Much aroha

Monday 21 October, 2013:

Ezekiel seems ok, quiet. Asks me for a pencil, does some work, then draws on his diary a little bit. He slips out at the end of class without saying a word about the phone.

“Think he needs another talk…” says Slade at interval, in a significant way. “Fuckin sketchy fulla.”

But I tell him to leave it.

It’s funny, because ‘sketchy’ is exactly the right word to describe Ezekiel, in a way (not in the exact way Slade means it, but there’s a link there all the same). It’s like I’ve only got an outline of him, and more than that I don’t know, at present

 

Tuesday 22 October:

Slade’s in my room most of the day, working on his art board. It’s all legit, he’s signed out of class – the board has to be done by tomorrow. Together we create a work space at the back table, and I provide some fine markers and earphones, and then go make him a coffee.

I’m going to miss Slade so much at school, it’s one of those happy-sad feelings right now. There’s a kind of tenderness in the air between us, with the knowledge that something’s almost over. Oh, it’s not ‘everything’ that’s over. But, you know, it’s a time and a place, and it’s been an honour to share that with him.

Today the two of us talk quietly, but very freely, about a lot of things. Sometimes the vibe just makes everyone else in the room go quiet too, I can sense it.

I really have a lot of love for Slade today. Much aroha.

 

After school, I call round and see Nio, taking some leftover cans (he wants to do some throwies in their shed).

I also feel a lot of love for Nio today. Ohh, fatherhood suits Nio. I’ve never seen him so happy, and settled, and so dang positive about the world and everything in it. He doesn’t say a bad word about a soul, the entire time I’m there, just holds his son and feeds him his bottle, and we talk.

 

Wednesday 23 October:

Slade and I set up in my room again. Before I go to the staff meeting, I write down my logon and password on a sticky note, and give it to him in case the laptop times out.

It’s kind of a big deal, and though I don’t say as much, Slade knows it. I never give my password out to anyone at school, not since Tau was there. Slade folds the small piece of paper and slips it into his pocket, saying, “Shot, Miss.”

When I get back from the meeting, he looks at me triumphantly. “Finished, Miss!” he says. “I’ve finished my board – the whole thing!”

Big grins on both our faces, as he continues, “I just took it over to my art teacher, and she’s put the number on it and everything, and it’s going down to Wellington!”

“Ohh…” I say, and then, “Wow, you’ve really done it!” I glory.

“I know!” he says in elation.

 

We have fifteen minutes before my first class, so I go upstairs and make us coffees. We kick back and share a piece of banana cake which I got on the way to school.

“Shot, Miss,” Slade says again. He looks super-content, which almost brings tears to my eyes. “Where did you get this from?”

“Bakery,” I tell him.

“Solid…”

 

Slade’s going up north this afternoon, for his uncle’s unveiling. “I have to,” he tells me matter of factly, but with a worried look all the same, not wanting to miss out on his last few assessments: PE and Hospitality. He can’t get back until sometime next week, soon as he can hook up a ride.

I email the teachers concerned. They say he can finish off the assessments when he returns.

At interval, I drop him home (hard and fast, because of the short break).  We share a quick cig outside, and I get back just in time for tutor. Have to piss around opening the bollards at the gate,  then sign myself in at reception, and cruise into the block like it’s no thing.

After that, the day is just its usual busyness, one class after another. I take the path of least resistance, much as I can and wherever I can. The only person I’ve put myself out for today is Slade.

 

Ezekiel comes to see me at the end of lunch. He has some story all prepared about the phone, and telling his parents, and them locking it away, and him needing to apologize… but I still don’t get the phone, and I don’t really believe his story (which in any case is confusing).

Lucky for him Slade’s left by then. I, on the other hand, am reasonably unperturbed at Ezekiel’s tale, and his (feigned?) remorse. I just tell him I’ll talk to him after class about it – 9 Social is about to start.

He works ultra hard in class, too. Keeps coming over and asking me “learning related” questions. So it’s easy to just shelve the whole business, for the time being.

But after class, he doesn’t wait back.

I don’t really know what to think about the phone. I’m reminded of what Alexander said once, about that DVD: “I think you might have to let it go, Miss.” In my mind, I’d let it go already. And that’s how I feel about the phone, too.

As for Ezekiel, although I don’t believe him, I can’t help feeling for him, all the same.

 

Thursday 24 October:

Without Slade, how do I cope with the sheer banality of school. Ohh it’s brutal, too, but it’s… blunted, it’s normalized for its citizens (including me – because how else do I stand it?)

And just the happy and resilient ‘everydayness’ of having one real friend in this stupid place, I’m going to miss that like crazy. Just writing it down makes my eyes sting with a couple of tears.

 

I get home, fix something to eat. I’m just sitting on the couch, and I get this feeling… like something is about to happen.  I’d  had that same intuitive sensation this morning as well. Actually took a peek out of the blinds to check whether anyone was there. No-one was, and I laughed at myself.

But then, tonight… I hear a lot of thumping and bumping at the front door. I know it’s Tau, before I even open it.  He has obviously been running, and he’s panting heavily – and drunk.

Tau gasps, “Miss… is it algood to get a lift, would that be ok?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I murmur. “You ok, Tau?”

He nods, but his eyes have that glazed-over, amped look.

 

In the car, he settles just a little bit.

“You ok… Tau?” I say again.

He takes some deep lungfuls of air, and his head and eyes swivel, and he just nods again.

“It’s ok Tau…” I say. “I’ll just drive, kay.”

 

As we drive, he tells me bits and pieces: someone is after him, over something that happened ‘ages ago’. The worry in my heart causes my driving to suffer somewhat, and we can’t help laughing at this, despite ourselves. Tau wants to stop at the liquor store (but of course) and I do a hasty U-turn into an angle park.

“Sorry Tau,” I say, unable not to smirk at myself.

“Algood Miss,” Tau says. He has gained a slight amount of equilibrium, the danger of my driving being comparatively much less than whatever has caused him to flee to my door.

A couple of minutes later, he’s back with a box of Cody’s. I don’t bat an eyelid, of course. And as we drive on to Rutherford Rd, he tells me that Scott is getting out of jail on Wednesday.

