Loving eyes

Wednesday 19 November

When I wake up it’s 5:15 am, and I don’t feel too bad. I get up at 6 and look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I even try to smile at my reflection, before I hop in the shower.

Normal morning routines, huh. Routines are my saving grace right now. I turn on Firstline, make a cuppa tea and some weetbix. Actually, I want toast, but the bread is still out in the sleepout. I say to myself firmly, “And I’m grateful for that weetbix!”

This makes me think of a ‘Kepaoa’ story – one time his mum took his ATM card, then withdrew all his pay, leaving him just eighty dollars. “And I said to myself… I’m grateful for that eighty dollars,” he hastened to add, cracking us both up.

I feel like that about a lot of things. I’m grateful for the dang weetbix. I’m grateful for the milk. I’m grateful for the hundred and ten dollars in my current account; I can pay the phone bill and still get twenty bucks gas and a coffee from Z.

I’m grateful for Kepaoa, and everything he taught me. How to sit loose to things: how to be a hustler and not a hustlee. Ohh, I miss that egg right now, or maybe I just miss the way I felt when he was there… and then I stop and think: Couldn’t I feel like that, all by myself?

Well, couldn’t I? Maybe it’s possible.

 

Friday 21 November

I get little moments of happiness at the weirdest times. Parked at Municipal, between the council buildings and the train station. Despite the money worries, I feel so glad to be exactly here. “Oh, this place!” I say to myself.

A lot of people are walking up from the train, one woman’s knee-high black boots giving me another little surge of happiness. Something about them reminds me unexpectedly of childhood days – I always wanted to whirl up the stairs, amidst a flock of a hundred people: Pursuit of Happyness. That’s right, I think. That’s the feeling.

All the same, I lose it over the dumbest things.

 

Like the boys misplacing their keys again – and the padlock to the sleepout, this time. They can’t even lock up this morning. I badly want to growl at them for being disorganized, and for (it seems) not giving a fuck about the hassle for me of having to replace everything for the umpteenth time… or about the money either.

Instead, I just try to squash my feelings down. But I must seem irritable all the same, and then I just feel more pissed off at the closed off looks on the boys’ faces, as they try to minimize ‘conflict’. I know that any disagreement, no matter how minor, feels like conflict to them; it brings up all sorts of things… but at the same time, what about me? Don’t my feelings matter at all? And if they don’t, then why don’t they?

So everyone is stressing now. The boys offer not to go to course today (thinking, no doubt, that I’m worried at the idea of leaving the place unlocked). Then I feel guilty for upsetting them. I persuade them that course is a good idea, and I even drop them off.

 

When I come home, I don’t know what to do – so I wash the car. I swish the hose about and wonder what’s going to happen. I’m tired, and I’m almost broke, and I’m still trying to look after these two like it’s no big deal. And yet I’m basically running myself out of options, if a job doesn’t turn up soon. While I house, feed and protect them, provide them with every necessity of life, right down to rides and broadband (not to mention loans and petty cash).

Do I look after myself? Well, yes and no. I don’t know. I don’t have a frickin clue. Maybe I should just tell it like it is. Maybe I should tell Tau and Leroi how I’m right on the line with money now. And would they even really understand? Or would I just be one more person to let Tau down?

And I can’t let him down. I can’t let him down. It’s no good asking why, because in truth I don’t know. But I’ve never once lost that feeling, even through so many twists and turns of circumstance. And I won’t leave him stranded. In my heart, I wonder if Tau knows this. I think he probably does, somewhere.

 

Monday 24 November

Tau asks if I can come to the doctors with him to get the Winz forms signed; this takes us a while. Then we go to Winz itself, then the tinnie house, and lastly the bakery (for pies).

The two of us actually have a good talk at the doctors – it’s funny how sometimes things get ‘said’ in neutral places. The conversation is mostly about alcohol and drugs: “I still remember how I hated coming home from school everyday,” he tells me. “You know, waiting to find out if mum and dad were drinking…” He laughs quietly. “And then after a while I thought, well I can’t beat ‘em, guess I might as well join ‘em.”

 

Wednesday 26 November

I go do ‘stuff’. All the usual Wednesday stuff: gas, groceries, get coffee if there’s a few dollars left over. I practically give myself palpitations tracking every cent at the supermarket, but it’s worth it. I even manage to get grain waves and juice for the boys, yoghurt for me, and a little tub of nuts and raisins (which feels like the luxury of luxuries right now; I’ll save it for tomorrow).

Inwardly though, I’m pretty scared. It’s my last self-funded “payday”. I’ve gone nearly as far as I can with the measures that I put in place months ago. It’s almost time for my next move. But today… well, today is just a day to be steady.

I try telling myself: the drought’s breaking, it’s going to be ok. I want to believe it. I get caught up in the ‘hows’, and the crazy feeling of things going right down to the wire – a team that scores in the last few seconds of play. That’s how it feels. Mixed metaphors, but you get the picture.

 

The agency texts me, there’s a day’s work going at Carthill tomorrow. It’s a good sign, but at the same time, I’m jangling with electricity and nerves. It’s not surprising I feel this way, but I just want to be nice to myself, the same way I’m nice to Tau. I can’t imagine saying to Tau the things I say to myself sometimes: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be like everyone else?” Or, “You’re so selfish!” Or, “No-one cares about you.”  Or, “Look at you, you look like shit today.”

Far too often I tell myself these exact things. Things I never think for one second where Tau’s concerned. Even if he hasn’t been able to, or hasn’t wanted to care for himself, I’ve never stopped being proud of him. I yearn to do that for myself. Not in some kind of narcissistic way… but to look at myself with loving eyes.

