The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.

 

After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”

 

“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.

 

After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.

 

I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.

 

At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.

 

We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.

 

Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.

 

The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.

 

Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.

 

By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.

Rushing

Tuesday 9 April, 2013:

School today. Year 9’s so babyish, sometimes. Today was one of those days. I feel just… frustrated is all.

Jackson says to me, “Miss? You’re look like you’re in a rush.”

Guess so: a rush to get it over and done with. Man, it’s like teaching primary school, some days: “I don’t get it,” they say. “I lost my mind map.”

“I don’t get writing paragraphs.”

“I need help.”

“Miss!” they bellow

And so on, and so on and on.

 

Thank God for Michaela, who gets it. Hallelujah.

Lauren says to me, “Miss, can I go sit with Michaela. She explains it really well, how to do the paragraphs.”

“Sure thing,” I say. Patient little Michaela, who can explain it a lot better than me today, I reckon. And the lovely Deshaun

I say to him, “Oh my gosh, Deshaun, this is the best paragraph I’ve read all day.”

“I don’t get the ‘TEXAS’ thing, Miss,” says Deshaun, ruefully (it’s an acronym we’re meant to teach them, school-wide). “I’ve just done it my way.”

“Your way’s just as good,” I tell him, honestly. “TEXAS is really just to help anyone who doesn’t already know how to write paragraphs. You’ve got all the points in there, anyway. Explanation, examples, analysis… just like TEXAS, only better.”

“Thanks, Miss,” says Deshaun, smiling in surprised happiness.

 

Caleb comes and insinuates himself alongside me, keeping up a running commentary on his dilemmas:

“Miss… can I go and get the key to my locker?”

“Miss… can I go and get the key to my locker, it’s at the office?”

“Miss… can you write me a note, I don’t have my diary.”

“Miss… can someone go with me, I don’t want to go to the office by myself.”

“Miss… I’m afraid to go by myself.”

“Yes, I know it’s only the next block over, but I don’t want to go all by myself.”

“Miss, I need someone to go with me…”

 

I say he can’t go, and tell him to write his paragraph.

“I already wrote the information, it’s on my mind map.”

“I already did that – Miss? It’s all there, on my mind map.”

“Oh, I have to write a paragraph!” (light finally dawns)

“Ohh, I need my mom to help me. Can I bring it in next class?”

“Yes yes yes,” I say, abruptly. I couldn’t give a toss about Caleb’s paragraph, or whether he brings it in at all, to be honest.

 

And then there’s Delaney, who arrives half an hour late, with a forged note (‘from’ her tutor teacher) in her diary. I suspect, correctly, that her tutor teacher has nothing to do with it. A few emails later, Delaney’s goose is cooked. She tries to toss her head and talk back to me, but I say, “Don’t even start!”

“Yeah, don’t start, Delayney,” echo the others.

And wisely, she drops it. “I’m not trying to argue with you Miss,” she says. Then, unable to help herself: “I’m just saying…”

“Quit while you’re ahead,” I say.

She grins at me.

 

And yes, my mind’s rushing and rushing. I want, I want… a lot of things. Want them now, don’t want to wait any longer for them.

The only time I don’t feel like I’m in a rush, is at break time, kicking it with Slade. Grumpy, funny, crackup boy… and he’s my friend, in that stupid place.

 

Wednesday 10 April:

Tau’s bought some home brew, from God alone knows where.

“This is gonna make me throw up later,” he tells me.

“Ohh Tau… that’s not a good thing,” I cry.

“If I throw up, I know I’m wasted – and that’s algood,” he replies, very straightforward.

“No it isn’t!” I say. “How can that be algood? That’s not fun.”

“At least I’ll know I got my money’s worth,” says Tau.

“Bloody hell, that’s just ridiculous,” I chastise him, and he chuckles.

But I do worry about him, of course. Because I love that boy like I raised him, honest to who. And I think, all the more so, for what we’ve been through.

