On the march

Monday 2 December, 2013:

Today’s busy from start to finish – actually it’s not finished, I have to start putting together the edits for Tuesday’s post.

And it’s project time again. There’s a kind of expo for the ‘non-choosers’, in the cafe. The teachers have to meet with Chloe and the non-choosers (there are a hundred or more) right after lunch, and tout for business.

All these kids are just standing around in the cafe, and Chloe says to them to go sign up with any of the teachers – and next minute I’m inundated with applicants. It’s that vibe of ‘doing business’, I reckon. You know, the feeling that makes you want to go into the restaurant that people are in, and not the one next door that’s empty.

Chloe comes up to me, and gives me a ‘look’. “What is it about you?” she says, kind of shaking her head and laughing. “Everyone else is standing around waiting, while all these kids are flocking to yours.”

I don’t know. But it always happens, with the non-choosers. Talk about like attracts like. It’s been that way for me at MC since the very start. I didn’t get it at all, to begin with. I used to think: Oh, why these ones? But that’s because I’d half-forgotten myself, I guess. And now it’s just obvious, to me and to anyone else with an outsider’s sensibilities.

 

Anyway, I take my suddenly assembled, but remarkably cohesive group over to the meeting room, and think of something to say and do – which again, is well-received by this extremely loose collective. Among them, I note Manasseh (bane of La-Verne’s life last year), and Mahoney, and a boy called Talal who I immediately like.

Projects are always fine, far as I’m concerned. I find them easy (with the odd spot of bother thrown in), and companionable, and fun. Even the usual logistical nightmares (rooming, for a start) don’t bother me like they normally would.

 

Wednesday 4 December:

It’s almost midnight when I hit post last night – but I do it, and I’m glad. It could be better, that’s true. But there’s something to be said for showing up, all the same.

This morning my room is still set up with exam desks. The caretakers move them out and shift my furniture in. I put a few posters back up, bring my speakers and stuff down from the office, and I’m ready for class – even have time to go make a coffee upstairs.

All day though, I feel tired and upset. At first I don’t know why. Projects are easy for me, and the kids are good, and everything goes fine. But in my heart of hearts, I feel like I’ve already started to ship out. And although I put a few of my things back in my room – I don’t unpack everything. I toy with the idea of hanging the canvases up where they’ve always been, on the wall right behind my desk. Along with a few other special things. An ‘appreciation’ certificate from Riley. One of Inia’s drawings, and one of Zion’s – and a signed tutor photo that Andre gave me (way back in the day, when tutor was cool). My Romulus and Remus photo, from the Capitoline Museum. A pencil sketch that Slade did. And in pride of place, Tau’s piece, from 2010. I still remember how he raced up the drive at Fitzroy Rd and presented it to me in the dark, saying, “It ain’t that good, but…”

But I don’t want to put these things back up. There’s no feeling of the ROR anymore. The troops have left, and I want to leave too. Might be I’m meant to be the rear guard. That’s alright with me. But I need to go while the going’s good. Everything says to me: Now.

 

The year 10’s seem like babies to me these days. Tau’s class, the year 10’s of 2009 – felt like my contemporaries, in some funny but real way. I remember the day I’d been crying, and how Riley and Laine just swept me up and fussed over me, like I was one of their girlfriends.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of crying in front of the year 10’s nowadays. It wouldn’t even be a possibility. There’s no need, and just no… stakes, anymore. I’m not playing for anything, at school. The battlefield has shifted. Even Karys Kirk hasn’t been my adversary for a long while. I don’t like her any better than I did before, but the incentives are too low for me to bother.

 

Thursday 5 December:

Day two of project. I have such big numbers that Chloe ‘loans’ me Ross for the day. It works out surprisingly well. Ross actually is quite useful (which I don’t anticipate), and better than that – he enjoys it! Well, wonders will never cease. He even asks if he can come back  tomorrow (instead of to the project he’s originally been seconded to) – I check with Chloe, and she okays it.

The kids are really nice today, really sweet. I still have that cruising and slightly detached feeling about everything, but of course I do like the class, and project in general. I think that’s what Ross picks up on. He tells me the other projects are full of ‘grouchy teachers and loud kids’. Well, of course – the two go hand in hand. Yet mine is full of calm and pleasant happiness. Projects really never make me grouchy (apart from a little bit of growling if the kids don’t pack up properly). And I’m sure they sense that, right off the bat. So everything flows.

 

Friday 6 December:

The last day of project is enjoyable. All the same, I keep thinking to myself how something’s over, with me and school. In a way, I long for it to be different, I long for the Room of Requirement. But I can sense that that particular magic’s already left the building, so to speak. It’s like a power switch that I deliberately flicked off, the day Slade finished up at school. No more need for the ROR, or at least, not here at MC.

Mahoney and Talal are my kind of people, I can tell. But even knowing that – I stay a little bit detached from that feeling. At break, Talal asks me if he can stay in, and I reply (not unkindly, just matter of factly) that ‘we’ (Ross and I) have to take our break now. Then I go upstairs and make my noodles, and sit and chat to the teachers.

 

Saturday 7 December:

Post on the blog last night… blog’s probably not the right word for it, or not yet. At the moment, it’s like a retrospective, or a ‘prequel’ maybe. I don’t really have a clue what it is. I just know, in every fiber of my being, that I have to go right ahead and do it.

There’s something else that  I’m noticing about myself – it surprises me.  I’m becoming more… what’s the right word? I’m getting more immune to those ‘bad moments’; those moments when you just want to rip the whole place down and shred it to pieces, even if you’re included in the collateral damage. I still have them, it’s not that I don’t have them anymore. Sometimes I even want them. I want the luxury of bawling my eyes out, believing that everything’s all over.

Because I’m definitely on my own right now. Got not a single one of my campaninos with me, and I don’t know when, even if they’ll be back.

All the same, I’m  working on the edits and the blog – almost like it’s no big deal. Sometimes I stop and look at myself and think: Huh?  Cos the old me would have just cried my eyes out and then gone back to the start of the same circuit. Trying to whip myself out of that loop, and not being able to do it. Letting shame crush me, so that I just keep on limping around and around, tethered to one spot.

Ohh, I still have lots of bad moments. Moments where I think I’m stupid for even trying. When I believe I’m brittle, and hollow and ugly. But somehow I just don’t ‘believe’ it in the same way I used to. I know I’m warm and alive – I can feel it. And I guess feeling it is the secret. It gets you out of that bad place. It gets you moving, and eating, and writing, and a whole lot of other things. It gets you on the march – even if you don’t know quite where you’re going yet.

