I approve

Wednesday 27 August, 2014

I teach year 7 today – Carthill has a senior and a junior campus  – just for an hour. And, just for an hour, it’s cool. The most fun part is reading through their stories (‘narratives’, as they refer to them), aloud, on a corner couch to which they all flock with me. I put on my best storytelling voice (channeling Kuli here) with great effect. Slightly deadpan delivery, emphasis on certain off-beat syllables, especially when coming to the names they’ve given their characters: Keneti, Highfive, Myshon… I take a punt and pronounce this as ‘Mah’Shaun’, causing great hilarity amongst the audience.

“It’s not ‘Mah’Shaun’, it’s ‘Mission’, Miss,” they giggle, collapsing around me on the sofa.

“Well, I say it Mah’Shaun,” I tell them, straight-faced.

Mission,” they snort.

“Sad, Miss – that’s my name!” one boy says.

“Are you Mission?” I ask him.

“Yes.”

“Oops,” I say, making them all crack up again.

It’s fun – and at the same time I can only get away with being there for an hour. I know I couldn’t handle narratives, and learning intentions, and success criteria all day long. I kind of wish I could, but I’d only end up a grumpy bitch, perplexing these eleven and twelve year olds.

 

When I get home, Tau tells me that a new intake of students had their orientation today. When they visited his class, the teacher showed them Tau’s book as an exemplar.

“Oh my gosh Tau,” I say. “I bet yours was the best book there, and that’s why he picked it.”

An expression of soft and happy pride comes into Tau’s eyes as he reflects, “I don’t think anything like that’s ever happened to me before…”

“I’m so proud of you,” I tell him, just stroking his arm for a second.

 

Wednesday 3 September:

There’s a text from the agency this morning: Do you want a challenge in the PE area at Bream for the day?

First I dick around with trying to say ‘no’ politely by text, then I think better of it and reply with a yes. 230 bucks is 230 bucks, and really I can’t afford to mind what subject I teach, or what year level. My pay is, unsurprisingly, 800 dollars down from the norm, after working seven out of ten days in the last fortnight – and with only five of the days processed yet.

Seeing as there’s no non-contacts for relievers, I just take downtime wherever I can find it. I even fall asleep in the car during lunch break today (fifty minutes at Bream – so long it might as well be a holiday, compared to Municipal’s twenty five).

 

Thursday 28 August

Back to Carthill again today. Honest, I don’t want to go teach, not even a little bit. I just keep telling myself: 230 dollars. And the kids are nice – it’s not that. I just feel like I left MC for what? And I don’t know at all.

Speaking of money, it’s been on my mind lately that Tau borrows twenty bucks here and there, but sometimes forgets to pay it back. Normally I wouldn’t particularly care, but I’m starting to question myself on it. First of all, my boundaries with Tau are obviously (even to me), somewhat flexible, so I can’t blame him for testing them, even though I’m sure it’s not deliberate. But secondly, my pay could be down by nearly half this time – even if I do get work tomorrow.

I’m so used to looking after Tau’s tender feelings, but right now I’m more worried about the bills. I can’t seem to counter a certain resentfulness inside me. I keep thinking: Really? They get (between them) over 400 dollars a week. No rent to pay, no bills. And Tau can’t pay me back a twenty dollar loan?

 

Then I just sigh, and try to unravel my own tangled up feelings a little more. First off, I tell myself, I know the boys do have things to do with their money. Each of them saves fifty dollars a week towards a bond (for when Sheree gets a house); their Nan holds it so that they don’t touch it. They help Sheree out with other stuff, too. And every Wednesday, they bring home groceries from the supermarket, looking proud of themselves as they unpack bags to stock my fridge.

Of course there’s also weed (being totally realistic, this must cost them twenty a day at least), and smokes (another forty dollars a week). Essentials, for now, anyway. And it’s a kit better than being on the synthetics.

Plus they’re trying so hard with course.  I remember something else Tau said the other day. He was telling me how it had started to feel good having a daily routine; working hard. “I like that feeling,” he said. “It’s better than any drug.”

And to hear him say that –  well, it made me want to jump for joy.

 

Then I think how Tau can relax here; he’s told me so himself. Sometimes I think he even feels happy and safe, at least for a little while. And I guess I realize right then – it’s probably been the only time in Tau’s life he’s ever been able to relax a little bit about either food or money. And maybe that’s why he hasn’t remembered about borrowing twenty from me here or there.

I wish I could see myself the way I see Tau. I always see him through loving eyes: I wish I could do that with myself too. And sometimes I think, Well, couldn’t I?

 

Friday 29 August

Lying in bed this evening, I yawn, having a singular moment where I think, “I approve.” Not of substitute teaching per se, but of whatever it is I’m trying to do. And you know, I really don’t mind substitute teaching. Temperamentally, I like the ebb and flow. Sometimes I miss having regular classes and knowing the kids, but I can assure you I don’t miss having to talk shit on my own behalf. It makes it easier, somehow, to know that I’m supposed to be fronting.

Though of course, it’s tiring to never know if I have a job lined up ahead of time. It makes my brain tick and tock over money.

I fall asleep listening to rap battles outside my window. Leroi’s staccato laugh and Tau’s softer one.