 

Thursday 27 November

After work, I try to think of things I’m grateful for, and get stuck almost straight away. The day’s pay, of course. And I’m grateful for, um… the yoghurt, I say to myself. And the extra click on my coffee card yesterday. Seriously clutching at straws here, I add, to no-one in particular.

Then – what else am I grateful for? I wonder. I’m grateful for a whole four months of making rent and bills, since leaving MC. And I am grateful for that – don’t think I’m not – but what the fuck’s going to happen now?

I lay on my bed, it’s so warm and quiet and I can hear voices in the sleepout, Tau and Leroi back from course. They don’t know, and I don’t want them to know, that I’m scared. They think everything’s ok – perhaps it is. Perhaps it is.

So I start making dinner – a big stir fry with pork and vegies and noodles. As I slice up cabbage and broccoli, I feel a tiny bit of calm return. I just fix the dinner, and go tell the boys it’s ready, and they come in.

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Friday 19 July, 2013:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

“She’s busy,” he says.

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

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

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

“Where are they?” I ask.

“In the city, I think.”

“Oh… ok.”

 

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

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

“Yeah, I know Miss,” he replies.

“So when did you get out?” I ask

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

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

 

Then, “So – was jail ok?”

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

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

“No,” says Elroy, meekly.

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

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

“Roam around,” I finish for him.

“Yeah, roam around.”

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

“I didn’t think about it…”

“Well, maybe you should have.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So I just say, “Elroy?”

“Yeah, Miss.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“I don’t like her either,” I say.

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

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

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

“Yeah, I reckon…”

 

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

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

“Aw, that’s good,” I say, softly.

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

 

“Did he get his knee sorted out?”

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

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

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

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

 

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

I get up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Far from here

Thursday 6 June, 2013:

Go to bed and cry. Wake up and cry. I just want to howl like a wolf, at the thought that it’s only and ever about what I can offer and do and provide. And I’m supposed to go to school and act like I care about learning and crap?

So today I’m just going to imagine that I’m far from here, just looking on at it. Like I’m curled up watching a movie about someone else’s life. And just thinking… oh yup, that’s an interesting story.

 

I pick up Tau for PD, on my way to work. In the car I feel myself just start to unravel further, and my eyes get filled up with tears. “Sorry Tau,” I choke.

“Algood, Miss…” Tau murmurs to me.

We drive, as everything bumps and scrambles and refuses to settle in my heart. I just keep thinking, what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do? About this… about anything. Tears run down my face, and I say, “Ohh, sorry Tau, I’m sorry. You already got enough to deal with.”

“It’s algood, Miss,” Tau says again.

And so I tell him about Kepaoa – the other night, and how I feel like he’s straight hustled me, and how everything else has just flown right out the window, now that Teri’s back. Messing with his head and all. I say how I don’t trust Teri, and how stuff went missing from my room. I just keep right on crying as I tell Tau, “Kepaoa asked if she could stay here with him, and I said no, I don’t trust her, and I ended up yelling at him. And now I think he hates me.”

 

And, “Tau?” I say. I’m really crying now, and I can’t stop.

“Mm, Miss?” Tau said, very gently to me.

“I don’t wanna bring it up… but I want to tell you something else, so I hope its ok.”

“It’s ok, Miss,” he says.

“Well, you know when you were with Shae?”

And he nods. He just lets me go on.

“I just want you to know that you guys were pretty awesome, that’s all.” I can’t stop crying, quietly, while I speak. “You never hustled me, and you always respected my stuff, and even when you had shit going on, you never wanted to take it out on me. You just tried to keep it to yourselves, and I really appreciate that, even though it was hard sometimes. For all of us.”

“It’s algood, Miss,” says Tau. “Thanks for that, Miss.”

“Nah, thank you,” I said. “I just wanted you to know.” And then, “Shae was far better than Teri,” I cry, feeling this big pain in my heart which still seems like it’s never going to stop. “I know you guys aren’t together anymore, and it’s ok… but I just wanted you to know that. I was algood with Shae. The whole time.”

 

“Shall we have a ciggie, Miss?” We’ve just pulled up outside the PD centre.

“Aw, yes please Tau,” I tell him, and he lights up.

I shouldn’t be smoking, I know it’s not something I want to start up again. But I’m just so stressed and everything hurts so bad, and I don’t know what the fuck to do about any of it. Tau has to go to PD, but  he takes ten dollars out of his wallet and gives it to me, saying, “Gas money, Miss.”

“Nah, Tau – no need,” I say.

But he insists, and I can see he just wants to do something kind for me, and it touches my heart very much.

I sit in the car, on the side of the road just there and smoke the end of the cigarette, and text the MC relief number to say there’s been an emergency and I can’t make it to work. By now I can see there’s no chance of handling school, not feeling like this.

 

I drive back home, still crying. I feel sick, actually, from the cigarette. Hobble inside and have a drink of water and lay on Kepaoa’s couch, curled up with my head on the pillow. I don’t know what the fuck to do about anything. School, Kepaoa, Tau…

Then I email some relief through, for my classes. Because there’s nothing else I can do. I don’t know how I can keep going in that place. Day after interminable day.

And then I text Kepaoa

Stressng out, i hope ur ok kepaoa. It felt like i was getting hustled. Just upset and tired and woried and felt superstresrd tht night. But just wntd to say tht im stil down for nxt wed 12th for knee.

But I never hear back. I guess he just doesn’t care anymore. No reason to care, because there’s nothing I can give him – or nothing he wants.

