The equation

Monday 20 October:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thursday 30 October:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Wednesday 5 November:

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

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

 

Monday 10 November

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday 11 November:

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

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

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

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

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

 

Normal service

Monday 12 August, 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday 13 August:

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

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

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

 

Wednesday 14 August:

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 16 August:

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

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

 

 Saturday 17 August:

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday 18 August:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Love and attention

Tuesday 12 March, 2013: 

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

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

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

yehr why tho, i jus asked her she said allgood

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

i allready sussed it out tho

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Thursday 14 March:

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 15 March:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dented and subdued

Saturday 26 February, 2012 (contd):

When dawn breaks, we’re awake again. Shay’s eye looks shocking. “Miss – let me go out and see if he’s still there,” she says. “I promise I’ll come back in straight away.” She is adamant, and eventually I agree: “Ok, but I’m going with you.”

We venture out past the splintered jamb of the front door to find an empty shed, containing only an aura of the night’s events; an imprint on the atmosphere. The light is still on, and the heavy panel of the shed door has sagged its way quietly onto the concrete floor, where it now rests, lit up in a bleak fluorescence.

It turns out Tau’s woken up and – realizing what’s happened – fled to Scott and Sheree’s. Sheree texts me soon after:

Tau’s to shamed to come bk today. And we wnt to pay for the doors.. ox

 

Later, she brings round five hundred dollars, telling me, “And if it’s not enough, we’ll get you more.”

“He can’t remember much,” Sheree says. “But he remembers the doors. He’s shamed, Miss. He’s too shy to see you today.”

Shay is wearing sunglasses by now, and actually looks very beautiful – unless you peer down to the swollen purple bruising underneath. She leaves with Sheree – armed with more Panadol and the re-frozen ice pack.

 

Oh, I don’t know what to do. So I just take care of the cleaning and the washing. I hang out Tau’s washing too; it’s been sitting in the machine since yesterday. I ring the handyman, and he arrives at 4:30.

By 7:30 pm the front door is repaired – rather miraculously – for two hundred dollars. Alexej is very patient in completing this task; he tells me he restored antiques in Russia. He looks at the finished job with some pride, asking me, “So… what do you think?” Together we regard the door, and Alexej runs his hand over the frame, where there is no longer a single tear or a splinter. “Look…” he murmurs. “No-one would know, it looks the same as before, no?”

“You’re an artist,” I say truthfully, and he smiles.

He tells me the shed door will be harder to repair; he’ll come do the work on Monday.

 

Sunday 26 February:

Kepaoa texts me. It crosses my mind to tell him what’s happened. But as yet, I don’t say a word. It’s not a subject for a text conversation. And I definitely don’t want Elroy to know.

I feel dented and subdued.

  

Monday 27 February:

School’s hard today. Nothing feels right. I hate pretty much every single action I have to perform, and every word that comes out of my mouth – apart from in a couple of brief instants. One is when Andre calls in at my room, at interval. The other is a few words exchanged with a boy named TJ, in 9 Social. He’s one of the most non-compliant kids in the class, but although he tries my patience, there’s something about his eyes that tells me he’s just as frustrated with school as I am. And so, in very small moments – we connect.

 

Tuesday 28 February:

This evening, Tau comes back. He almost creeps down the driveway, then straightens himself and walks over to me, brave-faced. His eyes slide to the side before he speaks. “Miss?” he begins. He manages to bring his eyes back to check mine, then he puts his arms out hesitantly.

I put my arms around him too, and he just rests his head in my neck for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he chokes out.

I whisper back, “It’s ok, Tau.”

 

But everything is all at the top of my head, and later on when I lay down in bed, I can’t sleep, and then I start to cry. It’s the first time I’ve cried since it happened. I hold onto my pillow as if it’s a living person sent there to comfort me. And I think about everything and I don’t know where to go, or what will happen to any of us now… and I just keep holding onto the thought that Tau has trusted me just enough to return.

The other person I think of is Kepaoa. I hold onto that thought too – because I think I can trust Kepaoa Alesi. And eventually I fall asleep.

 

Wednesday 29 February:

School continues. The only thing that brings me any happiness there is Urban Art – which for some crazy reason works.