 

I also hear from Elroy, who tells me Kepaoa’s coming back from down the line tomorrow. I say I thought court was tomorrow; perhaps I’m wrong. Elroy wouldn’t have a clue, anyway. He’s on leave from rehab for court himself, but missed his own case today.

 

Thursday 11 April:

Thankfully I have 11 History first up today, who soothe my tired, impatient brain. This is brought home to me even more when I manage to score a last minute booking for eight computers. “Ok, I can send eight people over to the library,” I tell my class. Usually I’d choose the group myself, trusting only certain students to be there unaccompanied. But with this class, honestly – everyone’s independent. There’s not one person I wouldn’t choose. So, “The first eight people to bring up their diaries can go,” I say.

I look at them with great regard. Every table. Every kid. And just when I think I’ve lost that connection, with school… when I think I don’t care about it at all, or anything I’m supposed to do there. Right then with 11 History I do care… and it’s enough to still my rushing mind, for a little while.

 

 

Saturday 13 April:

Today feels like a good day, for some reason. I’m not so tired anymore. I just want to go to the mall or something. Walk around, get coffee. I’d like to go right into the city, but my car payments start up next week, and I have to keep some money in reserve.

I’m alright with money though. I feel kind of buzzy about it. Joined the gym. Bought me a car. Still got food in the cupboard. I’m just remembering those years when I couldn’t even get to the end of the week; down to my last dollar. Not that long ago, either. I’m not sorry about it, now. It made me so unsentimental – it was a funny feeling – I was emptied of all pretense. I couldn’t even answer my phone, couldn’t talk to the people I used to know. Didn’t know what to say, what to do. Felt like I was falling; dropping like a stone. And then, right when I thought there was nowhere else to go, nothing left to do but hit the ground, I found myself in the middle of a battle zone.

 

Sometimes I wonder: why couldn’t this have happened earlier? But I guess it just couldn’t, that’s all. There’s a time; a place. Some things are just meant to be, that’s what I think.

If I’d found this place earlier, it would have been different. Different in what way, I don’t know. Just… different. But perhaps it was meant to be just like this. For better or worse – it was meant to be like this. And I was meant to be right here, with these people, in this time.

I feel very emotional, writing this stuff down. Emotional and not sentimental. I don’t mean to imply that everything is alright, or that stuff doesn’t happen. But I feel that we’re all as ‘protected’ as we can be. Because we’re brave. Because we try. Because we don’t give up. We’re always ready to take our last chance and use it. And our hearts sing for battle. I can’t explain… but this is how it is.

 

 

 

Priorities

Tuesday 19 March, 2013:

Just before I go to sleep last night, Kepaoa texts. I’m slightly alerted (if you can say such a thing) by the tone of his texts – which imply he’s mildly hyped (again, if such a collocation is possible). Saying things like: ‘Yeh just dont wana get blocked from going ovceez ay part frm that idnt gva fucck!!’

‘If u say so..’  I reply, believing not a word of it.

But he insists: ‘Tbh idont miss ay!’

So I just leave it, even though I know he cares a lot more than he’s letting on right now, about what happens next, with court.

Then I wake up in the middle of the night, and just lie there with this sad feeling in my heart. I think – oh, maybe I should be scared right now. Outside is all wind and rain, and there are branches bending and scraping against my window. But I’m not scared. And after a while I fall asleep again.

 

When I get to school, Slade is waiting for me at my door. I’m a little late, and, “I wondered where you were!” he exclaims, and just the way he says it – it touches my heart.

Sometimes I think Slade’s real sensitive to things, when I’m troubled. He comes in at the start of both breaks, without even looking for a spare ciggie first. Just sits and talks to me, and shows me stuff on youtube and soundcloud, and tells me stories about down the line.

At lunch time (or ‘second break’ as it’s known; they’re both of the same ridiculously short duration), I go upstairs to make a coffee, and Slade mentions he’s feening for a coffee too.

“I’ll make you one,” I tell him, and we sit in my room and sip our cups of coffee like two friends and colleagues, which is pretty much exactly what we are. I wouldn’t swap places with anyone, right this minute. I’m so glad to have him here with me, and to know I’m not alone.