 

Around midday I take Tau’s ten bucks and go to Municipal, where I pick up takeout coffee and a piece of rocky road slice (like chocolate on chocolate, with a jelly layer in between and mini-marshmallows as well). I sit in the car on Rangitikei Rd (just down from that well known hangout, the cop shop) and sip my coffee, taking little bites of the sugar hit until it soothes my jangling nerves a bit.

About Kepaoa. I guess it couldn’t have stayed how it was for ever. When all it took was for one stupid little girl to arrive back, and then I don’t mean anything but a hotel and a ride. And honestly, Teri’s just damn average, in my opinion. One of those silly big ol’ bigmouth girls who rates herself way up there. Squawking and carrying on about how thug life she is. Shae was so much stylier.

I message Shae on facebook, when I get home. Here’s what I say.

Hey Shae, just mailing to say hi. I was thinking about you today and hope you are doing good. I just wanted to let you know that I miss you, and I haven’t forgotten you. You’re an amazing young woman, and I appreciate the respect and care that you always showed for me and my place, when Tau was staying with me. Thank you. I hope your life is going great, and that you’re on your way to achieving the dreams you have for yourself. I know sometimes life doesn’t always work out the way we plan it to, but i just felt like i needed to let you know those things. K, take care honey xo

Then I just lay there on ‘my’ couch, if we’re still talking about the two couches that way. I mail school to say I’m taking the day off tomorrow.

 

Far, I miss Kepaoa, and I don’t want to miss him. I want to tell myself he’s a selfish, hustling kid. And half of me buys that, too. But the other half of me remembers how he how he didn’t leave me when I cried. And so, I’m very sad right now. I’m tired of being sad, but I don’t know how to stop. And I’m obviously a total idiot, I know that. But I’m sad anyway. And if I let myself think about it for too long, I’ll just start crying all over again. So I better go set my relief, huh. Fuck school.

Tau arrives, around 3. It means a lot, because I can see he cares, and he wants to say so, only not in so many words. With Tau, actions always speak louder than words. I know he came to see if I was alright. Because the PD centre’s closer to Fitzroy than here.

Valuable

Tuesday 5 June, 2013 (contd):

Kepaoa texts again after work, to see if he can get a ride to Municipal. I’m going to the gym, so I tell him I’ll let him know when I’m done.

A while later, I message him to say I’m coming. Only this time, when he replies, he asks if I can take Teri home as well.

I say it will be ok this one time, but I’m tired, and it’s a lot of gas – and it’s getting late. I add that she has to rely on her family and not me.

 

When I get to Arahunga, they keep me waiting half an hour. Kepaoa texts to say he’s ‘tidying up’, then ‘looking for the key’… and meanwhile, I’m just sitting in the car, cold and resentful. I text him back a couple of times, to let him know I’m not happy, and even though he apologises for the delay, I still feel used.

Eventually they come out. Teri says, “Hi Miss,” just as if nothing is up. I look at her, and then at Kepaoa (who also seems quite untroubled by the situation). They bundle their stuff (couple of large bags) in the boot, and get in, casually. I feel the frustration and fatigue of the day bubble to the surface, and along with it comes all the outrage I’ve been keeping on the low. I berate them for keeping me waiting so long, telling them that if they ask someone to pick them up at this time of the evening, they should be ready. Then I tell them they’re acting like little kids, expecting the whole world to revolve around them. I’m actually yelling, I think. I don’t really know, now. I just know that Kepaoa looks at me then like he’s the one who has a right to be angry. I see it in his eyes. This just enrages me even more, and when he gets out of the car again and tells Teri to come with him, I spring out too, and growl him again, saying he shouldn’t be walking away, but apologizing to me instead. But they take their bags and go back up the drive, and leave me there.

I sit in the car, kind of shell shocked. I don’t let myself cry. I text Kepaoa, ask him to come out again. He replies just to say they’re catching the train. I say I’m sorry for yelling at him. He just says ‘dw’, and ‘apology accepted’. Then my phone runs out of charge, so I give up and go home.

 

I take a shower, then write it all down, to soothe myself I guess. I don’t know what else to say. Just that I’m so tired of thinking I’m the one who’s not allowed to have feelings, or get angry. Thinking I should put my own needs underneath the needs of others, just serving them without complaint. Because why else would anyone want to be with me. What other reason would there be?

It huurts so much, right now. And this is why. Because with Kepaoa, for a little while… I let myself imagine that I was cared about, too. Just in a way, you know. Just in a way. And it hurts to know that it isn’t so.

 

Then I start to cry. Tears trickle down my nose, and I feel ugly and disgusting, thinking that Kepaoa turned away. Told Teri to come with him, and went away. I’m not perfect. I can’t always do it, and today I couldn’t do it, and that’s enough to pull the rug out from under me, huh. It’s enough to make someone turn right around and leave me standing there in shame.

Imagined he cared about me, huh? That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.  Kepaoa cares about Teri; cares about his mum and dad, brothers and sisters. He doesn’t care about me! I’m just ‘Miss’. I got a car for rides, a warm house, food, a comfy couch. I stroke his ego, give him attention, all for free. And if I can’t do that stuff: night and day, day and night… then I got nothing of much value. Maybe nothing of value whatsoever.

And yet, I felt like maybe… I was cared for right back. How dumb is that?

 

Gonna cut my losses, round about now. For I am really, really tired. And I couldn’t be perfect. It was never a possibility. Everyone gets tired sometimes; gets angry. That day of course came. And just like that – I wasn’t valuable anymore.

Why is it that for me, it feels like there’s no second chances? No clemency, no forgiveness, or tenderness. I always think I’m only a few seconds away from the severing of ties. What’s wrong with me, that I don’t get what other people get. Love and loving kindness, you know. I can only give it, I reckon I can’t get it back, or not for long.