I tell Kepaoa about what’s happened… I figure I’ve got to tell someone or I’ll go crazy. We discuss it further via facebook messaging:

its allgooods miss straight uhp if you dont tell sumone it gone be heavy on yah you know, naah miss its algoods iknow erybodys got struggles and bumps in there life just gota find a way ta better it or get past it, iaint a judgmental person. cause who am i to judge ? aiint mah bidniss ta judge and that, but it is ma bidniss ta try and help and listen ta what you have ta say and all cause you always were there for me during sch and after sch till this day. mayn aiint ever meet a palagi lady like yourself miss that never goes down widout a fight and that you stand strong nau matter what! proud a yuo miss for being there fo them thats tha bidniss, always here for you! straight uhp and left side

 

Ok… and what?

Monday 20 February, 2012:

As I arrive at work this morning, I get a text that reads:

Mis I dnt wona do corse I dnt no eny1 an it gay

I reply, something soothing along the lines of: just try and stay there for the morning, and I’ll ring you at break time.

9:10 – another text:

an theaz heaps of Indians an shit, an we gta do heaps of assisments an I gta do smemre assisments from yesterday tht I missed so I qwickly gapd it b4 thy called out the roll

I do ring Tau at break – by which time he’s made it home, mournfully. “I did want to do it…” he tells me. “But I don’t, anymore.

 

At lunch I nip back to see him. Tau is contrite, and looks at me appealingly. “I do want to go course… but I forgot about the overalls… and then when I remembered about them, I kind of stopped wanting to do it. But I want to try, because you want me to, Miss. That’s the true reason,” he explains.

“Aww, Tau,” I sigh, looking at his very open and truthful face. “I just want you to do it because you’ve been telling me for ages that you wanted to do it…”

He nods, saying, “I know, Miss. I’m gonna go back tomorrow.”

“K, that’s good – and can you just remember how much trouble people go to for you, and try hard now,” I instruct.

Tau looks at me, saying, “There’s only one person who goes to lots of trouble for me.”

“Who?” I say suspiciously.

“You.”

“Oh, Tau,” I chastise him. “No-oo, heaps of people do – and damn right you better appreciate it!”

We grin at one another.

 

Tuesday 21 February:

Tau and the TI. To be sorted. Apparently there has been an ‘internal administrative error’, and Tau hasn’t met the entry criteria for the course – the tutor will discuss his options with him.

Tau says to me, trustingly: “I don’t think I’ll understand what they’re saying, Miss. Can I just get them to ring you? When I see them, and they’re talking to me?”

“Course you can, Tau,” I tell him, still kind of astonished at his willingness to trust me all along the way. He’s not even particularly upset at the turn events have taken – he truly has faith it’ll be all sorted out, especially if I’m involved.

 

Then Riley – big surprise – likes 13 History, at least for the moment. I almost didn’t let her in the class at all:

 

“Miss, can I do history?”

“No,” I reply, shortly, though not unkindly.

“Oh, why not?” she pouts. “Miss, I want to be in your class – for my last year at school.”

“I know – and I’d love that too, Riley – but you won’t like history.”

“I will, I wiiiillll…” she wheedles, with the tone of a 3 year old who wants to try hot chili noodles.”

“I don’t think you will, Riley.”

“Oh, I will Miss – promise.”

“You can’t promise to like something,” I say, laughing at her.

“I can – and even if I don’t, I promise to do my work. I promise I’ll do all the work, Miss.”

“Ohh…” I relent. “Alright then, just cos it’s you.“ Then I add, in a pretend growly voice, “But you better not let me down!” and she giggles.

 

So far, Riley actually seems to be giving it her best shot. Three classes later, she’s still working away religiously. She even comes during Study Centre to borrow a book (Maori Tribes of New Zealand), which she’s discovered and claimed as her own (possessively: “And I’ll borrow that book, Miss, aye,” before anyone else can ask for it).

I don’t mind that class really; I just wish I was more in the zone for it. I hear my voice sounding thin and severe – I hate it when it goes like that. So I mostly let them work on a research task today, and just check on the groups, periodically.

 

Lunch – I only have time to do the whiteboard up for my next class and eat a lollipop and an apple (while being visited by Andre). I’m still eating the apple as the freakin bell goes and 9 Social (who seem alright; but I don’t really know them yet) come in. The last thing I feel like is teaching Social Studies, honest to who. I do my best to overcome it, but the class are a bit chatty just because it’s the last block of the day, and I start to feel pissed off, and again my voice sounds severe and echoey. I can’t really ‘smile’, you know.  And I feel sorrowful to be like that, particularly in front of Trenton (Jack’s younger brother), who has a genuine goodwill towards me that I feel may rapidly erode.