“Oh,” I say, and then, “Where’s he, um… gonna stay?”

“I wouldn’t have a fuckin clue,”  Tau replies, rather wearily. And the thought of Scott being out, and possibly at home, despite what doubtlessly are everyone’s doubts and fears, makes my heart kind of sink.

Tau directs me to pull up next to a ‘Give Way’ sign, saying, “That’s it, Miss. This is our house.”

It’s a friendly looking house with a white picket fence, and I coo, “Ohh Tau… that is a nice house. It’s nice as.”  And I really mean it.

Although Tau has already told me it was only ‘ok, better than nothing…’ he still looks pleased. And to my surprise, he just reaches across and gives me a great big hug.

Then he goes in, with his cans.

 

I come home, and for some reason I have this urge to clean up my wardrobe. I pick out few shirts and some shoes, and a couple other things that I don’t really wear anymore. Fold them in a bag to take to the charity skip tomorrow.

And then I just make a cup of tea.

There’s no-one else quite like Tau, I think. I can’t not love Tau. It would be unpossible. I just wish he was happy and safe.

 

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Wednesday 18 September, 2013:

 It’s an ok day I guess…  though when Ezekiel comes in at break time, I’m not sure what to say, or how much to ask. He seems so subdued, and I feel a bit useless. I’m not your typical ‘teacher’-slash-do-gooder in these situations, the one who goes directly to the Deans, or pens pastoral notes about student ‘disclosures’. And maybe that would be the proper way to do things.

But I don’t know what I should do, exactly. I decide I need to wait and see. To me it’s about getting a sense of how to proceed. It’s not about doing what ‘teachers’ do, it’s definitely nothing to do with being a frickin teacher full stop. And so I feel the vibe is a bit… wary, today. Just checking it out: me and Ezekiel both.

Making it more awkward (for me, anyway) is that Slade isn’t at school today either.

I’m pretty sure Ezekiel hasn’t eaten. When I pay my cafe bill today (it’s only $6.20), the manager, who knows my ways a little bit from times gone by, tells me that if there are kids going hungry, to come see her after lunch, and check if there’s spare food. She says she’ll gladly give it to me. Otherwise the cafe staff just take it home.

So after lunch I slip out, while 9 Social are doing their storyboards, and she gives me a leftover fish burger and a chicken mayo sandwich. I’m going to see if Ezekiel wants to eat after sch – but then he doesn’t stay back, he just leaves class with the others. Maybe he’s ok after all… I’m not at all sure.

I stash it in the fridge upstairs, it’ll be algood until tomorrow.

 

Then today’s just awkward all round. I get home to find Sheree in the sleepout, and there are a few Cody’s cans lying about, which could belong to the boys. But I’m not quite sure. My mind goes round in circles about it all, even after she starts talking to me quite soberly, telling me she’s been offered a house, on Rutherford Ave.

 

Thursday 19 September:

When I get to school, Slade is waiting there outside my room. I’m honestly so glad to see him back. It’s just that mutual feeling of – oh, I know you.

All day, he comes in and out. Break times – and then numerous other little visits as well. It makes me laugh to see his face peering in the big windows. Waving his arms up and down to get my attention, at times (because my door locks automatically, from the outside it can only be opened with a key.)

Round 2:30, he gives up the whole idea of ‘class’ at all and bounds in for the remainder of the day. It’s actually because he wants to share some joyous news with me. “My art teacher told me I might be the first person to finish my board!”

I look at him in surprise. Cos Slade’s always been a bit worried about the progress of his art board.

“Yes, I showed her the photos,” he tells me. “And she said I can use heaps of them. She printed them all out and they’re going on my board, it’s almost enough to finish the whole thing!”

“Whoa,” I say, seeing his expression of pride and delight. “Oh, that’s cool.”

“She said… first she said, you didn’t do these.”

“Huh?” I say, not getting it.

“She didn’t believe they were my paintings. She said, “Those aren’t yours – who did those.”

“Really!” I exclaim. “And what did you say?”

“I showed her… the photos of me painting,” he tells me, with the utmost satisfaction. “The ones we took. And then she got all excited and started running around and then she printed everything out.”

“Wowwww…” I say, and we look at one another with elation.

“And now I’ve had enough of class for the day, just wanna kick back with you in here for a while, and Miss is all good with that, honest truth, she don’t mind if I leave. Cos she said I’ve done heaps.”

Slade has already sunk into a chair and is now almost horizontal with contented relaxation. My few remaining year 13’s (the rest are using the library computers) take his presence completely for granted. Writing about it now, I get a little pang of sensing how much I’m going to miss Slade at school… in just a few short weeks, really. The seniors get study leave in November, and that’s the end of their school careers, pretty much.

 

Ezekiel’s another one who would have happily stayed in my room all day, I have to practically shoo him out at the end of breaks. And at 3, back he comes, to wait for me while I go to a meeting upstairs.

“Can I go on your computer?” he asks, but with no especial hope.

“No, sorry Ezekiel – I can’t leave students on my laptop if I’m not in the room. It’s just a rule.”

“But Slade does…” he says, a little bit wistfully.

“Yeah, he does,” I admit. “Technically, he’s not supposed to either. But he’s year 13, and not just that, he’s… I mean, I know him really well, and everything.”

“He’s like your son,” says Ezekiel.

“I guess so,” I say. “Some people even think he is my son, when they see him come in all the time.”

“Yeah,“ Ezekiel agrees. “I thought that too, to start with. It’s not just because he comes here, it’s how, um… it’s just how you are with each other.”

“Yeah, I get you,” I say.

 

At breaks, Slade and Ezekiel get along quite well. They go halves on the chicken sandwich, and then I go upstairs and toast them the fish burger in the grill press.

“These are from the cafe,” says Slade in joy.

“Yup, the lady gave them to me for free,” I tell him. “She asked me if I wanted them, cos they were left over. And I said – yeah, for sure. I can easily find someone to eat those!” This was a slightly ‘flexible’ version of the real conversation, but I wasn’t about to say anything about Ezekiel’s predicament.

“Haaaaaard,” Slade says. “Alday.”

