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.

 

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When you’re not supposed to

Thursday 27 September, 2012:

Painting. We’ve run out of board for the moment. As a substitute, we decide to rejuvenate one of the original canvases, Statik and Rich’s ‘CONFIDENCE’ throwy. It’s cool, but was just a quick job, and I think if time had allowed Inia would have done it over again. Anyway, Slade lifts it off the wall, and we put it up ready for painting.

I pretend to cross the hit, making the boys laugh like anything.

“Ohh… can we?” Slade says, with anticipation and slight uncertainty as to whether I’m gonna turn round and growl at him for asking.

“Well, can’t hurt, seeing as you’re just gonna paint over it anyway.”

So Slade gets the can of Placid and marks the throwy with a line from one end to the other.

“Bet you wouldn’t do that if they were here,” Zion says, with joy.

“Fuuck nah ge, I’d say: that’s bad,” Slade replies, and they start to giggle at this transgression.

 

“Ok, hard and fast…” says Slade.

They pick up their cans and get ready: Zion on the left and Slade on the right.

“You wanna do the C, O, N, F, I? I’ll do the D, E, N, C, E.”

Zion nods.

“K, you go first with your outline then, bro.”

“You know what’s cool?” I remark, watching them take their positions. “It’s cool that Zion’s right handed and you’re left handed. It makes it easy to do half each.”

“Yeah, I know – otherwise we’d have to stand like this,” and Slade demonstrates, swiveling 90 degrees and then re-positioning himself, adding, “It’s all good, having someone to paint with though.”

“Yeah,” agrees Zion. “It’s awguds.” He starts doing his outline as he speaks; the first hiss of spray calms and settles our minds, and the room is still and warm.

Slade mirrors him, and their hands stroke the air in unison, quietly.

 

Yesterday, Slade says to Zion, “Before I met you, everyone said you were the man. I was like – yeah whatever. That’s cos I didn’t know you,” he explains. “But you are,” he finishes.

“Hah,” laughs Zion, modest and pleased.

 

Before I got to know Slade, I’d never met anyone at school who could begin to match Zion, painting-wise. It’s good to see them working together, just natural like this. They’re very different, of course. But they appreciate one another now.

 

Friday 28 September:

Get to school and my phone beeps: ‘Ms u at sch?’  Kepaoa.

Yes im at sch..

Kkk, u ready?.Lastday sch lot kan happen!’

Whats tht sposed to mean? U got plans? Aw no trouble ples tel me evrythngs awgud.

Coming sch ms, that slade just keeps running thru ma head!! Fcuk man, im hypd az!!!

 

This very much alarms me, knowing Kepaoa as I do. And Slade’s offence: he had once marked a ‘C’ZA’ at Municipal station. In all fairness I had told Kepaoa this myself, when he enquired about Slade (after seeing a photo of him painting). It was funny at the time of telling… but not anymore, obviously. So I reply in haste:

Dnt be an idiot he’s all good kepaoa. And im asking as a favour to me pls. He dnt need anymore dramas right nw and nor do i.. nor do u aye. Awguds?

Then, to my relief: ‘Flip! Ms im just hypd az!! Bt a favor foa yu yhp cweet.’

Turns out Teri is going away for the holidays, and Kepaoa’s stressing about it. Typical hot-headed reaction… and I inwardly sigh with relief that I can call in a favour. Drama avoided.

 

During break, my room contains: Demet, Nakesha and Lauren (finishing their history assessments), Slade (painting) and Tyler (watching him paint).

“If I give you some money, Miss, can you buy me some spray cans?” asks Tyler, ingenuously (and somewhat gormlessly).

“No,” I tell him, and Slade grins.

“Oh, why not?”

“Cos I can’t buy you cans, don’t be an idiot,” I say, signalling an end to this topic of conversation. Tyler’s a real amateur, not to mention an unknown quantity. Plus the History girls are sitting right there.

But Tyler is not to be deterred. “Should I just get them from the Warehouse?” he enquires.

Slade looks at me, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Yeah bro, Warehouse’s awgud,” he tells Tyler, feigning seriousness.

“I don’t want you to get cans at all,” I intervene.

“Why not?” Tyler asks, again.

“Cos… you don’t need to be getting yourself into… situations…“ I mutter, not at all sure of Tyler’s capabilities.

“I want you to teach me though bro,” he persists, to Slade.

Slade can’t help being slightly flattered by this. “I can get cans… could hook you up ge,” he says. It’s just a throwaway comment, but I send him a warning look all the same, and wisely he shuts up.

 

The bell’s late, and so Slade and I sit talking for a bit, after Tyler leaves.

“Don’t encourage him,” I say.

“It’s funny though…”

I appeal to reason. “It’s not gonna be funny if he tags all over the school – probably hit up Rook everywhere too – he doesn’t have a clue about things. C’mon, Slade…”

“Yeah, you got a point,” he says. “He’s amo as.”

“So don’t encourage him.”

“K…”

 

And then the bell goes, and Slade is straight off to class. He’s actually quite into school at the moment, and is patiently stockpiling his credits. Actually it’s pretty damn amazing to hear him come in and say, “I finished my folio board yesterday,” or “I did one of my responses for English today.”

And it matters that they want to hold on; don’t wanna fall. Oh, I don’t wanna see them fall either. It isn’t ‘school’ that’s so important. I don’t give a fuck about school’s aims for anyone. But I care that they can see they’re good enough to take a run at it, and at the same time keep their integrity. I love seeing that. It’s like a game, and I know we got a shot at it, and I’ll do whatever I can to help.

So I’m feeling alright. Despite all that stuff with Karys (and I haven’t heard back from her yet; give it time). And, if I’m honest… kind of because of that, too. I love how you can take back something when you’re not supposed to.