 

 

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My burning question

Wednesday 26 December, 2012:

Back from a family Christmas, in time to pick up Kepaoa from the airport. Going on my past experience of Kepaoa’s plans, I should have predicted it was not to be… at least not tonight. Teri mails me round 6pm – a state of emergency exists: Kepaoa has lost his passport; he’s searching for it. At 8:30, we decide to cancel the booking and get a full refund (we can, right up until departure time). So that isn’t the problem, exactly. The biggest problem is how to get a replacement passport at this time of year – office closed till Jan 2nd, callouts available at $500 plus… he’s probably going to have to stay in Oz for the time being (much to his displeasure). So he better keep looking for that passport.

I ring Kepaoa. He’s a bit hyped. But he calms down somewhat, after half an hour of talking.

And that’s that – nothing more anyone can do, for the time being.

 

Thursday 27 December:

Mia wants to see From Rome with Love, so I’m kind of expecting an afternoon of escapism, but then I hate the movie from start to finish. I don’t like any of the characters (plus there are too many of them), and the whole thing gives me sort of a panicky feeling: How can anyone imagine… this? Why would they even try to?  During the movie, and then for a while afterwards, I despair at having strayed into some other realm without meaning to. That scene where the New York psychiatrist mom meets the Italian crostini-making momma, and has an impromptu lesson on tapenade. ‘Other-mothers’, competing yet complementary, disturbing my equilibrium with their ways. And the horrific Monica, who reminds me of a hundred stupid girls I met at uni.

When I get home, I gradually start to feel better. But it’s a bit precarious, all the same.

Elroy texts me, asking about Kepaoa. Tells me he misses the dumb fag.

 

Saturday 29 December:

I’m just sitting on the couch watching TV, and I’m tired and my mind drifts… I start to remember how it was, back when I was never quite alone. Always someone coming in and out: talking; eating; kids playing. Where did it go? For some reason it burns me that people might see me and think that I never had that. Does Sheree look at me and think that I never did. Does Tau? Does Kepaoa? And why everyone’s gone away, maybe it’s because of me: some fault or failing, that makes me unworthy, that means I’m not ‘created for love’. And I want to cry my eyes out, because I don’t know.

The evening drags; I know there’s something else to be done. So I don’t put it off any further – and it pleases me to think that I can override the sad feeling in my heart. Yes, when I’m writing, I feel a kind of excitement spring up, despite everything.

 

Sunday 30 December

I think about the PhD thing, which is barely an idea in my mind now, to be honest. But something about it needs examining; that I’m sure of. Because I remember that evening, down at the university campus – and the way I felt like something big shifted, a fault line, I don’t know… and then Tau texted me right at that moment, and it was like all the signals in my mind said ‘proceed’.

I can’t imagine how I’d agree to be constrained by the structure of a PhD, unless there was some kind of payoff – what would it be? I don’t want to suffer my way through. Imagine the workload – coupled with my full time teaching job – the idea makes my mind swim. And why would I even want the end result: the PhD itself, and what would I actually do with it? Yet, kind of patiently, I know I do have to consider ‘something’.

My mind still says no – no way. But there was a guy who spoke, his name was… I don’t know, but I’d remember it if I saw it. Anyway, he was one of the doctoral advisers. And what he said was this: You have to have a burning question, to really enter this ‘protected space’. Something you can’t shake, can’t ignore. That troubles you night and day. And if you have a question like that, come talk to me.

And that really got to me, you know? What’s my burning question? Because oh for sure, I have one. I just don’t know how to explain it, ‘that thing’. Yet I’ve chased it all my life. If I had to describe it, what would I say? I guess it’d be: What happens when you don’t stand apart? What happens when you cross over? When you wrap your arms around others, and don’t let go. When you choose to go down with them, as far as they’re going to fall. The gate in the door; the elevator to the underground world; that peaceful bed of wire. All my recurring dreams, and what do they mean? Everything makes sense, and scares me a little bit too. Because how far will I go, to see what happens next?

And what all that’s got to do with a PhD I can’t say. But those things have been in my mind since my earliest moments, and so… it’s never surprised me that I chose to study anthropology. For even though I’m not really an anthropologist – it was the closest thing that made sense.

 

Sometimes, when I write this stuff down, I can see why I try so hard to be like ‘good people’, and why I can’t quite do it. Why I wonder if it’s better to stay away much of the time, let them have their happy days. And why I only truly feel safe with others who get that, who understand it. Because it’s true: I feel as safe as can be, when I’m with Tau, and Sheree and Scott. With Kepaoa and Elroy, Slade and Zion, Inia and Noa, Nio. Sometimes I read the stuff I’ve written about it, just to feel safe. And then I do, again.

So there’s my burning question. What happens when you go down? When you go there because you chose it, and you want to be there. When you’re there as… some kind of observer, but not exactly that. You’re more than that, more like a, a… the only world that comes to mind right now is a ‘carrier’. The way that haemoglobin binds itself to oxygen, to carry it through the body.

Maybe it explains why I don’t really do much in the way of drugs and alcohol. I feel more like a ‘keeper’, whatever that means, you know? My brother’s keeper

To be honest, I do feel better for writing this all down. I understand it a little bit more, why I’m this way, and not some other way. I guess there’s no point in asking where it all began. It’s got to be over-determined, as things pretty much always are. And right now I just think: ok then. Let’s try do something with it. Because it’s all I’ve got, and I offer it freely. The only thing I have to recommend me – but I think it’s something, it isn’t nothing. Call it what you want; call it atonement, I don’t know. But maybe it mattered, matters… to somebody, and right now, that’s good enough for me.

 

A bit of quiet time

Sunday 18 November, 2012:

Teri inboxes me round midnight. The first message says she’s worried about Kepaoa. Things between the two of them are alright; that’s not the problem. But, she says, Australia’s not good for him – he hates it, and he’s homesick. There’s an issue with his return ticket though. He was supposed to come back on Wednesday, they’d rung the airline to check the flight and were told that someone had cancelled it. His family – she doesn’t know how, and she doesn’t know who.

