Where to even start?

Wednesday 16 May, 2012:

I see Tau, after school. He’s my beautiful and dear Tau, just like always. But I’m also very worried about him – and I have to be calm and practical. It’s the only thing I can think of that actually helps.

Today we arrange we’ll go for a drive, and get paint. And out he comes, down the steps and the long driveway, 750ml bottle of Mojito RTD (five bucks; 15 percent proof) in his right hand.

He gets in the car – I see that the bottle hasn’t been opened yet and I tap it, saying, “You go course today Tau?”

“Ye-es…”

“For how long?” I interrogate.

“Not that long,” he admits, and then, “But… I didn’t want to do the assessment.”

I sigh, looking at Tau’s trusting face, as he goes on: “We had to read our research (he pronounces this word with care and some alarm) in front of everyone – the whole class. And I knew I’d make heaps of mistakes, and I thought all those boys would laugh at me.”

I nod in understanding.

“So I gapped,” he concludes.

“And what time was that?”

“Only about 10:30.” Tau hangs his head. “But I haven’t had a drink yet,” he tells me, more brightly.

“Until now…”

He nods, with a rueful laugh.

“It’s ok, Tau – it’s ok,” I assure him. “We’ll see what we can do about the assessment. I really want you to do it.”

“I want to do it too,” he said. “But, you know me, reading in front of everyone… and I got a short temper, if they laugh at me.”

I feel the usual swell of tenderness for Tau, who sits patient and unashamed beside me.

“Shall I ring Wayne, tomorrow? I could suggest that maybe you could just read it in front of a couple of people. Him, and maybe just one of the other boys. Like how we did at school sometimes – would that be ok?”

“Yup,” says Tau at once. “That would be ok.”

“Ok, well I’ll do it tomorrow – promise.”

 

Tau relaxes back in his seat. He looks so large and patient and pliant – and he opens the cap of the Mojito bottle and has a sip. I can see he wants to talk – I saw it the minute he trudged down the drive and got in. He has an expression of relief, like an exhausted traveller who’s just boarded the plane.

Tau’s so dear to me, Reason upon reason. All this; everything I’ve said before. But it takes my heart and squeezes it, to see him drinking this way.

 

Within two minutes, he’s spilling the beans and I just listen: drinking; parties; fights; more drinking; selling. And in between – a couple days at the TI. And Shay – they’re back in touch. She’s been over; he’s seen her. But she wants to see her family, wants Tau to cut back on his drinking, wants him to pay for the window he smashed.

“And will you?” I ask.

“Fu-uck, I don’t want to… fuck that,” growls Tau.

“But you will?”

And he nods, uncertainly.

Shay’s family don’t know she’s seeing him either – and obviously they don’t want her to. But that’s not my concern, I guess. Tau’s my concern. And he’s doing some pretty dumb things at the moment. Honestly, my mind whirls a bit: Where to even start?

 

Ok – there’s course. Arriving late and leaving any time it gets too tough – although Noa’s class is working with Tau’s class this week.

“Oh, well that’s good,” I say, emphasizing the positive.

“Nah, I don’t really kick it with Noa at course, he’s being a good boy,” Tau says, half-grumbling and half-impressed. “Gets there early, stays all day…”

“But that’s good, Tau,” I shift the emphasis this time. “You should try it.”

“Naah,” he sighs, in a weary way. He shakes his head a little bit, at Noa being so ‘good’.

“You should,” I persist. “If Noa can – you can too!” I try my best to make this sound quite easy, even though of course I’m not really kidding myself.

Tau just chuckles, knowing this too.

And I say, in complete honesty, “Yeah, I know – it’s not easy to do, right now. But you’re a good boy too, Tau. You are.”

I mean it, as much as I mean anything in this world. And Tau just relaxes a tiny bit more. I feel his warm, tired elbow slip and rest against mine. And he keeps talking.

 

Then the drinking. Tau’s been drinking for three weeks straight. “But I’m trying to cut back now,” he tells me.

“What do you mean, ‘trying to’?” I ask, suspiciously. “Do you mean like… one day a week when you’re not drinking?”

“Um, one or two… and then some drinking days if someone comes over.”

“Well that’s not cutting back,” I say, just matter of factly.

