The equation

Monday 20 October:

I get ready for work – and don’t get a text. I tell myself it’s ok, there’s no reason to panic. Even if there’s hardly any day jobs around at the moment, money’s taken care of up to the end of the month. But I can still feel that I’m holding my breath a little bit. Because this is the story for the rest of the term; I know it.

I toy with the idea (I really do) of telling the boys I got a call from the agency, and then just ‘going somewhere’ for the day. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the situation. It’s more that if I worry and they see that, then they’re going to worry. And I don’t want them to worry.

Thankfully I come to my senses, telling myself firmly that that’s the dumbest idea ever. Running away won’t help, fleeing and scrabbling around for a spot to lay low. It makes me laugh, really, to think how very like Tau I am in this regard.

But I miss having a job. It’s not that I miss school, exactly – I miss the routine things. Knowing what time to make coffee, eat lunch. Casual conversations. Some kind of easy professional validation – too easy, really. Facile, often times. But I miss it nonetheless.

Instead, I find myself trying to work on four job applications at once; wondering what time to take a break. I have a routine of sorts, but all the same, I’m on dangerous territory. My fears can so easily take over. And it’s hard to keep my energy steady; it feels like I’m trying to land a big jet aircraft, keeping it level, getting that baby safely on the ground.

 

Thursday 30 October:

The idea of lying in bed on a weekday morning is only tempting up to a point. I get up and take a shower, then find that the boys have finished the yoghurt last night, eaten the kiwifruit I was going to have for breakfast, and used up all the milk as well. I’d say something if they were doing stupid stuff – but eating isn’t stupid. And Tau’s got enough issues around food without me adding to them.

It actually makes me happy, in a way. Happy and scared. Money’s tight – but I’m glad they’re here. So glad that sometimes I can’t even explain it. I have to learn how to work through everything, accept the contradictions and not be afraid

 

I spend eighty dollars replenishing the stock of groceries. Previously, I would have considered this a feat of great economy – now it’s just everyday life. And I’ve got no real action plan as yet. But the need for one is dawning on me.

So I write down all the key dates for the next few months and do a first attempt at adding things up. Straight away, I can see that at certain points along this timeline I’ll need to have my own payroll in place to cover a variety of income permutations – because nothing’s going to be set in stone. And there’s a whole four weeks in January where I need to generate a livable income without school.  It’s like playing the wild card. And yet, somehow I have to do it.

Objectively (if there’s any such thing), finance poses the biggest obstacle right now. But somehow I don’t see it that way. Instead, I feel like I got out of MC just in time.

Besides, I’m convinced it’s not another ‘career path’ I need. I didn’t quit teaching to work on someone else’s institutional goals, and I’m tired of pretending (not always in so many words) otherwise. I just have this feeling that if I can harness the slightly wobbly energies that are around me right now, I could catch a ride to something different.

 

Wednesday 5 November:

I fall asleep to the sound of fireworks outside, like intermittent popcorn at first. After a while it becomes a steady artillery barrage which is actually quite calming to the senses; any rises and falls in tone and volume being constant enough to soothe, rather than irritate my mind.

I drift off to sleep, trying to think of things I’m grateful for, and, “I’m not grateful for anything…” I murmur, at first. Then, “Ok, I’m grateful the boys have a place to go,” I remind myself, quietly and very sincerely.

 

Monday 10 November

The big problem has suddenly hit me out of ‘nowhere’ (I know, right?) The money’s going to run out in, ooooh about three weeks. When that fact dawns on me, I feel my heart kind of flip. For two reasons.

The first is straight panic stations. I can almost hear my own thoughts rushing and gabbling at me: ‘Maan-you’re-such-an-idiot-why-did-you-leave-MC-how-could-anyone-be-so-out-of-touch-with-reality-did-you-really-think-you-could-just-snap-your-fingers-to-get-a-job-and-why-haven’t-you-been-trying-harder-you-are-really-a-dumb-bitch…’ and so on.

The second is a moment of sparkling curiosity which kicks in right when I need it: ‘Oh, I made it this far! I’m here, at the crossroads!’

And both of these feelings flick-flack me up and down like a fish caught and swiveling.