Her second message says she’s been trying to cope, but she’s getting really stressed by everything. She wants to know if I can ring Kepaoa – but not tell him that I’ve talked to her.

 

So about 1am – it’s 11pm over there – I call him. He picks up straight away, sounding so clear that he might have been in the next room.

We chat for a bit – I tell him I’m just ringing to see how he’s doing. At first he says he’s ‘good’, so I don’t push it, we just talk about this and that… then, after a while, I ask him when he’s planning to come back.

“Umm… Miss?” Kepaoa began.

“Uh huh,”

“Um – I don’t know aye,” he goes on, hesitantly. “Something’s gone wrong. I was supposed to come back on Wednesday – I rang the airline to check what time I should be at the airport. And they told me there was no booking under my name.”

“Aye?” I say. “So what happened?”

“I’m not sure,” he says. “Miss… it looks like someone’s cancelled it.” Then he kind of sighs, and starts talking – that’s when I hear the whole story (or as much as he knows).

 

As far as Kepaoa can tell, the booking’s been cancelled from the NZ end. He doesn’t know how it’s happened. He’s at a loss – all he knows is that he’s stuck in Australia. He’s thought about it, and he thinks it’s his mum and dad. He heard (from Paki) that they were really angry when they found out where he was. But Paki hasn’t been in touch either since the booking got cancelled.

“I don’t know how anyone can cancel the booking,” I say. “I can’t work out how they would be able to – unless they had all your details and everything.”

“I don’t know either,” says Kepaoa, unhappily. “But they have. I think my mum and dad have gone online and cancelled it, and got the money.”

“Yeah, well I can try to check that out,” I told him. “I’ll ring the airline myself. But I need the information – the flight details and everything. Your passport number, all that stuff.”

And he says he’ll mail it to me today.

 

Then we talk about things more generally. Kepaoa tells me he hates it there, and wants to come home. It’s been good to see Teri, but she hasn’t even told her family that he’s there, and he hasn’t met them. Sometimes she texts him to come over, but he has to wait outside her house for her to come out. Waited for five hours the other day. He says he doesn’t mind… but he sounds kind of weary, all the same. Tells me Teri is pretty insecure about things. Thinks he’s playing up. She’s telling him what to wear, everything. Won’t let him wear a throwback…

“Won’t let you wear a throwback?” I say, in disbelief.

“Nah…” he says. And then, “And Miss, there’s hardly any Islanders here. People think I’m from the States. They don’t know anything. I hate it here. It’s full of Lebs – I hate them.”

“Huh?” I ask.

“Lebanese – they all carry guns, little bitches. Can’t fight like men, so they pull their guns out.”

I can’t help snorting. “Yeah, yeah… says the guy who pulled out his gun at school.”

“Haah…” Kepaoa says, conceding this. “I did – but these guys can’t even fight, so they just walk round with their guns the whole time, thinking they’re tough.” He gives a little sigh, and, “Miss, I just wanna come home,” he goes on, softly. “New Zealand’s the life, compared to here. I fuckin hate it here.”

“I know, and don’t worry – we’ll sort it out,” I told him. “We will, ok?”

We talk until my phone runs out of charge. I know the battery’s about to go flat, so I remind him to mail the flight info, and his passport details… then we’re cut off.

 

I wake up late, after the midnight phone call. By 9:30 I haven’t even pulled the curtains. I’m about to get up, when I hear the front door open and close, quickly. Actually, it gives me kind of a scare, to begin with. Then I go out, and Tau’s just sitting there on the couch.

“Hey…” I say, just like nothing unusual is happening (which is always the way to go, with Tau).

“Hey, Miss,” replies Tau.

There’s a short (and friendly) pause. I don’t sense any note of panic or stress in Tau’s manner. I just say, “So… how’s everything?”

“Ok, jaaaacc,” is the reply.

“Everyone good? At yours?”

“Yeah,” Tau shrugs noncommittally.

I don’t want to push him, not one little bit. Don’t ask any more. Just say, “Well, it’s cool to see you anyway, Tau. And, you’re looking good.” It’s true – he looks kind of clearer, somehow.

He grins, modestly.

“You are,” I say. “Have you been cutting back on your drinking or something?”

“Nah…” says Tau, still honest to a fault with me. “I haven’t. And I’ve been awake all night, haven’t even been to sleep yet.”

“Drinking?”

He nods.

“Ohwell,” I reply, and he grins at me again.

 

I don’t really know why he’s turned up, but I’m not going to question it. I just sit and talk to him, and I see him kind of gradually ‘settle’. As always, it just takes my heart and squeezes it, to see Tau looking at me peacefully, not wanting to fly; flee. I know not to say anything to startle him, or anything that’s too hard for him to talk about: Shae, for example. So at first we talk about  the ‘simplest’ things, like painting. Tau takes a look at the boards, and I show him one of the canvases, which I can see he really likes. The whole time, I’m aware that he’s breathing quietly, just receiving all the signals I send. That he’s safe, and I’m not about to make a big deal out of anything, and that he’s welcome. It makes me cry, even writing this down. Because it means something, that Tau still feels he can turn up at mine.

 

After a bit, I ask him if he’s interested in coming on the next paint job.

“Yeah, hard,” he replies. “I really wanna get back into all that.”