“I’m trying, though,” Tau reiterates.

“Well,” I say. “That is good, that you’re trying. But I’m still worried, Tau… you can do some dumb things sometimes, when you’re drinking this much.”

“Yeah,” he freely admits. And he continues: “I beat up Mischa, gave him a hiding – his face was all covered in blood and he was crying and everything.”

“You beat up Mischa?” I echo, in utter amazement. “What the fuck? Why?”

“Cos – we were drinking,” Tau tells me.

“Yeah, well obviously.”

“And Mischa tried to step to me… so I bate him up.”

“But… why? When was this?”

“In the weekend,” Tau says. “We were drinking, and I said something about his girl cousin.

“Well – I said something to her, and Mischa told me to shut the fuck up, stepped me out, and so I…”

I interrupt, “What did you say to her? Can you remember?”

“Yeah,” Tau tells me, candid as ever. I said… you’re just a slut ea… you get with anyone. Cos fuck, Mischa’s cousin’s been with practically all the CP boys. Everyone.”

“Yeah, but you don’t wanna be talking to her like that – that’s what I mean about alcohol, Tau. When you guys are drinking – you just blurt anything out.”

“Yeah, I know… and I bate up Vargo… I didn’t give a fuck,” Tau kind of spits, both understanding the emotion and being sorry for it now.

 

“But… you and Mischa?” I lament, still quite amazed. “You’ve always got one another’s backs, you two. You look out for one another; what’s going on?”

“Dunno, Miss…” Tau sighs. “We just… got angry.”

“Well, you guys need to fix that up,” I say. “I reckon you need to sort out your shit, you and Mischa.”

‘Yeah,” Tau agrees. “But later on his dad came up my street in his car, and tooted his horn for ages outside, about three o’clock in the morning… drove up and down doing burnouts outside our house until my dad came out and shouted at him to fuck off. And then my mum got up and started yelling at him to fuck off too…”

I can’t help but laugh.

 

“He’s tried to apologize – sent some texts and that.”

“And have you replied?”

“No.”

“Well you should, Tau. Come on, you two are pretty loyal to one another.”

“We were. Loyal,” Tau says.

“Well, you can get this sorted out,” I mutter. “See what I mean – alcohol. I’d rather you were stoned.”

“I am stoned,” Tau says.

“Well – that goes without saying!” I snort. “I don’t mean ‘now’; I mean… in general. You’re more mellow when you’re stoned – alcohol just makes you get all angry.”

“Yeah,” Tau readily agrees. “I’ve been in heaps of fights lately – and Leroi – he’s been getting into trouble as well. Scraps and that; he beat up Teki. And I’ve had fights with heaps of boys.

“Ah… fuck,” I sigh, again.

 

And even though, as he says, he’s been ‘trying’ to cut back – he also admits that lately he’s needed to be drunk just to go to sleep at night. My heart kind of skips a beat, as I say, just lightly, “Yeah, but Tau, you know that’s not a good habit to get into.”

“I know, but it’s… it’s been hard…” His voice tails off. “You know, with Shay gone and that.” He sighs deeply, and says, “That’s the reason it all got like this.”

“I know, Tau – I know it’s been hard, and I know you’ve been trying to cope as best you can.”

He nods, listening.

“But drinking everyday like this – it’s not gonna work.” I take a deep breath, and say the word I fear: “Tau –  I’m worried you might become an alcoholic, if you keep this up.”

“Me too, Miss,” Tau says. “It’s in the blood.” He says this very simply, and with a slight fatalism that breaks my heart.

‘In the blood…” I murmur. “Yes it is – but that doesn’t mean you have to let it happen.”

“I’m trying, Miss,” he says. “It’s just real hard.”

“I know, and I’m not judging you Tau – you know I won’t do that. I just really, really care about you.”

He nods, and I look at him, settled in the seat there, bottle resting against his leg, his belly rising and falling quietly. I look at his dear and very open face, which is a few days unshaven; little hairs have sprung up on his chin. I regard all of this, everything about him – with tenderness and pain, because I get it, and I still don’t know if I can help, and none of it makes any difference to how I feel.

 

“Shay wants me to cut back on my drinking too,” he tells me. “That’s what she said – same as you.”