 

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What they want to see

Saturday 16 March, 2013:

First time in a while that I’ve been able to sit down and write. Kepaoa’s been here every night since Wednesday, and we haven’t gone to sleep until way after midnight. He’s got heaps on his mind, heaps of stuff.

This morning he’s making noodles; toaster’s going up and down. We’re just talking about nothing much. Despite all the serious stuff going on (more of which later). I tell him I’ll take him home, after breakfast. His mum’s been texting – she needs his ATM card to go get the shopping.

And a car pulls up. I put my head out the french doors. It’s Tau, and two other boys. I don’t know them – older boys – maybe older than Tau. One of them’s driving. And Tau’s unlocking the shed. He directs a “Hey Miss…” my way, but doesn’t make any introductions. He looks like he’s been drinking for a while already.

My heart sinks. Not because Tau is drinking, exactly, but because… I don’t know. The fact that I have to go check it out. That Tau doesn’t think to ask if; or introduce… I just feel like – oh, what the fuck? Because those boys aren’t gonna care about me, honest truth. They probably don’t care about Tau either, come to that. Or not really.

 

But yeah, there they are. I put my head back inside, and Kepaoa raises his eyebrows, saying, “Who is it?”

“Tau and some boys.”

“They drinking?”

I nod.

“What the fuck?” says Kepaoa, quietly. He comes out to the deck with me and stands looking over towards the sleepout. He’s so quiet, dignified and humble. Blue rag tied round his head and all that. But I know Kepaoa’s got my back. I won’t forget it.

He just says to me, “Um, Miss… I don’t wanna go yet. I’ll stay a while.”

“Aye, nah it’s ok,” I tell him. “They’ll be alright – and I’ll be fine.”

“Nah Miss please, I’ll just stick round awhile.”

So I nod. Inwardly I’m happy about it. I can see Kepaoa wants me to know I’m being protected.

 

When Tau comes in, he and Kepaoa speak in a friendly way, but Kepaoa makes it clear – without a single word needing to be said on the subject – that he is looking out for me.

And Tau tells me, “There’s only two boys here, Miss. We’ll won’t be here long.”

“You gonna have a nice quiet day though, huh?” I ask.

“Straight up,” Tau assures me.

Tau goes back out to the shed, and Kepaoa appraises the situation. “Who are those niggas?” he asks me.

“I don’t know,” I reply.

“They should come introduce themselves… not just act like they own the place,” huffs Kepaoa.

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But Tau isn’t thinking right now, that’s for sure.”

“Liquored up,” says Kepaoa, with a sigh. “It’s like he don’t think straight anymore. He didn’t used to be like that, aye Miss.”

“Nah… he always used to tell me he’d only bring the main boys over, the ones I know, the ones I can trust. He was good like that. And I was alright with it, mostly anyway.”

“Faar, he’s changed a bit…” says Kepaoa. “I know you care about him a lot Miss. But he shouldn’t be bringing them to drink at your house like this.”

I shrug, saying, “I know. But he says they’re going soon.”

“Well, I’m gonna stay for a while anyway,” says Kepaoa, monitoring the situation with calm eyes. Then he just puts his arms round me and hugs me tight.

 

Later we go out there to the sleepout – Kepaoa just accompanies me out like a friend. Shakes hands with Tau’s boys. Graciously accepts compliments on his shoes (blue Air Max). Politely declines the offer of a can. Looks at them respectfully, but at the same time his expression tells them that he’s watching them, no question about it.

After that, I’m sure there’ll be no trouble and I eventually persuade Kepaoa to go home. By the time I get back from Carthill, there are two more boys at mine. Little Michael (no real problems there, except that he’s still, technically, a student at MC). And another boy I’ve seen around school; he’s gotta be about 15. His mates are the lil kids from 9 Social last year. I just look at him and felt the irritation rise up in my chest. I mean, he’s a nice boy, I got no problems with him. And I don’t see a can in his hand… but the others are drinking, and that’s enough to set off alarm bells in my mind. Little kids at school, next minute they’ll be talking shit about things they know nothing about. And that’s all I need.

So I just say, casually to Tau, “Hey Tau… can I talk to you for a minute? Is that ok?”

One of the older boys mimics my tone: “Tau…” and then laughs, saying, “Off you go; enjoy that!” The others laugh as well.

“Shut up eggs,” I say, generally.

 

On the deck, I tell Tau, “I thought you said there weren’t gonna be any more boys coming over.”

“It’s just Cruz and little Michael…” begins Tau.

“Yeah well I don’t care – Cruz’s friends are younger than Leroi, I don’t need him over here with you guys.”

“He’s not a snitch, he’s CP…” Tau tries placating me, but I won’t hear of it.

“I don’t care,” I say again. “That’s not the point – you shouldn’t be putting me in this position. And you ought to be using your brains, the way you used to!”

“Okay, we’ll be going then,” Tau says, shortly but without rancour. He goes back to the shed, and I hear them start to pack up. After a little while, the car leaves. And that’s that.

I’m mildly pissed off that Tau doesn’t even acknowledge I have a point. Not that I really expect him to. But all the same. I text him, just once. Saying – I’m always here for you, but that means you, not random people.

Never hear back, of course.

 

By now Kepaoa is texting me, too: Whea they at nw ms?

They gone idk where. Bt they only left cos tau knew I wasnt happy bwt it. I’m always there for him no matter what. Bt that doesn’t include every random cp thinkn its their hangout pad. Plus when i askd tau to come talk to me the older ones were just laughing like it was funny.

Aye ms??!! Man should just just smakd them like u was thea mama! Not cool man disrespecting you like that fucks sake shit!

Ohwel, idc they gone now. I’m glad u were here though, thanks for that, i know they respect  u an wil be scared to cause trouble. I just wish tau would use his brains again, the way he used to. He doesnt even know they’re just using him. If the time came those randoms wouldnt hav his back.

 Yeah hardout ms. Yea that’s alguds ms gotchur back big time ms! Yeah ms that’s the one yea before he use to ay too muj licor..

 

We just text back and forth a few more times, then I go take a shower, and make a sandwich. I still feel upset with Tau, though I know he’s not doing this stuff on purpose, he’s just not thinking straight. But at the end of the day, I can’t put myself in that situation – I just can’t. I love Tau, but I’m not going to let myself get walked all over, not by him, and certainly not by people who don’t even know me… who just see what they want to see, and who think I’m soft. I’m not soft: I love who I love, and I trust who I trust, and everyone else can sort it out their own ways.

 

Wheels that turn wheels

Friday 8 March, 2013:

I get up and go to school tired. I’m so frickin tired. Last night I couldn’t even think about sleeping. I stayed up till 3, and listened to music: the same songs, over and over. Just doing shit on the laptop… I don’t know.