The social good

Tuesday 25 September, 2012:

When I get to school today, one of the first people I speak to is a girl called Kendra. I’m just walking along, and she sees me and says, “Hi Miss.”

“Hey Kendra.”

I don’t teach her, and we seldom bump into one another at school. But she just looks at me with a ‘look’ on her face, I don’t know what that’s about. And she says, “How’re you, Miss?”

“I’m ok, how’re you?” I reply politely.

“Ok…” she says, and then, “Seen Cluzo lately?”

“Umm,” I begin. “Not for a few weeks.“ I don’t  really know what else to say. I added, “We keep in touch, messaging and that, but I haven’t actually seen him for a few weeks.”

“I saw him, in the weekend,” she tells me. “We were drinking together. Him and some other people were drinking over at mine.”

“Oh,” I say.

“He was pretty horced,” Kendra tells me. “He was awgud though, but yeah… he was pretty drunk. I took him up to the liquor store to get more alcohol, he’d run out.”

“Yeah, he’s been drinking a bit, lately,” I said, no point in pretending otherwise.

“I heard he split up with his missus,”

I nod.

“That can sometimes do it,” says Kendra. “Makes people turn to alcohol, I mean.”

“Sure can,” I agree.

“And, yeah… him and Shae had been with each other for a while,” she says. “I never used to see Cluzo out much before.” Then she pauses and said, “He talked about you, Miss.”

For some reason, this makes my heart ache. I dunno why. I think how Kendra looks and sounds real gentle. And I just nod, saying, “He stayed with me for a while… did he tell you?”

“Yeah,” she replies, and then, “Miss, he seemed pretty down, even when he was drunk. He was pretty down, I think.”

“Aww, I know,” I say.  “I know, Kendra. Actually, I’m kind of worried about him, but you know… I guess I’ll hear from Tau when he’s ready.”

“Yeah Miss,” she says. “Definitely.”

We look at one another; smile. I say, “Hey, good to see you anyway Kendra, and you take care.”

“You take care too, Miss.”

 

I go to my room, kind of pining for something I don’t have right now. Which, I guess, is that feeling that Tau’s ‘safe’. I’m ok, guess I’m ok as I can be with it. But I just really miss him, and I wish, and wish, and wish… that Tau’s safe, and that he’s alright.

 

Later,  I get pissed off with La-Verne. She really knows how to talk that talk, and today I can’t handle it.

We’re chatting idly for a few minutes, just before we leave school for the afternoon. I say that I’m going to have to pull some weeds out of the garden at home (one of my least favourite activities). La-Verne gives me a searching look, and “Have you asked Tau to do it for you?” she asks, in a deliberately reasonable way. Her voice is that of an interviewer trying to pitch a hard question.

“Nah,” I say, kind of shrugging her off.

But she persists: “Have you asked?”

“No,” I say again, shortly.

“Why not?” La-Verne says, in that same well-modulated voice.  She goes on, rather pompously: “There’s no reason why he couldn’t weed the garden, as part of his board.” She sounds indignant at the thought of no board, which obviously implies no middle-class social responsibility on my part.

“La-Verne,” I say, gesturing to the open door into the office, where other teachers are sitting and can hear every word being said. “I don’t wanna talk about it right now.” I feel my eyes slide away from her self-righteous expression. And I’m also thinking: Is she stupid? Tau hasn’t stayed at my place for a long time – he’s been drinking round at Kaiser St for months. Can’t she remember anything, and doesn’t she know when to shut up?

“Oh,” says La-Verne, gathering breath for her next point, which is something I don’t even stay around to hear. Instead, I just turn and leave, shutting the door firmly behind me.

A little while later, I get a text saying, Didn’t mean to upset you. I totally ignore it, as I don’t care whether she meant to upset me or not. I can’t be bothered with stupid assumptions, today. Things aren’t like that, and I’m not like her, and I don’t give a shit about the social good.

 

Wednesday 26 September

Day’s ok, I’m just tired is all. Slade’s not there, but he lets me know he’s alright:

Nothings gone down yet, there were cops all over it last night. allgood miss, ohwell, be back at sch tomorrow, you make the days solid, rather kickit in your class then come home haha, allgood miss shot for letting us do what we do best and paint, its an escape from all this other bullshit, have happier days

La-Verne and I haven’t seen one another (except in passing) since I left the office yesterday. I dunno who’s keeping their distance from who, really. Probably both of us. In some ways it’s a relief not to listen to all her ‘policy’ stuff, all those abstractions. Though I do care about La-Verne. I just… feel like ‘ohwell’ (ha, to think Slade used his favourite word even on chat). And we’ll see.

 

But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless

Monday 24 September, 2012:

In my room for lunch break are Slade, Zion, Carlos, and Tyler (the new boy).

“Miss, can I kick it with your class next?” asks Slade, who is standing by the window. “Cos I ain’t going to Maori Performing Arts anyway.”

“Nah, I told Matua I’d try get you there.” (this was true, and I had been successful in this aim last week)

“Aw, Miss… but I don’t like going to MPA on Mondays.” He scowls. “It’s cake on Monday.”

“So what are you gonna do, then?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Dunno… . But honest, Miss I ain’t going to class.” He cocks his head at me, hopefully.

“I’ve got my year 11’s,” I say, in a non-committal way.

“I know,” Slade replies, and I can’t help laughing.

“They’re awgud Miss, can I kickit with your class? I’ll just draw…” he pleads.

“Look,” I told him. “I know you aren’t going to MPA. But Miss Kirk’s back today. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” I think about this, and add, “Or me, either.”

“Fuck her,” he replies, mildly.

 

“You should get us all outa class,” suggests Zion, with the greatest of ease. “I never do anything in Maths.”

