Happy and safe

Monday 30 September, 2013:

I hear from Kepaoa today. ‘gta pay $1250’ he tells me. ‘And 6 months hme d, nd 9months supavisn. Cake az!’

I tell him it’ll go fast. For sure. But I’ll miss him, all the same.

Yup, but I’m not kidding myself either. I’m not after crumbs from anyone. Just… I love who I love, care for who I care for, and I’m gonna do my own thing anyway.

 

Tuesday 1 October:

La-Verne and I go for coffee at some deli place. The expedition gives me a semi-tired feeling. I start to actually feel my eyes swish and flick with heaviness. Not that it’s unpleasant exactly… just that I can’t be doing with it. Gourmet pies and ready made tiramisu. Little vacuum packs of pork mince at some exorbitant sum. Seventy bucks later, La-Verne walks perkily out to the car with her five items. Try that trick, I just wind up feeling brittle and frozen.

I know when I feel like myself. I get the faintest sniff of a particular scent on the air, carried to me on some little breeze. That’s when my nostrils quiver, my eyes narrow – I feel warm and alive. Like I could chase down anything I want, and get it.

And I want to live and live and live. I want to be warm, and do a million small and big things. I don’t want to just feel sad. I want… what is it that Daniel Miller said? To turn alienable things into ‘inalienable culture’. Transform whatever it is you’re allocated… or anything that you receive, stockpile, hustle, borrow, apprehend. And make something else, something that’s happy and safe. Honestly, happy and safe.

Sometimes, when you think about it, it makes sense.

 

Saturday 5 October:

I’m in the city by 11, and the first thing I do is sit at one of the outside tables at Istanbul Café, eating lamb pizza out of a paper bag, and sipping on my coffee. The coffee is strong and superhot, and revives me instantly. Then I walk down to the library, find a chair, and keep working on the edits, leafing through books from time to time.

Later I just kind of keep the idea in my heart, and leave it there as something to think about.

I’m still trying to figure this out. Whatever I decide to do, it’s going to take some work to do it. But I really want to. And I have this feeling it’s going to take me ‘somewhere’.

Because I can see how a different pattern’s emerging. How I’m ‘telling’ things, rather than just holding them, no matter how tenderly.

I’ve always tried to create something out of nothing. But I feel like now it’s time to start communicating… re-creating, I guess. Not just looking at memory as something static, but taking another step, to renew and re-create it, and send it forth. I still feel a kind of shame, at the idea of doing this. Being seen, I guess. Being open to scrutiny, or critique, or just being ignored, even. But at the same time, it makes sense to me. And the shame’s not actually as bad as I thought it would be. It really isn’t. My heart sometimes flutters, but I don’t care. Let it be like that, I’m going to do it anyway.

 

Monday 7 October:

I hear from Leroi a few times today. He wants to know about his Independent Youth Payment. No doubt it’s been cancelled, seeing as he’s back living with Sheree. I toy with the idea of helping him get his beni reinstated – but decide against it. For weeks he’s known about this, and I’ve offered to go with him to Winz already. He hasn’t taken me up on that, and now I’ve got more than enough to do this week.

Quite honestly, Tau is the only one of the boys (Slade being down the line) who I’d go out of my way for right now. With Tau, it’s just… well, it just is like that. Is, was and ever shall be, ha.

But I haven’t seen Tau for a whole week – more than a week. I miss him, and at the same time I just think: I don’t want to be sad. Sheree’s got a house, and it’s the chance for a fresh start for them. Especially with Scott being out of the picture (for the moment). I bet Sheree never thought she could get a house all by herself – without Scott. Though it’s lucky she had Tau to help, Leroi’s money having gone nowhere fast. And Sheree never had any – it was Tau who somehow saved (or procured) the whole, entire, bond.

No, I don’t want to be sad. These three months that Tau stayed here, from the start of July right through to the end of September: well, it mattered. I know it did. It’s something; it isn’t nothing. And I’d do it again, if it came to it. Do it again, and do it better. That’s what I always think, about everything.

 

Tuesday 8 October:

I go to the PhD info evening, at the Faculty of Education. Actually I don’t get the same vibe as last year, when I sensed – what? I’m not sure. But something.

The evening is enjoyable enough, that isn’t the issue. I meet some people, and there’s wine and a bite to eat, and it’s all very civilized. Which is kind of… but still not entirely the problem.

It isn’t even a problem. Everyone is very nice… and ‘white’ (with one or two exceptions). Everyone’s research is introduced as being ‘really great’ or ‘really interesting’. The crowning glory of boringness (for me) is when a very bouncy and bounding Drama teacher  does a presentation about her PhD topic and her exchange to work with a theatre group in Hong Kong.

Then a Canadian woman talks about her trip to some conferences in the States. Well, that’s great for her, but at the same time it’s just non-confrontational stuff, which all feels as if it just as well might have never been, if you get what I mean? It’s so hygienic, and praiseworthy, and nice.

I sit at a table with a social worker, and an early childhood teacher. A ECE teacher…? I mean what kind of PhD would a early childhood teacher do? They are both warm, approachable, easy to get along with. It’s good to meet them, even.

But maybe I don’t want a PhD at all. And yet, I haven’t entirely ruled it out.

I think: I can’t afford it. Plus why would I want a PhD in Education? It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with what these people do. But honest truth, I probably couldn’t handle all that worthiness, all day long. STAR path, and people being ‘passionate about education’, and something called CRSTIE: Critical Studies in Education… yup, critical my ass, that’s what goes through my mind as I sit there and try not to yawn.

 

Sunday 13 October:

I still feel kind of precarious. I go to the gym, where I keep thinking about Tau, sure he won’t be there when I get home, and then hoping he’s there… and then hoping he isn’t.

 Of course, when I get back, Tau isn’t there. I’m glad, in a way. I just think how I don’t want to pretend. I don’t feel like pretending. I feel sad, and at the same time kind of tough.

Old patterns… sure can’t beat ‘em. Or can you? I don’t know about any of this stuff. But I can’t do the same thing over and over. Expecting… what? I’m not sure. I just know I want to change those old patterns. Find another way.

See, I give you my life, mix it up in a blender
To make sure that you feel me  (Kendrick Lamar)

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Better days

Tuesday 24 September, 2013:

I arrive at school just before 8:30, and miss the staff briefing to show ‘Exhibit A’ to Slade. He confirms that it is, without doubt, a “baggie”, and though he lets out a couple of ‘ohhwell’s, he is very kind and patient.