 

Tuesday 11 November:

I stroll past all the cafes at the mall, thinking how good it would be if I could get a coffee just for no reason. There’s two dollars in my account – so when I get home I make one instead.

Trying to stay in the present: There’s food in the fridge, and gas in the car. Right in this moment, I’m not dependent on anyone.

I do need a job though. I need to tie these two; no, three things together: happiness and work and financial security. It’s weird how I’ve always had them two at a time, never all together. The notion of work at all – well, it needs to mean something quite different from the way I’ve always interpreted it. Which until now, has been like this:

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

But happiness + financial security has, up to now, seemed an impossible conjunction. It’s just figuring out how to get all three things stacked up. What’s the equation?

 

The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.

 

After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”

 

“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.

 

After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.

 

I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.

 

At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.

 

We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.

 

Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.

 

The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.

 

Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.

 

By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.

The flank

Monday 9 June, 2014:

Monday. First of five days. And I can only think of one at a time, otherwise I’d bolt. It would be so easy, now that I’ve accepted there’s no possibility of squaring things at MC ever again.

But bolting isn’t useful.  For one thing, it won’t pay the bills. An equally important consideration is that it won’t buy me any time… and I need that time to adjust to my new circumstances.

 

I take 13 History to the library and monitor them; not even that – I just stay in the library to fulfill some minimum function. The most useful thing I do is intervene in a confrontation between another teacher and a student in his class. When I see that the boy is about to lose it completely. I go over and calmly draw him aside, and for some reason he comes with me, not knowing me at all.

Later, the librarian gives me a look and a nod, saying quietly, “I saw what you did, well done.”

It’s the only thing I do all day that could merit any praise at all.

 

Tonight I apply for a job  as an ‘Assessment professional’ at the City Mission. Comme ci comme ca. Tomorrow there’ll be another to apply for – I’m going to do one a day from now on. I’m not expecting to find my ‘dream job’; it doesn’t have to be a forever thing. But there’s got to be something.

 

Tuesday 10 June:

I think of Slade this morning. When I walk into my room before school, and shut the door with a gentle click, the whole space is redolent with memories, just quietly holding and waiting. And the smell of ironlak seems faintly imprinted on the air.

10 Social come in. They’re such a nice class.  I go round and try to act like a human being –  that’s all I want to do. It’s not much, but at the very least it’s genuine. I feel a wave of revulsion for school, and then a wave of tenderness for everyone who tries to make something out of nothing in this place.

I don’t have to fake the relationship side of things. That’s a normal part of my response, when I’m standing face to face with someone. But it’s no longer possible for me to fake the values (whether they’re the ‘soft’ values about character, or the ‘hard’ ones, the ones school uses to include some people and exclude others).

 

Wednesday 11 June:

Last night I just sink miserably off to sleep, as if I’m slowly submerging into a bog. I feel tears ooze out of my eyes.

This morning, the only little nice thing I can focus on is that I’ll get coffee, when I fill up at the gas station.

 

So I get to school, holding my takeout long black. But it’s all fronting. My mind is skidding about, alighting on all these stupid little annoyances… it’s cold; my feet are cold; got to get upstairs to the meeting… wait, better grab the chrome books first… and so on and so forth.

It’s the same just before I leave home. I’m trying to put out the washing in the cold and damp, feeling aggrieved that there aren’t enough pegs: Why couldn’t Tau just put the pegs back in the bag? And why isn’t there enough time this morning… and why am I so tired today?  And why do I have to go to work while everyone else gets to relax. It feels like payday for the whole freaking world, huh. Sheree gets to come over here and chill out at mine, like the dang queen of Sheba, and I have to go and pretend to be a teacher all day.

On and on and on… my head’s spinning, and I can barely breathe.  At some level I know it isn’t fair, to blame either Sheree or Tau for anything about this whole state of affairs. Tau would have rushed out to pull his washing off the line in the rain last night, of course he wouldn’t have even grabbed the peg bag. It’s not like he did it on purpose to annoy me. And as for Sheree: queen of Sheba hardly cuts it, poor bitch. It’s not a lot to ask – to spend a day with the boys, shouting them a feed, making herself a coffee. I just feel… I know it’s stupid but I feel jealous.