 

First I pick up Tau for PD. Over at Fitzroy, I tell him and Sheree what happened last night (of course I leave out the information Slade disclosed).

Sheree just keeps hugging me and stroking me, saying, “Fuck, you should have sent her round here, I would have been like – fuuuck, who the fuck are you, bitch?”

“Yeah, I know,” I say, unable to keep a straight face. “That’s why I didn’t tell her where the boys lived – she wanted to know!”

“Fuckin did she just?” snorts Sheree.

“Well you can’t really blame her,” I say, with a sigh. “I mean, how it must’ve looked when she came in, huh.”

Sheree’s eyes shine with amusement, and then we both start laughing. “Oh… Miss,” she says fervently. “Yeah I know, I know… you can’t blame the poor bitch for thinking the worst.”

 

Slade makes it to school too – I’m kind of amazed Lois even lets him, today – and we talk about what happened. He tells me she usually acts first, asks questions later. Last night, he was thinking – I’m gonna have to hit aunty, I don’t want to hit her unless I have to. He was freaking out at the idea. But, “I wouldn’t have let her hit you, Miss,” he assures me. “I was just trying to make my brain go sober, as fast as I could.”

And when we go over things some more, we see that despite everything; despite the way it looked – the atmosphere didn’t match what Lois’s own eyes told her. And maybe that’s why she left it: as much as she wanted to believe the worst, she didn’t sense that kind of energy in the room. Somehow at the time, I felt protected by that too. Knowing that the energy was alright. So I wasn’t scared of her, even though maybe I should have been.

I think, just to myself, that obviously I can’t leave school right now, when Slade needs to know he’s not all alone. What he told me last night… man, I can’t forget it. I’ve never seen him like that before. Never seen him so distraught and scared.So I might as well try to handle this place as best I can.

You could say that it isn’t even about me. And that’s true. But I know he needs someone to ride on the flank, right now. And I don’t care what anyone thinks or doesn’t think. It’s the only reason I’m at school. You and me. Me and you. And by that, I mean all my compadres who’ve been there, over the years.

After school, I take Slade home and venture in with him to see Lois – but she’s not there. So I just ask him to let her know I came by.

 

Saturday 9 March:

Having one of those long (almost two hours) text conversates with Kepaoa, while making the butter chicken and rice. Oh, Kepaoa. He can go from kickback to hyped up in the space of one text, and then back again by the next. And I want to stay in beside him, want to see him calm and in control, want to help keep him steady – all that’s true. And I do my best. But I think, why it works… I mean, why I maybe can help him a little bit, is because in my secret heart, I get it; I get all of it. And maybe that’s what I’m meant to do. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what it entails. To be the way I am.

I think people have it all wrong, talking about how you should be ‘objective’. I couldn’t be objective if I tried. The only thing that’s ever worked for me at all, is to draw in close and keep beside people. And so I kind of see why I have to be careful, with drugs and alcohol. Because there are times I have to just pitch myself down as far as I can go. But I know, at the end of the day, I have to ride back up again. I have to go down and come back. I can’t just go down.

It’s taken me my whole life so far to realize this. And now I’m starting to understand the ‘why’ of it, too.

That thing, you know. “That thing” – I used to search for it, high and low. But for the first time, I think I’m actually doing it. And because of this, it’s like any addictive tendencies have… not ‘gone’, exactly. But I can sit at one remove from them. Now I understand where they’re meant to articulate with the world. Like cogs that push up on one another; wheels that turn wheels. I get it now. And so I feel kind of… safe. Despite kickin it with some of the most bugged out gentlemen I’ve ever met.

 

Monday 11 March:

We go back to get a box of paint today. Me, Slade, Tau… and this time Zion comes as well.

It’s really good to see Zion. There’s a long story there, about school and its mendacious ways. Not that I’m surprised by any of it. He tells me he’s been taking antibiotics, and his feet are slowly getting better. And as for school, pfft!  But more about that later.

I’m happy Tau wants to come along, too. I haven’t been sure he would. It always touches my heart so much that despite everything, he still likes and welcomes these little things: jaunts in the car, canvases to paint.

Slade and Zion are glad to see one another. They sit in the back and draw on Slade’s school books, resuming that old familiarity within minutes. Tau and I talk in the front; Tau directing me through intersections and round corners – he knows my foibles so well.

 

The trip there isn’t stressful at all. It’s on the way back that I start to feel a bit fussed about things. Kepaoa texts, wanting to know if he can get a ride to training. I tell him we’re in the city and could be a while getting back – it’s right in the middle of rush hour by now. But he says that’s all good; he’ll wait for me. He doesn’t exactly say so, but I pick up that his day hasn’t turned out too great.

The motorway is packed, so we drive across town. Slade and Zion are pretty much oblivious to the traffic; they’re just enjoying their afternoon out. Tau is more sensitive to it, partly because he can see that it’s starting to frustrate me. He maintains a weather eye on me, and on the road ahead. Kepaoa keeps on texting me, and I keep replying (while driving – and to be honest without a qualm).

It’s after 6 now, and I ask Slade if his aunty would be alright with us picking up Kepaoa before dropping him home. He replies, rather airily, that he’s got it all sorted. I half believe him, but it’s getting late, so I feel duty bound to check in all the same. But Slade is grumpy at my continuing to mention it in front of the boys. I can see this, and yet I know I have to press on with it.

By now we’ve diverted through Peak Rd (this is Tau’s good idea: “Might as well get off here..” he says with subtle good timing, as I near the intersection).

“Here, take my phone and ring her,” I say to Slade, trying to pass it over.

“No Miss, it’s algood – I told you,” grumbles Slade.

“Nah, nah… we could still be ages, getting to Carthill, and then we have to go all the way back to the gym.”

“It’s algood,” he insists.

“Oh, just ring her, would you,” I mutter at him.

“Nah…”

“Bloody hell, then text her, hurry up!” I growl, and he takes the phone, with a lot of moaning and groaning. As he texts, I add, “And don’t pretend to be me, either.”

“I’m not,” Slade retorts, and the triple stressors of arguing with him, trying to negotiate the rush hour traffic on Peak Rd, and worrying about Kepaoa, increase that slightly chaotic feeling in my brain. When Slade gives me the phone back, I suspiciously check the outbox (making him crosser), and at the same time, both Kepaoa and Lois text me. I read Lois’s text, which says something like: “That’s a bit late, and I haven’t sorted it out with her yet, so you should have cleared it with me before now.” I exclaim an irritated “See!” to Slade, reading it out to him whilst also trying to compose a reply to Kepaoa. My mind is going round in circles, and I take my eyes off the road, without even meaning to. Then I hear Tau say urgently, “Miss, stop!” and I brake hard, the tyres squeal – and I stop just millimetres short of whacking into the car ahead of me.