“It’ll get sorted, Miss,” he tells me, his tone soothing my ruffled energies. “It’ll all get sorted, don’t worry Miss.”

We decide that my modus operandi should be to speak to Tau, on his own, as soon as possible after school. I’m to approach the matter calmly, and not accuse him of anything. “He’ll tell you, Miss,” Slade assures me. “If you just have a quiet talk, he’ll tell you what’s going on.”

“I’m not judging anyone for using – the boys included,” I say, and Slade nods, saying, “I know.”

“But if that’s a choice they make, doesn’t mean I have to have it at my place either.”

“Fair enough,” he says. “My aunty’s the same.”

“I’m not saying I like it, if Tau’s using,” I go on. “But at the same time, I don’t think he’s a P head. I just wanna have a say about what goes on at mine.”

 

I drop Ezekiel off after school, it’s started to squall by now, and a cold and driving rain has set in. As we walk to the car, he lifts up his shoes to show me their soles. They’re worn right through, and saturated.

“Thanks for the lift, Miss,” he says, with genuine feeling. “My feet are pretty wet, aye.” He laughs, but shivers in his school shirt (no jumper, no jacket).

“Sure are,” I say, just lightly.

 

When I get home, it’s close to 4. I feel discomforted, at the thought of bringing things up out of the blue, with Tau. But I know I have to do it. So I go out to the shed, chat to him and Raphael for a moment first (about a couple of inconsequential matters), and then say, “Hey, Tau… can I talk to you for a sec?”

“Yup Miss,” says Tau, looking at me curiously as he picks up on my tone. “Ok.” And he gets up and comes into the house with me.

Once inside, I murmur, “Just… hold on a minute, Tau.” He sits down, waiting with a slightly wary patience, and I flit into the bedroom and pull the tiny ziplock bag out of my handbag, where it’s been all day. This, earlier, has made Slade grin. “Faar Miss, if anyone saw that, they’d probably think you were using!” he tells me, with great amusement. “It’s still got a few bits in it, too.” He peers at it, adding, “You should lick it,” and we dissolve into laughter.

I come back into the lounge, and begin, kind of ‘formally’ I guess:

 

“I don’t really know how to start,” I tell Tau. “But I’ve been thinking about it all night, so I better tell you what’s up. First of all, I want you to know I’m not upset with you, and I’m not assuming anything, but… I found this in the bathroom last night.” And I hold up the bag.

“Oh,” is all Tau says. He actually looks quite surprised by my revelation.

“So, I’m not gonna go off at you or anything Tau, promise. But I do need to know what’s going on, is that algood?”

He nods, saying slowly, “I… probably left it there, I think. When I had a shower.”

“That’s what I thought,” I say. “I didn’t know what to do, when I saw it, and I felt kind of upset. So I decided to just sleep on it, talk to you about it when I felt calmer.” I don’t mention Slade, knowing he’ll be the very soul of discretion.

 

There’s a little pause, and Tau just looks at me steadily. He says, “I don’t really use that stuff at all, Miss. Hardly ever. I haven’t, for ages…”

“Then… why was it there?” I ask, wonderingly.

His eyes meet mine, without any guile. “I had some with Michael,” he says. “He wanted to shout me. We didn’t do it here though, it was when we went out Saturday. The bag must have stayed in my pocket that whole time, and I just found it when I was getting changed yesterday. That’s the truth, Miss. I’d never use that stuff around here. I don’t even… I don’t even really use, honest truth. It was just that one time, with Michael. Apart from that, I don’t touch it, not for ages…  not since way back last year, with Mischa.”

I nod, and he goes on. “I don’t even know how to drive it, honest, Miss. Other people have to drive it for me. I don’t wanna learn, either. Don’t wanna get addicted, straight up.”

“That’s good, Tau,” I say. “That’s a relief.”

“Honest to who, Miss,” he assures me. “I won’t bring anything like that here. I didn’t even know I still had the bag on me.”

“And none of the boys, aye Tau.”

“None of them, promise. I’ve never let anyone use crack round here.”

“I believe you,” I say, and we give each other a little nod, which means – I trust you, and – I understand.

 

“And Tau… please don’t hold anything here, for anyone, kay?” I say, just to clarify this point.

“No, I won’t,” he says. “The only thing I ever keep here is just a few foils for myself.”

“And I’m algood with that, Tau,” I say. “You know I trust you on that one.”

“Yup, sweetas, Miss.”

We look at one another, knowing that this whole potentially difficult conversation has been navigated with respect and care on both sides. I think we’re both relieved, at that.

 

I mail Slade, and this is what he says:

its allgoods miss sweetas, allways better days, solid you sorted it all out, allgoods miss anytime

 

Wednesday 25 September:

I’m sad from the moment I wake up this morning. I don’t really know why. Tears just fall out of my eyes, no real reason for them. I try (honestly!) to imagine my ‘happy place’. I don’t know… I keep getting this mental image of lions at rest in the long grass, near a quiet lake. And then I just feel tired of being sad, and I get up and take a shower.

Michael’s car is blocking the driveway again. I get a surge of impatience when I see it – I stamp my foot, in the shower. But the feeling gradually recedes. By the time I leave for work, round 7:45, I’m calm, and just knock on the door of the sleepout to wake Michael up.

Tau comes to open the door, bleary-eyed. He’s left the keys to the house in the front door all night, which is just one more thing to frustrate me, when I see them there. But again, I sigh, telling myself they don’t do these things to annoy.

He’s apologetic, and so is Michael. “I didn’t mean to stay the night – I just fell asleep,” Michael tells me. “I’m sorry, Miss.”

“It’s ok,” I say. “I just need you to move the car, that’s all.”

All the same, the day hasn’t started off so great.

 

And then, at work I feel ugly, straight up. Bad hair day, just for starters. Itchy eyes, blotchy skin. The feeling lasts the whole day, pretty much. Driving home (after dropping Ezekiel off in Bream), I look in the visor mirror a couple times, and sigh.

 

Thursday 26 September:

Today, right when I need it, a little bit of gratitude kicks in. As I head off to school, it kind of occurs to me. An oblique thought, just something like – I’m grateful to live in this house. And then, I’m grateful that I earn enough to pay the rent. After that, things seem pretty simple. I look around and think, maaan, what am I fussing about? I got food in the cupboards, and everything’s paid up: the rent, the bills, the car. And I don’t have to depend on anyone for that.