Everyone wants somewhere to be. Everyone wants someone to be with. It feels like everyone’s the prize, for someone. Everyone except me.

 

School goes ok, all things considered. I have a ‘moment’ when 11 History come in, like: Oh, really? I’m supposed to be teaching thirty kids about something, and they’re expecting it, just like usual. But then I have to bite the bullet and start my patter.

I can do it, you know. It’s not that I can’t. I simply can’t believe any of it, even the very little amount that I ever did. And I don’t want the authority of a believer.

After work I apply for my ‘job of the day’ again; this one is a family/whanau coordinator for some government-funded organization.  I have no experience in this kind of role, of course. It just seems like something that isn’t  totally outside the realms of possibility. And I guess that’s all I’m trying to do. Just open up the field of the possible.

 

The ‘peg’ thing seems funny again (not annoying anymore), by this afternoon. I tell Tau the story, and he chuckles at me, saying triumphantly, “And they’re all back in the bag now!’

 

Thursday 12 June:

Almost the minute I get home from work, I pick up a very faint vibe about… something. I don’t know what, and Tau doesn’t say anything out of the ordinary. But there is a very slightly suppressed quality to his voice – and I’m so used to these signals that it makes my radar go off straight away.

I don’t say anything – well not at first. But when he comes in to get a drink, and ‘busies’ himself in the kitchen, just a fraction more self-consciously than usual – then I can’t ignore it any longer.

“Tau?” I say, actually surprising myself by just wading on out there, heedless of past experience with this kind of thing. “Um… are you okay?”

“Yup Miss, I’m okay,” he replies, apparently quite straightforward.

“Oh, algood then,” I say, but for some reason I can’t help wondering aloud. ”Cos… I just thought something might have upset you.”

Tau turns and looks at me; I think he’s surprised too. Not surprised that I’ve noticed – but that I’ve openly brought it up. He says, “Ah Miss… I just got a little bit upset today, with my mum.

“Oh,” I say, and then, “Just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“Algood,” Tau says. “My mum texted Vailea, and he rang me and we had a talk.”

 

I don’t press him any more about it. I’m not proud of what I’m thinking – which is that I’m just the everyday carrier, kind of like the pack-horse. The big guns get brought in to handle the important stuff: Vailea and Maxwell, soon as the alarm goes off. And I just keep bumping along on the flank.

I feel so ‘replaceable’, I guess. Anyone could do what I do. You know… get a few groceries, pay the rent. And I love Tau like I raised him. But I don’t make the call. Those who make the call, well – they can call who they choose.

 

Later (on the way to the tinny house), Tau tells me more about what happened. I don’t ask him, he just tells me.

Sheree ‘wasn’t listening’ – is how he puts it. He’d been trying to talk to her about things, and then he wound up upset with her himself. “I just hate seeing her like that,” he says, softly. “In a… a tense situation.”

“Like what?” I ask, wondering which way he means it.

“Feeling uncomfortable everywhere,” Tau says. “Not feeling comfortable anywhere.”

“Ohh,” I say, getting it. “Poor Sheree… it must be pretty tough.”

“And I suck at explaining stuff,” Tau goes on. “I was trying to help, but I got all mixed up, and started mumbling and stuttering. It’s always like that,” he finishes, with a big sigh.

“Oh man, Tau,” I say with feeling. “You know what? You’re pretty damn good at explaining stuff. You just don’t see it… yet.”

He looks at me a bit wonderingly.

“You’re doing great,” I say. “You don’t have to be perfect, Tau. It’s ok to slip up and get upset sometimes.”

“That’s what Vailea said, too,” Tau tells me.

“Yup,” I agree. “Well, he’s right.”

 

There’s a Family Group Conference on too, tomorrow. Vailea’s going with them.

And it’s good… it’s good to bring out the big guns in these situations. Professional advisers and advocates, with their professional distance, which stems from the powerful knowledge I don’t have. The training, and the experience, the networks – the reputation. And at the same time, they earn the most genuine respect and heartfelt gratitude.

I ferry us home, just like the workaday carrier that I am. Tau thanks me, and goes into the sleepout to be with Leroi. I come in and make a cup of tea. 