 

“Faar, careful Miss,” says Zion, spluttering with laughter. He isn’t perturbed at all, which is kind of a good thing. Tau also just shakes his head at me, chuckling. I’m the cross one, and mutter again at Slade, “See what happens… when you give me unnecessary stress.” He goes quiet, and I can tell he is ruminating on things.

We pick up Kepaoa – who also seems to be ruminating on things, although he doesn’t say what they are. He shakes everyone’s hand, then sits quietly all the way to training, where we drop him off. His quiet and humble manner seems to subdue my other passengers, too. No-one even really protests when I say that we can’t paint tonight; at least not until I’ve seen Lois – and maybe not at all.

When we reach Slade’s place, I leave Zion and Tau in the car, and accompany him indoors (not really against his will, though he is still grumpy with me).

I’m definitely apprehensive though, that’s for sure. And when Lois comes into the lounge, and sits down beside me on the couch, the first thing she says is, “I’m still not sure how I feel about you.”

“Fair enough,” I tell her – in fact her honesty makes me feel a bit calmer. She looks me in the face, searchingly, and I return her gaze.

Slade stays in the kitchen to begin with, while Lois and I talk.

 

She begins pretty frankly: “I’m not sure why I didn’t just hit you first, and ask questions later – that’s my usual style.”

“I’m not sure why you didn’t, either,” I say, and I get that calm feeling again. I just think – oh well, we’ll either sort it out or we won’t.

For some reason, my comment seems to meet with Lois’s approval, maybe because I’m not trying to redirect the conversation. She even half-smiles at me. So I just say, “I’ve thought about that, too – I’ve thought about it a lot. And the only thing I can think of is that what you saw when you came in – cos I can see what it must have looked like – didn’t match the feeling in the room.” I see Lois nod her head, and so I continue, “Maybe you stopped because you could feel that the… the vibe was alright, despite what you were thinking at the time.”

Lois nods again, and says, “You’re right. It was like something just stopped me from smacking you. To be honest, I was surprised at myself for holding back.”

“I was surprised, too,” I tell her, and then, again, “I can see how it must have looked.”

 

Then we talk about the events of Thursday night. At some point, Slade comes in from the kitchen, and sits quietly listening. And by the end of our conversation, Lois says, with great generosity, “I’m glad you came to see me – that you had the guts to come round and talk face to face. Slade told me you came over on Friday as well.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t just leave it how it was,” I say. “That’s not my way.”

“It’s not my way either,” says Lois. “And now that I’ve met you, and we’ve talked about it – I’m ok. I’m happy for Slade to go painting again. I’m satisfied with what we’ve said.”

“See – I told you, aunty,” says Slade. “I told you you would be.”

 

Something to do

Monday 5 November, 2012:

11 Social are writing practice essays, and Slade’s quite happy to just draw, sitting at the front table and chatting to me. About this and that – and showing no inclination to gap early. In fact, I think he just likes having a little korero.

At one point, he looks through all the graff stuff I’ve kept since it started (all the drafts, bits and pieces from everyone) “Whose is this, Miss?” he asks, scoffing at most of them. He likes Inia’s NOISE (even though it’s ‘old school’) but turns up his nose at all Andre’s RAGE hits. Then HZRD gets a couple of sneers as well, and I bat Slade with a piece of paper, as he sidesteps me, cackling, “Amo…” But wisely, Tau’s efforts don’t come in for criticism. “Nah, that’s awgud,” Slade says, looking at a throwaway CLUZO piece, just dashed off with a biro.  I know he’s choosing to be kind for my sake, and it touches my heart very much.

I think Slade knows I can’t be teased about Tau, or not really. There’s something sensitive about Slade, and he understands that it would hurt me a little bit. Perhaps he responds to that vulnerability because he feels that way about certain things, too. He tells me that he doesn’t go round to Zion’s in the weekend: “I just stay at my pad… and get fucked off with my fuckin cousin,” he says.

“Hey, you should go hang out with Quest; he’s just up the road,” I say, matter of factly.

“Yeah, I know… but he might just want to kick it with the CP boys.” Slade shrugs, and I see that he suffers a little bit, because of this.

“Nah, nah, Zion’s not like that,” I say, meaning it. “You know what he’s like; he’s a bit shy, that’s all. He’s a humble guy.”

“Yeah, he’s awguds – but the boys might just be like, who’s this? Might be like, what’s he doing here?”

“They won’t be like that,” I say. “They’ll be all good with you, honest, they’re not like that at all. Well, not the ones I know – the main ones.”

 

I tell Slade about how Zion mentioned starting his own crew. When I get to the part where he said, “CP’s useless sometimes,” Slade laughs, nodding. I go on, saying how I asked Zion who’d all be in his crew. And his reply: Maybe just me and Rook.

“Far yeah, that’d be mean as,” Slade says, with a kind of gratitude at both the story and the telling of it. “When did he tell you that, Miss. Where was I?”

“Um… it was before school, on Thursday, or maybe Friday…” I try to remember. “Zion just came in here, and we were talking – you weren’t at school yet.”

“Oh,” he says, happily. He’s sitting on the bean bag now, round the corner behind my desk. He kicks his legs out, settles back in contentment, to pore over the graff drafts. And I can’t help wishing that it could stay like this, that the long and potentially troublesome holidays weren’t just round the corner.

 

I spend a bit of time with my class and their essays, then come back to Slade, and we just talk some more, and he tells me, “I hope I don’t get into trouble in the holidays.”

“I hope so too,” I say, very honestly.

“It’s too long… and there’s nothing to do except get into trouble, everything gets me into trouble.”

“Mmhmmm,” I nod, thinking about it a bit. I say, “Except painting.“

“Yeah,” Slade says. “When I paint, it’s all good. Takes my mind off everything else. You know, Miss, I can pass up stoneys and alkies and everything, for painting.”

“I know,” I say. “I know you can.” I feel very tender towards him.

“Miss?” he says. “Could we… get paint? I’ll buy it – I’ll buy a box?” He sounds so hopeful and I just nod and say, “Nahh, we will, ok? We’ll go, with Zion. Into the city, k?”

“Yip,” he says. “Awguds” Then, “When can we go?”

“Any time you want.”

“This week?”

“Ok, sure thing,” I say. “Let’s find out when Quest can come, and we’ll go.”