I should go to bed now. I’m tired, and I got school tomorrow. Cut my losses and go to bed. Illusions – just let them go, let them go.

 

Wednesday 5 June:

Last night I’m so tired that I actually sleep. So this morning I get up like normal and go to work. But my strong emotions scare me. Day job… I don’t know if I can see it like that. I wish I could, but honest truth, it mashes with my mind. I don’t know how long I can keep going with it. Or am I just going to explode and everything come pouring on out, the way it probably ought to have done a long time ago.

 

There’s a bit of ‘Noa’ business to take care of, just before lunch. He texts to say he needs a letter for WINZ, giving the dates of his enrolment at MC. His appointment is at 11:40, and so we have about 10 minutes to do this thing. I can’t access his student records (as he’s not a current student), so I write a letter, add dates – using my own records to check his EOS date – attach the school logo, and print it out at reception. Then Noa comes to school to pick it up.

When he gets out of the car, I feel a wave of longing for those days that seem to have been totally swept away, now. The days when I had a lot of compadres there. When it didn’t seem so hard, because I wasn’t alone.

Noa stands and looks around in a 360˚sweep, saying, “Man, it’s been a long time since I been here.”

“Aww, I know,” I say. “It’s not the same here anymore without you guys.”

He puts his arms round me and hugs me tight.

 

At lunch, I go round to Fitzroy. Mack barks like crazy again, slavering and lunging right across the fence towards my face. “Fuck off, Mack,” I tell him, feeling remarkably unpanicked about it for a second time.

Tau lets me in upstairs, saying, “Sorry it’s messy, Miss.”

“Man, I don’t care,” I tell him, truthfully, and he grins at me.

Scott is lying on a mattress on the floor, looking sick. He’s ok about me coming in though. Tells me they have to be out in a month. And we just talk about Housing NZ and the possible ways things could proceed. I don’t know how it works, really. But I don’t mind finding out. It gives me something to think about, I mean to take my mind off feeling so sad.

 

Because I’m sad alright – and I just feel that way all day. There are a couple of times I almost cry, thinking of how I usually take Kepaoa to training and then hit the gym myself. I work real hard, at the gym tonight. I can feel my muscles tighten up and bounce that bar. Eyes full of tears, just working out some kind of pain. Once or twice I kind of whisper, just into the air: ‘Please don’t leave.’

When I get home I’m stricken, looking across at Kepaoa’s couch. Did he honestly think I was going to just let Teri walk in and take over. Did he really think she could stay here all day and play house with him? Did he fondly imagine I’d run her all over town, take her back and forth to the city, pick up her friends from the mall? Did he think I was fine with being hustled for every little thing I could provide?

 

Nuances

Thursday 28 March, 2013:

Today seems full of nuances, I’m sizing things up all over the place.

First day back at school after being sick. Slade shows up before class, and we sit in my room and kick back, listening to music. I really like the way Slade kind of ‘presents’ songs to me, quite formally: “Here Miss, this is what I was listening to last night… it’s a mean jam aye, mean lyrics,” and he’ll bring up a lyric version, so we can read as we listen. He nods at me, with the pleasure of sharing all this. “Mean as, aye Miss.”

Bell goes, I have 11 History who are my favourite class right now, though I don’t, you know, love them or anything like that. They’re a good class though – and it touches my heart a little bit that they like history. When I give them a quiz at the start (for the do now), I see them all joyful that they know stuff. Murmuring to one another, “James Meredith… and could those be the N double A CP lawyers?”, or, “Little Rock…  was that in  1953… no, 57.” Waving their hands in the air, eager to be the one who tells me.

It’s one class where still I think that… what I say, what I offer people, has some semblance of meaning to it.

 

Not like 13 History, which comes next, after interval. Overall, there’s no vibe for me. Some of the kids are really nice, and some are quite interested. But the only one I really have a bit of fellow-feeling for is a boy called Elijah.

Elijah has recently joined the class, sans prerequisites – Marjorie has signed him up without so much as a consulting word to me. I’ve never even met him, although I think (but am not entirely sure) that I might have seen him a couple times with Tau. Anyway, he’s snapped at the beginning of his second-ever history class, today. Marjorie comes by, and pops in to say to me, “Thank you so much for agreeing to take Elijah…” I look at her, mystified. She sees my expression and together our eyes swivel to Elijah, who knows at once the game is up. It turns out he’s managed to convince Marjorie that he has already discussed the situation at length with me – and this is why she has approved his enrolment in the class.

 

He now has five minutes to persuade us of his good intentions. To my surprise, he manages to handle this with considerable diplomacy. He explains that he had wanted to drop his Math class. History (in the same option line) had occurred to him as a possible alternative. Never having taken history before, he knew he wouldn’t have the prerequisites – so he had constructed his story carefully and hoped for the best.

“So you only chose history because you wanted to get out of math?” I say, unable not to laugh.

“Ye-es,” he begins. “But, I also thought… it sounded like it might be interesting.”

“And now you’ve sat through a whole class!”

He nods.

“So – is it interesting?” I enquire.

He nods again.

“Hmm…” I weigh up the amount of sincerity in this nod. “Elijah, what’s interesting about it?”

He replies, simply, “I like it. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve been listening to everything you’re saying, Miss. About the old days… I want to know more about it; all that Maori stuff.”

This is probably the deciding point, for me. Some of the usual ‘academic’ year 13’s are such smug lil fuckers, when it comes to ‘Maori stuff’. Like there’s no possible connection in their minds between World history and NZ history. Full of self-important ennui, they just want to get through this ‘topic’ and move onto the Cold War. They don’t even know anything, and yeah, they’re only 18 and it’s understandable and everything, but they’re such lightweights, all the same. Honestly, to think of them being the future lawyers and engineers of the land.