 

Matching

Monday 19 May, 2014:

The second-main thing is that I don’t have to go back to work until next Monday, and I’m ok with that (after a fashion) because I’ll be giving in my notice in a couple weeks anyway.

The main thing is that I really am trying to get shit done in the meantime. Applying for jobs – though there’s been nothing much on offer recently. And (underpinning that), trying to shift some very old patterns. Which is probably the most important main thing of all.

 

Tau brings me back some snapper, from his Nan. I feel happy and embarrassed all at the same time; I don’t even know how to cook it.

“Fry it?” I surmise, when Tau confides that he doesn’t know either. “I think that’s the way Kuli does it…” I try to recollect how. “Snapper’s a firm fish,” I say, half-convinced that I’m right. “It won’t fall apart, if you fry it. But I think you have to coat it in flour first, or…”

“Breadcrumbs?” suggests Tau. “I’ve got breadcrumbs, too – in the shed. My Nan gave them to me as well. That’s how she does it… you know the way the fish and chip shop does it?” he finishes, hopefully.

We look at each other in a kind of relief; Tau has been almost too shy to give me the fish in the first place, let alone the dang breadcrumbs.

“But don’t you have to use an egg too… with the breadcrumbs? I don’t know…” I say, unintentionally sounding rather whimpery.

“Um… I don’t know either,” he replies in all truthfulness.

“I’ll text Kuli,” I decide, adding, “And if he doesn’t check his texts before tonight, I’ll give it a go. With the egg and breadcrumbs.” And we start laughing at one another.

 

Doing my own head in, at times. But honestly, I can feel something different coming on too. I can feel I’m sick of doing things the same old way. I’m going to shuck it off, it’s going to lift.

 

Tuesday 20 May:

Everyone’s up; the boys are coughing their lungs out after being disturbed early by a morning phone call from Sheree. Actually they’re having pretty good sleeps these days. It’s just their one nightly sesh (only buds now, not synnies) that still makes them cough in the morning.

I set cover and check my school email. Shakira says that 13 History are ‘struggling’ with working from the textbook. Like I could care, that’s the way relief goes. I reply that they’re struggling not because of the textbook, but because they have shown very little initiative or independence all year (which is indeed the truth). But I guess I could send some extra links through for the reliever.

I go have a shower and think about it: maybe yes, maybe no.

Turns out to be a no.

God knows what I’m going to do next week. What’s more, I’m kind of incredulous that my intent has gone pretty much from keeping up appearances to really not giving a fuck, in just nine days.

 

Wednesday 21 May:

I spend the whole day working, my style. This morning with Slade, first half of the afternoon with Tau, second half of the afternoon with Nio. All of it unpaid; all of it real work. With a purpose, a meaning, and a result – for people I actually care about. And, what’s more, I enjoy it. I don’t have to fake that, even when the day gets tiring – there’s no dissonance.

Again, that feeling of matching with something. But how I’m meant to produce an income from this feeling, I wouldn’t have a clue.

 

Nio is chasing a job – this is such an unexpected development that at first I don’t know if I should just take it with a grain of salt. He tells me that he has to get to the agency before Friday, and has been unsuccessfully trying to hook up a ride there all week. In a rather stop-start run of texts (and this doesn’t fill me with confidence either), we ‘kind of’ arrange that I’ll pick him up after Tau and I get done at Winz. I text him from there to say I’m on my way, but there’s no reply. And I’m not all that keen to go on a wild goose chase – this is Nio, after all.

“I wonder if I should just leave it…” I say, thinking aloud.

Tau laughs, at my expression.

“He hasn’t even texted back,” I continue. “If I go round there and he’s not home, I’ll be so pissed off.”

“Yeah, you’ve been busy today,” Tau says. “Doing heaps of stuff, aye.”

“True – but I don’t mind, as long as people do what they say they’re going to do,” I tell him. “Like you and Slade are algood, you always show up for things. But Nio… it’s not like he’s been the most reliable, in the past,” I emphasize unnecessarily, making us snort with laughter.