Ezekiel just grins at us. After school, he tells me that he’s had ‘energy’ for all his work in class.

He’s a really nice kid, and I hardly know him. I just know I can’t ignore it when my radar goes off. I have to pay attention to these signals, when I receive them.

 

Friday 20 September:

Slade and I play a whole lot of old school jams today; this makes us almost ridiculously happy at times. Dopey grins on our faces, we listen to George Mc Crae (Rock your Baby), follow it up with Gregory Abbott (Shake you Down), Sam Cooke (Chain Gang),  James Brown (Try Me) – and our ‘new’ discovery (courtesy of Ezekiel and a J. Cole sample), David Ruffin (Double Cross).

“Faar, this music makes me feel like having a lazy beer, aye Miss,” Slade sighs, happily.

“I reckon,” I say, snorting at him.

We look at one another indulgently.

“Could crack one open in your room…” Slade says, and we get the giggles, imagining it.

Oh I’m gonna miss him so much, here in this frickin place.

 

Normal service

Monday 12 August, 2013:

Tau and Leroi come back. I sit on Tau’s bed and talk to him, while he cuts Leroi’s hair. Not a word is said about Thursday night, just then.

But I think about it anyway. How I said to Tau outside, that night, “I have to look out for myself. No-one else here is gonna care about me.”

Tau just took a puff of his cig, and looked at me silently.

I continued, gesturing to the shed. “Leroi’s not gonna care about me. And you… used to care about me,” I finished, but without complaint.

“I do care about you,” Tau told me. “You’ve done more for me than my own family.” He added, “I just don’t know how to say it, unless I’m drunk. I’m no good at saying stuff.”

“Thanks, Tau,” I said. I felt kind of sad and quiet and unsoothed. At the same time, I was calm and almost trancey.  And then, “You are good at saying stuff, Tau,” I murmured, and he nodded, considering my words. Sometimes Tau just gets this grown-up look in his eye, and right then – it was there.

 

Tuesday 13 August:

Someone produces red velvet cupcakes at morning break, and I manage to snick an extra one out for Slade – we eat them in my room. Poor Slade has to listen to me (again): on Friday I’d given him a rundown of Thursday; and today he gets a rundown of Friday. Actually, he’s a very willing and supportive ear and I greatly appreciate it.

I get home and make butter chicken. Tau comes in several times, and we talk a little bit. I don’t know what’s being signaled, precisely. But definitely, something is. Tau will never tell me in so many words, but I think he’s sorry about the other night.

Both boys come in for a plate of butter chicken. Leroi’s so shy, and yet he stays and eats with Tau, and they talk to me some more. Again there are signals being sent: some kind of resumption of normal service.

 

Wednesday 14 August:

Wednesday’s Wednesday – in other words it’s a sucky day at the best of times, but today I really hate school. My most especial loathing is reserved for the year 9 Social Studies programme. It’s not the kids’ fault at all, of course. It’s just the dumbness of the pedagogy which has seen them right through their school careers to date. No wonder they think they’re all that. But I can’t be doing with it, to be quite honest.

There’s only one thing about school that makes any sense (apart from the pragmatic need to earn a living). I’m glad I’m there with Slade, I’m glad there’s someone I care about. Otherwise there’d be no point.

I think about how I used to ‘belong’ there, in some way. I never loved the place – but it was my battlefield. My allies alongside me: Tau and Argos and George. Nio and Dimario and Alexander and Jack. Kepaoa and Elroy. Inia and Noa and Zion… and Slade. Oh I’m so glad to still have one comrade left in that place, where every day I feel like I want to escape.

I get home and there are a few boys in the shed, but I’m pleased to see that not one of them is drinking.

 

Friday 16 August:

12 History – with that one table of ‘mean girls’: Nellie, Kimba et al. I don’t really care about them though, and they probably know it, which makes them even bitchier.

I have fifty dollars till payday: fives and tens. Drinks tomorrow night with Mia; little things – I’m happy. There’s enough food in the fridge to last till payday, pretty much – and probably enough gas in the car, too.

 

 Saturday 17 August:

Tau gets a card from his dad today. His expression of joy at this touches my heart so much. He places the card tenderly atop his speakers, and tells me he wrote to Scott a couple of weeks ago. Stayed up all night trying to think of what to say.

“Aw Tau, that’s cool as,” I say, with admiration and affection. Because I know how much he hates writing.

At night, Mia and I sit next to the window, looking out onto the lit up and rainy street. We order little prawn kebabs and beef medallions, and a bowl of shoestring fries with garlic aioli. Drink two glasses each of seven dollar bubbly; the evening special.

I need money, I think. I need… confidence.  I need to be working on my shit. Really working on what I want to do, so that things actually happen the way I want them to. I can tell you, I don’t want to look back in a year’s time, and feel like I let all the chances go by.

 

Sunday 18 August:

Tau, Leroi and Raphael are out in the garden. It’s a sunny morning, and Tau is tagging on the back fence with water in a spray bottle – this tickles me so much that we all crack up laughing at one another.

“Did you think – what the fuck?” asks Raphael, joyously.

“Yup,” I say. “I saw Tau and thought he had a can, and I was like – what the hell is he up to? Has he lost his mind?”

Tau smirks at me, then chuckles and continues with the project for a bit, before giving the spray bottle to Leroi, who begins to water the lemon tree, earnestly.

“That’s right Leroi, do some gardening,” I remark, in an approving tone which makes them burst out laughing again.

 

Maybe my ‘border patrol’ is paying off, I think. Tau and Leroi (and their friends) have been far more amenable to my protocols lately. Tau even tells me that he likes not drinking every day. He says it saves money, and he’s not as tired – he sleeps better. And he’s thinking straight.

I don’t assume it’s suddenly going to be perfect or anything. There’s so many things to take into account, and work on, and practice – for all of us. But it does feel like there’s some kind of breathing space here, and some genuine shared understanding that we’re all trying to make this difficult situation better, and easier, and just… calmer, I guess.

 

Visible

Friday 19 July, 2013:

Slade comes over for a bit – he’s going down the line tomorrow. Says he’s been feening for a paint, but hasn’t wanted to interrupt my holidays. Ha, if he only knew. Been the stressiest frickin holidays I’ve ever had, pretty much.