Can you believe it, when I get to school, I still feel happy. I walk along thinking – ohh, I’m glad I’ve got a job.

All day long, I just keep getting these little waves of the same sensation, which feel like bubbles fizzing. Even when I look in the mirror, I don’t feel ugly anymore.

I’m grateful for the tiniest things. Noodles at lunch. Being able to run up the stairs. Email notifications on my phone.

After school, I go upstairs to the Faculty meeting, and I still feel fuckin grateful. I’m there till 4, collating grades with Mandy, like it’s no thing. Everything feels sweet and in tune.

Drop Ezekiel off, and I head home. Have a little talk to Tau, in the sleepout. He’s been resting, and I feel real tender towards him. I just think – Tau, I’m so glad you’re here right now. I’m glad it’s safe, and you know you’ve got somewhere to go. Doesn’t even matter about whether I’m special or not. It honestly doesn’t.

Then I go to the gym. Same deal. I feel like – ohh, wow I’m here.

When I get back home I make sausages and eggs for us, and watch Shortland St, and jam the laptop.

 

Friday 27 September:

Last day of Term 3. And Kepaoa’s court case, down the line. I text him to say good luck, though I don’t expect to hear back (and don’t).

School. I decide not to show a movie to 9 Social after all. I was going to, but it’s actually not such a great idea, on the last day of term. Phones and food and iPods will come out, feet will go up on the table – everyone thinking they’re the big boss. So, nope. We go to the library to do something on the computers instead.

At break, I go upstairs to make a coffee, and when I come back, Slade has popped out to have a cig, and Ezekiel’s sitting calmly on my laptop (on Facebook). I biff him off straight away, and banish him to a netbook at the far table.

 

Later on, Slade and I talk about it.

“I wondered if I should leave him on his own, lil shit…” says Slade.

“Nah you’re algood, he just needed to be told,” I say. “He’s alright.”

“Mmm, suppose so.”

We tsk a little bit at the absent Ezekiel. Probably wisely, he stays away for second break, though he comes back after school, and waits through the Faculty meeting (I take my laptop with me, this time).

 

When I get home, that holiday feeling kind of kicks in… almost. I still feel a kind of suffering patience, which I don’t want to feel anymore. I want to be over it; the craving to be special. I used to think I was over it. But really, I don’t know.

Some nights, if Tau doesn’t come inside, not even once, I imagine all sorts of things. Sometimes I imagine that he hates me. Sometimes I imagine that he resents me. Sometimes I think he feels sorry for me. And sometimes, I think (and this is more like the truth), that he doesn’t think about it one way or another.

One thing I’m pretty sure of, is that I’m not special anymore.

I’m going to be honest, it does sting. It really does. But it’s too easy to kind of nurse pain. Sometimes when you feel it real bad, you almost want to hold onto it. I don’t know why that’s so. Maybe because it lets you have a memory of happier times, which croons to you. Remembering when you were special to someone, letting your mind run over those feelings again and again, like you can experience them one more time. The pain is almost like a stroke; a touch… a hug. It’s bewildering, how it doesn’t help, but you want to feel it anyway.

But no matter how hard you focus on trying to re-experience that original impetus, in a sense it’s spent. Memories don’t produce better days, at least not on their own. They need to be put to the service of something new.

And (thanks, Slade) always better days.

Control

Saturday 21 September, 2013:

When I get back from doing the shopping, Tau is in the sleepout and the front door to the house is shut. It was shut yesterday when I got home, too. I think he might have lost the key again. I got him a new one only last weekend.

I leave the door open for him, but the rain keeps blowing in on gusts of cold air – I close it again. If Tau’s lost the key he’ll have to come knock. He probably won’t want to tell me, if indeed he has mislaid it after just one week (despite my exhortations to keep it safe this time).

The sun’s going down, I make a bowl of noodles, with vegies and a fried egg, and chili sauce. Watch the news. Write some more.

 

Sunday 22 September:

 There’s a thunderstorm in the middle of the night; I wake up and feel immediately soothed by the wildly lashing wind and rain.

This morning, when I’m leaving for the gym, Tau literally springs forth from the shed, making me almost jump out of my skin. “Miss, can you leave the door open?” he asks me, with some relief at having apprehended me in time. “I… think I lost the key at my uncle’s.”

So I’ll have to get another one cut.

Tau hasn’t seen Sheree’s new place yet: Rutherford Rd. He tells me she can move in next Friday. ‘They’re moving in on Friday,’ is what he says. He doesn’t say ‘We’re moving in on Friday.’

 

Monday 23 September:

Slade gets to school early, he has cash (his mum came up yesterday) and he wants to shout me breakfast. He just says, “Um, Miss… can I get you a munch, Miss? We could go down to Municipal – can get you some breakfast.”

“Do you mean now?” I say, in surprise.

“Yes, I’ve got money.” He pats his pocket. “Straight up, Miss, I’ll buy you a munch, all good.”

“Well…” I think about it for a second. It’s not even 8:30 yet, and I’m all sorted for the day ahead. I grin at him, saying, “Aw, that’d be cool, Slade. We got time.”

“Sweet as,” says Slade. “And it’s my shout, Miss.”

So we hop in the car and go check out the bakeries. Slade asks what I want and then orders for me, which for some reason pleases me greatly – just the feeling that someone wants to take care of me a little bit. I can easily handle a second breakfast… and besides, there’s no way I’m going to turn down Slade’s offer. It touches my heart that he’d even think of it.

 

After we get back,  9 Social are miraculously well-behaved in the library. I get to do sweet fuck all, and drink coffee with the librarian.

At break, Ezekiel comes running in and pulls something from his bag: “Look Miss, I won a packet of biscuits!”

Turns out he’s got second prize in some Science quiz. So we eat Tim Tams with Slade, and I can see that Ezekiel is very happy to be reciprocating with something in the food line.

It’s a good day, it’s alright… until I come home and find an empty point bag in the bathroom. I get back from the gym, go take a shower. That’s when I see it, just sitting on the basin. I put it in my pocket, to show Slade and check I’m right. But I know I’m right.

 

It doesn’t have to mean Tau’s using meth, of course. But it could mean that. Or that he’s letting someone else use here. Or just that he’s selling. Or that someone is. Or all of the above – or something else.

So I feel pretty sick about it. Not that I thought it could never happen – I’m not that dumb. Just that… it freaks me out if Tau’s bringing that shit round here. I’m scared of it.