“What do you think, Miss?” Marjorie asks me, and we raise our eyebrows at one another, with slight amusement, because he does look very sincere.

“Ohh… alright,” I decide. “I’ll keep him.”

“Thanks, Miss,” says Elijah, with a look of contrition and relief.

 

When Marjorie leaves, I tell him, “You’re lucky you had some good answers there.”

“I know, Miss,” he assures me.

“Have I seen you once or twice before… with Tau?”

“Yes,” he replies, just straightforward, and with no presumption. His eyes are very nice and clear. There’s none of that – hey Miss, we’re boys – talk.

“All good then,” I reply.

 

About 30 minutes into class, I open my desk drawer, and notice that I have new messages on my phone. So I have a quick look, as the class are walking across to the library.

Ms whats doing? You free ms?

This first text, from Kepaoa, was sent a couple of hours earlier. The next one, received around the start of class, reads like this:

Ms I wana hang myself 😦

Sorry

My heart’s pounding, because Kepaoa’s a hustler for sure, but he’s straight up about it, never manipulative. And once someone’s tried that for real, you’re never quite able to ignore the possibilities.

 

So I reply, just standing in a sheltering corner of my room, trying to calm myself:

Wea u? U ok? U plez get n touch wt me asap. Tryna ring u and u nt pickn up man. Woried as!

 Ms just been for a run clearing my head tryna dw im guds

 Whats going on? Anythng u need let me know. Straight up if u nt algd then ur more of a priority thn school to me.

 He texts a couple more times, letting me know he’s ok, but asking if I can come get him after school. And I say of course I will.

 

By the time school finishes, I’m just trying to hold on to some kind of ‘route’, I don’t know exactly what I mean by this, but that’s how it feels. Some route that we can go down, today.

Get to Montgomery Rd, and Kepaoa comes out straight away and bumps himself down into the car. He looks flustered, which isn’t a ‘Kepaoa’ look. Hyped, yes. Amped, yes – but not flustered. I see his eyes swim with tears, and I just say, “Awww,” and put my arm around him, gently rubbing his tight shoulders.

“My parents…” he manages to choke out. “I got a hiding.”

“Aye?” I ask. “For what?”

“Over money,” he tells me. “Cos I don’t earn enough, haven’t had any overtime for ages…”

“Ohyup,” I say. “But that’s not your fault.”

“My mum said I’m useless, she called me dumb,” he says, quietly. “Dumb… she said I’m stupid, useless. They’re struggling and everything, Miss. But…”

“She doesn’t mean it,” I say, soothing him. “She knows you’re far from dumb. She’s just stressed out, worried about Elroy, you know.”

“I know,” he says, and then, “Teri says I’m dumb sometimes too, I fuckin hate it when people call me dumb!” He spits out the word, and lowers his head, then goes on: “Teri said to me, “Fuck, you’re dumb. I told her I was algood at Math – you know how I told you I love Math, Miss? And she said, “Fuck no, you’re dumb.”

I say, “Well, that’s just bullshit, obviously. She must have been mad about something else.”

“She was,” he says. “It was when this chick mailed me.”

“Ohh, uh-huh,” I say, and then we just look at one another and laugh. I say, “Yeah, well there you go, then. That explains that!”

 

So we just sit there for a bit, and I see Kepaoa’s hurt pride being restored, gradually. It squeezes my heart to understand that even though he can handle himself like a man, he’s still so young, and sometimes just needs the reassurance a child needs. And right then, I’m trying to be the adult, that’s for sure.

Would you believe, he’s been riding his bike up and down the streets of Carthill, looking for someone to scrap with.

“Oh my gosh!” I say. “That’s the last thing you need.”

“Scraps up…” Kepaoa mutters.

Hell no!” I emphasize, and he laughs, saying, “Could you… take me to training, then?”

“Yeah, algood,” I tell him. “But what about your knee?”

“It’ll be ok, I don’t care if it ain’t,” he says. “I just need to spar.”

“Yeah, for sure,” I say. “Better to do that than scrap. But… I don’t know if your knee’s up to it, honest to who.”

“I’ll give it a try,” he tells me. “I really want to.”

“All good then, but if it’s sore, then stop, okay?”

“Mmm,” he says, uncertainly. “I’ll see.”

 

He goes and gets his stuff, and I take him to the gym. The road’s already blocked with Easter traffic, so I follow a circuitous route home, via the butcher in Municipal, picking up stuff to make butter chicken.

Later I’m just starting to chop up onions, when I get a text from Kepaoa, he’s ready to be picked up. I drive back, through all the traffic, and Kepaoa hops in the car, on his lame knee. Tells me it’s really sore now.

“Ohwell,” I say, with a philosophical shrug. Cos he insisted on training on it.

“I know, Miss. I felt it pop out, when I was sparring.”

“Faah, told you,” I reply. “But all good I guess. Just stick to biking for a couple days.”

“Yeah, hard.”

 

Knee aside, Kepaoa’s mood has improved considerably, I’m pleased to see. And as we come up Montgomery Rd, we’re just talking about this and that, and Kepaoa says, “Look Miss – there’s Nio.”

Sure enough, there is Nio, walking down the road. Kepaoa waves out the window, and he stops, looks, turns around and lopes back again, meeting up with us as we pull up outside Kepaoa’s house.

Kepaoa gets out and Nio jumps in, saying, “Miss!”

“Heey,” I say. It’s good to see Nio, and yet for some reason I look at him and feel alarm bells ring, I don’t know why. Just… something. An incautious look in his eye.