Then I sigh, saying, “Oh well. I’ll give him a chance. But if he’s not there – that’s it, and he can find his own way to the agency.” And off I go.

 

When I knock on the door, Nio appears at once, holding his son. Turns out he hasn’t got the latest round of texts – he dropped his phone in the bath last night, and the stuttering communications of today have coincided with the times he has been able to use his sim in his dad’s phone. He’s been waiting for me all afternoon, hoping I’ll come anyway.

After that, things move at speed. Nio clambers into his interview clothes piece by piece, passing me the baby across the bed. He has to change a diaper and do a hand-over (to his cousin) – then we hit the road.

 

I can tell straight away that this is legit. Nio smokes a cig in the car, nervously shuffling through his folder of paperwork and telling me about the agency (his brother has already got a job through them, he says).

After what turns out to be an hour’s interviewing and testing (identifying workplace hazards and the like), Nio emerges triumphant, safety helmet in hand. He’s scored a job on the roads: sub-contracting to start with and the possibility of going permanent.

All the way home, we’re quietly and reflectively elated.

“Haaard, Miss,” Nio says. “I used to be a little shit, aye Miss.” He cackles, reminding me suddenly and poignantly of many good days at school. And I realize, all over again, that I’m not sorry about any of it – I’m glad I was there. But it’s time for me to leave that place.

 

I hear from Slade later on, too. He’s going back down the line tomorrow morning, and sends me this text:

miss ive learnt heaps from you im glad i met you, you helped me through heaps thankyou miss

I get that same feeling, the same poignant reminder of good days. Not from anything school ever gave us, but from what we just took anyway. All our chances to make something out of it, any which way we could.

 

Friday 23 May:

I don’t set relief this morning. I figure what I’ve done already is enough; more than enough.

“Mum’s coming around for a visit,” Tau says, with some faith in my response to this news. My heart sinks a bit, but then I try to just ease that ‘be kind’ feeling into place. After a moment of feigned nonchalance, I’m alright.

I’m learning, honestly. I’m trying to learn as much as possible, as fast as possible, and yet without that hurried sensation of attempting to cram all future permutations into my already crowded mind.

And in terms of clarifying my mind, I’ve sorted one thing: I’m definitely outward bound from MC. I already am. I can tell this in a couple ways, at least. One is that I’m not stressing about dumb things like daily relief (I just set what I can, then it ceases to trouble my mind). Another is that I’ve started applying for every job that’s going.

 

Saturday 24 May:

I try step class this morning, and find it’s definitely not my thing. There’s a lot of  virtuous ‘participation’ to be contended with, which causes my eyes to immediately narrow: no way am I going to clap my hands in the air as I jump over a box. After twenty minutes I’ve had way more than enough, and go do a workout instead.

And doing weights relaxes me, despite the exertion. I feel slack with stored energy, like I have more than enough. In little moments, it reminds me of Kepaoa.

 

Later, La-Verne texts and asks if I want to come have dinner then stay the night; her husband’s away for the weekend, and she tells me she could use the company out there. So I head off, stopping to pick us up coffee on the way.

 

Sunday 25 May:

 La-Verne’s making date scones for us. Mixing up the dough, she says, “Oh, and I need the juice and rind of an orange, and I bought one specially yesterday – where is it?” She looks around, saying, “It must be here somewhere…”

Guiltily, I say, “I ate it… for breakfast.”

“What?” she says in disbelief.

“I didn’t know it was anything important,” I tell her. “I’m sorry,” I add.

“Well, you could go get me another one,” she says, offended.

“Um… I don’t really want to do that,” I tell her, deciding honesty is the best policy. Because I’m not going all the way into town again for an orange. “I got you a coffee…” I  try appeasing her.

“I got you a coffee…” she mimics.

There’s a slight standoff – and then she decides it’s mildly amusing after all. “Oh my God… I’ll have to use a frickin lemon,” she mutters.

Later on, she softens towards me, packing up a container of her homemade chicken risotto to take for my lunch tomorrow.

 

Fireworks and pouring rain

Wednesday 30 October, 2013:

I remember that (according to Tau) today’s the day Scott gets out of jail. My heart just sinks, thinking about it. I don’t know if there’s any ‘plan’ in place. I doubt it. Agencies and institutions talk a good game about this stuff. I’ll be surprised, truly, if they’ve actually done anything at all.