“Do you, Tau?” I say, gently. “I’m really glad to hear that. I was gonna get in touch with you about it soon anyway. I hadn’t forgotten. It’s just that…”

He looks at me, and I go on: “It’s just that I don’t want to interfere. That’s the only reason I haven’t been in touch more. Sometimes I want to, but then I think… oh, maybe I’m nagging you about stuff, so I just leave it.”

“It’s algood, Miss,” Tau tells me. “It’s algood if you get in touch. Only… I’ve got no phone anymore.”

“Damn,” I say, and he nods, ruefully.

 

We look at one another. I say, “Yeah, Tau – I really want you to come on that job. So far, it’s just Zion and Slade.”

“Who’s Slade?” asks Tau.

“Rook.”

“Ohh, Rook – I’ve met him,” he tells me. “Last weekend, at a party.”

“Did you guys get on?” I ask.

“Um, I didn’t really talk to him much, he seems pretty quiet,” Tau says.

I laugh. “Yeah, he’s not that quiet, he can be a rowdy fulla sometimes. Like you, aye.” I add, “Always the quiet ones…” and Tau snorts at me.

I continue, “I think you guys would get on… once you got to know one another. He’s Zion’s friend, you’d probably be all good.”

“Yup,” Tau says, easily. He shows no sign of alarm at the idea of Slade coming along.

 

I tell him I’ve seen Nio, too. Tau is quite intrigued by this.

“What did he say?” he asks me.

“He asked about you –wanted to know if you were still at the TI.”

“And what did you say?”

“I said no, you weren’t – then he asked if you’d dropped out.”

Tau looks at me with an amused, ‘Go on…’ expression.

“And I said no, you hadn’t dropped out – you finished your course and already got level 3. Cos, you know… how Nio hasn’t even got level 1 yet!”

At this, we both start to laugh, and I can see that he’s pleased by my comment to Nio, so I decide to just ‘push’ into the idea a tiny bit more, saying, “Um… Tau, I know you’ve probably got heaps of money making opportunities at the moment, but…”

“I haven’t got jaaac,” says Tau, at once. He grins, ruefully. “I ain’t doing jaac, there’s nothing happening, honest Miss.”

“Well then, just maybe think about going back to the TI one day, huh?”

“I do want to go back,” Tau says, surprising me greatly.

“Aye? Really, Tau?”

He nods.

“Well that’s cool, just keep that in your mind for next year then,” I say, amazed at the ease with which he’s able to mention it.

 

I look at Tau’s face, which is always real beautiful, far as I’m concerned. I can never see him any other way.

“Ok,” I say. “I better go get ready and that.” I’ve already told Tau I’m off to meet up with a friend soon.

“K, Miss. I should go soon, too.”

“Okay, but just feel free to…” and I wave around the room. “Doesn’t matter if I’m here or not, you just come and go, anytime. And help yourself to anything.”

“Thanks, Miss,” says Tau, quietly. “I might stay for a bit longer then,”

“Nah, no worries,” I say. “You know what I said before. I won’t interfere, but… well, I just want you to know that I’m here if you need something. Ok, Tau? Anytime.

He gives a little nod, and we hug one another.

 

I take a shower, get ready to go out. Tau’s still sitting quite contentedly on the couch. He follows me out and waves from the deck as I get in the car. As I head down the driveway I cast a glance over my shoulder and see him rolling a ciggie. It makes me feel happy to think of him being there, just having a bit of quiet time and a smoke.

We try

Monday 30 April 2012:

This morning I’m going out to put my stuff in the car, and the shed door’s been left ajar as I go by. I actually see Tau look through the crack of the door at me, and then kind of skip to one side. I feel sure he wants me to come talk to him. So I just tap and say, “Tau?”

“Hey Miss…” Tau sighs, opening wide the door and looking at me with an expression of patient suffering.

“You ok?”

He nods, but unhappily.

“Do you want a ride to course?” I ask. “Honest, I don’t mind, Tau. I’m not in a hurry.”

“No-oo, I’ll be ok,” he tells me, and he sits down and hunches his shoulders.

 

I perch on the arm of the sofa and say, “Tau – have you heard from Shay?”

He shakes his head very sorrowfully, telling me, “No. And I went round there last night, and I know she saw me, but she just went into another room – and then her neighbours came outside. And chased me away,” he concludes.

“Well, maybe she’s not ready to see you yet,” I suggest. “She might need some time, you know… and her parents might not want to see you just yet either.”

“But – she’s never done that before!” Tau says, and he sounds so bewildered. I know he knows it’s his own fault, but I also see he’s hurting – and he’s afraid, somehow. At finding himself alone.

“I know,” I say. “I know, but it’s ok, Tau. I’m sure she’ll talk to you when she’s ready.”

“Don’t give a fuck anyway…” he mutters.

“Yes you do,” I say, gently.

He sniffs, and bends his head. His hair springs up from under his cap, and I look tenderly at his large and stoically unhappy bearing.

“Fuck… I don’t care,” Tau tries again, and his head droops, and I just slip next to him and put my arm around him, and he leans into me, giving another sniff.

“It’s ok, Tau… do you want me to message her on facebook, and check she’s ok?”

He nods, saying, “Cos she won’t reply to me – I’ve tried to send her messages, I’ve –“

I tell him. “I’ll find out how she’s going, aye Tau?”

He nods again, and I just stroke his warm, broad back, and we sit like that for a while.

 

I say, “Man… must have been a pretty big argument you guys had on Friday, for things to be like this.”

“It was fucked up,” admits Tau. “Just over dumb shit, not even that bad, just… it all got fucked up.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But Tau – give it time.”