So yup, I feel like a crap teacher. But the thing is, I don’t share in really any of the values of ‘teachers’. And I know it, especially on a day like today, when I’m stressed and worried and a little bit sad. And year 9’s do expect ‘a teacher’. That’s all they know, so far. Teachers are all the same, even though some are ‘cool’ and others are ‘mean’. Teachers all want children to ‘learn’. Teachers like ‘good people’. Teachers are ‘good people’, which means also, to the kids: pitiably gullible and easily misled – the village idiots, truly!

For some reason, I feel better after writing all that down. I know I can’t be that person. And just maybe… being crap at it is all good, in some weird way.

 

After school La-Verne and I stop for coffee at Mcdeez, and I go home to make dinner. And everything feels kind of happy and kind of shiny after all, while I’m getting the chicken and potatoes and salad ready. I don’t know why – it just does. Almost four months. Life has some kind of weird rhythm, which you only half-catch a glimpse of sometimes.

 

Wednesday 22 February

The best class today is Urban Art – the ‘new’ graff, snuck in under the radar by Chloe, who’s in charge of project this year. It has the randomest mix of kids ever, thanks to Chloe and her administrative legerdemain  – which ensured that hardly anyone in the school knew exactly what was on offer. But, weirdly, it all gels. The taggers are intrigued by the ‘good’ kids; the artists are just rolling with the punches; everyone’s amused by the gangstas (who sit up by my desk, as natural as can be). The boys like it that there are girls in the class, and the girls are taking it serious – doing their ‘visual brainstorm’ (my spur of the moment name for it) with attention and care. And Riley arrives with some cousin of Shanice’s in tow (new boy, in year 12 I think), and the friendly and unassuming way she approaches me and speaks to me just touches my heart.

 

All day though, I’m getting texts and emails… from Kepaoa, Leroi, Tau, the TI… my brain can’t process it all fast enough. Problems everywhere. Can’t sort everything out as fast as I want to… and I’m teaching at the same time. I reply to emails, send the odd text from my phone in my desk drawer: my fingers stumble and jam with fatigue.

I’m not ready for tomorrow. But I’m too tired to think about that now. Everything spins in my head – I need to sleep. It’s nearly midnight, and I have frickin 12 History (with their self-proclaimed queen, Theresa) first up. As Kepaoa says: ‘dam mutt dang.’

 

Thursday 24 February:

Kepaoa and his sister arrive for Elroy’s pastoral meeting with Chloe this morning. Kepaoa comes blued up, and even though each piece is ‘appropriate’ on its own, and he comports himself impeccably – the overall effect is startling. Marjorie, seeing him on his way back to the car, looks suitably alarmed.

I can tell Kepaoa wants to stay – but I make the ‘gift from God’ go back to his course.

 

Friday 25 February:

It’s hot – maybe a bit too hot, but that’s alright. I can just stay here: bedroom door open; window open; light on; front door open; whatever.

Please God, take pity on me – for I feel hollow. God help me, there’s nowhere to run. I just have to go down, right? All the way down. I don’t think anyone will go down with me. I think I’ll be all alone. But it’s better than being up here, being expected to… want what I don’t want.

It’s funny how there’s an insouciance that just tips in, right when I think I can’t handle it. A kind of ‘so what?’ An ‘ok… and what?’ Cos I don’t mind going down. And I ain’t got anything else to do today. Ayyyo.

 

Reactions

Monday 6 February, 2012:

In retrospect, I know I’ve taken care of everything; gotten us all safely there and back again. But there are still times when I think I can’t handle worlds colliding; everything all up in my face.

 

We set off on Saturday morning to paint the wall: Tau, Mischa, Leroi, Noa and Kost in one car; me, Inia, Zion and Alexander in the other. We’re just leaving, when I get a text from Riley that stops me in my tracks:

Miss did Kepaoa die?

I reply at once, saying that he was alive and well yesterday when I saw him. I try to sound kind of light – but I’m actually scared.

Within seconds, she texts back:

ea igota tx sayn he died, th tx ws like at 7am

 

I tell her I’ll text him – and I do: Kepaoa – u ok?