“And you’ll try, cos you want her back, aye.”

“Hard,” he says.

But I don’t know what’s gonna happen if he tries, and still can’t do it. Rage; smashed windows; the usual story. Oh, he’s not exactly ready to give up subordinating Shay, either. He tells me he spent all her savings on 11 ounces when she left. All the untouchable money at the safe house – all of it gone. And, “I don’t give a fuck,” he tells me. “All her money, she only got it cos of me anyway.”

And Scott’s letting him sell from Fitzroy St. “Far, be careful,” I say. “Cos your dad’s still being watched, hey.”

“Yup,” he replies. “The cops always look down the drive, when they come down our street.

 

So there’s all this – and then we talk about drink driving.

“I’m all good driving when I’m drunk – I don’t amo it,” says Tau.

“Yeah, that’s what you think,” I retort.

“Nah, cos I’m really careful, like I really try to drive good – and all the boys say I am, when I ask them.”

“Yeah – they’re drunk too!” I say.

“Nah, honest – I can drive carefully, when I’m drinking.”

“Yeah, yeah… you say that now, but when you end up in a wheelchair, who do you think’s gonna look after you?” I ask with a rhetorical flourish, adding: “Not Shay!” Which makes us both laugh for some reason – probably just tired and giving up on being serious for a bit.

But really, I’m worried as fuck.

 

We get back to Kaiser St via the liquor store, where they willingly sell another bottle of Mojito to Tau. “I think I’m the only person who buys this,” he cheerfully announces.

“Geez…” I mutter, taking a sniff of the concoction. “How can you handle it?”

“Just used to it,” Tau says.

And if I didn’t take him there, I know Sheree would, or he’d roll there under his own steam. It’s the last thing I actually want to do, but when he asks me, there’s no point in grand standing. Cos I know it’s an empty stance, to say I won’t. And I’d rather Tau was safely there and safely back. Not prancing around, stepping to gangstas.

 

I drop him off with paint and a canvas, and bottle #2.

 

 

 

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No simple answers

Sunday 28 August, 2011:

Relieved and scared at the same time. Relieved, because I’ve seen Tau and he’s ok; scared, because things haven’t been good, and he’s not in a great state. Not at all, really – though he tries hard to be. My heart goes out and wraps itself around Tau, attempting, valiantly and probably uselessly, to protect him, at least for the time that he’s here.

We sit on the deck in the sun, and talk about what’s happening. Tau’s weary, with a kind of restless tiredness which tugs at my heart. He sits beside me and talks, alternating between a fidgety narrative and an exhausted slump – at one stage he leans on me and I put my arm around him. Every now and then, in the midst of telling me something, he breaks off and say, “Who cares…” or “It’s too hard…” or “I don’t care about that stuff anymore.”

I soothe, coax, cajole, and generally just lull Tau into a state of semi-relaxation. It feels like rocking a baby – all I can think of is that he badly needs looking after, and that I’ll do anything in my power to let him know he’s safe. Gradually the hyper-vigilant look drops from his eyes, and it makes me glad, a little.

 

Last Thursday night was when everything came to a head at home, and Tau retreated to his uncle’s place, down the line somewhere. He looks buffeted and stoic as he tells me, “It didn’t work out very good, Miss. After a while I stole all my uncle’s alcohol and came back up here and got drunk, and that’s when I went home, last night.”

“Aye, Tau?” I ask, very gently. It’s hardly a surprise.

He nods. “I’ve been drinking a lot,” he confesses. “And Miss, I think it’s just the way I drink too, like just sculling it back.”

I look at his very trusting and worried face.

“Yeah, and anyway, then last night I took the car for a drive, a real fast drive into the city, speeding all the way there and all the way back, and… I got caught and spent a night in the cells, and I have to go to court for drunk driving. On Tuesday.”

“Tau…” I exhale.

“But, it’s ok, Miss,” he says, sighing. “I’ll go with my mum, cos she’s going court on Tuesday too.”

“What for?” I ask, and he shrugs, saying, “Dunno, my mum’s always going to court. And my dad’s going too – but on a different day.”

“What did he do?” I ask.