“Yup,” he says, kind of calmer, at least for now. “Yupp…” And then, “Thanks, Miss.”

 

Eventually, I just have to go to school. And I hope Tau has a safe day, even if it won’t really be a happy one.

 

When I get to school, I message Shay.

We exchange messages on and off all day. She’s pitifully glad to hear Tau’s alright; she’s been worried. She keeps saying – thank you for looking after him. My heart goes out to her, but I try to keep it all matter-of-fact. I know she needs some time out, and not to hear about Tau being unhappy. I tell her he’s ok, and to not worry, and to look after herself.

Well – he was ok, this morning. But the day is long, you know.

 

And Tau’s not there when I get home. I see he’s made himself a feed though; done the dishes. Even just thinking about it now, I feel emotional – knowing he’s so proud and yet he can still do that; still look after himself a little bit.

 

Tuesday 1 May:

Tau mails and tells me it all ended up bad last night. He got drunk again and smashed up Shay’s mum & dad’s car. Then he went back to Kaiser St. Later, the police came to look for him. Scott and Sheree said he wasn’t there, and the cops went away again.

I have non-contacts this morning, so I text Kepaoa and tell him what’s happening, asking him not to mention it to anyone else.

Nah u nau me ms, nta word ae,’  he texts back, reassuringly. Man dy musta psd hm off?

 

Thursday 3 May:

I come home and Tau’s been round. He’s taken a shower, made something to eat, washed up everything in the kitchen – and left again. There’s a message on my phone though, to say he hasn’t been going to course. He says he can’t handle sitting in class at the moment and feels like fighting with everyone.

 

Friday 4 May:

After school, I go round to Kaiser St – Sheree has asked if I could come help sort out some letter Tau’s received about his student allowance.

He looks rough as: my heart almost breaks. And I can tell he isn’t in the mood for talking. But for some inexplicable reason, I can’t stop asking him dumb questions, like: “Have you seen Shay?”

Tau just sits on the edge of the couch, next to the door, and looks straight past me. I automatically turn to one side, kind of protecting myself – my body language is awkward; I feel all elbows – and I want to cry. Of course I know I can’t cry. But my heart is ripped up, seeing his closed, blank, shut-off face. And then I think to myself: Ok, ok – just be practical.

So I say, “Tau?”

He nods.

“Give me that letter – I’ll take a look.”

He shrugs and hands it over.”

 

I read it: Tau needs to contact Studylink regarding some paperwork. When I broach this subject, he doesn’t hate the idea; I guess he needs to get paid, even if nothing else. So I dial, and of course, immediately get put on hold. I wait. Meanwhile, Tau unscrews the cap of the vodka bottle on the table, and takes a long swig.

My eyes flick up to his. I say, “That what you’re up to tonight?”

He laughs, just a flat ‘hah’. “Been doing that every night,” he says, and his eyes swivel away, and he gulps another mouthful down.

“Yup…” I just about whisper.

I sit on the steps, on hold, waiting for Studylink.

 

“Come in, Miss!” Sheree insists.

“I’m ok, it’s just… the reception’s a bit better out here,” (and actually, this is true, too).

But she makes room for me on the couch, then curls up beside me. Tau keeps drinking, and within ten minutes he’s on that tipsy buzz, and is chatting and laughing to everyone – but his eyes are still shiny and quiet, and I know he’s keeping everything inside.

Scott lays on the other couch, complaining. “How come I can’t have a drink, when Tau’s allowed a drink?”

“Did I buy you that bottle of alcohol – no!” Sheree scolds Scott.

I think of how Tau once told me he never drinks with his parents anymore; he hates the way they drink. I’m sure that’s changed in the last week, but… what can I say? Nothing to be said. Tau’s been on this week-long bender, and if Scott and Sheree haven’t joined in yet, they soon will. And ohhh, it’s hard to see Tau this way.

 

Anyway, I try. I talk to the guy at the call centre, and then to the supervisor (after I ask to be put through to someone in charge) – and eventually I get an assurance that they’ll look into it, and get back to me Monday.

I explain all this to Tau – and he nods. So it’s something; better than nothing.

And I feel… that same ache, and that same kind of yearning to just be there with them. Despite everything; despite the fact that Tau’s going down the path to rock-stony-bottom, and his genes say ‘alcoholism’, loud and clear. I think of Tau and Sheree and Scott… as three of the realest people I know. Because they don’t say things are ok when they’re not. And do I? Maybe… I’m not sure.

 

“Come to dinner, ok?” Sheree says “Roast on Sunday. Should get Tau to cook it!” She snorts, as does her son.

“Yeah, cool,” I say, meaning it – even though I doubt they’ll even remember the invite, come Sunday. “K then – thanks, Sheree.” I cast a glance at Tau’s now anaesthetized, but still unconsoled face. He smiles at me, semi-ok with the afternoon.

And I wish I could… and there would… I don’t know. I sometimes wish I could be headstrong and wild, and not care; not be shamed. Instead I feel like a fake, because I have to pretend to be ok. As if I know what to do, when I don’t.

 

Anyway, when I leave (to do my shopping; don’t even feel like it), Tau follows me out and we stand on the steps. I say, “Aw, Tau… I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok Miss, allgood,” Tau says.

“Nah, I know you didn’t really wanna talk, today. Sorry for that. I didn’t…” I break off, feeling like I’m gonna sniff and cry. But of course I just rally, and say, “I just… it’s just… cos I care about you.”