 

Later on, Tau texts. He tells me he’s got a letter from Winz, and his benefit has now reduced by half – something about missing a meeting. So I say I can come round after school, if he wants. And, ‘oh yea,’  he replies, not sounding too keen. But all the same, he’s let me know. It’s something, I guess. That Tau still believes I’d try to help.

I take Slade round there with me. I ask him if he wants to come, and he says yes straight away. Again, I just feel better, to know I’m not on my own with things.

Got a emergency ciggie in the car too, courtesy of Slade, when I drop him off after. Honestly, this is a kind act – and Slade’s not renowned for his overt kindnesses. As we pull up to his house, he says to me, “Miss, hold up a minute, I’ll go and get you a ciggie, kay? I won’t be long – I’ll roll you one.”

I start to laugh, and tell him,“Oh my goodness, that’s nice of you – but really, I don’t need to be smoking again.” (never mind my amo puffs)

“Nah Miss, just hold up and I’ll be back – you can have it for when you need to kick back,” Slade tells me, and he nips in and rolls me one (even puts a filter in), and comes back and hands it to me.

 

Wednesday 20 March:

Stuff keeps rolling right along, I get these little windows of opportunity to write it down.

Tonight I pick up Tau and a couple of the boys (Raphael, Elroy) from somewhere along Carthill Rd. It’s Elroy who 798’s me, and when I call him back, asks me to come, saying that Cluzo is ‘going hulk’ on everyone.

I get there, Raphael (taking over from Elroy, being the only one with credit) texting me the ongoing details of their flight through Carthill). Tau’s phone has gone missing, and he thinks Eddie’s taken it, so he’s chasing him down. I catch up with them near Clancy, where Tau is exerting his way along the road. I can only sit and watch as the denouement unfolds, and Tau steps out both Eddie and his dad. They sack it (according to analysis from the CP camp) and run inside. And then, somehow, Tau is persuaded to get into my car and be driven home.

“Sorry Miss…” he says, sitting heavily and drunkenly next to me. His voice is full of warmth and apology. I can hear him panting and breathing heavily. “I just hate it when cunts disrespect me,” he adds, in sorrowful tones.

“All good Tau,” I say. “All good.”

“Thanks Miss,” says Tau. This he repeats, several times as we drive.

 

I drop Tau and Raphael off at Fitzroy. Once they’re safely home, I take Elroy back to Carthill. He’s still drunk, and yells out at people as we drive along. I shush him and deflect the philosophical justifications he offers for his actions. We stop at Clancy for another cig, which we share on the outbound journey.

Then I come home, and fall into bed and sleep.

 

Thursday 21 March:

I’m so tired this morning. I take 9 Social to the library and kind of crash, gratefully, behind the librarian’s desk. She’s just saying to me that she’ll make us a coffee – when Kepaoa texts. He’s popped his knee again; can’t get to Carthill for his Winz meeting, and doesn’t know what to do.

I think about it for a couple of minutes. Then, “Can you do me a favour?” I ask the librarian.

“What’s that?” she says, in a easy way.

“Can you babysit my class while I go pick up… someone, and take him to an appointment?”

She doesn’t bat an eyelid. “Sure,” she says. No hesitation, no worries. And right then I really love her for that.

And off I go, just take my laptop to my room first, then leave. Pick up Kepaoa, take him to Winz, then the doctors, and get back to school in time for tutor.

The whole time I feel as free as a bird. My heart is singing, to be free. I know what my priorities are, and that’s all I need to know.

 

“You’re straight gangsta – that’s why,” Kepaoa tells me, when I say I’m feeling kickback about it.

“Well,” I reply, thinking about this. “It’s like that saying: It’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

And I guess that’s my motto, all day.

 

Later we just come back here. Kepaoa’s crashed out on the couch, and I gotta get ready for work tomorrow, to go teach stuff I don’t care about. I can’t even really pretend to care about any of it, today. Apart from Slade, like I said before.