“Stole a car with his mate, and they went for a spin. And the cops pulled them over, and they just took off, but down by the beach they flipped the car and ran. The cops chased them, and the police dogs bit my dad. He’s got bite marks all over his face, here… and here…” Tau points, and then for some reason we both start to laugh, can’t help it. Because sometimes it’s too much, and when you know that, it’s ok.

 

After a little while I say, “But Tau, all this drinking… it does worry me.”

“Why, Miss?” asks Tau, almost tenderly.

“Because I remember what it was like before – when you used to turn up at school with a hangover, remember?”

Tau nods, listening peacefully.

“After fighting with your dad, and wandering around looking for trouble, doing stuff you couldn’t even remember; and losing all your cash, and your phone…”

“You’re right, Miss,” says Tau. “It’s like that when I drink. I can’t remember stuff – and I’ve lost my phone, too.”

“What – you’ve lost your phone now?”

He nods.

“Fuck,” I say. “Geez, man – what are we gonna do with you?” I look at his unguarded but very tired face, and the cap pushed down over his bronze and springy hair. I conclude: “Just… throw you out at the rubbish dump.”

Tau manages a grin, regarding me with the air of a cub who’s been chastised and nuzzled at the same time. He snuffles kind of happily, and I rub his shoulder, saying, “So, what shall we do, aye Tau? What about course?”

 

“Course sucks,” mutters Tau. “I hate my tutor now – he’s a cunt, just like all the others.

“He’s alright, Tau.  He’s been texting me nearly every day to find out what’s happening, and where you are.”

“Oh, aye?” says Tau, and then, thinking about it, “Nah, fuck that cunt, he doesn’t care.”

“He does.” I reply, then, “I’ll have a talk to him.”

“I’ll still hate him…” grumbles Tau.

“No you won’t,” I say, pretending to be exasperated.

Tau just smiles, but then sighs very wearily in the next breath, as all this thinking about what to do, and how to mend things becomes overwhelming. He says, “Miss… I don’t care about my course anymore.”

“Don’t say that, Tau, just wait and see. I know, it’s been hard lately – but that’s cos a lot of stuff’s been going on at home, too.”

Tau see my concerned expression and puts his head down bashfully, then chuckles.

“So I’m gonna ring the TI, and tell your tutor you’re going course on Monday?”

“You can, Miss, if you want… but I still don’t care about it.”

“Well you can go course anyway – and we’ll deal with that one day at a time.”

“I’ll just go to course and do nothing,” Tau tries.

“No you bloody won’t, bloody hell!” – and he cracks up laughing at me.

 

I suddenly remember something: “But how about that tutorial last week, before you went down the line – you said that one was ok, huh?”

“Yeah,” Tau reflects. “That was allgood, Miss… that was like my best class there, so far.”

“Well, that’s good. What did you do?”

“We did… math.

“And who was the teacher?”

“This guy, this geeky guy – but he was alright, I actually learned something.”

“Did you?” I say, with some delight. “What did you learn, Tau?”

“Um… I learned about measurement, and rounding up, and – hold on Miss, it’s in the car, I’ll show you.” Tau prances down the steps to the car, and returns with several pieces of paper, saying, “Look, he gave me some homework. I haven’t done it yet, cos I forgot how to do it…”

I take a look. “Well, let’s do it now,” I suggest, and Tau actually appears pleased at this prospect. I add, dubiously, “I’m not that good at math, Tau. I’ll try and help, though.”

 

So we sit side by side, and go over it. Tau, to his own surprise, remembers the work quite well. From time to time, as I attempt to assist, he says affirmingly, “Miss, that’s the way he explained it to me, too,” and we laugh.

Only a few questions are taxing. I notice though that when Tau can’t immediately grasp how to do something, he stands up and signals defeat: “Fuck this, it’s too hard,” or, “Who cares – I don’t wanna do this shit.”

“No it isn’t… yes you do, Tau,” I coax, and he returns to my side.