Then, “Slade,” I say. “I just don’t want you guys to lose the plot, in the holidays, ok?” I laugh, and so does he, but I’m kind of serious. I sigh, saying, “I know school’s dumb sometimes… but at least it gives you something to do, aye.”

“Hard,” he says, with feeling.

 

Tuesday 6 November:

Today’s alright, it’s busy. Have to pack up my room, and teach at the same time. I’m about to get the year 9’s to help me shift stuff upstairs, then Slade strays past, looking over his shoulder hopefully. He’s out of English because, as he tells me: ‘Everyone’ is wagging, there’s ‘no-one’ there.

“Ok, ok…” I say, enlisting his help to cart boxes upstairs to the Faculty office.

9 Social are pretty much left to their own devices, as we make trip after trip to the Lundia shelves. They work from the books, and are actually quite good, causing Slade to remark: “They’re much better than most of the other year 9 classes – those sookies.”

“Yeah, they’re far better,” I agree.

A few other kids are are out there wagging. When they see Slade carrying my folders, one of them says “Teacher’s pet…” as he goes by.

“Alday,” he replies, without the slightest hesitation. He adds, “Eaa, shame…” and curls his lip at her.

 

 

The real stuff

Friday 26 October, 2012:

In the evening, I pick up Kepaoa from the gym. He’s texting me, saying ‘Kum up ms’. When I arrive, he’s in the middle of sparring practice: drenched with sweat; belt and headgear on; mouth guard constricting his tongue. He throws himself onto the ropes for a second and smiles, rolling his eyes in the direction of his sparring partner.

Between rounds, he lounges by my chair, flashing me grins and exaggerating animosity towards his opponent with facials and feigned punches. And I feed off the big male aura of the whole place. I know, it’s dumb. Dumb as they come. But there’s a masculine side to me, and I tiptoe round that feeling – it means both a lot, and nothing at all. It is what it is. Still, being there, unashamed, really makes me happy, today.

Leaving the gym, we make a detour to pick up Elroy, then off we go. To a house in Diplomat Place – near Municipal – to retrieve Kepaoa’s speakers. Some associate of Kepaoa’s bought them on tick for $100, but he hasn’t paid off a cent so far, and Kepaoa wants them back.

 

Elroy is blued up, stoned out of his mind, and sweetly happy. He sits in the car and talks to me, while Kepaoa goes in. We can hear a band practising in the garage. After a while Kepaoa returns, looking pissed off: the guy’s not there. He tsks a bit, and snorts through his nostrils, but lets himself be carried off in the car, all the same. We drop Elroy off on the way home (outside a primary school, of all places).

“What are you gonna do now?” I ask Elroy.

“Have a wander round,“ is the reply.

“Aye? At the school?”

“Yeah, and then I’ll be a cop, look Miss -” Elroy pulls a police torch from his clothing, and grins.

“Oh my goodness,” I tell him. “You just be careful, walking around all night like this. The real cops might have something to say to you.”

“I’ll be awgud,” he tells me, without the slightest apprehension, and hops out of the car. Even Kepaoa is able to laugh, at the sight of Elroy’s skinny and lackadaisical figure disappearing into the shrubbery. We wave at him, and he raises one hand, gently.

Then we drive on to Carthill.

 

As we near Montgomery Rd, Kepaoa begins to ruminate on the events at Diplomat Place. He lets out a couple of agitated huffs, and his cheek twitches. When we pull up outside his house, he just stays in his seat, and mutters, “Miss, I’m getting hyped as.”

“Yeah, I know,” I sigh.

“Sorry Miss… but I’m just thinking about my speakers. Dodging me, that little faggot. Feel like going back there and fucking them all up.”

“Nah… nah,” I rebuke him, but calmly. “Just leave it tonight. Talk to him tomorrow.”

“Fuckit, I bet he was there…”

“Yeah, well there’s no point in making trouble until you know for sure.”

“I’m not starting it,” Kepaoa tells me. “He’s the one making trouble – that fuckin fag started it, by not paying me. And if he can’t pay me, he should give back the stuff. Not dodge me.”

“I’m just saying – wait till you talk to him tomorrow,” I persist.

“Fuck, why did he say he was gonna be home, then?” asks Kepaoa, with a rhetorical flourish in his tone.

I answer anyway. “I dunno, it’s like… you could say you were gonna be home tonight too, and then look: you’re out for a bit,” I say. I do think Kepaoa has a point, but I’m trying to calm him down, more than anything else.

“Yeah, you’re right, you’re right…” Kepaoa considers this, and then sighs. “But I’m amped now, Miss. I wanna take my brother’s car and go round there. Take my gatt…” He draws in his breath, saying, “They don’t know what they’re in for.” As he breathes out again, he shakes his head, sorrowfully.

 

I try a different tack. “But there’s no point in you getting in trouble – not if you wanna go see Teri,” (this is his plan, divulged to me the other day)

Kepaoa sees the sense of this, but there is an internal struggle going on, all the same. “I know, but… right now I don’t care, I don’t give a fuck, I’m amped, Miss…” He makes a fist with his right hand, and bumps it against the dashboard, lightly but over and over. The muscles in his arm pump up hard, and he gives that little hyped up laugh.

“Hey,” I say, and he turns towards me, saying, ‘Sooorry Miss,” But his eyes are kind of swollen and shiny.

“Maan, look like you’re on crack,” I tell him. “Calm down aye.”

“I can’t… I can’t…” he mutters. “Sorry Miss, it’s too late. Gonna go round there.”

“Shit,” I say, aware that he’s battling with his instincts and possibly going to lose. “If you do go, you better take Paki with you.”

“Maybe…” he admits. He reaches forward and hugs me, holding me close the way a boxer holds his opponent. “Aw, Miss… I’m sorry aye,”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just worried,” I say. My voice comes out quiet, and I realise I’m tired. And that there’s nothing I can do; I have to go home.

 

When I get home, Kepaoa texts. Tells me he’s sorry, he knows I’m worried: ‘ms I could c it ay,’  he writes. ‘I wil try mis.’

And try he does. My phone keeps on beeping: Kepaoa kindly enquiring how my marking is going… what I’m munching on.

But as the night wears on, his communiques change, and begin to contain the usual signifiers: ‘Fcuk!’, ‘Ampd az’, ‘Gota take tha ka, fucck dem uhp’. Though, ‘Sory mis,’ he adds, every now and then.

Things exhaust me. My last text reads, simply:

😦

 And it’s then that I lay down on the couch and go to sleep, holding my phone.

 

Saturday 27 October:

I text just once, to ask if things are alright. I don’t hear back. I try to put it out of my mind.

And then late in the afternoon, I get a reply:

‘Yeap im alryt ms thanks, ha.’