 

 

In control of my faculties

Sunday 17 March, 2013:

I take Elroy home this morning; he turns up after spending last night breaching his curfew and getting horced at Fitzroy. Those same boys were round there, he tells me. They talked about yesterday at mine, and mentioned that his brother was over here.

“Did they say anything else?” I ask.

“Just that you didn’t want them drinking over there.”

“Damn right,” I mutter. “I’m not having randoms drinking at mine.”

“Yeah Miss,” Elroy says. Then, “But… I could have a drink at yours, aye.”

“Fuck off,” I tell him, but not unkindly, and making him snort with laughter. “Geez man, you’re on curfew and everything. You shouldn’t even be at mine, let alone drinking there.”

“Nah Mis, nah… but after I’ve been to rehab and everything, I could have a drink at yours, aye? Just a lazy one.”

I can’t help laughing at him. “Ohh geez, I don’t know,” I say, sighing. “If you weren’t such a little hoodlum, you could probably have one or two, one day when you’re grown up.”

Elroy sighs, happily. “Cos you trust me, aye Miss,” he says, echoing the words of numerous gangstas, over the years.

“Yeah, well I do,” I affirm. “I do trust you, Elroy. But I don’t trust those other boys – the ones who were round at Tau’s with you. Even if they’re CP.”

“I don’t really know them either, Miss,” Elroy informs me, and then, as an aside: “They said my brother got swag.”

“Yeah, true that, good job!” I say triumphantly, and both of us crack up laughing.

 

Drop him off, and I’m just coming back through Carthill when my phone beeps: Kepaoa

Hey ms wats doing?

I just dropped elroy off at urs

 Ay wea yu at ms? Ha algud come urs? I’m at tha church ms ha, wea bouts? Ms if it’s a hassle then it cool.

 Oh yip algd. Im stil round your ways. Wnt me to pick you up from church?

 Thanks!!!!

 So once again, I drop off one; pick one up… and we go back home.

 

Kepaoa throws himself down on the couch with a sigh of contentment, making me laugh. “Man, I feel so comfortable here,” he pronounces.

“At your hotel…”

“Hard.” He grins at me, stretching out. “I’m not even gonna ring Teri yet. I’m gonna wait till I’m real, real tired. Then I’ll ring her hard and fast, before I crash out.”

“All good then,” I tell him, bringing in the pillow and blanket from the spare room. “There you go – room service.”

 

But it’s probably time to harden up all round, that’s how it feels right now. After yesterday, I mean. Kepaoa and I talk about this later on (while eating pies for breakfast, Elroy styles). He tells me, “That’s what I always liked about you, Miss. You’re kickback – but not just kickback. You’re kickback and strict.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I say. “That’s why it pisses me off when people think I’m gonna be soft. I’m only soft if I wanna be soft – if I care about someone a lot. And everyone else can go sort their shit out.”

“That’s good, Miss, that’s good,” Kepaoa tells me. “Sometimes I think about it, I wonder what it would be like to… to live here, with you.”

“To live here?” I say in surprise.

“Yeah, sometimes I think about it,” he says, again. “I imagine what it would be like… if I had all my things here, and if that was my room,” and he gestures towards the spare room.

“Do you?” I say, laughing.

And we leave it there, for the moment.

 

I haven’t heard from Tau since yesterday – course I haven’t. He’s still welcome here, that’ll never change. But I’ve got to look out for myself as well, because I don’t think Tau is able to do that, right now. Even if he wants to.

And I think he does want to. I still see that side of Tau. That kind, gentle and protective side. I see it when he’s with me on his own, or when he’s in the passenger seat, patiently directing me, making minor adjustments to my trajectory as we go. So it pains me, to think I might have upset him yesterday. All the same, I cannot have random gangstas thinking they’re running it at my house

 

 Monday 18 March:

 Kind of got things on my mind. So has everyone else, I guess. At least today school’s easy (ish), but if I’m honest, there’s only two reasons I’m even there. One’s Slade (still hopping along in his moonboot), the other’s money.