But I don’t go talk to him about this yet, even though it’s bothering me and needling me. I don’t want to assume the worst and start out by yelling at him right off the bat. And Michael and Raphael are here.

I go on Facebook and see Slade’s online – and I guess there’s no time like the present to ask. I mean, he knows way more about this stuff than I do. So I message him and wait to hear back.

 

The chat box bleeps up, and I’m conversating with Slade – it feels weird getting advice on meth via my inbox:

hey Slade can I ask you something off the record please? I mean don’t say anything to anyone, is that alright? I just want your advice on something. 

sup miss, yip allgooooods, yip sweetas you can ask anything

Ok just put yourself in my shoes, or imagine if it was Lois or someone, and tell me what you think. I just went into the bathroom and there was a empty spot bag in there, and it’s freaking me out. Do you think Tau’s using P here, or letting someone else do it? Or am I over reacting – do you think there’s some other explanation I haven’t thought of?  Before I go out there and go ballistic, I need some advice.

You should have a talk to him alone about it miss, but calm down first, wait till tomorrow. If they want to do it you have to tell him do it off the property, you cant pick up the smell so they could be smoking it out there but I dunno miss. Just set some rules, have a word with him, just dont go overboard with it miss, just have a quiet word with him tomorrow.

I know Tau was using sometimes with Mischa, it was a while back though, and it wasn’t here it was at Fitzroy.  He said he wasn’t using much. I told him not to ever bring it here, and he said no way, but now I don’t know. The other thing is you know how Tau’s been trying to get money for his mum’s bond, well he’s told me how he’s been taking more risks lately but not saying what. I was wondering about stuff like if he was selling.  My mind’s spinning out about it.

Miss I dont think he sells, I’m sure he uses though, just dont know how often, so you better have a talk miss, set your rules on it again and everything.

Oh man I hope not. I thought he wasn’t into it so much these days either, it was more after he split up with Shae last year. And I didn’t think he would do it here, when he knows how I feel.

sweetas miss its allgoods straightup, just wait till tomorrow before you go talk to him, I’ll help you sort out what to say, prolly dont even have anything to worry about,  we’ll get it sorted.

It’s a big relief, just to tell someone I trust. I feel a bit calmer afterwards, though I still have to shelve it for now – and that’s kind of hard to do. I know Tau’s used in the past. I’ve wondered, now and then, if he still does. But I didn’t think it would be here. And Tau doesn’t even let the boys come inside to use the bathroom, so I think it was probably him who left it there.

It freaks me out though. This is supposed to be a safe house. Tau always appreciated that, and I don’t even want to think about the possibility that things might have changed.

 

Afterwards, I can’t get to sleep. Every little noise, every footfall, has me on edge. A car pulls up and leaves a couple of times. Probably just Michael, I know… but I feel so vigilant.

Round 1 o’clock, there are footsteps on the gravel. A knock at the shed door, then a knock at the front door. I go open up, and a boy I don’t recognize is standing on the porch. Asking where Cluzo is.

“I don’t know,” I tell him crossly. “Isn’t he in the sleepout?”

“I just knocked, but I don’t think anyone’s there,” is the reply. “Whose car is that, Miss?” Cos there’s a car parked right  in the driveway, blocking the front gate.

“I dunno…” I say, with weariness and a passing interest that I also have to shelve (like so much else), just because it can’t take the uppermost spot in my mind right then).

 

“Um… cos I need to see Cluzo,” the boy continues on, hopefully.

“Well I’m not sure if he’s home,” I say. “And it’s the middle of the night, so I don’t know why you thought it was a good idea to come round.

“I was bored,” he says, simply, and quite as if it is a satisfactory explanation.

“Too bad,” I reply, without sympathy. “And that doesn’t mean you can just roll over here to see Tau. I’m tired of boys thinking they can come here anytime and do whatever.”

“Yes Miss,” he says. And then, ludicrously, “So… can I see Cluzo?”

“No you can’t,” I say. “If he’s here, that means he’s asleep. And if he’s not here, then I don’t know where he is.” I sigh, and add, “Why don’t you just let me drop you back home?” The fact that I couldn’t have got out past (Michael’s?) car is, at that moment, immaterial to me. I just want this over and done with, and for the visitor to be far away from here.

“No… no, Miss,” says the boy. Obviously the night is young, far as he’s concerned. “I don’t wanna go home.”

“Well… I’ve offered,” I say. “But you can’t stay here.”

“Yup Miss, sorry – I just wanted to come round and see Cluzo,” he says, one more time.

“Well, it wasn’t a good idea,” I conclude, very tired of this whole interchange.

 

The boy turns and walks off briskly and lightly down the drive. He seems quite equanimous about it, but I feel like everything is churning around inside of me. Just to be… I don’t know: ignored. To think that random kids feel they can just casually stroll up in the middle of the night and knock at ‘Cluzo’s’ door, without so much as a by your leave. To think that I have to control and control and control my shit, all the frickin time, and I still don’t know what the fuck’s going on, cars up and down, boys thinking this is all their God damn right or something.

And – my heart sinks again – the meth bag.

Oh man, right now I’m pissed off. I thought I had some border protocols established – but people just keep trying to breach them anyway. I’m not having it.

Ok then, there’s going to be a little tete-a-tete tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.

Familiar

Saturday 14 September, 2013:

By 6 pm I’m ready to go meet Mia.

We go into the city, which is cool – and a little bit not. It is, and I yet feel kind of dowdy, all the same. My skin and my hair and my eyes and everything seem just so dull and plain. I want to be glammed up, but I’m just wearing jeans. I wish I’d made more of an effort, I guess.

Because Mia looks pretty. She’s wearing this T shirt which has a little ruched ribbon thing through the scoop of the neckline, and a skirt that picks up the colour of  the ribbon.

 

I get home to find Tau  drunk, in the sleepout. He’s alright though – I guess – and no-one’s been over, apart from the trustworthy Raphael.

When I say Tau’s alright… he is and he isn’t. My heart hurts for him, a little bit. His gestures and expressions and posture have that real trusting, almost exaggeratedly childish quality to them that sometimes tumbles out, when he’s drunk and not holding everything in as much. We share a ciggie and talk. He offers me a sesh as well, but I turn it down of course, not wanting to let that paranoid feeling hit me like a kick from a mule.

