don’t I always? But right now it’s more like that than ever. As if I’m going out to meet whatever might be stood there, waiting, in a dark place – and I sense the same feeling in Tau. Things seem so heavy, like clouds charged with rain, or the air carrying some kind of invisible weight: extra gravity.

At first I wonder, in surprise: Oh, is this how it feels, to not care about your life? But then I resolve to just be brave. It still deeply and powerfully affects me that Tau is brave – and so I’m ashamed to be weak. And by afternoon, the sensation clears a little.

 

In the evening, I get a text from Kepaoa:  igotchu miss!! Yeahp hope u algudz nd errdang fyn ay gotchua bk miss. nau liez

For some reason it just makes me want to weep. I feel tears start to swell up in the corner of my eyes. I blink them back to reply: Thanks tht means a lot, dont be nice tho its makn me cry lol

I go lay on my bed and little quiet tears roll down my cheeks, and I hug my pillow, and make no sound, and no attempt either way to cry or to stop crying.

Ngaaaw straight uhp miss inau ikant du much but anydng u wnt nd need help wd igtchu! Alday miss u dne so much fo me

Floodgates open. I can’t stop crying now, and all the while Kepaoa and I text back and forth; back and forth… couple of hours later I dry my eyes and cook spaghetti; make salad:

Ay man dats nyc az bawlanayze! Whts with tht again howu maket?

Bawlrnayz, iforgt how ta maket. Inau its tht pasta stik thngys nd mince watelce? Aha

Yhp man dats ma fav dsh!! Hnestly! U makn it?

Salad wat salad?

 

And I tell him how worried I’ve been about Tau. I can hardly tell anyone – maybe nobody else – but it’s ok to tell Kepaoa, and I don’t know why.

As the night wears on, I get something like a syndicated history of Kepaoa’s life, and then maybe I start to see why:

Yeah fk dm bicchz!! Yhp tht algudz thts wea da machete kame in nd dat mngral bicch mob gt cent ta hospital tht waz me nd ma brathaz duin lucky he didn’t die dats wat we wur hope ae. We got arestd dat tym hah crakuph! Bt yeeh il neva change fo anywum!! Bt lyf down thea waz hard foa our famly, if we went sumwea tym limit waz ten minits neva waz alowd owt unles we drve wid dad. lock down hard ae. Skrapc nealy evrydae it waz gangsta bt at da same tym dangerous fo owr famly ay we had to lyk half sleep unau?

thts why im hard on ma lil brathaz aye idnt want thm ta fall in da same catagorie az me elroy nd ma oldr brathaz ay. I want dm ta be better nd du better thn me nd dat aye.. alda tym me ma oldr brathaz always blued uhp dwn thea! We fkn hate slobs nd dawg shts!! Nd da fng dat realy fuks me off jst lyk that iz if sumwum kalz me black honestly ms that ticks me lyd dat, ilyk ma colour bt if thy aint same az me dnt be kaln me dat aye.

havu herd dhs sayn? ‘black people run fast bt pwoblemz run fastr’ neva kan run frm da pwoblmz ay haha. Up heaz good bt idk dwn thea felt lyk hardowt hme!

 

At midnight, texts are still flying back and forth. I’m fully aware that the powers that be would be alarmed at this overt disregard for ‘professional boundaries’. But the blurring of boundaries – no, the deliberate crossing over of boundaries – is the only thing that’s ever given me the strength and hope to believe that anyone can make it through the surveillance which both enslaves us and makes us partners in our own enslavement.

And furthermore, although our texts are frank, and a certain intimacy between the two participants in the conversation is evident, there is nothing ‘inappropriate’ about them. Without the word of a lie, there’s nothing like that at all. I ain’t like that (and I feel sorry for those silly bitches who are). And so I rest my case. Equality is my guiding principle. And crossing a few boundaries is nothing to me anymore.