Tau has almost no experience of academic success; this makes him fearful of seeming ‘dumb’. He doesn’t know what’s going to be hard, what’s going to be easy – there are no cues that he’s familiar with, except people’s reactions to him (to which he’s hyper-sensitive). Today he feels safe though, so he persists with a mighty effort. We place the paper on top of a book, balanced on my knee, to make a kind of desk top. Tau unselfconsciously leans over and writes, bent towards me and pressing quietly against me in the manner of a young child. I feel the usual fierce desire to protect him from harm, and my heart clenches, because I know I can’t. I know I can’t… and yet I try, as much as I can, in this moment. My aura slips round Tau’s shoulders like a blanket, to try keep him warm and safe. And we sit and do math for half an hour at least, until Tau has finished every question, even the difficult ones.

 

Afterwards, we talk some more. Tau tells me again, “I used to care about going course – now I don’t care what happens.”

“Tau,” I say. “It’s not surprising that you’ve lost your motivation, after everything that’s been happening at home lately.”

“What’s ‘motivation’?” asks Tau.

“Like wanting something – having goals and stuff,“ and his face clears, as he understands and says, “That’s exactly what I mean. I’ve got no goals, what’s the point, anyway?” He explains: “It’s like, do this – and what? Get a job? How would I get a job? Honest, Miss, I don’t think there’s going to be a job for me.” He repeats, picking at a little bit of wood on the deck, “What job would be for me? I don’t think there will be one…”

“Yes there will, Tau – there’ll be one,” I say. “And you don’t have to worry about that right now, you just go back and do your best, and see what happens. It’ll work out, you’ll see.”

Tau sighs, deeply, knowing that he has a point, and so do I. “Should just go back to slanging…” he says, partly to get the full blast of my reaction.

“No, Tau – no, no!” I growl, making him laugh. “You keep that as a bloody sideline, or else – and even that I’m worried about!” say, with a pretend swipe at him, and he ducks, and grins at me.

 

We talk about the situation at home, too. Tau tells me that the ‘mental people’ are ringing Scott every day, and he is now taking his medication again. Although it’s a semi-relief, things are far from stable. “Even Leroi’s getting hidings now,” says Tau, in a matter-of-fact way.

Just before he leaves today, I say to him, just quietly “Tau, I want to tell you something.”

He looks at me, sensing it’s important.

“If things happen at home, and if you need to get out fast – you can always come over here, any time at all. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.”

“Thanks, Miss – I’ll be allgood though,” says Tau, manfully.

“I know, but just in case,“ I say and he nods, and sits close to me.

 

And that’s how it goes. Afterwards – I don’t know why – I just go for a drive, and cry a little bit.

I’m worried and I don’t know what to do. All Tau’s coping strategies aren’t working, and alcohol is always a last resort. There are no simple answers – so I just try to let him know I’m here, no matter what happens.

I drive home via the supermarket, where for some reason I throw groceries into the trolley with great abandon, and then come back and make spaghetti bolognaise.

Damage Control

‘All damaged people are dangerous. Survival makes them so.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because they have no pity. They know what others can survive, as they did.’
(Josephine Hart – Damage)

 

Friday 27 November, 2009 (contd):

We wait for what seems like ages, though it’s probably only around 15 minutes. Tau sits quietly but keeps up a low commentary about anyone else who walks in and out of the area:

“Fat bitch…” (Karys Kirk)

“Fuck, his missus is ug-lee…” (a boy I don’t know)

“Fuck that bitch,” (one of the office staff)

 

And so on:

“Fuck, where’s Mr Roberts… the fuckin’ faggot.”

“Oh Tau, give it a rest,” I say.

“I don’t wanna sit here – I wanna go – we could come back later.”

“No, we’ll stay here now. Look at Simeon, he’s being good.”

Simeon grins.

“So am I – I’m being good too,” protests Tau.

“Well yes, I guess you are – but just be patient, ok.”

 

Eventually Marjorie appears through the door from the corridor. I later find out she’s been looking for Tau the whole time; suspecting him of leaving school grounds. Surprise, and then ire mingle in Marjorie’s eyes when she sights us, and she calls Tau into her office, asking me to come too.

I’m grateful for this, knowing it will settle him to have me there. Because on seeing her expression, Tau’s eyes loosen and roll, almost glazing over. He plays with a rubber band and lets his head loll to one side, managing to look both sleepy and agitated.