Oh well. If Tau needs to get away, he’ll come. I just don’t want all those other boys, and cars, and hangers on, they can all go somewhere else.

Yeah, I already know I’m not special – but I’m not stupid either.

 

After classes finish for the day, I find Ezekiel on the stair outside my room. He asks if I ‘have time’, and I say (truthfully) no, not really. I’m intent on marking assessments for an hour. But he follows me in, anyway.

“So… you don’t really have time?” he asks again, though not with particular hope.

“Time for what?” I say.

“Um… to get a ride home?” he tries.

“No, sorry, I don’t,” I tell him. “I have to get this marking done, that’s why I’ve just made a coffee.” (I have it in my hand). “Anyway, it’s a nice day – you’ll be ok.”

“Oh, okay,” he says. He looks crestfallen, and I feel guilty, irritating myself.

“You’ll be fine,” I say again. It is, really, a nice day. If it was raining, maybe I’d be swayed. But I think to myself – no, best to let it go.

 

And he leaves. I feel guilty for a bit longer, and then just sigh to myself and mark the assessments – some of which are quite good.

Ezekiel’s not a bad kid, not at all. But I can’t be at anyone’s beck and call. And I don’t know what the story is, with that one. Maybe I’ll never know. Anyway, I don’t want to get attached to anyone else, at school.

 

Thursday 31 October:

Bloody school… bloody useless today. And it’s Thursday, so that’s not fair! Thursdays are supposed to be alright.

The thing that pisses me off the most is the overt sentimentalizing of the ‘last week of school’ with the seniors – the whole place feels like like some big playroom today. Honestly, it’s so false, the system that apparently celebrates their success at the same time as it’s already booted out so many of their peers over the years.

13 History today, in the main they’re smug lil fuckers, pissing me off with their self-indulgence – like no-one else has ever left school before. Eli comes and works with me, which pretty much saves my bacon. Because at times I feel I’m gonna snap and tell all the rest of them to fuck off.

“I know, Miss – I can tell,” Eli says to me quietly, apropos of this sentiment. I’m very grateful to have him there, I can tell you.

 

After work I leave the whole stupid place behind and take small measures to ‘normalize’ my day: stop at the gas station to put air in the tyres; pick up fruit and vegies; make a coffee at home, head over to the gym…

And the gym is another life-saver. Soon as I hit the treadmill, I can feel the whole chaotic vibe lift. Then I’m alright again.

When I come back home I make fried eggs, eat them with bread and tomatoes, avocado, and then a big chunk of pawpaw. Two posses of cute kids trick-or-treating arrive at the door, and I give them Doritos. Altogether I feel much, much better.

 

Friday 1 November:

Funny old 9 Social in the morning, they’re quite sweet.

Jackson says to me, right off the bat, “Miss – do you live with CP?”

This surprises me so much that at first I’m almost shocked… then I just about choke with laughter, and he and Deshaun look at me, wide-eyed. I say, “Um, yeah right. They all live at my place,” and they actually wait with bated breath, checking to see if I’m joking.

Once I realize that they’re not even trying to take the piss (which is very un-Jackson, to be honest), I say something like, “Heey, where did that come from?”

“I met this guy in Carthill, and he told me,” Jackson says.

“Who on earth was this?”

“Um… a boy who used to come here, but he got kicked outa school,” he explains. “He asked me if I knew you, and then he said – you’d better be good for her, she lives with CP.”

“Who was he?” I wonder.

“I don’t know his name,” Jackson says. “I just met him.”

“Oh,” I say, still wondering.

But not wanting to inflate the matter any further, I just tell them with a certain degree of frankness, as we walk over to the library. “No, I don’t live with CP. But I’ve had a few… foster kids, from time to time.” I don’t really know how else to put it, in a way that would make sense. And more than that I can’t say, obviously.

Jackson and Deshaun are fine with that – and they leave it. I’m as matter of fact as I can be, with these two really very nice boys. And they pick up on the vibe, which ensures there’s no ‘secrets’ in the air, nor rumors flying around the library.