No answer

I try calling: no answer. I phone Elroy’s number too: still no answer.

And by now Riley’s freaking out. “Go round there…” she begs. So I tell her I’ll go round to Montgomery Rd and check that everything’s ok.

Meanwhile, she forwards me the text she received (from a random number):

R.I.P KEPAOA ‘C’ZA’ ALESI 1993-2012 DIED AS A BROKEN RIB PIERCED HIS HEART, WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU MAYBE DEAD BUT YOU WILL ALWAYS ND FOREVER LIVE IN OUR HEARTS!! XOX. MISIA OE SON:( LOU FATU UA TA’E ;(

I feel a shiver of actual fear run through me. It crosses my mind that it could be true, then I push the thought away. I ring Tau and explain what’s happening, tell him we’ll catch up with Mischa’s car – and we arrange to meet halfway to the site.

 

I get to Kepaoa’s – it’s only his little brothers who are home. I don’t say anything about the text, and they tell me he’s gone out somewhere. They haven’t actually seen him though. They seem perfectly calm and normal, but again it crosses my mind that maybe they don’t know; maybe it’s true and no-one’s told them yet.

And my passengers, who have all got out and are standing on the footpath watching me through the shed door, say exactly the same thing.

But there’s nothing more we can do right then, and we have to be on our way. Tau texts me: ‘is it tru c’za’s gone mis’. Even the boys have got the text by now – it’s obviously doing the rounds. I tell them everything’s ok, though inwardly I’m not at all sure.

 

We meet up; stop for pies at a small town café, then drive on into the countryside. Suddenly my phone beeps:

Hey miss jst on comunty servce break im gud whys that?

A jolt of relief goes through me, and then I call him – I need to double check.

He picks up the phone: “Miss?”

“Kepaoa – you’re alright!”

“Yeah… what is it?”

I forward him the text. He’s mad as hell about it: Ea thts fkd uhp!! Tawkn sht bowt theaz kynda dngz ae, du ugt tha numbr tht sent it miss? Kepaoa’s on the war path again, but I’m still buzzing with relief.

 

After that, the whole day’s like high summer. We get there and start painting within the hour. Music blasting from the speakers; the sky shimmering with heat. Everyone gets sunburned, especially the light-skinned ones: me, Mischa, Alexander. I take photos and videos all afternoon and into the evening, as the wall progresses. Leroi and Mischa don’t paint, instead they take control of the barbecue and cook us a feed.

We go to the beach that night; Rob drives us down in his car; bumping over the back roads to the coast. Kost, Inia and Tau ride in the open boot; the rest of us pile into the car. Noa says to me, “Listen to those niggas out there, tickling each other’s balls,” and we’re helpless with laughter.

At the beach we light a fire, making sparks shoot into the night sky. I start to feel shivery as the air grows cold. Everyone except me and Zion is drinking by now. Zion’s the only one still at school, and it’s taken for granted we won’t let him touch a drop. But I’m quiet and a little dreamy at my semi-distance from things. Rob is starting to bug me though, thinking he’s a funny guy or something. He asks me to go for a walk with him, and I shake my head. It makes the boys laugh, but then I feel stung by something like despair and kind of a feeling of outrage, that I’m not some pretty girl on the beach anymore. And I think: well, maybe I ain’t really anything. I don’t know what I am.

 

After a while I get up and start walking up the hill, heading for the shed. But it’s dark and I can tell I’m going to get lost. With a sigh of acceptance, I realize I’ll have to go back and wait for the others. As I come down the path again, I hear some of the boys talking by the car. I pause, and listen to the conversation.

“He might play up…” (this is Alexander)

“Yeah, he might try it on with Miss,”

“Rob’s a dodgy cunt. “

“He asked Miss to go for a walk, and she didn’t want to go. Miss is feeling… uncomfortable.”  (this is Tau; I’m touched by his perception and his concern).

 

I materialize at their side, and Tau exclaims in a relieved tone, “Here she is! Where were you, Miss?”

“I was gonna walk back, but you know me… I might have got lost.”

Tau laughs, but then says more seriously: “Miss? We think Rob might play up.”

“Nah, it’s ok, I’m sure that won’t happen.”

“We think he might though, Miss. If you sleep in the house, he’ll try it on. And we might not be able to hear you.”

The others nod, and murmur their agreement. “How far away’s the house?” they ask, earnestly and in worried tones.