He tells me how he went for a drive with Michael the other day, and they drifted sideways around a roundabout; “I liked it…” he muses. “I was scared, when we started sliding. But it was kind of interesting… thinking, am I gonna live or die? I looked and I could see 180 on the clock.” He laughs. “And then we just slid right to the side and stopped, and I got this big adrenalin rush.”

 

“Hey Tau, I say, with a combination of relief and worry. “Be careful, aye?”

“Algood, Miss,” Tau murmurs.” “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll worry alright,” I tell him, and he smiles at me. “Tau, I want you to stay safe, please.”

“Do my best,” he replies, implacably.

Late at night, he goes out. I’m in bed by then and hear a car pull up, then leave. It must be been 12 or 1 by then, and I fall back asleep. I think I hear Tau’s footsteps returning sometime in the early dawn.

 

Sunday 15 September:

This morning Kepaoa texts me, he’s leaving town today:

Thanks mis fo seeing me. Hardz ms gna misu mis, chilin and dat wichu.

Naaaaaw, algood. im gona miss u too, egg.

 There is a kind of poignancy to this, knowing that we aren’t just talking about ‘till next time’. Kepaoa’s court case, which has now been relocated, is next week. And his lawyer’s told him he’ll very likely get home detention, minimum of 6 months.

 

I drop Tau round at his uncle’s, via the liquor store (the one off Rangitikei Rd).

“They must be missing you here,” I remark, as we pull up outside the shop.

“Saw me Saturday,” says Tau, with no fuss whatsoever.

“Oh my gosh, Tau,” I can’t help saying, but my tone makes him laugh, albeit briefly.

Raphael is with him. I’ve never seen Raphael drink, which I’m pleased about. Tau looks after him, I must admit. It’s Tau I’m concerned for, though. He sits very tired and relaxed in the car, smelling like he hasn’t had a shower for a week at least (which is probably the case). But that in itself don’t matter a thing. Tau’s so… familiar to me, honest truth. Familiar/familia.

Doesn’t mean I’m not worried though.

 

When we get to his uncle’s, Tau just puts ten dollars down on the seat, saying gently, “Gas, Miss.”

“Ohhh Tau, you don’t have to…” I begin.

But he nips out of the car and away, turning back to look at me and smile.

 

Monday 16 September:

This morning when I get up, I see Tau’s come back and made himself a feed – my mind eases a little.

Another day at MC. I have 9 Social first up, and afterwards Ezekiel waits behind and asks me, “Miss – where will you be at break time?”

“Right here,” I tell him.

“Are you gonna stay here?”  he checks.

“Yup, I usually do,” I say truthfully. With some kids I’d bullshit them and say I have to go upstairs, but I can sense what’s coming next, and, like I said… there’s just something about Ezekiel, I don’t know quite what, yet.

“Um…” he begins. “Is it alright if I stay here too?”

“If you want to,” I say. “Slade usually kicks it here as well – he’ll probably be along in a minute.”

“Who’s Slade?” he asks me.

“You met him one time,” I tell him. “You might not remember, though.”

“I think I know who…” he says, and sure enough, a moment later he points out the big windows to the block, saying, “That’s him coming now, aye.”

“Yup, sure is.”

Slade comes in and greets Ezekiel without apparent surprise, and in a friendly way. They don’t really say much to one another, but there is a slightly companionable vibe all the same, between these two aloof characters.

 

When the bell goes, Ezekiel asks me, “Miss? Where do you go, next break. Do you go somewhere?”

“Not usually,” I tell him.

“Is it ok if I come back?”

“Course it is,” I say, lightly. I’m not sure if something is going on, or if he just needs a little rest from his mates, today.

 

Second break, Ezekiel is there before Slade. When Slade arrives, once again not a lot is said, but there’s definitely an air of tolerance, rather than irritation.

At the end of break, Ezekiel stays behind and says, quietly. “Miss… do you have anything to eat?”

“I’m really sorry – I don’t,” I tell him. Which is the truth.

“That’s ok,” he says, and then, looking around the empty room, “Don’t you have a class now?”

“Nah… but you do,” I say, gently.

“Ok, I’m going,” he replies. “But… is it algood if I come back here? At breaks?”

“Course,” I say. “But Ezekiel, don’t you wanna kick it with your friends at break times? Jackson and the boys?”

“I’m not… really good at the stuff they like doing,” he tells me.

“Ohh, I bet you are,” I say, hearing a certain tiredness in his voice which resonates with the way I feel sometimes. “But no worries, you just turn up anytime you feel like it, algood.”

I still don’t know what it is, exactly, but my radar’s picking up some kind of signal. And so’s this, I guess. Signs – and those who can read them.

 

Tuesday 17 September:

At both break times, Ezekiel is in my room. Once again, Slade is friendly enough to him, and he just seems tired, worn out. At the end of interval, he waits behind again and says quietly, “Miss? Could I have a coffee… at lunchtime?”

“A coffee?” I repeat. Cos he’s seen me bring Slade one, yesterday.

“Yes… is it ok?”

“I guess so,” I said, adding, “Yesterday you said you didn’t like coffee.”

“Um, it’s just… I haven’t had anything to eat,” murmurs Ezekiel. “My parents went out, and there wasn’t anything in the fridge or cupboard, last night.”

“Oh,” is all I reply, processing this information and realizing that all my instincts say he is telling the truth. My class are coming in, so I just tell him, “Come back at lunchtime, kay Ezekiel.”

“Ok, Miss,” he says.

 

At lunch, I go to the cafe and get a pie and a big sausage roll. I’m not going to ignore Slade, who pretty much never eats at school either (though I know he makes himself a feed as soon as he gets home, Lois always has food in the cupboards). I come back and act like it’s no big thing, just divvy up the food on a paper bag. Ezekiel waits deferentially while Slade selects his share, then he takes the bag with a look of actual relief in his eyes.

I just wish it could have been more, you know. I had to put it on tick myself, and I’ll pay for it tomorrow. Money’s tight – and at the same time, I can’t ignore Ezekiel. I can see he’s not trying to hustle me. It’d take a lot for a newcomer to hustle me these days. No, he just looks… kind of wilted. And it reminds me, somehow, of the days when I first got to know Tau, and how people’s instincts are to tell, despite the flickering sense of incipient shame.

 

After school I drive Ezekiel home. He sits  there quietly, talking just a little bit – and then thanks me when we get there, saying, “See you tomorrow, Miss.”