At the library, Eli and one of his friends come over and work at my table, chatting to me in a most collegial way throughout the period. The 9 Social boys look over with interest, and I realize that my stocks are currently quite high, the understated presence of these two lending additional credence to the earlier reports.

 

Saturday 2 November:

Mia and I go for brunch, it’s good… and a little bit not. We order pancakes, which turn out to be very bijou (and expensive to boot), and I’m still hungry afterwards. City cafés, hah. Not like out in Municipal, where the pancakes come in fat stacks.

And I feel tense, it’s an effort to hold that in, and at the same time I don’t really want to – I just don’t know what else to do. My jaw and my eyes get stiff from the effort of smiling and conversating. And both before and afterwards, I can’t stop yawning – some kind of attempt to release the tension, I guess.

 

Leroi turns up unexpectedly when I get back. He’s looking for Tau (and I haven’t seen Tau since that one time last week.) Which makes me feel even tenser than I already am.

Scott’s out of jail. He’s staying with them too – just as I thought. Of course he isn’t supposed to, but does anyone really check? Nope. The probation officer came over, and Scott pretended Sheree was his aunty.

“And they believed him?” I ask, very incredulously.

Leroi nods, in an amused but still matter of fact way.

“Sheree doesn’t look like she could be Scott’s aunty,” I continue. “ You’d be way more likely to think Scott was Sheree’s uncle.”

“I know,” Leroi agrees, and we snort with laughter.

 

Leroi says it’s going “ok,” with Scott. Then he adds, “So far…”

“He off the alkies?”

“Kind of…”

Honestly, I know it isn’t a good bet. But no-one’s sorted anything out for Scott, and so where the fuck is he supposed to be going? It’s not exactly his fault. Or Sheree’s. And those probation people and social workers and men’s groups don’t do shit. All those so-called ‘wrap-around’ services. Just like teachers never do shit either – I’m not saying they do.

And so… Scott’s just ‘out’. No home detention, no community service. Nowhere to go, and wanting to see his family. What the fuck would you do? Honestly – what would you do? If you were Scott, or Sheree, Tau or Leroi? All the same, Sheree’s the one who really gets the crap deal here.

 

After Leroi leaves,  I cut my losses and take a nap, wake up and turn on the TV. Got nothing more than that to do, nowhere to really go. The foxes have their holes… and the birds of the air have their nests. Didn’t Jesus say that? I sometimes think of a happy place, when I’m sad. Lions, resting in the long grass, by a little river.

Or I think of my ‘one good thing’. How I won’t let Tau down. It feels like my atonement for everything else I’ve done or left undone. But at the same time, I’ll be ashamed, if he comes. I’m so shamed, just thinking about it. My heart cries, quietly. Because I used to be special and now I’m not. Serves me right, for being so bad at everything else I’ve ever put my hand to.

And I don’t know anything. I just pine for those days of being special too.

 

Sunday 3 November:

When I lay in bed last night, I ‘talk to’ Slade, Kepaoa, Nio and Tau. Actually address them, each one. Say the words I’ve been wanting to say. Then as my brain gets tireder I start actually falling to sleep, and I hear myself mumble some random out of it things. “Reading a book…” I say, at one point.

Reading a book? Oh well, why not?

 

The gym’s good, this morning. I chuck some extra weights on my bar, and feel a bit better for it. But it’s kind of a precarious feeling, just yet. Still, I tell myself – the reason you’re feeling better is because you chose to feel better. Got off that bad buzz all by yourself!

And well, maybe things aren’t over at all. Maybe things are only just getting started. Stuff keeps right on happening, there’s always something new about to happen – even when you think it’s not.

 

Monday 4 November:

My muscles are aching after another round of Pump. One thing about the gym, I always show up when I say I will.

Partly, this is because I don’t want to waste my gym fees. And partly, it’s because I like it. And then, even when I feel tired… I tell myself that half the battle’s won just through showing up. Which is true, in pretty much anything I reckon.

I get home and take a shower and wash my hair, it’s the night before Guy Fawkes and there’s fireworks exploding all around Municipal, literally.

Fireworks and pouring rain.

 

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.

 

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.