Turned out he didn’t go back round there last night at all. He ‘couldn’t be bothered’, he says; ended up talking to Teri instead. I feel so relieved, and pissed off, and tired – all rolled into one. Relieved that he’s ok, and pissed off that he didn’t tell me any of this last night… even today would have done. And tired out, just plain tired.

I send back one more text. It reads:

‘K wel thts good thn. Yup. Ok tc.’

 

Rest of the day, I just piss around, feeling like I’m half falling asleep. The whole time I’m fucked off at myself, and at Kepaoa. I think how I have to take a step back from this whole thing. I really care about him, but I can’t squander my energy like this.

And you know, last night, when Kepaoa was all hyped up, hissing and bobbing; eyes swollen and glazed. Well… I felt so tired that I kind of let it happen, if you get what I mean. I don’t mean I caused it, or even that I aided it in any way. What I mean, is that I let it run. That’s all. I let it run, I didn’t try stop it. I didn’t try to counter it with lightness, or buoyancy – the way that sometimes you can do, when you’re feeling strong. And because I let it just go past me, I actually ‘saw’ it as well. And… even though I was as worried as fuck, I felt jolted towards it, drawn in. That’s something that I’m aware of in myself, to be honest. Aw, it isn’t a bad thing to say. I just know I have to be respectful of that feeling, and draw a line somewhere with it. So, yup.

 

Sunday 28 October:

I cry my eyes out this morning, thinking I’m waiting for the real stuff. But maybe that’s not even true. Maybe the real stuff’s all around me, and I already have access to what I think I’m searching for (this reminds me of a story I read once… I’m trying to remember it now.)

I wish I could be bold; turn this sad, empty feeling on its head and see the real stuff everywhere. Think that way. Actually think that way. I know it’s possible. I feel like I’m sooo close to getting it. Like just one little click’s gonna keep me in the zone, instead of crying and imagining I’m miles away.

 

Slade and I go get the last five colours for the new canvas. It’s a fun trip – Slade’s never been into the city before. In fact: “I thought this was the city…” he says, in mystified tones, as we drive past the Municipal turn off.

“No – we’re going all the way into the city,” I told him. “Downtown.”

“Ohh, is that with like the Sky Tower and everything!” he exclaims.

“Yeah, the Sky Tower.”

“Ohhh – I’ve never been there before!” he replies, with happiness. He stretches out in his seat, rolling a ciggie, which he has obtained permission to smoke.

 

“This is buzzy!” says Slade, as we turn into High St. “Faar, this is buzzy shit. It’s like being in another country.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think sometimes too,” I say.

 

When we drive back to Municipal, it feels like home – the nice smell of weed, drifting in from two guys walking past; the sausage roll which we eat in the car. I come back home and make a coffee. And that’s it, the day so far.

 

 

 

What I convey

Monday 15 October, 2012:

Slade arrives at school this morning; no sleep, having just returned from down the line. He looks kind of wired, flustered, and ruffled. Unable to handle the day without ciggies, he pops in and out to the toilets, at one stage stashing his rollies and filters in my desk drawer. He’s also stolen a phone (a flash one), and paces around for ages, in a quandary about whether to confess this to me. Finally he does, and brings his hand forth to reveal it, furtively.

 

“Oh…” is the only comment I make.

“I was worried, in case you were gonna get mad about it,” Slade says, in a relieved way.

“No-oo,” I tell him. “Not mad. Just… if it had been someone’s I know, then I would have wanted you to give it back.”

“I just found it on the floor, he says. “But it’s been hacked now, I got it wiped, everything gone. See?“ He shows me the screen.

“Aye, already?” I asks. “Who did that?”

“The bro Mitchell.”

Once again, I feel myself largely unmoved by minor property theft. It doesn’t seem like a personal thing, to me. I just think – oh well, not much I can do now. If I’d seen him take it, I might say differently. At least a ‘put it back’, I reckon. But what’s done is done.

 

After lunch, when I had 11 Social, Slade comes flying along, bearing a piece of paper. He seems intent on getting into my room before the end of the bell, as if the door might snap shut and bar him entry.

“Miss!” he says, sliding to the base. “Can I come in? I have to do one more picture for my art board.”

“Yeah, come on,” I tell him, knowing the board is due, probably overdue. “May as well do it, then. Don’t worry, I’ll let Matua know you’re here.”

 

He sits calmly and works. I can see he’s having a hard day, today. Zion’s not at school, and Slade is kind of on his own with it. And he just needs a bit of TLC, that’s what I think. Sometimes you need to ignore the rules, and that’s just the way it is. I don’t care what Karys thinks about ‘professional boundaries’. Sometimes you need to be a human being first… all the rest comes second to that. Brothers and sisters, that’s how it is. And so I don’t push Slade to go to class, I just let him stay with me for the afternoon.

Every now and then, I can see that he’s listening to the class. He turns and looks on, interestedly, when the kids answer questions. It seems to intrigue him, that they’re attentive, and discussing things, and trying to understand. And I remember how I told Slade one time, that he didn’t have to be anyone different at school, he could do good just exactly the way he is right now. Well, maybe he sees that with me today as well. I mean by that that I do things my own way. Lock the ciggies in my drawer, pretty much ignore the stolen phone thing, and then let Slade wag his class to boot. But it doesn’t mean I’m just all kickback, either. Wherever it’s possible (and sometimes it’s just not), I mind about what I convey to people. So it matters to me, that 11 Social learn something today. But it doesn’t mean I stop caring about Slade, either. I’m just as much with him as I am with them. And I think he kind of realises that. That I try to be who I say I am. And it’s not simple. It sure ain’t simple… and I wish Karys would just ease up.

 

Tuesday 16 October:

9 Social are so lovable, today. I feel like just stroking their heads, as I go round. Not that I do, of course. But even the silly ones. AJ, who is furiously rubbing his pencil on the side of the desk, trying to start a fire (something he’s seen on the Discovery channel). “Give us your hand for a sec, Miss,” he says, and I do. He holds the pencil to my fingers – it’s warm.

“AJ, how hot will it get?” I ask, laughing.

“Not that hot…” he surmises. “But if you do it for ages and ages, it might burn.”

 

Zion and Slade are in straight away at break. Slade is worried about his last picture for the art board. He didn’t finish it last night; he didn’t have enough paint. And so he hasn’t handed it in, and it was due first thing this morning.

“Ohwell,” says Slade, sitting down and looking troubled, nonetheless.

“Aw, no Slade – why don’t you just go and see the teacher? See if you can do it now.”

“Nahhh,” he says. “Probably just won’t do it… it’s too late, I think. I had to give it her before school.”