“See you tomorrow,” I say.

I almost wish it wasn’t like this, and that I could just laugh and put it to one side, and tell him, hey, stop tryna hustle me, man. Cos I don’t ‘seek’ this in my days; there’s already such a lot of stuff to do.

But he’s a good boy, a nice kid, and he’s choosing to let someone know he needs a little bit of shelter right now. And I think: ohhh Tau, Tau. Because every time I’ve done this for someone else, I know I’m also doing it for Tau, if that makes sense. It’s always and already for Tau, too. Even though it might appear there’s no direct link – there’s a link in my heart, and I know it’s changed my response forevermore.

After school, I stop at the supermarket to pick up stuff to make dinner. I’m already tired, and then feeling kind of wearier at the thought of money coming in, money going out. Payday, and everything’s pretty much budgeted, right off the bat. And the power bill being so high, last month – I’ve only paid half of it so far. And yup. But what else should you do?

 

Leroi turns up this evening, to see if Tau’s here (he isn’t, having gone somewhere with little Michael). I give him a ride back to his uncle’s, which pretty much uses up the rest of my gas.

“He hasn’t even been texting me back…” says Leroi, wistfully, as we drive.

“It’s ok, Leroi,” I say. “I think Tau just needs some space right now.”

“Have you seen him?” Leroi asks. “Has he been staying, much?”

“Now and then,” I murmur, knowing it’s more than that, but not wanting to upset Leroi’s sensitive heart.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t text back, when I text him…”

“Like I said, I think he just needs some time out,” I tell Leroi. “You know what Tau’s like.”

Leroi nods, but I know he’s hurting, to feel apart from Tau.

 

Late at night, Leroi texts, wanting to know if Tau’s home, so he can walk round.

Tau’s back by then, but he asks me to tell Leroi he’s still out. I feel bad about the lie, but it’s not my call, I reckon.

 

 

My call

Saturday 7 September, 2013:

I take Leroi over to where Sheree is (currently) staying, at their uncle’s place. On the way, he tells me she was drinking yesterday. They’d been supposed to go see about a house, but obviously that didn’t happen. Tau shouted at her, called her a stupid bitch, and then smashed the glass door with his foot and left.

“Ohh, he’s back,” Leroi says in surprise as we pull up. He gets out, and it’s then I see Tau coming down the path. I’m surprised myself when he ignores Leroi and comes up to the car, looking tired and rather dejected. I open the passenger door, but Tau just leans on it, not getting in.

 

“You algood, Tau?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says, without conviction.

“Kay, um… I hope you’re ok,” I push on, gently. “Cos… Leroi told me what happened yesterday.”

Tau nods unhappily. He hovers at the side of the car, looking half as if he wants to stay, half to flee. Seeing his miserable expression, my heart swoops out to him. “Oh Tau,” I tell him. “I hate seeing you stressed like this.”

“It’s algood Miss. I just don’t wanna give you stress.”

“You don’t, Tau – it isn’t you. I’m just… it’s just the whole situation, for everyone.”

He nods again, a tiny fraction easier. “I’m algood, Miss,” he tries telling me again, but his voice tails off and I see his eyes swell with tears.

“Ohhhh, Tau,” I kind of whisper. “Sit down for a sec.”

“Naaah, Miss, I’m alright, I better go back inside.” But he just leans there, and tears begin to drip down, and he sniffs and rubs his eyes on his sleeve, and then more tears fall out, patiently and miserably.

 

I clamber over the gear shift and out of the car to his side.

“Tau, I breathe, just rubbing his arm. “It’s alright, Tau.  We’ll get this stuff all sorted out… we will.”

He nods, rubbing at his eyes.

“I really care about you,” I tell him. “You’re the top priority guy, to me. You never stress me out, it’s just… sometimes other people do. But it isn’t your fault.”

“I don’t wanna make you stressed,” Tau tells me. “That’s why I haven’t been coming back lately. I don’t wanna put extra stress on you.”

“Nah,” I say. “I want you there. I don’t want to see you sleeping in the dang park or something.”

“It’s Leroi, Miss, letting the others come around. I won’t bring trouble to your place. I don’t even wanna see him, at the moment.”

“I know, he told me,” I murmur.

“I feel like I might hook him,” he adds.

For some reason, this makes us both laugh a little bit.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” he says. “I’ll have to sort things out with mum first – I’ll text you tonight though.”

“Good boy,” I say, and then, “Ok Tau, I better let you go back in.”

“K, Miss,” Tau says, and we hug.

 

For the hour between 4 and 5, I just go for a walk. The city is in that transitional mood between day and night, it makes me feel a little bit forlorn, at first. But by 5, when it’s just starting to rain, lightly, and a few cars have switched on their headlights, I kind of perk up. It seems like something has switched over, you know? Like a change of phase. So I’m alright again.

I get home, go inside and just flit around doing small things to settle myself. Folding the washing. Checking my emails, and facebook, and twitter. I’m kind of into twitter. It isn’t a big deal or anything, I just like the way you can sometimes get past the usual formalities.

Then I take a shower, and lie on the couch with a cuppa tea, watching TV and listening to music and jamming the laptop all at once. The sun’s going down and I feel alright again. I’m a bit elemental about that stuff sometimes, kind of like Tau I guess.

 

Tuesday 10 September:

I’m not really in the mood for writing about other people, and today I don’t suffer fools gladly. But just writing that word down: ‘suffer’, reminds me of Deshaun, who, at the start of writing the 9 Social assessment, puts his hand up and asks me, “Miss, what does this word mean?”

‘Explain why people suffer from poverty’ – is the directive (there, on the assessment booklet), and Deshaun points to the word ‘suffer’.

“It means – why do people have poverty,” I tell him.

“And poverty’s being pohara, aye Miss,” he says.

“Yup, that’s right.”

“Oh I get it now,” he tells me, and sets to work.

The whole period, I’m aware that Deshaun is trying super-hard, and really wants to finish his essay. He gets distracted from time to time, and once falls off his chair in the process of throwing an eraser at Jackson, but he finishes it, independently and under assessment conditions. I feel extremely proud of him.

 

Wednesday 11 September:

You know what? I do actually like getting up in the morning, getting ready for work. Knowing I haven’t capitulated, knowing I’m going to get there again today. But I need to stop just holding on. At times, when I look in the mirror, I sigh with fatigue at the continual effort, yet tighten the screws on all my suppressed and hovering energy.