“Miss – wanna come see where I stay?”

“Huh?” I say. “Where’s that?”

“Around the corner. Just around the corner!” Nio crows. “That street there.” And he jabs a finger in the appropriate direction.

“Oh,” I say. “I didn’t know you were staying there.”

“Me and my missus just moved in there for a while, with her Nan,”

“Mmhmmm,” I say.

“Do you wanna come over?”

“Ummm…” I say, looking at the time. It’s 6 o’clock, and I’m not sure if an unannounced visit to Nio’s girlfriend’s grandma is gonna be quite the thing.

“Don’t you want to, Miss?” says Nio, first looking crestfallen, and then giving a supercilious tilt of his nose.

“Yeah, well I do… but…”

“But what?”

“Well, they might be busy, round this time.”

“They’re not,” Nio tells me. “I’ve just left there. Kayla’s Nan’s not even home.”

So we drive round the corner, just me and Nio. Kepaoa waves us off, and I’m pleased his day has improved, and at the same time, I just get this… funny feeling about Nio. First time ever that I’m not getting that instant shot of ‘Nio-ness’ which always feels like a breath of life, straight up. Don’t even get why. But there’s no reason to say I won’t come see Kayla.

 

I wait at the door as Nio goes in, and after a bit, out he comes with Kayla. She looks gorgeous and pregnant – 11 weeks to go. We hug, and stand talking by the door, in the sun.

Nio says, “So Miss, when are we gonna have lunch?” (Because we’ve talked about this a few times already).

“Anytime you want,” I say. “How about this weekend, if you guys are free.”

“Are you gonna shout us lunch?” Nio clucks. “We’re free if it’s your shout.”

“Aw, probably,” I tell him, but with a veiled sheathing of my claws. I’m not entirely sure I like his tone.

“You said you would, you said your shout…” he says, in what is actually quite a disagreeable voice.

“Yeah well, algood then,” I say. “But no need to sound like that.”

“I can sound however I wanna sound,” Nio persists. “I can talk to you however I wanna.”

“Oh, can you now?” I say, with a narrowing of my eyes.

“Aha yeeh Miss, I can talk how I want to you.”

“Sweet then,” I tell him. “I’ll shout Kayla lunch, you can get your own.”

“Nah, you have to buy me lunch, faar you better, Miss, cos you said it’s your shout,” says the extremely unwise Nio.

“Aye, don’t speak like that,” I tell him. “It doesn’t sound nice.”

To my left, Kayla draws the conversation back to safer themes. Pregnancy, baby shopping. And all is well again, at least outwardly. But in my heart, I feel unsoothed.

 

After a while, Nio asks me about Elroy, and rehab, and then CP is touched upon, and inevitably, Tau is mentioned.

“How’s Cluzo, how’s that fag?” Nio says – which is the kind of thing Nio always says, not even meaning it. I know that. But today, I’m already cross with him.

“Hey, shut up talking like that,” I chastise him. “He never talks about you like that.”

“Fuck him,” grumbles Nio. “Did he tell you I saved his life? Up at Municipal.”

“No – you did!’ I retort. “You told me like how many times, and Tau’s algood with you, so just leave it, Nio.”

“I don’t have to leave it,” Nio sings. “I don’t have to. I can say whatever I want about that fag.”

“Oh, Nio,” I say, suddenly weary of all this. “Isn’t it time you started being a bit more mature.”

“Yeah, show some respect please,” adds Kayla. “That’d be a start.”

“I have respect for other people,” Nio tells me. “Everyone else.”

I feel my blood beat up fast, and I just look at him. He cackles, “I respect other people, just not those CP faggots, or you either, ahahah Miss…”

“K sweet then,” I say. “Well that’s your choice. But in my opinion you should think about how you treat people, and how you sound. Because right now you don’t sound nice, at all. Talking like that to me, when I’ve always shown respect for you. And that’s the honest truth.”

Whoa!” says Kayla. “Teacher side coming out now, Miss.”

“No, it’s not the teacher side,” I tell her. “It’s the human being side. Cos I don’t need this, to be honest. Not from Nio and not from anyone.”

 

There’s a little pause. And I think – Nio isn’t gonna back off, right now. So why carry this on unnecessarily. Then I just feel flat… there’s no magical energy boost, nothing at all. Just a very rude, cocky little brat standing next to me, thinking he’s the fuckin man. So fuck him.

I say, abruptly. “I’m off.”

“Huh?” says Kayla, bewildered.

“Fuck this, I’m off. I don’t need this shit from Nio. I wouldn’t speak to a dog the way he just spoke to me.”

Nio tries to laugh this away, but I just stalk down the steps and get into the car, not even looking back.

“Wait, Miss,” I hear Kayla say. But I don’t wait. I just do a U-turn, and go home. Driving past Kepaoa’s house, I don’t even look to see if anyone’s still out front. I don’t want to ruin the buzz there, now that his day’s gotten better, at least. But as I get up to the roundabout, I feel tears just roll down my cheeks, thinking about Nio, and how it used to be, and then I just sniff and cry a little bit, all the way home.

 

Later on, Kepaoa texts me to make enquiries about the butter chicken (hook-ups). That’s what I mean about being a hustler, but straight up with it.

I pack the leftovers into a tupperware to take over, and the night ride makes me feel a bit better.

Holding on

Wednesday 14 December, 2011:

Late in the night, Kepaoa texts to see if I can come take a look at some Studylink letter or other – it says they need more information from him. I text back, asking what time he finishes course tomorrow. 4, he replies – but he doesn’t feel like going. Around midnight, I hear my phone go again: this time he asks if I could maybe get him out of course tomorrow… I could ring and tell his tutor (Amir) we were sussing something out.