Later, when Lois stops by to collect him, Slade lingers for a second, almost as if he is going to reach out and hug me. Then he just says, with feeling, “Miss, take care. I’ll see you soon.”

“You take care too,” I tell him. “You be good, down the line.”

 

I have a glass of wine, fry up some eggs and meat patties and make a sandwich. Tau comes in a couple of times, he doesn’t say much. I feel like he’s carrying a lot of stuff in his mind, and so am I.

I always used to feel strong, with Tau. Sometimes, nowadays, I feel ashamed of being weak. I don’t know how to do this stuff, and I often think how everyone can see that. I feel like I’m so visible. Whatever I do, people can see it.

 

Around midnight I wake up and someone’s knocking, I can hear them trying different doors… then the sleepout door (softly), and then there’s a little tap-tap on my window.

I go and open up the door, and Elroy is standing there.

I’m relieved and pissed off all at once, to see Elroy. My first thought is – oh man, it’s so good to see him. My second thought is – I’m just gonna be hustled.

 

My expression must be uncertain. Because Elroy says, hesitantly, “Miss? Can I come in… can I use the phone?”

“I guess so,” I say. I feel awkward, even. Like – here’s another person to see me at my weakest moments. I think I say, pretty much straight away, “I can’t drop you off, Elroy.” I add, “I’ve hardly got any gas right now.” Which is indeed true.

“It’s ok Miss, I’m not asking you to drop me off, I’ll ring… someone,” says Elroy. I’m sure he would have asked me to drop him off, if I’d looked more willing. But I feel kind of heartbroken… I don’t know.  It’s like there’s all this stuff that I can’t say. I want to cry, because I’ve missed him and Kepaoa so much, and at the same time I feel laid low by everything.

 

He comes in and rings Paki. I hear him say, “Can you pick me up, I’m at Miss’s?” And then I hear Paki ask, “Why can’t Miss drop you off?”

“She’s busy,” he says.

Paki must have asked him what I’m doing, because he goes on, “Uh, busy… sleeping.”

I feel a surge of irritation at this. Am I your brother’s taxi? I think to myself. You come get him.

Elroy hangs up the phone and tells me, “He’s out with his girlfriend – they’ll pick me up on their way back.”

“Where are they?” I ask.

“In the city, I think.”

“Oh… ok.”

 

So we just wait. I tuck up on the couch with a rug, and Elroy starts talking. Tells me he was arrested the day I dropped him off at Clancy. He got drunk and stole a car from right outside a dairy – a man had left the keys in the ignition when he went in. Elroy drove off and the cops chased him. “High speed chase…” he informs me, casually. “I crashed in Carthill and ran off, but they caught me and locked me up. I’ve been inside ever since then.”

“You’re a egg,” I tell him. “Honestly, Elroy, you are.”

“Yeah, I know Miss,” he replies.

“So when did you get out?” I ask

“Um… about a week ago. I’ve been on 24/7 at home. Actually I was better off inside. I knew I’d breach bail if they let me out. But my lawyer was this young… lady, and she wanted me to get bail.”

“Oh fuck,” I mutter. “Fuckin useless lawyers.”

 

Then, “So – was jail ok?”

“Yeah, nah… it was algood, but I kept having scraps. There’s too many people to have scraps with in there. I was in the Youth Unit, but then they put me on Management – where all the naughty ones go, the ones who keep causing trouble.”

“Geez!” I scold Elroy. “Man, you’re not helping yourself you know! You can’t keep on doing this all the damn time. Do you wanna end up like Tau’s dad? He’s in jail now and no-one will bail him – no-one wants him at theirs, cos he starts trouble wherever he goes. Do you want to be like that – where even your own family won’t have you?”

“No,” says Elroy, meekly.

There is a pause, and I feel my eyes swim with tears, for no reason and for lots of reasons.

“And I didn’t mean to breach my bail tonight, Miss. I was ok, I cooked dinner for my mum and dad, but then I got drunk, you know how I like to take off when I’m drinking, and…”

“Roam around,” I finish for him.

“Yeah, roam around.”

“And what the fuck did you think would happen?” I say.

“I didn’t think about it…”

“Well, maybe you should have.”

“I know,” he says. “I’ll just get locked up again now. I shouldn’t go home – I’ll go to Eddie’s and turn myself in on Monday.”

“Go to Eddie’s?” I say in surprise. “Why would you go there?”

“Cos his dad’ll be algood with me. He’ll let me drink.”

“Well he’s a stupid old fool then,” I say, exasperated. “Honestly, he needs his head read. And who’s gonna take you all the way out there, to…”

“To Range Rd,” says Elroy. “I’ll ask Paki to take me.”

“Geez…” I say again. “That’s a long way. Your poor brother, you know what – you should just go home and harden up, and let the cops come and lock you up.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Elroy sighs. “I’ll just go home.”

 

I look at him and sigh too. Half of me wants to hug the idiot, the other half wants to just growl and growl, and keep on growling. It isn’t really fair, either. He’s kind of getting the fallout from me being upset with Kepaoa, and from what’s happening with Tau and Leroi, and I know it.

So I just say, “Elroy?”

“Yeah, Miss.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “It’s good to see you. It’s just that… it’s been kind of a hard day. I’d drive you home, but I haven’t got gas, and I’m tired, and I just wish… that things were different. I don’t like seeing you get into trouble all the time, and, I don’t know… it’s like everything’s changed. I reckon I’ve gotta start looking out for myself a bit more.”

“Yeah, heaps of things have changed,” Elroy agrees, rather reflectively. “I went round to Cluzo’s and I saw that there was a new door, and the house had been painted, and there were different people there. And then I went to Kost’s, and he said Cluzo and Leroi were living here…”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean, well that’s part of it,” I say. “They’ve got nowhere to go, and they’re here, and I just have to harden up myself, or else all those other boys are just gonna hustle me. I mean the ones that think they can roll up and do whatever, you know how it is.”

 

A thought crosses my mind, and I sigh again. “And so is that why you came round – to see Cluzo?”