“Have you got art today?” I ask.

“No.” He sighs, and fidgets. I can see it bothers him, and that he really wants to do it.

“So, how come you don’t go and ask her?” I persist. “What have you got next?”

“PE,” he tells me.

“But that’d be ok – I’m sure Mr Ah Chee would let you out of class to finish off your art, if you needed to.”

“He might,” admits Slade. “But nah,”

“Just go see, then,”

“I don’t want to; I’m sure my Art teacher’s gonna say it’s too late.” He sighs again, adding, “She’ll say I can’t.”

“Slade?” I say, “Shall email her to check? Cos man, what a waste, if you don’t get those 12 credits.”

“I know, Miss,” he agrees, very mournfully.

“So? Do you want me to email her?”

“Yeah,” he says, with a tiny bit of hope (Hallelujah!)

 

I also email Paul Ah Chee, to see if Slade can be out of class next block. ‘Sweet!’ Paul replies, straight away.

But Narelle, Slade’s Art teacher doesn’t reply just yet.

“Ohwell,” Slade shrugs.

Not ‘ohwell’,” I scold, making him laugh just a little bit. “Come on, the bell’s gonna go soon – go over and check it out.”

“Nah – I hate going over there,” he says. “I think I’ll just have to leave it.” He sighs and looks perturbed, and hangs his head.

“K then,” I say. “Shall we go over, see if we can find her.”

To my great surprise, Slade agrees to this readily. Which is a slight inconvenience, because I have a class next. But no matter. This is actually more important.

 

Over to the Art department we go. The bell’s going now, and I have to get back to my class, but at least it’s 13 History, who can at least wait with relative patience and without causing mayhem in the block.

Upstairs in the Art office, there they all are. Having their coffee, just as I thought. Slade stands at the door, and watches me as I go in. Narelle looks up, and I say, “Hi, sorry for interrupting you – I’ve got Slade here with me.”

“Slade?” she asks.

I nod. “He wants to finish his  board. He could do it now – Paul’s given him permission to be out of class.” I add, “I’ve just emailed you.”

She thinks about it, telling me, “It’s too late, really… they were due yesterday. I told him to bring it to me first thing this morning.”

“I know, he told me,” I say. “He didn’t have enough paint to finish off last night. And then he was nervous about coming to let you know.”

She nods, saying: “There’s his board there.” I glance over to where it’s stacked with the others.

“He’s got permission to do it now – if he’s allowed to,” I say, again.

“Umm…” Narelle says. “He…” She breaks off, as she catches sight of Slade leaning in the doorway, looking reluctant and hopeful. “Oh,” she decides. “Ok, just leave him here. I’ll see him. I’ll give him the paint and he can stay here and do it.”

“Thanks!” I say, not caring about the other teachers, who are giving me the big evils. And I go over to Slade, and tell him, “She said yes – so just stay here, and she’ll sort you out in a minute.”

“Aye?” says Slade, with some surprise and relief.

“Yes – so you just get it done, k?”

“Ok, Miss,” Slade says. “I’ll try my best.”

“I gotta go to my class… but yes, do your best, Slade. Just do your best,“ I tell him, with genuine feeling. Then I rush back to 13 History.

 

Break 2, Slade comes bounding in. He gives me that kind of wonky grin, and I exclaim, “Did you get it finished?”

“Yes!”

“And do you think you’ve… passed?” I dare to ask.

He nods, and we look at one another in exultation. I say, my breath coming out with a big rush of happiness: “Oh. Slade, I’m so proud of you. Honest to who, I am.”

He sits down on the table, his legs kicked out at all angles, as pleased as pleased can be. I’m  so extremely fond of Slade, who has got skinnier in the holidays, and looks like he needs a good feed instead of all those ciggies he spends his cash on. I just say again, “Honest, man, I’m proud of you! 12 credits – in the bag!”

“Faar, 12 credits ge,” comments Zion, who’s heard all this. Slade grins, demurring modestly.

 

So it’s a good day, in that regard. But then there’s no progress on the Karys front. Haven’t heard back from the Union field officer, and I don’t want to go to the meeting without a support person – I’ve emailed Karys’s PA to suggest another time.

Later I check my emails – one from Yasmin, the PA. Karys is in the process of rescheduling the meeting, ‘at your request’. Ohwell, could be worse, I guess!

Learn that lesson

Saturday 29 September, 2012:

I’m tired, after a few hours of ‘Kepaoa’ business… there’s a text sometime round midnight. It turns out he’s wasted as fuck and causing havoc out with the boys: Elroy, Aiga, and another guy I haven’t met before. By now, they’re meandering down Municipal Rd – which is where I collect them. Kepaoa is the drunkest; by contrast Elroy looks chirpy and in reasonable control of his faculties. They’ve already been stopped by the cops, and  given a warning. However, since then Kepaoa has robbed a guy at the train station (spurred on by the others) for 20 bucks and a phone. He’s looking for trouble, and at the same time making a last ditch effort to avoid it: his text says, ‘plez kum mis i really needu, tbh i wana kill sumwun’.

We plonk him into the front seat, where he wraps his arms around me, saying to the boys (who are all talking at once), “Shut the fuck up fags, show some respect for Miss.” One of them leans forward, and he cuffs the offending figure back, hard.

 

Back at the station, the other three leap out to check the time of the last train south. Kepaoa remains in the car. “Miss…” he says, despairingly. “Aw fuuuck, I need help.” He goes on, “I know I’m drunk… but I’m telling you the truth.” He shakes his head back and forth in frustrated misery. “I don’t want her to go, it’s fucked up as, I just wanna go to jail or something, go inside till she gets back, I can’t handle it… just wanna smash someone.” As he talks, he eyes up a group of men walking down the road.

I really have no idea what to do with Kepaoa, except to try keep him calm, and hopefully get him home and safe. So I just murmur soothing things like, “It’s gonna be ok,” and “We’ll sort it all out…” This does seem to calm him a little, and he leans against me, saying, “You always got me Miss, you always got me.”

 

Elroy and the boys return, and there is some discussion about what to do next. The night is young, as far as they’re concerned. But they’re drunk, and making random eye contact from the car window, yelling out indiscriminately as people pass by. Kepaoa lurches out of the car to step to a couple of guys who look back, and we pull him in again, where he bobs around, hyped and still swinging his fists.

“Can I just take you guys home to Carthill?” I ask Elroy.

Elroy thinks about this, saying “Yeah, maybe the night’s overs for Kepaoa, aye.”

“I reckon.”

“Then… ok, yeah Miss, if you don’t mind. Better we take him home, he’s just gonna make trouble down here.”