Wisely, I ignore this request and go to sleep. In the morning, I reply:

nah I think you should go course today,  I’m busy til 4 anyway but I can take a look after that… anyway you better go cos at the moment Amir thinks you’re a gift from god 

Weo ths gift frm god is nt happy with gettn paid 30p thts str8 uhp bullsht!! ikan make moa standn da corna hahaha!  bt aw ok thanks, 🙂 yeahp weneva ua free ay thankyou for evrythng tho meanz a lot

I feel that just a little caution is required with Kepaoa, as much as I like and appreciate him. He’s a hustler, that’s for sure – but he’s not hustling me.

 

Friday 16 December, 2011:

Hmm… I don’t really know what I’m doing. Not that I’m doing anything, exactly. Sitting in the car under a pohutukawa tree in the carpark. I’m supposed to be meeting Kepaoa at the mall (oh for the Lord’s sake…): Studylink and all. And yes, he really does need to finish his application – obviously. But obviously – this is all getting a little bit complicated.

 

Paperwork first (at a table in the food court), then we make a quick trip out to get a bank statement, and a verified copy of his passport from a JP. So it’s all good to go.

“Miss, this means a lot,” says Kepaoa. He’s in one of his ‘emotional’ moods, things now having been completed satisfactorily, (tricky moments and all – Kepaoa being quick to take offence if he thinks people behind counters and at desks are slighting him. The minute I see the warning signs: agitated bounce and flared nostrils, I steer him aside, defusing the situation immediately. “Ok Kepaoa, just take it easy,” I say, with just a little sigh, plus a spot of indulgence. He registers, then laughs, knowing he’s falling into the same old routine, and kind of tickled that I don’t skip a beat.

 

On the way back to the mall (where he’s meeting Elroy), we just talk. Kepaoa tells me, “I’ve never known anyone like you before, Miss. When I’m in trouble or need help, you’re the first person I think of.” He adds, “Even down the line – there’s never been a teacher I’ve got on with before. Teachers have always been judgemental of me and my family. I told my sister about you, and she said: Yeah, that’s a real teacher.”

I just say, “Hey… thanks, Kepaoa,” and then, “It’s no problem to help out.”

“Miss – are you a Leo?” Kepaoa suddenly asks.

I laugh, saying, “Yup, I am!”

“I knew it!” he says. “I get on well with Leos – my mum’s one too.” He adds, frankly, “I’m a mummy’s boy,” and this cracks us up. Old patterns – can’t beat ‘em.

“Is Taurangi a Leo?” Kepaoa continues.

I laugh, because quite where this spot on accuracy is coming from I don’t know. “Yes!” I say, and Kepaoa looks triumphant. Then, “Leos, aye…” I sigh. “Tau and me are really similar in some ways; really stubborn, for a start.”

“Yeah, my mum’s real stubborn as well,” Kepaoa tells me. “My dad can never win, she just sits there quietly, and then – she comes back!”

“Yeah, I’m like that – and so’s Tau. If someone tells us to leave it, well that just makes us worse.”

Kepaoa says, “And Leos drop everything for people… I mean people they care about.”

“True that,” I agree. “We’re loyal.” Then, “What sign are you, Kepaoa?” I ask.

“Taurus,” he tells me.

Yup – that makes sense; I get that. And inwardly, I also give a little bow towards Dimario: Mon frère, mon semblable.

 

When we get back to the mall, Kepaoa just wraps his arms round me, unselfconsciously, in the car. And then off he goes to find Elroy.

 

Saturday 17 December:

Having a bad morning, so far. I don’t know why this intense panicky and helpless feeling just gets thrown up from time to time, but it does, and I can be swamped without warning. I just wake up and there it is. I feel like… oh, I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Honestly, I feel so ashamed. And I don’t know why, because there’s no difference, is there? To any other day, I mean.

If only I could let go, sometimes. It’s good to be good at holding on, when people need you to hold on. But some days I want just to have someone take care of me.

I already feel I can’t do even this much, that I’m bad at it, and that what I have to offer is so intensely flawed, and caught.

 

Kepaoa, the summer boy: “Whenever I’m in trouble, you’re the first person I think of.” How it’s easy for me to apprehend him and his hot-headedness. How it’s so simple… and then in a way it isn’t.

Morris: “I’ve got a new name for you: Wendy!”

I look mystified, and he explains: “Wendy – with the Lost Boys.”

 

It’s easy, and why is it easy? I don’t know why it’s easy for me. And it makes life so complicated at the same time.

Kepaoa’s sister (approvingly): “That’s a real teacher.”

But it’s because I’m not a ‘real teacher’ that I can even do this, go herebe admitted into this proximal zone across the battle lines that others don’t cross. It’s because I’m not a ‘real teacher’ that I’ve ever been able to help anyone, in this unforgiving place.

 

And I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I’m good at fighting. I can hold on. But I don’t know how to stop holding on when things are not so dangerous: when it’s just making dinner, or looking in the mirror, or having a life with interests and goals; friends; activities. I just hold on like a maniac.

I’m scared that people might stop caring about me when they see that I don’t know how to ‘do’ things like other people do. I wish I was warm, and alive, and unselfconscious – like Kepaoa. Instead of being aware of every little shifting thing.

Do you know, sometime I almost wish I was homeless. Nothing to prove, display, or define myself by, except for a complete lack of resources. No wonder I was the person Tau came to, over and over again, when he was in that state. I get it more than anyone imagines, I guess. I actually crave it, sometimes. To be asleep in the car, just parked up somewhere; nowhere to go. And at the end of the day, the only place I stake my claim is at the bottom, through all the gaps; past all the categories.