“Um… yes and no. I wanted to see you, and Cluzo,” says Elroy. “I thought I could have a drink with Cluzo, and -”

“See!” I say, even more exasperated. “What makes people think I want drink ups here, huh? This is half the frickin problem. Boys thinking that I’m gonna be all good with them just cruising up.” I add, “It’s not just you, Elroy. I even had to tell Noa and Kost and them off, for the same thing. I don’t want everyone drinking over here. And if bloody Scott wasn’t inside, then I wouldn’t be having to deal with this shit all the time… that’s what I mean! You don’t want to end up like him, giving everyone stress cos they’ve got to sort shit out for you.”

We look at one another, and Elroy says, “Yeah, I know… I’m sorry Miss. I just wasn’t really thinking.”

“I know – and it is good to see you, even though I’m pissed off,” I concede, and he grins.

 

“Can I use your laptop, check facebook?” he asks, and I go get it for him.

After a bit, I say, quietly (because he hasn’t mentioned Kepaoa at all), “So, did Teri go back to Oz?”

“Teri?” says Elroy. “I don’t know. I’ve been inside since that day you dropped me off. Kepaoa’s down the line. He’s been down there for a whole month, I haven’t even spoken to him. I don’t know what’s happening with Teri.” He pauses and says, “I don’t like Teri.”

“I don’t like her either,” I say.

“And my family don’t like her, Miss,” Elroy adds.

“I don’t trust her,” I say. “She messed with his head when she came back.”

“She thinks she’s a big shot,” Elroy says. “She thinks she’s hot shit, aye Miss.”

“Yeah, I reckon…”

 

Then I say, wanting to cry, “I got upset with your brother and yelled at him, and afterwards he just chopped me, straight up. I tried to get in touch, but he won’t talk to me. He never replied to any of my texts, so I just had to leave it. But… I miss him,” I finish. “I do, really. Is he ok?”

“He’s ok,” Elroy says. “He’s working down there – he’s doing good.”

“Aw, that’s good,” I say, softly.

“I haven’t seen him in ages,” Elroy says again. “I miss him too.”

 

“Did he get his knee sorted out?”

“I don’t know,” Elroy says. “I don’t think he did.”

“Oh well,” I sigh. “I dunno, Elroy. I still really care about him, and I care about you, too.”

“I know, Miss,” Elroy replies. “I’m sorry for giving you trouble.”

“You’re not,” I tell him. “I’m just… it’s just been a hard time, lately. For lots of reasons. It’s not your fault.” I can’t help adding, “Though I do wish you’d start acting like a sensible person,” and we both crack up laughing.

 

It isn’t until almost 2am that Paki arrives and toots the horn from out on the road. Elroy says goodbye and goes out, then I hear him running back inside and he appears in front of me again. “Miss?”

I get up.

“Can I have… a hug, Miss?” says Elroy.

I put my arms around him and we just stand there and hug.

“Take care,” I tell him. “Please Elroy, just look after yourself… just try to.”

“I will Miss,” he says, no doubt meaning it in that moment at least.

“And, good luck with the rest of the weekend, and the cops and everything.”

“Yeah, I’ll just go home, Miss,” he assures me. “I’ll take what comes.”

“Good boy,” I say. “I do really care about you, Elroy. You and Kepaoa. I really do.”

“Thanks, Miss,” he says, and hugs me tight again, and lopes off into the night.

 

Then I go back to bed. I dream about Zion. Dream that I bundle him up in my arms and carry him, as if he’s a young, sleeping child. We go to Denny’s and get a feed: eggs and mushrooms and hash browns and bacon and chili beans.

Don’t ask me why I should dream that, I don’t know what anything means.

From where I’m standing

Saturday 6 July, 2013:

Pick up coffee after the gym, and check my inbox. There’s a message from Slade, letting me know he’ll be free in the afternoon to go get paint (this being our Saturday plan), with Zion. He’s just doing some jobs for Lois first – shifting wood under the house. He adds that Lois said she likes me.

 

“Faar, my aunty liked you pretty fast…” Slade further impresses upon me, when I pick him up. “Cos usually she takes ages to like anyone.”

“Especially considering what happened to start with!” I exclaim, and we snort with laughter.

“I know,” Slade says, “But nah, she really likes you now.”

“Lucky for me then,” is all I say, and the feeling of understatement makes us laugh again.

 

When we walk into the store, the boys can hardly contain their excitement – and we haven’t even gotten to the paint yet. Their mouths just drop open at the sight of the clothes and shoes and watches on display.

“Faaar, heaps of flash gears in this shop!” says Slade, spinning around and around in a state of euphoria. He and Zion murmur to one another, pointing out the various treasures that catch their eye.

The store manager sees us and grins, saying to me, “The boys look happy.” We can’t help but give one another indulgent looks at the sight. They’re kitted out in a lot of winter layers, including identical aviator caps with furry ear flaps, from under which their faces shine with unbridled joy.

 

We make our peripatetic way downstairs to get the cans. Slade (seeing as I’m only ‘alright’ at choosing colours), is of course the primary decision maker, and Zion and I stand alongside him, offering suggestions.

The standard caps on the Laks have changed, though. Slade tells me the old stocks (the pink caps) are the ones he wants; the new black ones are fat caps. But most of the cans have the fat caps now. Some of the colours we want only have the new caps. So I ask the sales assistant at the counter whether we can swap a few of the new caps for the old ones. This will cost the store nothing and merely involves switching the nozzles over. But he refuses, telling us that ‘other customers’ might want the nozzles in question.

“Oh,” I say, thinking about this. “So you’d rather lose a cash sale right now for the benefit of some imaginary future customers?”

“Yes, that’s right,” he replies, unnecessarily coldly. The boys look at the floor, embarrassed.

I’m trying to be polite, so I merely question his decision. But inside, I’m starting to feel upset. Even though the store trades on its hip-hop and graff identity, most of its customers are trading on their parents’ credit cards. Slade and Zion are definitely not the usual High St clientele. And I guess I’m an unknown quantity myself – fitting into none of their standard demographics.