“I wanna get out – I’ll come back to yours after, Miss,” protests Kepaoa. “Me and Biz. Can we, Miss?”

“Kepaoa, you know you’re always welcome. But the state you’re in, I think you should probably go back to Carthill right now, keep way away from trouble.”

“Yeah Miss, good idea,” Elroy says.

“Nah, fuck it, ima get out, wanna start things up here first, then I’ll come, Miss… I’ll come later. I’ll stay at yours, ok?”

“Kepaoa,” I tell him. “I don’t think you’ll make it back in one piece. Let’s just go home, ok?”

In response, he jumps out of the car and wanders across the road, hitting a couple of parked cars with his fist, hard.

“Hey!” a woman calls out. “That’s my car… what the fuck?”

Kepaoa raises his hand to her, no doubt with his middle finger up, and then punches her car again.

 

At that, a few people get off the seats by the bus stop and come towards him. Elroy leaps out of the car and reaches Kepaoa just as he put his fists up. “Come on bro, let’s go… let’s get back in the car with Miss.”

“Nah, fuck off…” Kepaoa pushes Elroy back, swings at him – they exchange a few words in Samoan.

By now, I’ve got out of the car too, and am at Kepaoa’s side. “Kepaoa, come on. Let’s go.”

Kepaoa looks at me, and smiles, kind of sorrowfully. “Miss…” he says, and then “Sorry Miss, gotta stay here.” He turns and walks off fast. Elroy runs after him, calling back to me, “Get the car, Miss, meet us round the corner.”

Meanwhile, I can hear the car owner making a call to the cops. “They’ve just walked off, heading north down Municipal, they got out of a car, the number plate’s…” I don’t blame her, but I’m not staying around to wait for the police, either. I get in, do a U turn, and go to find Kepaoa and Elroy.

 

They’re walking towards the roundabout at the end of Fitzroy Rd. When Elroy sees me, he manhandles his brother gently into the car, and to my surprise, this time Kepaoa makes no real protest at all. Instead, “Miss…” he says, and falls against me.

“I’m taking you guys home.”

“Ok Miss.”

“That lady’s called the cops. So if they stop us, let me do the talking. And don’t get mouthy.”

Fuck the police…” Kepaoa begins.

“No, we’re just gonna be polite and talk nicely to them, ok?”

“Yeah,” Elroy sensibly agrees. “Cos Miss is all legit, got her full licence and everything.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” I say. “And if the cops stop us, I’ll just tell them the truth, which is that I’m taking you home.”

“Aw, alright,” sighs Kepaoa. To be honest, I think he’s a little bit relieved about it.

 

And we don’t even see the cops; we get to Montgomery Rd unimpeded, and Elroy takes his brother inside. “Far, Kepaoa… tryna hit me aye,” he says without rancour, as they walk.

“Aye, what the fuck?… I didn’t do that.”

“You did,” I confirm. “But never mind, main thing is that you’re all good now, home safe.”

Kepaoa stumbles towards the gate, then turns around and clings to me. “Miss… I gotchu Miss,” he says. “I promise… I gotchu like that.

“All good, Kepaoa, all good…” I say, just holding him up.

Elroy looked at me and smiles, affectionately. “I’ll make him a feed, Miss,” he says. “Then he can sleep it off.”

“Aww, you’re pretty damn cool, Elroy,” I tell him. “Thanks for getting him back home.”

 

As I leave Carthill, I get a text from the other two (they got my number when we were with Kepaoa, just in case). Asking if I can take them home as well, the last train’s gone. By now it’s almost 2am, and I feel in two minds about it… I want to go home and sleep, but they’re only 16 or 17, and I don’t want to leave them to walk, either.

So I pick them up, and it starts to feel… weird. It’s the other guy (the one I don’t know), who’s  kind of spooking me a bit. He’s very quiet, no emotion on his face. We stop so they can get a feed from the gas station on the way back to Carthill. Aiga goes in and the other guy waits with me in the car, keeps on asking me questions. Am I married, do I have kids, where do I stay? The kind of thing kids always ask… just not with that impassive face. And he says, “If he wants you to drop me off first, tell him you’ll drop him off first.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just drop him off first, Miss.”

“Is his place closer?”

“Yes.”

I can’t see any real reason to disagree. But inside, it feels… it still fells a little bit weird, and then I think maybe I’m tired, that’s all.

 

I drop off Aiga, then the other guy directs me down a few more streets, and we stop in a quiet cul-de-sac. He keeps eating his chicken and chips, slowly and calmly, showing no sign of intending to get out of the car.

“Ok,” I say. “See ya later then.” I hear myself sounding deliberately casual.

“Hang on. I’m just gonna have my feed.”

“Nah, have it inside,” I say, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. “I’m tired… gotta go.”

“Wait,” he instructs me. “I’ll just kick it out here for a bit.”

“Nah, you better go in.”

“Nothing to do in there. Probably no-one  awake. Maybe no-one even home.”

“Too bad,” I tell him. “Life’s boring sometimes. People need to sleep.”

“C’mon Miss, let’s just kick it out here a while,” he replies; same way – no expression.

 

To be honest, it’s starting to freak me out. The houses are all dark, and there isn’t anyone else around. I feel like I don’t have any choice but to stay calm.

“Hey,” I say, just matter of fact as I can. “Um, I’m tired, and you’re not really being that thoughtful anymore.”

He looks at me, not even inquisitively. Just that same expressionless face.

“I want you to go inside now,” I tell him, trying to seem as patient and unworried as I can. “Ok? I need to go home. I’ve dropped you off, and now I got other stuff to do.”

“Nah… we’ll kick it out here a bit first.”

“No,” I repeat. “You need to go in now. I’m going home.”

“Do you wanna go to sleep?” he asks, seeming almost to understand me for the first time.

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh.” He stops eating and puts his chicken down on the bag. “Ok.” And to my intense relief, he gets out of the car.

 

I drive round the cul-de-sac and away, turning on the central locking as I go. And I’m actually kind of scared, my heart’s beating hard. I think – fuck, what the fuck was that all about? And my next thought… man, Kepaoa would have been pissed off, if he’d seen that. The guy would have got a mean whack.

Weirder and weirder: when I got home, there’s a few more texts from him. Asking me to come back. He’s bored. It’s cold outside. He’ll find a way to warm me up. The last one reads: ‘miss kan we kik it plzzz im bord out side by mi selllffff plllzzzz ‘

So I just go to sleep kind of gratefully, thanking my lucky stars that nothing’s actually happened. And yup, I have to be a bit smarter in the future. Not get myself into situations I can’t handle. Stick to people I know and trust. Good to learn that lesson, anyway.