“I don’t do anything in English either,” Carlos hastens to add.

“Geez… no, no!” I scold. “Yes you do, you guys. Just get to class.”

The bell is going, and they leave without protest. But Slade remains, for one last crack at it. “Please, Miss?”

I know he won’t make it to MPA, no matter what else happens. My intention wavers… and Slade looks joyful. “Ok,” I tell him. “Go on then, go get a netbook. But if Mrs Kirk comes in, God knows what I’m gonna say to her.”

 

I sort out 11 Social for a bit, then as I come back past my desk, Slade says, “Hear about Shanice, Miss?”

“Nah, what about her?”

“She got taken away by the cops last night.”

“Aye?” I say. “What for?”

A girl comes up to ask me something, and I see Slade back off a bit. “Um… just stuff,” he says. “Can’t say, in front of these fullas,” he quietly adds

“Ok, tell me later.”

And he nods.

 

A little bit later, he tells me the story. To be honest, I’m not really listening at first. Cos I’m expecting… what? I dunno; the usual stuff. Disturbing the peace, or possession of cannabis. But a story is kind of weaving itself into my mind, regardless. Something about Shanice’s boyfriend. Some beef with the neighbours… he went round there, took a gun in the car with him. Cops came, he gapped it. Later, Shanice was driving the car, and the cops stopped her. She got mouthy, and they took her to the cells. There was no proof of anything, so they let her go. Meanwhile, their car was smashed up (on the side of the road, by the same neighbours), as retaliation for the visit.

 

And then Slade says, “They’re overs…”

“Huh?”

“That family. They’re overs… they got it coming.”

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“It’s all planned… for tonight.” He moves closer to my desk and then, urgently: “Miss, you can’t say anything about this… even Shanice doesn’t know.”

“What’s happening tonight?” I say. I feel a strange stirring in my blood which mingles with a tired feeling and makes me kind of float.

“Everyone’s gonna get it. Even the girls.”

“Aye? What you talking about?” I say.

“Shanice’s cousin, and some other people are going over there. To end it.” He shakes his head, and deploys his favourite expression: “Oh well.” He follows this up with, “Well, they started it…”

“And what exactly are they planning to do?”

“Gonna fuck everyone up, it’s all planned. The only ones they’re not touching are the little kids. And this girl who’s in a wheelchair. Everyone else – tough.” He gives me that ‘Oh well’ look again. “They wanna mess with us like this; they gonna get what’s coming.”

“Do you think it’s really going to happen?’

“Yes, it’s all planned. Shanice’s mum set it up. Shanice doesn’t know anything though, I’m the youngest one that knows.”

 

“Slade?” I ask him. “Are you going with them?”

He nods. “My job’s to watch, outside… and if anyone comes, I have to let let them know. Cops – or anyone else.”

“Watch… with what?”

“With my bat,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say. “Slade; something might happen.”

“It will happen,” he says calmly. “It’s too late now.”

“I mean… something might go wrong, someone might get hurt.”

“Yeah, could do,” he agrees. “But shit happens. I don’t give a fuck – this is family business, this is revenge.”

“Revenge…” I murmur, just thinking this over. And there’s no point saying I don’t get it, cos I kind of do – but I’m scared, all the same. My blood keeps on pounding, and 11 Social are working away on the netbooks, and Slade’s just talking to me in that same, low, urgent voice, and the room and the other voices kind of recede… and we keep discussing it, calmly and quietly.

 

“I wish you weren’t going,” I tell him.

“Too late now,” he says.

“I know.”

“Miss, you can’t say anything,” he reiterates. “No-one knows, even Zion don’t know. I haven’t told anyone else. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, in case someone says a word here, or a word there. Cos it’s all planned – it’s gonna happen. It’s got to.”

I say, truthfully, “Who would I tell? There’s no-one to tell… it’s not like I could just tell the cops.”

“I don’t trust the cops, Miss. They don’t do shit. We tried to tell them about all this ages ago, but they never do anything about anything.”

I shrug. I don’t know.

 

Meanwhile, 11 Social are just in the background. I think how I’m a crap teacher, today. Not that the class seem to mind. They’ve all got work to do, and just do it. The usual suspects are quiet as quiet can be. I get the impression that Neon, at least, can sense something’s going on.

 

I say, “And Shanice’s mum… set it up?”

“Yeah, she’s got all the connections, honest to who. She’s a gang woman from way back.”

“And she wants you to go?”

“Yup.”

“But didn’t she say that you had to be good, or else she’s gonna send you back down the line?” (cos Slade’s told me this often enough)

“Yeah,” he explains patiently. “But that’s at school, this is family business.”

“Oh, I see.” Which I do, I guess.

 

“Slade?” I say, in slight hope, and not in any way accusingly. “Are you just… talking this up a bit. Cos I hope you are.”

“Nah,” he tells me, and shakes his head. “I’m not talking it up.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t happen… or at least, not that way.”

“I dunno what’s gonna happen, Miss,” he says. “But something gonna happen, one way or another.”

“Are you scared?” I ask him.

“Nope.”

“Hyped?”

“Yup,” he says.

“What time’s this all meant to happen?”

“Late,” he replies. “When everyone’s sleeping.”

And I keep thinking: What am I supposed to do with this? I’m not supposed to do anything. The only reason I’m hearing it is because Slade wants someone to talk to – because it’s hard to not say anything, and for no-one to carry things with you. And I guess I know that feeling, too, in my way.

 

Marjorie comes in with one of the IT guys, they’re checking the data projectors in the blocks. She’s friendly enough, and says hello to Slade before she leaves – but I’m also aware that Marjorie could easily check whether Slade’s meant to be somewhere else, if she so desires. And she might desire, considering the current situation with the Karys letter. I think to myself: oh well.