As we’re talking, another salesperson comes out, and it’s soon evident she knows nothing about paint caps at all. She even tells the boys to pay extra for some other nozzles that are the wrong size – a fact which I point out to her. Her manner is most objectionable, which I also mention. Then I just say that they have lost a sale, and stalk out. My parting shot is to turn back and further inform the two sales assistants that they’ve been ‘very rude’ – which makes the boys scurry and scramble up the stairs of what is (to them) the poshest store in the world.

As we go out, I stop to tell the store manager what happened. He apologises to Slade and Zion, takes us back downstairs and gives us ten dollars worth of free nozzles. The two sales assistants just stand there while the boys swan around, making their selection.

 

Back in the car, I’m still fuming and wind down with some puffs of Slade’s cigarette on the way home. And we finish the evening off with some dedicated outlines – it’s getting dark by then – in the light of the car headlights.

Dawn shows up, saying she just wants to take some photos of Slade painting. She seems genuinely pleased to see what he’s doing, especially considering that she has dropped in unannounced and found him fully absorbed in his work. I don’t think she really has much of an ulterior motive – but at any rate, the visit obviously confirms her (new) good opinion of me, and she leaves happy.

 

Monday 8 July:

After school, Slade comes over to continue with the painting. A few of Tau’s boys have already rolled up to watch – a few too many boys, if you ask me. Even though no alcohol is being consumed. Someone parks behind my car and gets a telling off. They can use their frickn brains or they can fuck off. I do not say that, out of respect for Tau. All the same, I’m clearly not in the mood to be trifled with, and they don’t stay long.

At 7:30 I take Slade home – his weekday curfew is 8. He doesn’t grumble, just hops in the car. And on our way through Bream he asks me, “Miss, is it algood if I come round to your place more often?”

I can see it’s a combination of things. The painting (and he really is good); the boys being at mine – where Slade’s a lot more comfortable than at Fitzroy. My heart goes out to Slade, who’s always been a little bit ‘lonely’ in the hood, the whole time I’ve ever known him. Cos yup, it can sure be hard to click up with people, round these ways.

 

Tuesday 9 July:

I wake to find Leroi asleep in the lounge, which in itself is a good thing – I’m glad he feels comfortable in here. But it also means I can’t turn on the TV like I usually do in the mornings. I make some toast and take it back to my room, with a cuppa tea.

Oh I miss Kepaoa so bad. Last night I actually shed a couple of unhappy tears, just lying in bed thinking about it. The way he always had my back whenever Tau’s boys rolled up. He never wanted to kick it with them, just went out and shook hands and then came in again. Used to just stay right here and keep an eye on everything, and look out for me. I miss that so much. I’m tired of doing it all on my own, and having to be strong, and never being able to drop my guard.

And I remember how Kepaoa said to me, heaps of times – if there was ever any trouble, he was just a text away. Him and Paki, and Elroy. “We’re only a suburb away,” he told me, sincerely.

 

Fuck it, but I still got hustled, huh. Hustled and chopped. I don’t know which hurts more, missing Kepaoa or feeling so quiet and defiant about being cut out like that. Because I have to face it: the main thing for Kepaoa, at the end of the day, anyway – was what I could do for him.

I also know it wasn’t the only thing. The main thing – but not the only thing. I won’t forget how he looked out for me. And I’ll never say a bad word about Kepaoa, not to anyone.

All the same, now it feels like I’m really on my own with all this. But I can feel my eyes narrow as I survey the world, right from here. From where I’m standing.

Negotiations

Monday 1 July, 2013:

In my break I go see Nio and Kayla, taking KFC for lunch and a baby set. Nio’s so proud to be a dad. It’s easily the calmest and happiest I’ve ever seen him.

He brings up Kepaoa’s name a couple times, but I don’t say too much… just that I haven’t seen him for a while. I kind of mention that we’ve fallen out. Because Nio is obviously expecting me to ‘know’ things, which I don’t – and I don’t want to pretend that I do, either. He is (surprisingly) uninclined to mock, and just says, “Aw, sorry about that,” or words to that effect.

 

Tuesday 2 July:

After school I drop Slade off, then go home. And Tau comes out of the shed. He looks at me, and I see his eyes trying to assess the situation. So I just sit in the car for five seconds, thinking, ooook. And then I get out and say, “Hey Tau,”

“Hey Miss.”

“You alright?” I ask him.

He nods, saying, “Me and Leroi are gonna stay the night – is that ok?”

“Yup, course it’s ok,” I say, and he looks relieved.

 

“What’s happening?” I ask, trying to sound at ease with things.

“Um, we had to move out – yesterday. And my mum’s gone down the line. My dad’s locked up, for maf.”

“Maf?”

“Male assaults female.”

“Oh,” I say.

“And they won’t let him out, cos he’s got no address to get bailed to – and no-one wants to give him one, not even my nan.”

“Shit,” I say, and then, “Can see why though, I guess.”

Tau just nods.

 

I know, of course, that I can’t turn them away. I know I can’t even act like I need to think about it (though obviously I’m thinking non-stop). Tau’s so sensitive to the slightest hesitancies – the merest hint of being rebuffed would send him striding down the drive and away. I already know that. And Leroi would run after him, at once.

But anyway, once the real (and not imagined) situation arises – I’m in no doubt. Underneath all the whys and wherefores of my thought processes, my mind is crystal clear. I actually experience a wave of relief, to know that when it comes down to it, I don’t even consider backing out. I just think: Tau, I promised you – and my promises I’ll keep. So I say, with true sincerity (even though I’m trembling inside as well, because of all the seriousness of the situation, and not knowing how to really help), “Tau, you know you can stay here anytime. You and Leroi. You don’t have to worry about that, okay?”

I can see how relieved Tau is too – I can see it in his eyes. He sits calmly on the couch, and talks to me. Tells me about how everything happened at once, Scott and Sheree just ‘sitting there’. “They just left it to the last day, didn’t even try to do anything,” Tau says. “We all knew we had nowhere to go.” And then on Saturday (the same day I went to Fitzroy) the shit hit the fan. Scott tried to strangle Sheree, and the cops came and took him, and locked him up.