 

This evening I go round to Tau’s, with some work for Leroi that he’s asked me to drop over. Leroi’s currently refusing to go to school (something about his shoes, but who knows) and Scott and Sheree have absolutely no control over him, so home he stays, with the ‘youth gang’ which everyone from CYFS to Youth Support Services, to the Guidance (now ‘Inclusive Education’) Faculty at MC wrings their hands over. Youth gang, pffft!! They can youth gang over here and see how far they get. I’m feeling in control of my faculties at the moment, and I tell you what, I’d be ashamed to represent one of those agencies: inclusive this and community that, fuck’em all. They go on and on about everything but they don’t actually do shit, and that’s the truth.

Tau, Elroy, and little Michael are the only ones at Fitzroy. They all look stoned out of their brains. Elroy says they haven’t been drinking. Just having a sesh and kicking back… though to be honest it doesn’t look very kickback. Elroy is as solemn as I’ve ever seen him. And Tau just seems morose.

I take Elroy home, seeing as he’s breaching his curfew once again. We stop at Clancy on the way and he buys a dollar ciggie from the tin shop (he only has 40 cents and I give him the rest). Ha, then he offers me a puff, and I have one.

During our drive to Carthill, some serious and intelligent conversation takes place, and I mean that most sincerely. Elroy’s a smart, smart young man. I don’t know what the fuck he’s wanting from life, but I hope it’s worth it, I really do.

 

On the way back to Municipal, I stop at the Gull, in my jarmies… to get 15 dollars gas.  I actually love my night time drives, out to Carthill and back. Midnight Train to Georgia, hmm. Over two years ago, I moved to Municipal… and how did I know? I ask myself sometimes, how did I know about a place, a time?

When I think about it all right now, I feel this little ache in my heart too, that things have changed from the days when… when everything had a bit of hope to it, for Tau. You know? And it hurts – when I stop for too long to consider this – that I can’t really ‘help’ much. That maybe he doesn’t even want me to help, anymore. Those days seem so long ago. And yet Tau still trusts me, I guess. It’s just that… he’s kind of let go that finger hold on ‘good days’, the days he used to cling onto so tenaciously. Non-drinking days, TI days, trips to the beach, painting… even the tagging missions. And Shae, of course.

Everything’s about alcohol, these days. Other things straight fly out the window. Tau would never have even considered bringing random people over to mine, once upon a time. He was proud that he looked out for me. “I’ll watch the house, Miss, don’t worry,” he used to tell me.

The funny thing (or I guess it’s funny) is that I still trust him, right to this very day. It’s just that I don’t trust all those CP boys and hangers on. When it comes down to it, they’re not going to look out for him, so they definitely won’t look out for me. And I have to be able to handle my shit. I’m not providing a space for the people who congregate round Tau, looking for some sycophantic hang out pad. Hell no, it’s not their room of requirement. And as much as I want to protect and shelter Tau – I’ve got to keep control of my territory.

It isn’t all about me, I know that. And so I try not to feel ‘hurt’ by Tau’s actions. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. I just mean – I want to remember that he isn’t doing any of it to hurt me.

 

 

What they want to see

Saturday 16 March, 2013:

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Tau and some boys.”

“They drinking?”

I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Straight up,” Tau assures me.

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

“I don’t know,” I reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Shut up eggs,” I say, generally.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never hear back, of course.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Wheels that turn wheels

Friday 8 March, 2013:

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

 

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

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

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

“Fuckin did she just?” snorts Sheree.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday 9 March:

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

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

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

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

 

Monday 11 March:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s algood,” he insists.

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

“Nah…”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Little ways

Sunday 3 February, 2013:

In the morning, the door to the sleepout is still open, and as I expected – Tau hasn’t come back. I’ve been awake since before 7, but I don’t want to wake Kepaoa. I wait until 9 o’clock then I just tiptoe out through the lounge, into the kitchen, and make a cup of tea. I sit down on the other couch, with the laptop – Kepaoa doesn’t even stir. And that’s where I stay, for a couple of hours. I even put the TV on quietly, after a while. He twitches, but then relaxes again.