 

Slade tells me, then, about his sister’s ex-boyfriend. “My uncle… I guess, well I call him uncle,” he says. “I think of him as my uncle. He’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met.”

I nod, and Slade continues. “He’s a fuckin scary motherfucker, I used to hang out with him all the time when I was a little kid. He used to take me around with him, to all his robberies and everything. Walk into the dairy, just say to me: Take whatever you want. Lollies, anything. Walk down the aisles grabbing anything I felt like… once he put his gun right up in the man’s face, cos my uncle was fried, frizzled as. The dairy owner, this Asian man, he was just blubbering: Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.”

 

Right in the midst of 11 Social, this tale is being recounted quietly. I have a slight awareness, in my peripheral vision, of Riana, Casey, Alex… the students I’m ostensibly teaching. And Slade keeps on talking. He says, “My uncle used to make me wear the T shirt for the prospects. Wore it every day, just walking round with him…”

“How old were you?”

“Nine, ten…” he says. “I used to go everywhere with him… up North, everywhere… he’s the scariest guy I’ve ever met…” Slade’s voice gets quieter and trancier. “One time I went to his pad up north, his gang pad… and they raped this lady…”

I just look at Slade, and he tells me without affect: “This lady… she was there, and they raped her… she wasn’t even young, she was just this random lady.”

“How did she end up there?” I ask.

“Dunno,” he shrugs. “I think she was just in the wrong place, or something. And they must of picked her up – and everyone raped her. Her face was all smashed up, there was blood all over her face, they kept on punching her, I saw her. My uncle and everyone raped her… I saw her.”

“You were there?”

“I was right there.“ he says. “I was right there.”

“Slade? How old were you?”

“Eleven,” he says. “I was eleven, and my uncle made me promise not to tell anyone. He said, if you tell anyone, I’ll find out… then I’ll kill you.”

“You couldn’t tell anyone,” I repeat, gently stating it.
“I’ve didn’t tell anyone,” he replies. “I’ve never told anyone, ever.”

“You were scared, Slade,” I say, just staying real calm. “Of course you didn’t.”

“I was so scared… I was shitting myself,” he says. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. And my sister – I couldn’t tell my sister. I knew that if I did, he’d find out. But I wanted her to know. I wanted her to get away from him.”

There’s a little pause. I say, “Do you know… what happened to the lady?”

“I don’t know,” he replies. Then he looks at me real serious. He says just softly, and with some dignity, “Miss? I don’t think they could have let her go. I think… I think they killed her.”

“I guess she could be one of those ‘missing persons’,” I say, thinking about it.

“I think she probably is,” Slade says, and I can see he’s gone over all this in his mind a hundred times before. “That’s what I think, too. She’s a missing person. And no-one will ever know what happened to her.”

 

“My uncle’s in jail now,” Slade tells me. He’s been in and out, in and out, for heaps of stuff. Other stuff.”

“Yup,” I say.

“But I stopped hanging out with him, after that.”

“It must have changed things,” I say.

“It did.”

And he makes a fist with his hand on the desk, and says very quietly, “I hate him. I hated him after that. I still hate him.”

 

I check the time, and it’s almost 3:10. We’ve been talking quietly, in one spot, for an hour at least, and the class are gonna have to pack up soon. And I feel wired, and at the same time tired, and at the same time as calm as calm can be. I’m aware that sometimes you have to carry something for someone else, even when you don’t know how. Slade’s been doing that for the last five years, and now he’s trying to do it for tonight as well, and so I think maybe he just had to share something, with someone. And so maybe it’s not my business to do anything except listen. It’s not my business to go do anything with it, because I don’t know what it is, or what’s gonna happen, or even if anything’s gonna happen. I don’t know. But my blood’s kind of pushing around in my body, all the same. It’s not a bad feeling, it’s more like that ‘oh well’ of Slade’s.

There’s a lot more said, more than that. But trust goes both ways, of course, and there’s a sense of speaking freely.

When Slade leaves, I just very sincerely tell him to please take care, and that I’m going to be worried about it till I see him tomorrow. Because what else can you say, really? And honestly, what else would I say, and to who? And for what it’s worth, I hope it helped, a little bit.

 

The right thing

Sunday 23 September, 2012:

I pull weeds out of the garden for an hour and a half (the three-monthly property inspection is coming up next week). I hate gardening, doing it only when I must. I know lots of people are into it –  even Sheree and Scott enjoy it. But it reminds me of all the old ladies I’ve seen out sweeping their paths; snipping the shrubs with secateurs. And the whole time I feel self-conscious and ready to flee.

Back inside, I catch sight of my reflection in the glass of the french doors. In that half second I notice every flaw on my face. But I know that isn’t a fair reference point; not after I’ve been gardening. So I just sigh and go take a shower.

While I’m doing my hair, I hear my phone go off in the room. Text from Zion: ‘Miss Kost and Statk asked if u can take us to get paint, is it alright wif u??’

I think about this for a moment. Technically, it’s a little inconvenient, when I have a few things to do. But honestly, the idea of a trip to the paint store gives me that sense of blissful restoration, the perfect counterfoil to gardening. So I text back: ‘Yup thts fine when do you wana go??’

They want ta go nw mis haha, cum wen ur ready mis fuk dem haha,

This makes me laugh. I take my time and pack up first, then go meet them down Clancy.

 

Everyone’s outside, as they usually are there. Kids playing in the park; boys on bikes; older boys in cars… I see Zion standing with a group around one of the cars, and Kost next to him… and Inia. I pull over, get out of my car and Inia sees me too and we make a beeline for one another and hug. “Maan, Inia… it’s so good to see you,” I say.