Ezekiel Peo (new to MC and 9 Social, since round June I think) waits after school and asks me if he can get a lift home.  I’ve dropped him off twice before, once (opportunistically) when he saw me with Slade, the other time when it was pouring with rain.

“I don’t want to walk, today,” he tells me. “I’m really tired.”

He looks really tired, too. Doesn’t speak much on the way home. One thing I’ve picked up is that Ezekiel doesn’t smile a lot, either. He gives out (and wants to give, I think) the impression of being playful, sort of happy-go-lucky – but  there’s a ‘flatness’ behind it, which I notice. I don’t even want to speculate about that. But he’s a nice kid.

 

As we drive, he tells me, “Miss, I’m… I’m kind of like what we’re learning about. Poverty and stuff. That’s what it’s like at my house. Everything’s just putting food on the table.”

“Yeah, I get you,” I tell him, sympathetically but without asking him anything else. I figure that if there’s anything more he wants to say, he’ll tell me himself some other time.

He also says that he used to get in trouble at his old school (out west somewhere). That doesn’t surprise me, even though there’s no evidence of trouble here at MC.

The old radar’s picking up some kind of signal from Ezekiel, but I don’t know what it is, exactly.

 

Thursday 12 September:

There’s a potential ‘situation’ with Leroi this evening, which doesn’t go anywhere. Tau’s back, then Leroi texts me and says he wants to come back too. Wants to play his new PS3, (there’s a long story to all this, involving Leroi spending all but $100 of his Winz back pay on shit, according to Tau – and I don’t doubt it.)

I’m about to go pick him up, but I check with Tau first – and he isn’t keen. He says he needs a break from Leroi. So I ring back and tell him we’ll leave it for tonight. Leroi hangs up on me, and then I get a text which is definitely tetchy. It’s not overtly aggressive, just says, ‘ionly wantd to play my new game coz we cant uze power here fck algd’

Tau’s worried, though. His shoulders tense up, and he sighs, telling me, “It’s ok Miss. If Leroi comes over, I’ll have to go. But if he starts anything here, I’ll jump in first – don’t worry.”

“Aye?” I say, in some surprise. “Do you think he’s gonna come over?”

“Yeah, I do,” Tau sighs again. “He’s not listening to anyone at the moment, and he’s drinking today. He’ll probably just walk round… but all sweet Miss, I’ll just have to go somewhere else.”

Little Michael, who is here too, nods at this, saying, “Yeah Miss, if he starts trouble we’ll sort it out, and then I’ll take Tau somewhere.”

“Faar, where shall we go though, ge?” Tau says wearily. “I came round here to get away from Leroi. I need a break, he’s pissing everyone off – but I don’t wanna hook him.”

“Course you don’t,” I say to Tau. “But you don’t have to go, either. At the end of the day, it’s my call who’s here.”

“Yeah true, it’s Miss’s call,” agrees Michael, and both boys look at me with a little interest, this fact only just having occurred to them.

“It is my call,” I reiterate. “And if Leroi comes, I’ll have to take him somewhere else for the night. The sleepout’s your space. The only reason he’s been here is because you were algood with it. And now you need some time out, so… he’ll just have to accept that.”

“He might not listen – he’s not respecting anyone at the moment,” Tau says.

“Tough,” I say. I sound more authoritative than I feel, and Tau actually smiles at me. I add, “If he comes, I’ll have to spell it out to him. I don’t mind.”

We talk a bit more – and then I go to bed. I think to myself: If he comes, I’ll deal with it. But I picture Leroi’s face, and get a sense of the basic respect and sensitivity which he tries so hard to maintain with me. I try to shrug off any worries. A kind of peace steals into my heart, despite the potential problems. And so, I fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow.

 

Friday 13 September:

In the morning, I think Tau’s more surprised than me, that Leroi hasn’t come.

Man, I can’t believe Leroi didn’t put any of that back pay towards a bond. Tau mentions this again today, saying, “That’s what he’s like, Miss. He doesn’t think of anyone except himself at the moment. And even when he’s got money, he expects everyone else to buy him things.”

“But nothing, though,” I murmur.

“No, Miss – nothing,” Tau says, sighing deeply.

“What did he get with it then?”

“The PS3. And just flash stuff, clothes and shit. Whatever he wanted.”

Not much we can do about it though. We just shake our heads.

 

And I go to work.

Aurelius is back at school today, after several weeks absence. “I missed this class,” he tells me, very nicely and without a qualm.

I take this at face value, and smile at him.

Later, he appears again out of nowhere, when I have 12 History. He sometimes ‘pops down’ to see one of his boys, but always leaves directly when he’s snapped.

“Aurelius,” I begin, but quite fondly all the same. “What are you doing here? Go back to Geography.”

Aurelius beams at me, quite happy to be apprehended this way. “I just came to see you, Miss,” he tries. “I came to gaze upon your beauty.” He adds, “You’re fo’i lole,” making my class get the giggles.

“Go away,” I tell him. “Go to class.” But I can’t help laughing at him.

 

 

Restoration

Tuesday 3 September, 2013:

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

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

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

 

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

“Miss, make her give back my pencil…”

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

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

“Fuck, he’s a lil bitch…”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘Body paragraphs, Structure, Punctuation’

‘Introduction, Body paragraphs, Conclusion’

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But I was lonely sometimes, too.

 

Wednesday 4 September:

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

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

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

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

Deshaun shakes his head, but walks beside me uncomplainingly.

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

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

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

 

Thursday 5 September:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 6 September:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly!”

We look at one another, kind of facing off.

“You have to help me,” he instructs.

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

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

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

 

Ten minutes later, he’s scuffling with Precious.

“Deshaun!”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“How do you spell suffer?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

“Heey,” I say.

“Hey, Miss,”

“Chu up to?”

“Jacc”

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

 

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

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

“Chess club!” I exclaim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems of my own

Sunday 1 September, 2013:

The boys have stayed out all night, everything seems securely fastened when I look out the window this morning. But in the time it takes me to have a shower, all of a sudden the shed lights are on, door wide open. And still no-one home. It hasn’t been locked in the first place – just the bolt slid across from outside. I guess someone has been over and gone in to see if the boys are here. It pisses me off that whoever it was could just stroll in there, like it’s no thing, like they’ve got the right to.

I look around for the padlock to lock up properly, but I can’t see it. So I just shut the door, pull the bolt across once more, and start to pull out weeds in the garden.