Marjorie takes a deep breath. Then without even needing to raise her voice, but still summoning the effect of doing so, she says “Taurangi, what were you trying to do? How did you think ignoring us and running away would help?”

Tau says nothing.

“I’m asking you again,” Marjorie says with precision. “How did you think it would help to ignore me, to disobey myself and Mr Roberts; to run away from us… not once, but twice?” There’s a scornful edge to her voice (probably deliberate) and I think to myself: Oh-oh, she’s a pro at this. So I stay very alert.

“I was trying to find Miss,” says Tau, simply.

Marjorie looks at me with something dawning on her face. She says, “You weren’t trying to leave the school grounds?” to Tau.

“No, we were looking for Miss, and then we found her, and –”

“And then they explained what had happened, and I brought them back over here,” I say.

Marjorie says, slightly more kindly, “You must understand, Tau, that we were worried about your safety. It did not help when you ran away. That was not the right thing to do.” She shakes her head, asking in an aside to me, “So… he never left the school grounds?”

“No,” I reply truthfully.

 

She then questions him about the incident, which appears to have been a serious one. A fight, planned but off-site. Leroi was injured – the police have been called. Then, “Alright, go and wait outside, Tau. I want to talk to Miss,” she says.

He goes out, the door is closed behind him, and Marjorie turns to me in frustration. “This isn’t working!” she bursts out. “Taurangi’s a loose cannon. I appreciate everything you’ve done – but the situation just isn’t safe. We can’t have this! We were just lucky he hadn’t gone down there yet!”

I nod.

“What would have happened if he couldn’t find you? He would have tried to go and deal with the assailants on his own – and they were a lot older than him.”

Then she tells me, “Initially, you had my full support, assisting Tau. But I don’t think… I don’t know if Tau is able to fit into the school environment – I don’t know if he can do it. And my other concern is the extra work it must entail for you. To have the staff expecting you to go pick him up, keep him with you. I know you want to help, and I appreciate your intentions – but it’s become very difficult.

 

I try to reply as calmly and logically as possible. “I understand what you’re saying,” I tell Marjorie. “And I accept that Tau’s issues have taken up a good deal of my time recently. That’s certainly not ideal – or sustainable in the long term – but there are certain factors involved which have contributed to the current situation. And because of this, I’ve thought of it as a short-term attempt at containment; as ‘damage control’, if you like.”

“Yes, damage control – that’s a good phrase to use,” says Marjorie, nodding and letting me continue.

 

So I explain, as best I can, the things that have made Tau’s behaviour more unstable in the past few weeks. His dad… and then being out of T block. Sleeping in the park – not eating. The Tau-Leroi combination.

“I’m not making excuses for Tau,” I tell her. “But the circumstances have meant it’s been difficult for him to sustain some of the positive changes he’s made. And he has had positives.” I add. “He’d been making a real effort since his last stand-down.”

“Yes, I know,” concedes Marjorie

I continue, “He’s even thought about his subjects for next year, and we discussed what would make him want to start the year off well; he’s tried hard to pick things which interest him, like Visual Arts.”

Marjorie is looking reasonably interested now, and so I consolidate my argument: “My main concern is that if we don’t try to nurture the positive connections that Tau has got here, and the measure of stability that school provides him with – if we send him to a different learning environment and he doesn’t buy into it – then I think he’s going to lose any connection with education altogether. And if that happens, I don’t know where Tau might end up.”

Marjorie says, “You have a point. But Taurangi is a big influence on others, and if he doesn’t settle down, he’s going to take others along with him. In which case, we might have to sacrifice one for the sake of, say, six others.”

“I understand,” I say, “But I also think it’s been a difficult and stressful time for him, and if he can just hold on to things now, he’s got a real chance of making a fresh start at the beginning of the year.”

Marjorie nods. “Perhaps you’re right,” she agrees. “But I want him to go to class – at least English and Maths.”

“So do I,” I say. “The only reason I’ve been picking him up is because it’s stopped the immediate roaming.”

We look at one another, and I add, “Marjorie, I’d be the first to admit that at present I’m very involved with Tau, emotionally. I am, but…” I think about how to say it: “Honestly, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel involved, listening to what Tau tells me.”