“I know,” Tau says, gently. He’s drunk now, or getting that way. In the hour that I’ve been there, he’s polished off almost the whole bottle – but then, Tau can absorb a mighty large quantity of alcohol with remarkable tolerance. Which is, in itself, a scary thought.

I say, “Tau, I’m just… a bit worried about you, that’s all.”

We look at one another, and I add, “Honestly Tau, anything you need, anything at all – just come and go whenever you like. My house is your house… you know that.” And I suddenly remember telling him kind of the same thing once, back when he was in year 10. Something like this: “My room is your room, Tau. We can share it.”

He nods. “I came round today,” he tells me quietly. “I made a feed – I had some chicken.”

“Good, Tau – that’s good,” I say.

And we reach out and hug one another.

 

When I leave, I only cry a little bit. Because I don’t want to let it swamp me. And I have to get to the supermarket.

Back home, I fix something to eat. I’m trying real hard to not let everything make me so sad. I just think – oh, I might be able to let it go. And I might…  if I can remember that we try, and we’re still trying.

 

Around 10pm, there’s a text from Elroy:

Hae mis up3?

Nothng just watching TV

Miss ask cluzo f he wantz sum hot bottle.

He’s round at hs parents place. But he dnt need any more alks in my opinion!

Miss i robbd da factry heps 2 go arwnd aha algud mis

Yeh wel i stil thnk tau dnt need any, the way he’s going it wil just get him into trouble.. and as for you just be careful aye. And you need to drink some milo!!

Ahah k miss aha. Do u want a hot bottle?

Doesnt matter wat I wnt, I reply. And there’s some truth in that.

Ahah yea miss ur my idol miss. Ahah hnst.

The week’s events

Saturday 10 December, 2011: 

Monday morning at staff briefing, I get a text from Kepaoa. It says he’s not going course today, one of his boys tried to hang himself, and he’s at hospital with him. The boy’s name is ‘Kontend’ (real name I don’t know).

So I text back, telling him just to let course know he’s away today, they’ll understand, no problem. But Kepaoa asks if it’s ok to come to school afterwards, please. He says he’ll catch the train to Municipal, then adds: ‘or?’

For some reason I feel Kepaoa’s looking for a little bit of comfort, more than anything else. So I pick up on the ‘or’, and offer him a ride back from City hospital at lunch break. Which he accepts, immediately.

 

At 1 o’clock, I’m outside the emergency department, and out comes Kepaoa. Grey sweat pants; white basketball singlet; white snapback; smelling of Lynx. He jumps in the car – it’s like summer’s arrived.

“Hey Kepaoa, how’s your friend?” I ask.

“Gone,” says Kepaoa.

For a second, I think he means discharged from hospital, but then I see his face, which is troubled and edgy.

“Aye?” I say.

“Yup – gone. All gone.”

“Fuuuck,” I exhale.

 

And on the way back to Municipal, Kepaoa talks: about his friend, and then about wanting to smash someone; start something; shoot someone; go inside – he says he doesn’t care. “Even if I go in as a little bitch,” he tells me, “It’s all good, cos I’ll come out hard.” He bobs around in his seat, all full of upset energy, and laughs a bit maniacally.

“Kepaoa, nah, don’t talk like that,” I tell him, gently as I can.

“Nah, fuck it Miss, I don’t care, all good. Sometimes I just wanna start shit with any random niggas; anyone I see. Me and Biz… and I wanna get me a gat; yeah hard,” Kepaoa continues.

One way or another we get to school, get the visitors pass – and then head over to the ROR, passing Marjorie by the cafe. Kepaoa greets her with an exhilarated and hyped-up familiarity, bordering on belligerence, and I just give his elbow a little flick, to say ‘careful’, and ‘take it easy’.

 

Lunch is almost over, and I’m due upstairs for a planning meeting. I leave Kepaoa in my room with a note, and I email the SLT too, to confirm he’s here with a pass. I just want to make sure he doesn’t have run-ins with staff coming by; not in the mood he’s in.

I nip down halfway through, to check everything’s ok – and Kepaoa’s lying there asleep, on the bean bag. First I think he’s just kicking back, but no, for I hear a little snore and he twitches a bit.

So I just kneel down beside him for a second, and say, “Kepaoa?”

No answer – he slumbers away.

“Kepaoa, wake up…” I tap his leg, and he stirs.

“Kepaoa?“

He rubs his eyes, looking disoriented. “Miss… “

“Sorry, it’s just that I have to go back to the meeting, will you be ok here? I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I tell him.

“All good Miss – I’ve got all afternoon,” he replies, adding in a slightly bewildered voice, “I’m really tired, I dunno why.”

“Well, you’ve had a shock today, with everything that’s happened. I’m not surprised you’re tired,” I say.

Kepaoa looks kind of relieved, and then he just rolls on his side and drops half back to sleep within seconds, and I say, “K then Sleeping Beauty – see you soon,” and he nods, without opening his eyes, and his face twitches again, and then relaxes.

 

It’s not till almost 2:30 that I get back to the ROR. Kepaoa’s awake by then and is sitting there alert and patient, listening to music on the laptop. We just talk a while more, about everything that’s going on. And Riley, too – Kepaoa says he’d take her back, if that’s what she wanted. But she’s seeing her old boyfriend now. His friends say he should have beef with the guy, but he can’t be bothered. “Even though he thinks he’s hard,” he scoffs. Then he laughs; kind of shakes his head at himself.

 

Later I drop him off, and when we pull up outside his house in Montgomery Rd, I say that for all his talk before, I know he’s a humble guy – and to stay calm.