I try to just keep things as normal as possible, I guess I have some sense of needing to let Tau and Leroi – and myself – know there isn’t anything we can’t handle. So I just go to the gym, pick up pizzas from Domino’s on the way back. We gotta eat, you know.

 

Wednesday 3 July:

Sheree’s back in town for the day, and turns up real early in the morning.

“I’m so worried about the boys,” she says. “No-one cares what happens to them now, well, no-one except you.”

“I do care what happens,” I tell her. “And right now they’re safe, and they’ve got somewhere to go. But we’ll try and sort this out, I’m not sure who’s gonna help – but we’ll try.”

She nods, trying to look brave. She’s a tough woman, Sheree. And I really care about her, too.

But I don’t know what to do, who to ask about this stuff. So eventually I just have to go to school.

And then it’s the worst day ever. I feel like I’m on the verge of snapping. I hate every single frickin minute of it. In fact, I get to the point where I tell my tutor class that I don’t give a shit about tutor. They look shocked, which actually kind of surprises me. I can hear them whispering to one another over in the corner, afterwards. I briefly wonder if they’re gonna snitch to Chloe, then I can’t work up the energy to think about it anymore.

I find it hard to tolerate 9 Social, too; Trudi-Clare in particular. She can be such a rude little bitch, and right then it incenses me. I only just make it to 3 o’clock without incident.

 

After school, Slade comes over to paint a board. We’ve been planning this for a couple of days, and now he knows Tau and Leroi are there, he’s even keener. I’m so stressed out right now that I almost suggest we just leave it – but I can’t bring myself tell Slade this, he’s looking forward to it so much.

“Your place is way better than Fitzroy,” says Slade, surprising me as we drive. “I didn’t really like going round to Cluzo’s. He thinks about this a bit, and adds, “I don’t really know why. Cos I wanted to go round and see him, lots of times. But that’s why I didn’t go.”

“Yeah, it was a bit… random there sometimes,” I say, kind of knowing what he means.

“Hard,” says Slade. “Anyone could turn up.”

“Different rules for different houses, I guess,” I sum up, just keeping it light, but at the same time hoping Tau and Leroi will be able to cope with the difference.

 

Friday 5 July:

I get back from the gym to find a whole lot of boys cracking cans open in the shed. I count seven, including Tau and Leroi. The thing is, it’s all people I know and pretty much trust: Inia and Noa, Kost, Little Michael and Raphael. None of them, except Raphael, are at school anymore. And Raphael, as everyone is quick to point out – isn’t drinking.

So Noa says to me, in his most diplomatic voice, “Uh, Miss, could we, uh… have a few cans round at yours, would that be algood?”

“Well, it looks like you already are,” I say, frankly.

There are a few sheepish laughs, from the assembled bystanders.

“It’s just gonna be us, Miss,” Noa goes on reassuringly. “No-one else.”

I think about it, and decide, with some reservation: “Ohh… kay.” But I can’t help adding, “As long as it’s just you guys. No randoms – and no more people turning up.”

“No.” “No way,” they assure me.

 

A bit later on, when I go out again, there are two more boys.

“I thought you said no more people,” I say, though not unkindly. It isn’t ‘who’ it is, exactly. It’s just the swell in numbers. Seven has barely been comfortable. Nine is pushing it – and I don’t know the new arrivals that well.

“It’s just the CP boys though,” they chorus. “The ones you know.”

“Yes, but that’s not the point,” I tell them. “You said no more were coming – and here’s two more. So who’s gonna turn up next?”

“No-one,” they say.

“Yeah, well you say that now,” I reply. “But if someone rolls up, are you gonna tell them to go away?”

They look at their feet, contritely.

“Look…” I sigh. “It’s not that I have a problem with any of you. You’re all people I know and like. But there’s a lot of boys here – with alcohol. And I’m not entirely comfortable with the situation.”

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau says. He doesn’t seem upset or threatened, I’m glad to note.

“That’s ok, Tau, and I’m just gonna leave it for now,” I tell him. “But I’m just saying – this isn’t the place for a big drinkup.”

“I know, Miss – and there won’t be anyone else here,” they repeat.

 

An hour later, there’s Zion. And obviously, I know him and trust him – but that still makes it ten.

“Tau?” I say. “Can I just talk to you for a sec?”

He follows me onto the deck, and I pat him on the arm, beginning, “I’m not growling at you, I promise. Okay?”

“I know, Miss,” Tau replies. “It’s algood.”

“Good boy,” I say, noting again that he is calm and not upset. “You know I care about you and Leroi, and you’re very welcome to stay here, and I don’t want you to go.”

Leroi has now come over to stand beside us, and both boys nod easily.

“And I trust you,” I go on. “You know that, huh?”

“Yes,” says Tau, and he nods his head. Then he says, “Miss? I knew you wouldn’t be happy, and I wanted to tell them, before they started drinking. But Noa kept saying, Miss knows us, she’ll be fine with us – and I didn’t know what to say. It’ll be algood if you tell them, though. They’ll listen to you.”

“That’s ok, Tau,” I say. “I know it’s hard, especially when it’s different at your mum and dad’s. It’s just that…”

“I get you, Miss,” Leroi puts in. “I felt the same as Tau – I wanted to tell them, but I didn’t know how.”

“Yeah, I know it’s kind of hard, huh?” I say. “But you see where I’m coming from with it.”

“We do,” they agree.

“Especially cos you’re a teacher,” Leroi emphasizes.

“Yeah,” I say, feeling sorrowful at the very thought. “Especially cos of that.”

 

Raphael and Michael appear at the foot of the steps, it looks as if they’ve sussed out that the situation is a little complicated. “Aw yup, we’re off now,” they say, in a friendly way.

“Kay, laters,” Tau says.

Then I go and talk to the others. Tau defers to me, looking grateful that the situation has been taken out of his hands. I just explain, once again (but to everyone this time) that while I’m fine with them visiting on an individual basis, this type of gathering has the potential to expand chaotically, and I’m uncomfortable with my place being a hangout spot for drink ups.

So yup, it gets sorted. But negotiations, negotiations.