“Look you guys, I’m sure everything’s fine – but if it makes you happy, I’ll sleep in the shed with you.”

“Ok!” they chorus.

“Good idea!”

“Yes, Miss!”

So it’s settled.

 

It actually is not very restful, sleeping in the shed. Noa snores all night, Mischa talks in his sleep, and phones go off at random intervals. Plus it’s a little bit cold, and I only have one light blanket. But it makes me happy too, to be there with them. I stop questioning things as much. I think: well, they want me to be here. I don’t know who I am, but I know that I’m admitted here; I’m not an outsider. And right then, it’s enough.

 

There’s been a slight drama on the way back from the beach. Kost and Tau are riding in the boot again. Rob’s driving up the hill when he realizes that one of them has climbed right onto the roof of the car (this turns out to be Kost). He cuts the engine, gets out, and yells at them, “Get off the roof of my fuckin car!”

The minute I hear his tone, I know Tau’s gonna snap – it’s a foregone conclusion. Mischa knows it too. We don’t have to say a word to each other, we spring out and are at at our posts within milliseconds. Mischa covers Tau from the front, and I from the side, holding onto him firmly but also gently. Even as we do so, we hear Tau begin in outrage: “Fuck you cunt, are you fuckin talking to me?”

“It’s ok, Tau…”

“All good, Tau…”

“No-one tells me to fuck off. Do you wanna hiding, cunt?”

“Look, mate, sorry.” Rob backs down immediately. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Yeah, and what? And what?” Tau lunges towards him again. “Get fucked, fuckin smash you cunt, fuckin telling me to fuck off… no-one tells me to fuck off…”

“Don’t worry, it’s ok Tau, it’s alright Tau…” I murmur. “Just caalm down, we got it aall sorted.”

“Yeah, I gotchu,” Mischa soothes, with a gentle voice. “I gotchu… all good, I gotchu baby.”  This touches my heart so much, and I feel a strong connection between us all, at that moment.

And somehow Tau lets himself be calmed. His shoulders relax under our touch, and he exhales once or twice, bumpily returning to a kind of equilibrium.

 

Later on, Rob tells me, “I’ve got the utmost respect for you, just… the way you are with them. And jumping out of the car like that.”

“Well, I know Tau,” is all I say. “There are reasons why he reacts the way he does. And we know how to take care of him.”

That’s so true. We know how to take care of him. Me and Shay. Mischa and Noa and Inia. Tau says to me, earlier on in the evening, “Miss, I won’t get into trouble when I’m here. I would, if I was with someone else. But not here, cos… I know people will look after me.”

There’s something about Tau, that makes those of us who love him want to protect him so fiercely.

 

A sense of normality

Monday 16 January, 2012:

This morning Scott comes around while I’m out, and demands money again. Tau says no, and Scott smacks him over the head before taking off.

I don’t find out till I get home. Tau and Shae have spent all afternoon inside the locked shed, bolting themselves in. As soon as I get back they spring free like puppies out of a cage and gambol inside, relishing the nice, fresh air.

We discuss everything every which way, and my heart aches that I can’t protect Tau from his dad, when this is supposed to be a safe place for him. I don’t know what to do. A trespass order might just escalate the situation – a piece of paper’s never stopped Scott before. And Tau’s worried I could get hurt, if Scott wants to take it up a level. He tells me, “Miss, my dad’s a scary guy. I’m scared he might hit you.” He doesn’t even want me to go out and talk to Scott if he turns up again.

“Tau,” I say. “I don’t wanna be scared of Scott. I’ve been scared of someone once before…” and Tau nods. “This isn’t his place,” I continue. “He’s got no rights here, not like he has in his own house. I’m not scared to ask him to leave.”

“I know, but I don’t want him to hurt you,” Tau says. “And it’s not your fault – it’s my problem.”

“It ain’t just your problem,” I say, and he just smiles, in kind of an ambivalent way.

 

Wednesday 18 January:

Tau and I both know this situation’s only on hold. The only reason Scott hasn’t turned up again is because he loaned money from someone and has cash, temporarily.

Having said that, I can see we’re attempting to let a sense of normality prevail. I find it quite difficult at first, I don’t want to leave Tau there like a sitting target. It requires some application of will even to just go take a shower, not stay at the window on full alert. But after a while, I start to do everyday things.