“You too, Miss,” and we hug again.

“You still at course?” I ask, with just a little trepidation.

“Yup, still there, and it’s mean as, Miss,” Inia tells me.

“Oh, I’m so glad!” I say, and he grins, and then I see Noa come up the road pushing his daughter in the stroller, and he wraps his arms around me too. The boys in the car, just down from where we are, holler at this fond greeting: “Get in there Noa!” and we start to laugh.

There in Clancy right this minute, I feel like I know what I’m all about again, because people know me, and I’m not on my own, and I’m not doing the frickin garden anymore.

 

Noa says, “Who’s Rook, Miss?” in that suspicious hustler’s voice which brings back all those calm and happy memories for me. He adds, “Is he the one on your video on facebook… doing that green canvas?”

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s him. And he’s all good, aye Zion.” Because Zion is standing next to us now, and he nods. “Yeah, he’s awguds… Slade.”

“He’s Shanice’s cousin,” I add.

Noa considers this dual recommendation, cocking his head to one side and twisting his mouth for a second. “Shanice’s cousin…” he says, slowly. He processes the available information for a moment, then “Mmm,” he pronounces, “Rook, aye.” Thus indicating that he’s satisfied with these credentials for the time being.

 

Next person I see is Levi, who’s pulled up on a bike next to us. “Oh, Levi!” I exclaim in surprise. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“He’s been here for like the whole time, Miss,” Zion tells me.

“Oh,” I say, and Levi kind of shrugs, as if to say: whatever.

And I remember Kepaoa saying to me, just the other day: “Levi said he heard you didn’t like him.”

“That ain’t true,” I tell Kepaoa. “I never said I didn’t like Levi. It’s just that I don’t… really trust him as much as I trust some of the boys, you know.”

So our conversation, at first, is ‘polite’. I ask Levi what he’s doing now, and he tells me: “Nothing… jacc.”

“Really?” I say. “I thought you were hooked up with a job.”

“Nah, it didn’t happen. I just stay home, pretty much, when I’m not doing graff.”

“Oh,” I say.

 

“We’re going to do a legal wall, Miss!” Zion tells me then, with great joy.

“Aye, are you? Where abouts?”

“In Carthill somewhere – people are allowed to do painting there, true, Miss.”

“Aw cool,” I say.

“Miss, you should come with us,” Zion suggests, and Kost nods.

“Oh, maaan, I’d love to – but I can’t,” I tell them honestly. “I have to be somewhere.”

“Awww…” they say.

“Just not the right day for it…” Kost adds, sadly.

And I see that they really did want and intend me to come along. Not just to take them to the store, but actually to come and kick it with them while they paint. Right then I don’t care what happens with Karys, and school. I know that I’ve behaved in the only way that’s ever made sense to me; tried to act ethically – even if she and the SLT don’t see it that way. I also think about Tau… and how again, I’ve tried to do the right thing, because Tau has brought out the best in me. And even if it’s not been enough, I’ve tried, and I’m not ashamed of that. And never will be.

 

On the way to the mall, Kost asks me, “Have you seen Cluzo lately, Miss?” He’s sitting in the front with me. Levi, Inia and Zion are in the back seat. Noa’s on daddy duty with Shaleesa, and can’t come.

I shake my head, and say, “Not for a few weeks. He’s been… he’s been occupied with other things.”

Kost nods and says quietly, “Drinking, aye Miss.”

“Yeah.”

“Horced every day…”

We fall silent for a moment. Then Kost says, “Ask him what he’s doing today and he says, ‘getting horcey’. Ask him what he’s doing tomorrow and he says, ‘getting horcey again.’”

I’m aware that everyone else is listening, and I feel my heart kind of choke up, and I just say, “Oh well, I guess that’s his choice. But  I’m worried about Tau – I won’t deny it.”

“Yeah, Miss,” says Levi, in what is actually a sympathetic way.

“Oh well, Tau’s cracking enough to buy heaps of alcohol,” Kost says, matter of factly.

This I don’t doubt. I just say, “Yeah, but he never used to spend his money like that.”

“True, Cluzo’s always been a stingy cunt,” Levi says.

I laugh, saying, “True that, he’s the tightest person I’ve ever met… but that’s kind of a good thing, I reckon.”

“That’s how you get rich, aye,” Inia says, admiringly.

“Yeah, but then if you start spending all that money on alkies, you probably got a drinking problem,” I say, not beating around the bush, because what’s the point?

“He does have a drinking problem,” says Kost, again very matter of fact.

“So does Leroi,” adds Zion. “They just sit and drink all day, every day.”

We’re all worried, but no-one’s being judgmental about it, and so it soothes my heart just a little bit.

 

Down at Municipal, it’s hard to get a park, so I pull over to drop them off near the entrance. Right then, I hear, “Hi Miss!” and there’s Nakesha waving at me from the car next to us, which is being driven by her mum. I wave back, and see her eyes kind of pop as Inia, Kost, Levi and Zion launch themselves out of my car and into the mall. She grins at me, then her mum drives on, and I park up and go in to meet them at the store.

When I get there, they’re choosing paint. Zion tells me, “I got that can you gave me too, that Atmosphere.”

“Aye, did you bring it?” I say.

“Yup, it’s in my bag in the car.” He grins and adds, “And I told Slade you gave me the can.”

Did you tell him?” I ask, in wonder.

“Haha, yupp.”

“And what did he say?”

“He was surprised…  cos yeah, he thinks he’s the number one hustler,” says Zion, and we just burst out laughing.

 

Inia says again to me, “Course is mean now, Miss. I go to the TI on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – and sometimes I get work experience on the other days.”

“And will you get your ticket, at the end of the year?” I ask him.

“Yup, I will,” he says.