Marjorie nods gently, and says, “Of course… but I think, if we’re going to try and keep him here, you need to share some of this information with Guidance.”

“I will,” I say, with more conviction than I feel inwardly.

By now, Marjorie is looking quite encouraging about the whole business. She says, “Ok, we’ve got two weeks left, and then the holidays. The easiest option for us now would be to stand him down, then send him to the Youth Unit when school resumes. It’s tempting… but let’s try and get though the next two weeks. I want him in class as much as possible though. I want to see him making an effort, and we’ll see how it goes.” She stands up decisively. “I’ll call Tau back in. Who’s the other boy? I’m not worried about him. I hardly see him up here – I don’t even know his name.”

“Simeon,” I say.

 

Marjorie opens the door, saying, “Taurangi, come in. Simeon – wait outside please.”

In comes Tau, and sits heavily down on one of the chairs in the corner. His eyes slide sideways, and he lets his head incline towards the wall. His fingers are still stretching and pinging the rubber band. He looks resigned, and stoic, and unhappy, and restless, all at once.

“Tau,” says Marjorie. “It would be the easiest thing in the world to stand you down.”

“Stand me down then…” he mumbles.

“Listen Taurangi. There are two things which you have in your favor. The first is that you didn’t leave the school grounds today. The second is that you tried to find Miss, to let her help you. Those are good things, Tau. The thing which wasn’t good was running away from us and not obeying our instructions.”

Tau’s eyes flick back and forth, and his hands are busy with the rubber band. He slouches in his chair and looks uneasy, not knowing which way this is going to go.

“There are two weeks of school left, Tau – two weeks before the holidays. I want to see you here, making an effort and going to class. We’d like you to come back and make a fresh start next year – we want to see you doing well. Doing some of the subjects that interest you… like your Visual Arts.”

As if she’d thought of it herself; as if she knew him well. She’s good – I think to myself again.

“If something goes wrong, like the incident that happened today with Leroi at the park – I want you to let us help, not try to solve it by yourself. We take these things very seriously, and we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone is safe.”

Tau nods and looks mournfully out from under heavy eyelids.

“Do you understand, Taurangi? I want to see you making a real effort for the next two weeks. I know you’ve done some good things this term, and I want to see you build on that.”

Tau is silent, and nods.

“Right; in a minute Miss is going to take you back to class – I want you to stay there until school finishes today. And then you’ll go straight home… and I’ll see you back at school next week.”

Tau nods again.

“Go and wait outside the office now,” Marjorie concludes, “And I’ll send Miss out to get you shortly.”

He goes out, and she says to me, “Alright – we’ll give it a go. You can take them back now.”

I leave the office, thanking Marjorie, and take my charges over to F block.

 

Tau is jumpy and scarcely able to believe he hasn’t been stood down. “Fuck Miss Tunbridge, that bitch…” he mutters.

“It’s alright, Tau,” I tell him.

“Will I have to go to all my classes?”

“Not all. Some. Miss wants you to go to English.”

“I hate English. I want to go to you.”

“You can, lots of times… it’ll be fine. We’ll just sort it out one day at a time. But Tau – you really have to try, if you don’t want to be kicked out of school.”

“Are they gonna let me come back next year?”

“Yes, they are – if you make an effort for the next two weeks. Do you want to come back?”

“Yes,” Tau says, quietly.

“Then you’ve gotta try… ok?”

As we walk, I say, “Tau, I’m relying on you now – honest I am. The reason that Mrs Tunbridge is giving you a chance for two weeks, and not standing you down or sending you away… is because I’ve stood up for you.” And I add, truthfully, “Miss growled at me too, to start with.”

‘Hmmmph!” Tau snorts, outraged. “Miss Tunbridge and those other teachers should try looking after me… and see if they can do it!”

I feel a rush of love for Tau, both for saying that I look after him, and for acknowledging that it’s difficult.

He says, as we walk upstairs, “Are you getting sick of me, Miss?”

I say, “No Tau, I’m not getting sick of you. I’ve got faith in you, and I’m one hundred percent on your side.”

Tau says, out of the blue, “You should pray for me Miss.”

“I will do that, Tau,” I tell him, just lightly. But something grips me very powerfully. And though it’s a long time since I prayed – I will.