“I will, Miss,” says Kepaoa, and then, “Other people always think I’m gonna start shit. But you know, it ain’t like that.”

“Course it ain’t,” I say. “Course it’s not like that, Kepaoa,”

He nods, and puts his arms around me – he’s all damp with summer heat, and Lynx spray. Bare arms and warm skin unselfconsciously pressed against me.

“Take care aye – and be good,” I say.

He grins, and looks a bit more like his old self again.

 

Tuesday: Tau gets mail from the TI – notification of admissions for next semester. He holds the envelope for a few seconds with a look of trepidation. “Cross your fingers,” I say, and he tears it open, takes out the letter, peruses it quickly, and then puts it down on the table.

“What does it say, Tau?” I ask, unable to work this out from Tau’s face, which wears a slightly nonplussed look.

“Ah… I think I made it in,” says Tau, and hands me the letter.

I look at it: ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted into…’

“Oh Tau!”

We grin at one another.

“Oh! You got in! Tau, I’m so proud of you!” I look at Tau’s face, which is still somewhat bemused at this happy outcome. “Honest to who, I’m sooo proud of you…” I coo, and he allows himself to look pleased at his own success.

 

But as the news sinks in, Tau goes quiet and seems a little bit ambivalent. Later he comes inside, sighs, and sinks onto the couch.

“Everything ok, Tau?” I asked.

He nods, unconvincingly.

“What’s up?”

Tau hangs his head, saying, “Um… it’ll be alright I suppose.”

“Huh?” I say. “I thought you’d been looking forward to this for ages.”

He shrugs.

“Haven’t you?” I check, just gently, cos I can see something is bothering him.

“Kind of,” he agrees.

“So… what’s not to like about it, then?” I coax.

Tau looks down for a second, then says tentatively, “I just don’t like wearing those… overalls.”

“Oh, right,” I say, with only a little bit of surprise, because this actually makes sense now, being exactly the type of apparently trivial thing that has the potential to upset Tau’s equilibrium.

“Nah, I don’t wanna wear the overalls,” he says again, looking miserable at the very prospect.

“Ohh, so what is it that you don’t like about the overalls?” I say, in a matter of fact way, to signal that I don’t think he’s being silly. “Is it because… they’re hot?” I take a guess.

“Yes, they’re hot,” murmurs Tau. “And… and they just feel… funny.”

I nod, sympathetically.

“We had to wear them for Trades sometimes… I didn’t like wearing them.”

“Ohh, k, I get it now, Tau,” I say, and at once he seems to relax, having spoken of it. We discuss the matter some more, and Tau gradually adjusts to at least the idea of overalls. He even chuckles at himself, ruefully, realizing that he is going to have to contemplate the situation further.

 

After school Thursday, Shae drifts in on her own. “It’s just me, Miss,” she says. “Tau’s round at his Nan’s – they’re drinking – his cousin just got out of jail.”

We look at one another a bit dubiously, and she gives me a wan smile.

“Is he ok to get home – what do you think? Shall we text him and tell him we can pick him up?” I ask.

“Oh yes please Miss,” Shae agrees with relief.

I send a text, then Shae does; and we receive a few in reply, the last of which reads: ‘ok im spuwn up need to kum home’.

We go and uplift Tau from the park, near his Nan’s house. He leans wearily against the car door, large and suffering patiently; and when he gets home he throws up and goes to sleep.

 

Shae and I watch TV and talk, doing up the new timelines on facebook.

“Miss?” begins Shae. “You and me… we really look out for Tau, aye.”

“Yeah, we sure do.”

“Hard.”

 

Friday, Tau tells me that Scott and Sheree might be evicted from Fitzroy St, if damage to the property remains unrectified. He’s worried, not least because the damage in question, which Scott has been told he has 7 days to fix – involves the shed: the door that won’t close, and the hole in the wall.

“Oh, I didn’t know there was a hole in the wall too,” I say, just mildly.

“It’s right next to the shed, where the house starts,” Tau begins, looking mournful and tense. He adds, “That was when my dad got drunk and drove the car in, and crashed into the side.”

“I know… I know Tau, try not to worry.” I say.

“But, my dad can’t pay.”

“Yeah – are they not allowed to pay it off?” I ask. “Like, the landlord pays for the repairs and then your dad pays some off every week?”

“I don’t think so,” Tau says. “The guy just told my dad he had a week to do it, or else they’d get kicked out.”

“Did he give your dad a letter?”

“No.” Tau shakes his head.

“Well – they have to. I’m sure they have to put it in writing. And I don’t think it’s right to say one week, either. I’m sure they have to give him longer than that…” I consider this, trying to remember what I know about tenancy law. “I think they can ask your dad to fix it by a certain date – but they have to give him a letter, to tell him. And if he can’t do it, he can ask for mediation – that’s when him, and the landlord or the real estate people have a meeting with someone who can help sort it out… and then maybe he could pay it off.”

 

Tau’s nodding, and very interested. “Miss,” he says. “I think you should tell my dad all this – I think he’d want to do that.”

“Well, I will then, definitely – but let me check first, to make sure, and then I’ll ring up and find out more about it next week – there’s bound to be a tenancy helpline.”

Tau nods again, enthusiastically.

I pretend to sigh: “Next thing they’ll have to come stay in your shed – we can put a curtain down the middle.”

Tau snorts indignantly, saying, “Fuck off.”

“The barbecue area, then,” I suggest, waving my arm towards it. “And we can put up a tarpaulin around the sides…”

We both dissolve into giggles.