 

After a while, Leroi and little Michael arrive in Michael’s car. Leroi is truly surprised to learn someone has been around and let themselves in. But he’s also far too blasé about it for my liking. “There’s no lock,” he informs me casually, as he rifles through his possessions to find a couple things. He and Michael are going back to the city, Tau is still there.

“What do you mean, no lock?” I ask him.

“We haven’t got any padlocks.”

“But… how come?” I say, unable to help sounding a bit interrogative.

“Cos we lost the key, yesterday. I had to break the padlock to get in…”

“You broke the padlock… again?” I repeat, incredulously. “Faar, how many times are you guys gonna do that? I only got the new padlock a little while back, you need to keep hold of the keys.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he says, in an airy way. “We got nothing to steal anyway.”

“It does matter,” I retort, crossly. “It matters to me – because this is my house, man. I don’t like random people just coming right on in like they own the place. Opening up the shed. They could do anything they wanted if we weren’t home – and we wouldn’t even know. It’s not good, Leroi.”

His face falls. “Sorry… Miss,” he says, rather uncertainly.

“I’m sorry for growling, Leroi. But honestly – I can’t just leave the place unlocked. I’ll get another padlock, but this time you have to hold onto your keys and not lose them. And if you do, then don’t just break the lock. Text me, okay?”

“Yup, Miss,” Leroi replies. He sounds meek enough, but actually I’m not sure if he’s really taking these directives in.

 

I let them go off back to town, and return to the gardening. Only by now I’m annoyed. And this particular task (which I’ve never enjoyed in the slightest degree) just makes me feel even more stressed out. I whisk my way around as quickly as possible, grasping weeds and hiffing them into a plastic bag, then moving onto the next spot. On the way, I get my nails all dirty, and my jumper snags on twigs, and I prick my thumb. Then, by the time I reach the back yard, I find cans in the bushes, Cruisers and Cody’s, God knows for how long they’ve been there. Ciggie butts and pie wrappers… and yeah, I know, sometimes stuff blows over the back fence from the park. But some of it is just too close to the shed. There are even chicken bones, for fuck’s sake, just chucked out on the grass, like it’s no big deal. And by the time I’ve picked these up, I’m outraged by the whole thing. I’m glad the boys aren’t home right then, otherwise there’d be some dramas for sure.

Just as I finish the last of the weeding for the day (out by the gate), I cut my face on a cactus spike, and the feeling of warm blood on my cheek kind of brings me back to a more restful state. I don’t know why, but somehow it grounds me again. And I go wash the blood off my face, and my heart starts to settle, and I realize that I’m really hungry. So I go make a feed, and then I start to calm down.

 

I procure another padlock from the supermarket, and make a list of things I need to ‘discuss’ with the boys. There are quite a few items on the agenda, ranging from the padlock itself, to the ciggie butts, to the rubbish bin, to keeping the shed tidy, and so on and so forth. It all has to be said, and probably should have been said sooner.

But like I said – calmly. Because my two house guests, I must concede, have been doing their recent best to adjust to some difficult circumstances (and it’s not like they’ve ever been asked to curtail their social lives before, either).

To be honest though, Leroi’s ‘default setting’ is extremely laissez faire, which is pissing me off a bit. And yup, he’s just doing what he knows, and what’s got him through life so far, and he’s had it pretty damn tough. Tau too, but… I guess the difference, for me, is that I have a more natural understanding of Tau’s ways. Inside me, I resonate with Tau so much. Leroi, the Piscean, is harder for me to grasp. Kind of like my mum was hard to grasp. I never knew what she thought about anything; not really.

And I notice Tau says ‘home’ when he’s talking about this place, even though I know that in some sense it’s simply born of necessity. But all the same, it touches my heart.

 

Monday 2 September:

Slade and I have an argument, well, kind of. He brings up the subject of Leroi and Raphael in Municipal the other day – with those Carthill boys. Apparently it’s all over Facebook, and there’s more happening, of course. Anyway, I tell Slade what I knew, and how Leroi (and probably Raphael, too) had been ready to have a fight right there in the Youth Services office. I say to him how I’d realised that Leroi wouldn’t have hesitated, even in front of me, or the office staff.

Slade just shrugs and says, “Oh well,” in a manner which implies I should get over it. I feel hurt by this – I can’t help it. I’ve always tried to let Slade know that his reactions to things are not to be slighted. It’s not that we always have to agree. But I don’t trample on his feelings. And in this moment it seems that he’s willing to just tromp on mine without a second’s thought.

So I feel myself bristle up. Slade’s sitting at my laptop, jamming Youtube and I say, at his side. “No it isn’t ‘ohwell’.”

He says nothing.

“One of those boys had a knife,” I continue. “And I had to go out there and deal with it, cos otherwise Leroi was just gonna let them bring it on.”

“Ohhhhhhhhhwel,” Slade says, in that very concluding way. “That’s just… life,” (and ‘harden up you sook’ – is what I read into that)

“Yeah, it is life,” I reply. “And I know that, and that’s why I dealt with it. But I got feelings about it, all the same.”

“Yup, well I got problems of my own,” Slade says.

“Yup, well so have I,” I say back. “And if you feel like that, why don’t you just go away then.”

And then the bell rings, and off he goes without another word. All day I feel cross about it. Because I do have frickin feelings, and you know what? I don’t need to be talked down to by Slade, even if I care a lot about him.

So.

 

When I get home, both the boys are back. Raphael’s with them, so I don’t say everything I’ve planned to. I mention the key though, and the ciggie butts on the driveway, and the cans in the bushes. Tau is sorrowful about the last two points, telling me (truthfully and trustingly) that whenever he sees the boys leaving their rubbish around, he tells them off.

But inside me, there’s some resentment that won’t go away right now. And it’s more complicated with both boys here, not to mention more expensive. I do care about Leroi… and yet the fact remains that he’s here in the first instance because of Tau. If it wasn’t for Tau, I wouldn’t be offering. And as for the other boys… well, likewise. I wouldn’t be even a quarter as welcoming as I’ve been, if not for Tau’s sake.

Plus money’s so tight, honestly. It makes my heart catch, some days. To think that as soon as my pay comes in, it’s spent. And yup, I still pay for the gym. But it’s one of those things I can’t give up. It’s like a refusal to capitulate – to actually give myself something I want. Otherwise all the budgeting and nursing of my income doesn’t even make sense.