Equality

Thursday 17 November, 2011:

At the station, Kepaoa spots me from the overbridge and comes down. There in the car park we stand and talk a while. He tells me about his relationship with Riley, which is ‘on a break’ (Riley’s choice).

I say, “It’s like that old saying. If you love something, set it free… if it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

Kepaoa nods, saying, “Yeah, I like that, thanks Miss.” He laughs softly, adding, “You know, I like poetry and shit like that.”

Do you?”

“Yup.”

“I never would have guessed – but that’s cool, Kepaoa,” I tell him.

When we part, to my surprise Kepaoa suddenly throws his arms around me and hugs me tight. I find it rather humbling that Kepaoa, who carries himself like a man, and is a proud person, would be moved to embrace me this way.

 

Friday 18 November:

Tau tells me how much better the shed is here than the one in Fitzroy St. “It’s far warmer,” he says. “My other shed had broken windows, and the door wouldn’t close properly, cos it was all kicked in.”

“And who kicked it in, Tau?” I enquire with just a little bit of amusement, because I know the answer already.

“Me,” he says acceptingly, and then, “I couldn’t smash my dad, so I’d just smash up his stuff instead – wanted to smash all his property.” He adds, wearily, “I’m not… I’m not a good person, when I’m angry.”

“You are a good person,” is what I reply, and he just smiles, and then sighs.

 

And every day there’s like a shifting and a settling process that seems to be taking place with everything. I don’t know really how to describe it best. Sometimes I feel afraid, and then it settles again. As this shifting, moving, way of things does, in the last few weeks.

Regarding the foils on Wednesday: Tau is very well-organized, careful, and respectful about things. I guess to the untrained eye, you might not think that. But then it depends on your perspective (which is why, obviously, I won’t tell many people – I won’t even tell La-Verne). Tau has grown up around this. He’s discreet and efficient – and he has a head for business; that’s something I’ve learned about him too.

And, as usual these days, there’s a two-track playing in my head. Part of me just accepts it, and understands, right away. And then there’s a part of me that worries about what ‘other people’ might think.  Other people I care about, anyway. Like La-Verne – and Kuli.

But I just keep thinking how I knew all this before, when I made my offer. It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about it, or didn’t imagine it would be how it is. And I know, somewhere in the scheme of things, it matters – that there’s a time and a place.

 

The only person I tell, maybe surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly at all – is Kepaoa. Today he comes to see me at school, wanting help with some online paperwork for a course application. I get him a visitor’s pass, lifting what was only an informal ‘ban’: Karys had said she didn’t want him on site once seniors finished – she sent an email to ‘All Staff’ last week.

In between form filling and teaching, we talk about a lot of things. He says that he and Riley haven’t exactly broken up yet… but to all intents and purposes, that’s what’s happened. I can see his pride is hurt, and yet he suffers her decision, waiting with a patience that is rare for him.

And for some reason, I just trust Kepaoa Alesi. I honestly think my guiding principle is ‘equality’. It isn’t age, or status, or a job, or a lifestyle (real or apparent), or any of those things, which guides how I respond to people. It’s something else, a feeling of: Ohh, we are equal. And so, Kepaoa; 18 years old, and perceived by the SLT as a gang-affiliated (true), dealing (false), thug (true in one sense, not in another) – he’s someone I trust. And you got to tell someone, sometime… or it makes you crazy.

 

So I do. I tell him about what’s been happening out in the shed. This is after a more general conversation, in which Tau is mentioned. And Kepaoa is very interested in Tau, and in the fact that he’s staying with me. I can see that Kepaoa has already foregone the notion of keeping the beef going, and is willing to accept my take on the situation. And when I tell him about Tau’s ‘Peaceing it is for little bitches,’ comment, Kepaoa says, “Yeah, that’s how I feel too. Peaceing it’s for bitches… but I ain’t got beef with Cluzo.” And I just think: ok – this person I trust.

Kepaoa listens very calmly, and he says to me, “Miss – that’s your business. I won’t say a word.” He goes on, “I understand what you’re saying, and why it’s like this. I know some families, their whole life’s built around dealing. And I’ve thought of doing it myself. I understand how it is when your family can’t make enough money other ways.”

At lunch, we sit right out in the open, at a table in the café, Kepaoa displaying his visitor’s pass (on his knuckles) as strolling DP’s and Deans walk past. I’ve already emailed the SLT (politely) to notify them that Kepaoa is on site for a legitimate purpose. Yet it’s fun to be so blatant about it. Kepaoa gives them all his best calm and insouciant looks as they walk on by. “I like pissing off the DP’s,” he says, biting into his chicken burger.

 

Monday 21 November:

A successful morning with Kepaoa – the Automotive course go out of their way to smooth the enrolment process. They even bring us coffee and cookies while we sit and do the application forms. I can see Kepaoa beginning to relax, after starting the day with some trepidation. Then the tutor shows us around, and takes a great shine to Kepaoa, for his demeanor (respectful and enthusiastic), his results (Level 2 in the bag), and the fact that a teacher is there in the flesh to recommend him. Not only does he offer Kepaoa a place on the course (starting tomorrow), he also personally sorts out a work placement for him – two days a week at a mechanic’s workshop. This is actually quite unusual, as we’ve been told already that students are expected to find work experience for themselves. But the guy says to Kepaoa that he’s prepared to give him a chance.

Afterwards, he’s buzzing out. I take him home and go in to tell his mum the good news, at Kepaoa’s request –  he’s not sure she’ll believe him otherwise.