“Ohhh…  that’s cool, Inia. And are you still like the top student in your class?”

He smiles, saying, “Yes, there’s three of us. Me and these two other guys, my two mates.”

“So you guys are the top students?”

He nods, and says, “Miss, I love it there. And it keeps me out of trouble. Yeah, it keeps me outa trouble, and it’s cool, too.”

I look at Inia, and get this huge swell of gratitude, for being lucky enough to be here and be part of it. I can’t really explain it. Just a feeling that nothing’s ever wasted – nothing can ever be wasted, no matter how you look at it. The feeling that it’s not wasted for them; not wasted for me either – no matter how it’s looking at the time – you just never know. And right then I’m cool widit, and for Tau as much as for Inia, and for the days that stack up like cards, and again: you never know, you might be building your best hand.

 

“I can’t wait to paint today… says Kost, kind of dreamily, at the counter. He places his hand on the cans, saying, “These two are mine, and this one, and this one…”

“Nah kieeent, that’s my one,” Levi puts in.

“Aye cunt? I got these two greens…”

“Ohh aye, is that my green over here, and this one?”

“Yeah ge.”

And so it goes, and the transaction is settled: twenties and fifties are waved around and the cans are boxed up.

 

On our way back to the car, I say to Levi, “Nice tattoo,” (there’s a new one on his arm), and he replies, “Thanks, Miss,” and I feel that the atmosphere has gotten easier between us.

Inia hands me ten dollars. “Here Miss – gas,” he says, just as simply and nicely as anything.

“Aw, thanks… but nah, you keep it,” I tell him.

I drop them off in Carthill somewhere, and as they get out of the car, Levi just turns around and says, “Miss… good seeing you, Miss.”

“Good seeing you too, Levi,” I reply, and I really mean it.

As I drive away, I keep thinking about Inia, and Noa, and how much I miss them at school, and how things aren’t the same, but you know… things are still good. Even though sometimes I think that nothing new might happen, that everything’s already happened… But that’s not true either. There’s always life, and stuff just keeps right on happening, and you can always win, and so you got to keep your head up and stay on the move. Because nothing’s ever, ever wasted. Well that’s how I see it.

 

A way back

Wednesday 12 September, 2012:

Shit hitting the fan. I get one of those ‘Karys’ letters today. Not that I haven’t been expecting it. But still… it’s always kind of a shock, just to see things in black and white.

I know it’s important – that I can’t just say school’s right, and I’m wrong.

 

Thursday 13 September:

Late at night, I get a succession of increasingly hyped up texts from Kepaoa. There’s obviously some drama going on. The last text, which comes shortly after midnight, reads:

Ms plz kanu pk us up frm municipal? Plz?  He’s been kicked out of home; he and his girlfriend (Teri) are at the bus bay at the train station.

Well, God; can’t say I didn’t try. A lota things I don’t know – but I can’t leave them out in the street all night. I can’t, and that’s all there is to it.

When I get out of the car, Kepaoa gives me a hug so tight it bangs my forehead.

 

Friday 14 September:

Kepaoa and Teri are still here. They have (to a certain extent) sorted things out with Kepaoa’s parents; there’s been a meeting up at Montgomery Rd, earlier in the evening. I drop them off there, and give Elroy a ride back to Municipal. It’s good seeing Elroy, that bad lil gangsta. And intelligence shines forth from him, no matter how much he tries to hide it.

When I leave Kepaoa and Teri, within two minutes I get a text, asking me to come back.

I pull the car over, and Elroy and I consult one another on this.

“Leave them there,” Elroy advises. “They need to sort it out with mum and dad, and you got your own stuff to do in the meantime.”

I agree, and text back: ‘Nah il come bk later best to sort it out wf your mum’

Kepaoa bites the bullet. ‘Yhhp k. Cweet’ is his reply.

 

They stay again tonight, though Actually, they’re the easiest house guests. We bring the spare mattress into the lounge, and make a bed up. They make noodles, put on Sky movies (which I’ve just got free for 3 months), and drift off to sleep.

Kepaoa’s so different from my quiet, wary, private Tau. After just 24 hours here, he can stroll in and out of the kitchen, picking at the leftover chicken; opening the freezer to get himself a second serve of ice cream. And I care about Kepaoa a lot, I really do. And also sometimes I just pine for Tau. I know, I know… you can’t always see how things are going to turn out, and so I just have to keep in my mind some kind of faith that he’ll be ok, and that somehow there’s always a way back: a way for everything to be righted, the way it could and should be.

 

Saturday 15 September:

I’ve reminded Kepaoa that if Tau comes round there won’t be any dramas, will there. “No dramas,” he replies. “Me and Tau are awgud.”

They’ll have to go home soon, though. I’ve told them as much. Teri’s got school next week – she’s at Carthill High – and Kepaoa needs to be back at his course. As much as they might want to, they can’t just remain here in limbo indefinitely. They feel safe, they feel cared about; I understand that. After days of trying to find a place to lay their heads, away from all the arguments at both their homes. Teri’s mum thinks Kepaoa’s a gangsta (she’s not exactly wrong there… but he’s a good gangsta, nonetheless). And Kepaoa’s parents are cracking down hard on him after Elroy’s stint in juvey.

Kepaoa finds it hard to talk about what’s happening at his place, and changes the subject. Teri tells me, privately, “He does that with me, all the time. He doesn’t answer, or he just says anything, then when I ask him again he says something different, and I don’t know what’s really going on.”

“Yeah, he’s like that,” I agree.

But I also remember the day I picked Kepaoa up, when he was ready to escape down the line. His dad’s a hard man… I can understand why he might not want to be at home just now. I remember his brother saying to me, “Once dad hit him so hard it knocked his tooth out.”