 

Love and attention

Tuesday 12 March, 2013: 

Slade’s still a bit grumpy with me. He doesn’t say so, but I can tell. That’s alright though – I’m still a bit grumpy with him, too. I don’t say so either. We spend our breaks together, just like always, but there’s a slightly grouchy atmosphere between us. It isn’t until this evening that we sort it out on chat:

keen as as to paint miss, i just told my aunty she said yo allgood haha so ue dont worry later an try make me txt her an shit, but yoza keen as

haha, i will txt her on the day, not gonna even think twice about it! yeah, yeah i know, but only cos i want everyone to be algd with it, so that it’s win-win for all of us.

yehr why tho, i jus asked her she said allgood

because when i talked to her the other day she said that i should make sure that i text her when we are painting. so can you stop hassling me about it?

i allready sussed it out tho

yes i know that.. but that’s exactly what you said last time and then you hadnt even.. or maybe you thought you had but your aunty’s mind was working in mysterious ways. 

haha yo allhood then miss, an stop mentionin my aunty around the bros i get fucked off wanna boost aha

well you’ve only got yourself to blame for that state of affairs. do you think i liked it when i had to cover for you and the shit hit the fan that night? ok though bossy boots, i’l just text her and say nothing in front of the others. it was just the other day i had to, when she sent that text saying she wasn’t algd with me yet. it made things real awkward for me. anyway everyone’s parents/families are different tau’s parents do heaps of crazy shit all the time & i think he wishes they would worry about him more like your aunty. but yeah i get what your saying. Ok, i do. i just hope you can see what i’m saying too

nah ur the bossy one aha im kickback, yip allhoood miss

your the bossiest one of all, tau is the stubbornest, zion is the most humble & kepaoa is the most bugged out, i rekn. oh well you’re all beautiful in your own way. but kickback you say… pfffffffffft!!! and who can blame me for being bossy when i have to put up with all of you doing my head in, oh well, least life’s interesting

haha nah not bossy kickback rumbler ce, haha yo ur right about quest, yo allhood miss, gangsta niggas allways more intersting hahaa

 

Later, Tau texts to see if he can borrow twenty bucks. I go round there, and he’s super-drunk. He’s just stepped out little Michael, over something and nothing. Taken offence at something Michael has said, and whacked him a couple of times in the head. Michael (wisely) has taken off home at that point. And Tau is left bewildered at himself. I turn up right then, and he comes for a little drive with me. Keeps saying, over and over, “I need to… apologise,” stressing this word with tender care, as if he’s sounding it out to himself.

“All good, Tau,” I tell him. “You can do that when he comes back.”

“Yeah, I need to apologise,” he says again, just to make sure.

“Algood, algood – he’ll understand,” I reassure Tau, meaning it.

 

Tau’s scent, which is so familiar and familial to me, is overlain by days of him being hot, not washing, and wearing the same clothes. I don’t care about the acrid overtones, to be honest. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I always look at Tau with loving eyes, that’s just the way it is. In the car, I sit close to him, touch his arm, speak to him in exactly the same way I always do, with love and attention and tenderness. I can’t do it any other way. I can’t feel any different, even if my heart’s squeezed with worry about him.

I can sense that Tau isn’t ashamed to be around me. His shorts are ripped, and he sits tired and calm, letting himself be temporarily soothed by the car ride to the shops, and a little talk. When we get back, I press my fingers against his arm for just a few seconds, then stroke his shoulder, and he leans into me, resting for a moment.

 

Thursday 14 March:

On my way to work, I drop Kepaoa off at court. He’s up on robbery and assault charges. Stand overs: only a phone, but he hooked the guy. The cops traced him through the sim, which he used.

Elroy’s supposed to be meeting him there. Kepaoa talks about how he and Elroy are always there for one another. He’s ok, when I leave him this morning. But by the time I go get him again, he’s stressing out. Elroy hasn’t turned up. He’s been at court by himself all day. The duty solicitor asked him questions in a big loud voice, so that everyone could hear. And his lawyer told him he might go to jail.

We talk about it, all the way to training. Kepaoa’s at the gym from 4 till 8, just sweating things out. Pick him up, and we talk about it some more. He shakes his head, over and over and over. Eats a big plate of spaghetti bolognaise, lays on the couch, shakes his head some more. “Man, I’m dumb!” he says. “I’m fuckin sick of going to court all the time, straight up.”

I see his eyelids flutter, a couple times. Then his round head tilts, and he drops straight to sleep, as unselfconscious and trusting as a kid. Just lying there on the couch, having given up on the day’s problems. I go over and put the blanket on him; tuck the pillow under his head while he snoozes. He grimaces for a half-second and falls back sound asleep. I just stroke his head for a second. It’s late, and I go to bed.

 

Friday 15 March:

Slade lights up a ciggie in the car, as we’re exiting the school driveway. I couldn’t give a fuck, in fact I’m positively insouciant about it – making him grin. Anyway, he asks me first. And, “Why not?” I reply. “We’re off the school grounds now. And it’s not like it’s illegal or anything.”

“Churr Miss,” he says, putting lighter to ciggie and taking a long drag. He settles back and rests his elbow on the car window, blowing casual smoke out into the open air. As we drive past people walking and at bus stops, I’m filled with happiness, honestly.

From Slade’s, I head to Carthill, picking up Kepaoa (and Elroy) for his Winz appointment at the town centre. Kepaoa, who hates Winz, is huffing and harrumphing as soon as we navigate our way inside the front entrance.

“Did you see the way that lady looked at me?” he asks, incredulously, as we leave again. “Like they’ve never seen black people asking them questions before.”

This cracks me up, and I rub his irate shoulder. “Nah, all good,” I tell him. “It’s alright… who cares about her.”

“And fuck, look at that little kid looking at me,” Kepaoa goes on, eyeing up a five year old in a parked car. “Fuckin little shit!”

“Nah, nah… he’s alright,” I shush him. “Probably just playing round, waiting for his mum or something.”

“Playing with his dick,” puts in Elroy, making me snort with laughter.

“Looking at you, faag,” Kepaoa tells his brother.

“Boys, boys…” I pretend to sigh. “Can you please just speak lovingly to one another.”

They look at me, quite content. I feel my heart beat with love for the both of them.