 

I also hear from Zion today: Miss jst wanr noe if i can cum bakk 2 skwl??

Yup of course you can come bk to sch, I reply, then add as as a slightly suspicious afterthought: you havnt had any more letters frm sch zion? (cos I wouldn’t put it past the SLT)

Nahr miss but idnt wana restart year 11

I try to explain, to put his mind at ease: What happens is you’ll be in yr 12 but stil have to finsh your level 1 credits so they might get you to do yr 11 eng/math again. But lots of kids have to do that. Leroi the same. you wont hav to do your whole yr 11 again.. you got heaps of credits!

It’s true: Zion managed to collect 51 credits by the end of last year. He only had 7 at the time of his original suspension in June; the rest were gained after his reinstatement – and if that’s not a success story I don’t know what is! (not that Karys or the DP’s will care or notice).

Then there’s another text from Zion straight after, and touching my heart greatly: An miss i really want 2 cum bakk 2 skwl haha.

 

Thursday 19 January:

Kepaoa’s due in court this morning (for the relatively minor charge of tagging along Carthill Rd; someone called the cops on him.) He’s not exactly the calmest about it either, partly because he is 18 – so it’s no longer contained in the Youth Court.

I get a text later: Yhp got comunty cervece! Hah 50hrz nau fine dau

Did you get your bike back yet? I ask (the cops having confiscated this at the time of the incident)

The answer comes swiftly: Nah da fuken cop sht!! Aint rung bk da fuka!! Fuk ht dm uhp pig shts! Just got baild haha. Was in da cell wid all deez ada niggaz. Lol hahahaha yeah fk them dy kan kis ma blak ass!

So that’s that!

 

Friday 20 January:

Out with Mia, some guys in a bar chat to us. One asks me, “So what do you do?”

I reply (‘admit’ describes it better), “I’m a teacher.”

“I don’t like teachers,” he says, obviously hoping to get a reaction.

But this mildly amuses me (because, you know, I don’t really like teachers either), and so I just laugh, saying, “Oh, fair enough.”

He looks nonplussed, and a few minutes later he asks what I teach.

“Social Sciences,” I tell him. “History, Social Studie… that kind of thing.”

“Waste of time!” he snorts.

“We-ell,” I say, thinking about this. “Sometimes it can be.”

He looks perplexed, unable to have his fun, so I decide to throw something extra into the mix. “Oh, and I also have a graffiti art class,” I tell him, calmly.

“Graffiti art!” he says (wait for it… ) Then, to my great surprise: “Now, I like that!”

“You like that?” I say, unable not to smile at his expression, which has suddenly gone all enthusiastic.

“Yeah, I like that, it’s artistic,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to get my shed painted for ages.”

“You want to get your shed painted…” I repeat slowly, my mind already several steps ahead on the possibilities. “Are you serious? Because I can arrange that.”

“Yeah, I’m serious,” he tells me at once, and then, “Hey Lucas,” (his mate). “She does graffiti art – I’ve been looking for someone to paint my shed for ages.”

Lucas hears this, and comes over at once.

A discussion follows, the upshot of which is that the first guy (Rob) gives me his number, and we plan to meet up so I can take photos and get measurements. He tells me it could take a couple of days to paint his shed – it’s big. My eyes light up at the thought, although I do need to see what the boys think, first.

I text Tau on the spot, but don’t hear back. And as I drive home later I think to myself: well… maybe not. Cos you know, I’m never entirely sure that I know what the fuck I’m doing. And so I protect myself a little bit, by mentally just shelving the idea for the time being.

 

But when I get home – first thing Tau asks about is the wall. He tells me he’s already talked to the boys: Inia and Noa want to come, and so do Kost and Chase. But their court case looms as well – one or both of them might be banged up after that, or on home D. So I better organise this as soon as possible.

It strikes me right now, writing about all this, how kind of weird it is, or ought to be. That I should be able to organise such a thing. And that people actually want to be in on it. Like I have a frickin clue about anything… and yet for some almost unfathomable reason, these guys are buying into it, like it’s real and not fake, and like it means something to them too.

And for that I’m truly grateful. Because it isn’t fake to me either, and it means something to me as well; more than a lot of things in my life have ever meant to me. Of course, I don’t mean just the wall, you know. That’s just a… one manifestation of what I mean. And ‘now’ – right now – is all I have to work with. So I’ll take it.