 

I’ve got to write a ‘response’ for Karys, too. I guess that’ll be tomorrow as well. I can’t see myself doing it tonight, though you never know.

 

Monday 17 September:

It takes me a long time to write the ‘written response’ (412 minutes editing time, late on Sunday) By the time I finish, the night has turned to wild rain, and I’m jumpy and restless.

But once I arrive at school this morning, some combination of alertness and tiredness has blunted my nerves about the Karys affair. A kind of ‘oh well’ feeling takes over instead.

I mail a copy of the letter to the Union rep. Well done, very clear and precise,’ is the reply.

During the course of the day, Karys does one of her walkthroughs, and comes briefly into my room. The visit is uneventful. In my opinion, it is notable only for the quite reasonable way that we speak to one another.

At the end of the day, I hand-deliver my letter (marked ‘PERSONAL, PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL’) to her PA.

 

I get home around 4:30 to find Kepaoa and Teri sleeping on the mattress. They rise, without undue haste, and we have a discussion about ‘Where to from here?’ Teri needs to sit an exam at school tomorrow, and I encourage her to go. I also tell Kepaoa he should go back to course tomorrow, and though he isn’t exactly keen, he agrees.

They ask to stay one more night – they look at me so hopefully. “We were even going to make dinner for you,” Teri tells me. “But we fell asleep.”

I can’t help laughing at them. “Ok, you guys,” I tell them. “One more night. But tomorrow, it’s back to reality.

 

When I go into my room, I see straight away that someone has been in there. Little things are different: moved slightly, or opened and closed. I feel a kind of wariness; not exactly that. But just… inwardly I’m a little bit snippy about it. And I know Tau would never have done that; never touched my things.

I go back in the lounge and we just chat, and do stuff, but at first I feel a degree or two cooler towards Kepaoa and Teri. Put it down to curiosity, I guess. I might have been nosy about things as well, at their age. But all the same, right then I miss Tau so much.

Later on, I feel ok again. And it’s so dang easy to just sit there and talk, with Kepaoa and Teri. They’re relaxed and happy, and we eat (Kepaoa can eat, which makes me laugh), and things are fine. But that kind of isn’t the point, or at least not the most important point. The point is that I trust Tau more than most people I know, and I think Tau trusts me back just the same way – all his stuff’s still in my shed, and he knows it’s safe and that I’d never rummage through it. Because really, we both understood how things work, without a word needing to be said. And it’s just one of the many reasons why I’m always so loyal to Tau. No-one can say a bad word about him, far as I’m concerned (not that that stops me being worried).

And I miss that feeling of mutual respect, and yes, I know – that’s despite all the obvious incongruities. But I do.

 

Tuesday 18 September:

Romeo and Juliet have gone back to Verona.

Later I get a text from Kepaoa, which reads:

Ms idont know how to repay u for being thea when we needed help the most, sht glad ua my teachr/frend/aunty ha.

Yeah, Kepaoa means a lot to me too, he really does. But I’m glad they’ve repaired the situation with their parents.

 

At last we are dealing with something real

‘It’s a cold world boy, this is how we show flames.’

Young Sid

 

Thursday 6 September, 2012:

The day starts peacefully enough. 12 History, 11 Social, the painters at break. Everything normal – at least on the surface. But after lunch, a boy comes up the stairs and hails me on the top floor of the block: “Miss!”

“Oh, hey,” I say, sort of absently as I acknowledge him from a little distance. I see it’s the boy from that 10 Health class the other day – the one who gave me his drawing. Slade told me his name is Bradford. I’m on my way out the upstairs doors by now, but he quickens his pace, and falls in behind me. He kind of shepherds me into the corner, near the office door. “Miss,” he says again, this time softly and urgently. “I… need to talk to you.”

“Oh, ok – do you?”

I see his face is quite pale and worried.

“Yes Miss, I do. Cos… Mrs Kirk just called me into her office, to talk to her.”

“It’s ok, Bradford,” I tell him, with a sudden lurch in my chest, sensing the undercurrents that have been there all day.

“And, Miss… she asked me questions. Like if I’ve ever seen spray cans when I come into your room after lunch, for Health class – and I said no. Miss, I did see them that time, when your boys were putting them away. But I told her no.”

I nod. “It’s ok,” I say again. “All good, Bradford, don’t worry about it. Whatever you said, it’ll be totally fine.”

“I… didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. I didn’t know what to say,” he goes on. “And then she asked me about who was there with you, so I said I didn’t know anyone, and she said some names – and I said I didn’t know them. I told her I didn’t take any notice who was there, I was just coming in for Health class… that’s what I told her.”

“That’s all good,” I reassure him. “And honestly, no-one’s gonna be in trouble. Not you, and not them. You don’t have to worry. No-one’s done anything wrong.”

“I came to find you, cos… I felt worried about it,” he admits.

“I know,” I say “And thank you for coming over and telling me what happened. But I promise, no-one’s in trouble.” (Except me, I think. But there’s a a kind of settled feeling in my heart too, almost like joy).

 

I send Bradford back to class; the poor kid, facing one of Karys’s interrogations, and being scared to get anyone in trouble. He’s really a nice, kind boy – and I hardly know him.

Then I sigh, and go back down to my room (instead of the office), just so I can think things over on my own. I’ve only been there for a minute when the door opens and Zion bursts in, followed by Slade.

“Miss,” Zion says. “I have to go see Miss Kirk in her office, I’ve got a slip, look…” He shows me.

“Ohhh,” I say, in a kind of awe at Karys’s sneaky tactics, which nonetheless are backfiring on her a bit. “And Bradford too – he just came and told me.”