At 11, there is a quiet knock on the front door. Not even for one second do I imagine it’s Tau – I actually have no idea who it could be. And when I go out, it’s Leroi.

“Tau’s round at Fitzroy,” he tells me. “I couldn’t find him last night, so I went home. But then he came back after.”

“Did you talk to him?” I ask.

“Yeah, but he didn’t say much. He seemed ok”

“That’s good,” I murmur. “Did he say anything about… what happened?”

“No,” Leroi tells me.

 

We talk on the deck, leaving Kepaoa to slumber. I figure we both have ‘theories’ about what  caused Tau to snap, last night. But neither of us elaborate, or even speculate openly. I think we would feel a bit… disloyal: Tau being so private about his own affairs and all. So we just leave it.

“We’re used to Tau’s, uh… little ways,” I say to Leroi, and he snorts with laughter, saying, “Hard.”

Then we do a bit of ‘restoring’ in the shed (uprighting couches, picking up items from the floor), before Leroi goes home.

 

Back inside, Kepaoa has woken up. As I come in, he sits up and gives me the once over, saying, “Miss, how are you?” and then, answering himself, “You’re alright, but not… really.”

“I am,” I tell him.

“Yeeeh, but Miss, I can see it in your eyes – you’re still thinking about last night,” he replies.

“I guess so,” I admit.

“So am I,” he says. “Miss, I’ve never seen you like that before, you know.”

“I know,” I say. “I guess I’m just feeling embarrassed, that you saw it all.”

“Embarrassed – why?” says Kepaoa, gently. “You don’t have to be embarrassed, Miss. It’s all good. I know you wanted me to go home, but it was me who wanted to stay.”

“I know –  thanks for that, Kepaoa,” I reply.

“It’s all good,” he says again, and then, “I saw the way you looked, I couldn’t leave you, Miss.”

He adds, “I didn’t even want to talk to Teri, really. I kind of had to – after four days. But I was more worried about you than her.”

 

I sit down on the couch opposite him. “I’m glad you stayed,”  I say. “It was just that I felt shamed. I was like, oh… Kepaoa must think I’m, you know; crazy or something.”

“Hell no,” Kepaoa says. “I’ve seen way more dramas than that, Miss. Honestly, I was fine with it, it didn’t kill my buzz at all – I like staying at yours.”

“Well, it killed mine…” I mutter, and he grins at me.

“Miss,” Kepaoa continues. “I know you love Tau and all, but… I can’t let him hurt you. I know it wasn’t your fault, what happened. It’s just that I remember what you told me, about Shae, and I don’t think he really… respects women.”

“Probably not,” I agree.

“Yeah, I could see it,” Kepaoa says. “When he was angry. I mean, I know he cares about you a lot and everything. but I think he’s just used to it – pushing women around.”

“He’s never done that to me,” I say, truthfully.

“I know… but one day he might,” Kepaoa says, and it kind of scares me a little, to hear him say it.

 

“Tau’s not a bad person, though,” I tell Kepaoa. “He’s going to be shamed as, that he got like that, especially in front of you. He respects you, you know.”

“I’m all good with him, too,” Kepaoa tells me. “But I won’t let anyone hurt you. I won’t, Miss.”

There is a little pause, and Kepaoa says again, “And I’ve never seen you crying before. I wanted… to help.”

“Hmmm,” I say, just thinking about it. “You know – I never cry in front of people, or hardly ever. I hate doing that.”

“Me too, Miss,” Kepaoa replies, quietly. “Do you remember that time you picked me up and took me to training, and I cried in the car.”

I nod.

“Well, I never cry in front of anyone either. At first I was real embarrassed, and I said to myself, maan, Miss is gonna think – what a little bitch.” He shakes his head, saying, “But then, I just felt alright about it.”

And we look at one another with understanding.

It’s like I’ve said already: you just trust who you trust. And I trust Kepaoa Alesi.

 

After all that talking, we go get Big Mac combos from the drive through. Come back and we  talk some more, and then Kepaoa skypes Teri for a while, and then, just before 3, I drop him off to get ready for church.