“Aye?” asks Zion, mystified. “Why would she want to talk to Bradford?”
I explain the situation, adding, “It’s because he tags, I guess. She thought he might know you guys, and… what about you, Slade? Do you have to go over there as well.”

“No, I just came with the bro,” he says, making me grin.

“So you’re going back to class after this.”

“Yup,” he tells me.

“Right… so?”

And we look at one another and laugh, at the thought of Karys waiting in her office, while the three of us discuss what Zion should tell her.

 

“It depends what she asks me…” Zion says, considering this. “I’ll tell her I just come in to do some History, and… that course booklet thingy.”

“And don’t mention Slade,” I say. “I don’t think she knows he was here.” (Cos yesterday, Marjorie just saw Zion and Carlos coming over).

“Nah, I won’t Miss. I’ll just say me and Carlos. And Miss Kirk can’t talk to Carlos, cos he gapped at lunch anyway.”

We also discuss the cans situation, and decide that truth will be the only sensible policy here. We’ve never been told not to paint at breaks, after all. I also explain to the boys that if push comes to shove, I’ll have to tell Mrs Kirk about the Municipal fight, and how I hadn’t wanted them to leave school early and go down there. They nod, trustingly.

“Ok, so don’t worry, Zion,” I finish. “You’re not gonna get in any trouble. If anyone’s in trouble it’s gonna be me… and I don’t give a fuck.” I don’t – I think. I honestly don’t.

Slade shoots me a look of clarity and understanding..

“For fuck’s sake, it’s not like I’m running a bloody crack house from my room,” I add, and the boys just burst out laughing.

Off we go, parting company just outside the block – like conspirators who must cross open ground alone. I still have that settled feeling in my heart. It’s always like this, when shit goes down. I just get very calm, and feel happy, like a bird to its little perch. Because: At last we are dealing with something real’.

 

Zion returns from Karys’s, and nips across to me on his way back to class.

“It was ok Miss, it went allgood. I just told her I was doing my History work, and that course booklet for next year. She didn’t even ask about the paint.”

“Well that’s good, Zion,” I say – and it is, for the time being.

But… you know. Things are about to unfold. And yet, what I said is true. I honestly don’t care. I mean, it’s not like the SLT gonna raid my house now. They don’t even know me, or anything about me. And I ain’t scared of them – so let’s see what happens.

 

Friday 7 September:

Nothing happens on the Karys and Marjorie front; well, not openly – and maybe that’s why I feel unsettled. Behind the scenes, things will surely be taking their course. I keep expecting ‘the email’, or ‘the letter’. But I don’t know when.

Zion, Slade and Carlos come in at break. We don’t paint (of course – things are just too hotty right now). It touches my heart that Zion comes in first, without the others, and sits with me for a while. We talk, amongst other things, about Tau. The drinking, and the spending of money where money has never previously been spent (on alkies for other people). Even Zion is worried – and like me, he has noted this shift.

 

When the others arrive, the atmosphere changes a bit. Slade is in a blasé kind of mood, which I understand, but which still piques me a little. I guess I don’t know Slade that well yet. But it makes me even more unsettled than I am already, when he wants to stay in my room after lunch.

“I’ll just go to class late,” he tells me casually.

“Nah, better go now – I don’t want you guys to get into trouble today.”

Slade gives a little “psshht…” and applies himself to his tagging.

Carlos and Zion obligingly stand up, as the bell ends, and make to go to English.

“Come on Slade, what have you got next?” I ask.

“Art – but I can go late. The teacher doesn’t care, as long as we turn up after a while.”

“No that’s all shit, she puts it on Kamar,” I tell him. “I’ve seen those pastoral notes from your art teacher, saying you’re wagging with Sonny.”

“That’s only if we leave class,” he insists. “Not if we come late.”

“Well I don’t think so… and anyway, I want you to just get there, today. I don’t want to see you guys in any trouble.”

“Oh well…” Slade shrugs.

“What? You mean like – ‘shit happens’?”

“Yupp,” he says, in a flat voice. But all the same, he gets to his feet and saunters out the door, turning back to ask me, “Keep these colours for us, Miss?” (a pack of new felts, which has been kindly provided by La-Verne’s key to the stationery cupboard.)

“Yeah, alright,” I say, briefly.

 

After they’ve gone, I pack up and go for my facial at the mall. And there, in the peace and quiet, for some reason I think of gentle Zion – the only one left at school who really knows me, now days. I feel two tears barely spill, under the eye mask the beautician has placed on me. I don’t know… why it all matters so much to me. Or why it hurt today, that Slade looked at the world with hard eyes.

Later I see someone’s tagged Tau in a photo on Facebook. I look at his very dear, drunk, stoic face; mournful eyes. I’m so worried about him that I can’t even write about it.

 

Tuesday 11 September:

No word from Karys or the SLT, and Karys is on a Principal’s retreat.

So Slade and Zion start the new canvas at break.  A couple of the boys come in to watch: Carlos, and a new guy called Tyler (just started at MC yesterday). We just chat a bit, and, “People say this school has a good Principal,” he informs me.

“Oh,” is all I can reply to that, not wanting to be uncharitable.

But Tyler looks at me shrewdly. “What?” he said.

I shrug, thinking something along the lines of: ‘If you can’t say something nice, better to say nothing at all.’

“Don’t you like Ms Kirk ?”

I don’t,” puts in Slade. “She’s a bitch.”

“Nah, she’s alright,” I say, but can’t help adding, “In her own way.”

“You don’t like her!” Tyler says, with an ‘aha’ tone.

“She’s alright, in her own way,” I repeat, then for some reason finding myself in ‘I cannot tell a lie’ mode: “It’s just… not the same as my way, that’s all.”

And I think to myself, oh well, no point in pissing around pretending to be algood with everyone.