 

But, you know – even though that’s just a joke, Scott and Sheree gotta live somewhere.

 

This evening, we go to pick up DVD’s. We’re heading into the store when I hear, “Miss!” and there are Kepaoa and Elroy (and some other boys with them). Kepaoa is in blue from head to toe, with a blue rag hanging out of his pants. They’re catching the train to Christmas in the Park – and stop to talk.

“Isn’t Cluzo going to Christmas in the Park?” asks Kepaoa, looking at Tau just up ahead.

“Nope,” I say. “He’s just staying home,” adding, “Anyway, Tau needs a quiet night.”

Kepaoa is intrigued by this: “Ohh, why does he?”

“He just does,” I say, and Kepaoa looks at me and smiles.

“Hey Miss, I know where your house is now!” puts in Elroy, cheerily. “And I’ll never rob your house, or even your street – I promise!”

“Ok, good on you Elroy,” I tell him – because what else can you say to that?

 

In the shop, I ask Tau, “Did you know who that was?”

“No – I don’t think I’ve seen any of those boys before,” he replies.

“It was Kepaoa.”

“Aye?” says Tau, looking quite astonished. “Which one was he?”

“The one all in blue.”

“Was that Kepaoa?”

“Yep – and you didn’t recognize him.”

“He looked different than I remember…“ muses Tau. I think he and Kepaoa are actually reasonably well disposed to one another now, at least in principle.

Equality

Thursday 17 November, 2011:

At the station, Kepaoa spots me from the overbridge and comes down. There in the car park we stand and talk a while. He tells me about his relationship with Riley, which is ‘on a break’ (Riley’s choice).

I say, “It’s like that old saying. If you love something, set it free… if it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

Kepaoa nods, saying, “Yeah, I like that, thanks Miss.” He laughs softly, adding, “You know, I like poetry and shit like that.”

Do you?”

“Yup.”

“I never would have guessed – but that’s cool, Kepaoa,” I tell him.

When we part, to my surprise Kepaoa suddenly throws his arms around me and hugs me tight. I find it rather humbling that Kepaoa, who carries himself like a man, and is a proud person, would be moved to embrace me this way.

 

Friday 18 November:

Tau tells me how much better the shed is here than the one in Fitzroy St. “It’s far warmer,” he says. “My other shed had broken windows, and the door wouldn’t close properly, cos it was all kicked in.”

“And who kicked it in, Tau?” I enquire with just a little bit of amusement, because I know the answer already.

“Me,” he says acceptingly, and then, “I couldn’t smash my dad, so I’d just smash up his stuff instead – wanted to smash all his property.” He adds, wearily, “I’m not… I’m not a good person, when I’m angry.”

“You are a good person,” is what I reply, and he just smiles, and then sighs.

 

And every day there’s like a shifting and a settling process that seems to be taking place with everything. I don’t know really how to describe it best. Sometimes I feel afraid, and then it settles again. As this shifting, moving, way of things does, in the last few weeks.

Regarding the foils on Wednesday: Tau is very well-organized, careful, and respectful about things. I guess to the untrained eye, you might not think that. But then it depends on your perspective (which is why, obviously, I won’t tell many people – I won’t even tell La-Verne). Tau has grown up around this. He’s discreet and efficient – and he has a head for business; that’s something I’ve learned about him too.

And, as usual these days, there’s a two-track playing in my head. Part of me just accepts it, and understands, right away. And then there’s a part of me that worries about what ‘other people’ might think.  Other people I care about, anyway. Like La-Verne – and Kuli.

But I just keep thinking how I knew all this before, when I made my offer. It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about it, or didn’t imagine it would be how it is. And I know, somewhere in the scheme of things, it matters – that there’s a time and a place.

 

The only person I tell, maybe surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly at all – is Kepaoa. Today he comes to see me at school, wanting help with some online paperwork for a course application. I get him a visitor’s pass, lifting what was only an informal ‘ban’: Karys had said she didn’t want him on site once seniors finished – she sent an email to ‘All Staff’ last week.

In between form filling and teaching, we talk about a lot of things. He says that he and Riley haven’t exactly broken up yet… but to all intents and purposes, that’s what’s happened. I can see his pride is hurt, and yet he suffers her decision, waiting with a patience that is rare for him.

And for some reason, I just trust Kepaoa Alesi. I honestly think my guiding principle is ‘equality’. It isn’t age, or status, or a job, or a lifestyle (real or apparent), or any of those things, which guides how I respond to people. It’s something else, a feeling of: Ohh, we are equal. And so, Kepaoa; 18 years old, and perceived by the SLT as a gang-affiliated (true), dealing (false), thug (true in one sense, not in another) – he’s someone I trust. And you got to tell someone, sometime… or it makes you crazy.

 

So I do. I tell him about what’s been happening out in the shed. This is after a more general conversation, in which Tau is mentioned. And Kepaoa is very interested in Tau, and in the fact that he’s staying with me. I can see that Kepaoa has already foregone the notion of keeping the beef going, and is willing to accept my take on the situation. And when I tell him about Tau’s ‘Peaceing it is for little bitches,’ comment, Kepaoa says, “Yeah, that’s how I feel too. Peaceing it’s for bitches… but I ain’t got beef with Cluzo.” And I just think: ok – this person I trust.

Kepaoa listens very calmly, and he says to me, “Miss – that’s your business. I won’t say a word.” He goes on, “I understand what you’re saying, and why it’s like this. I know some families, their whole life’s built around dealing. And I’ve thought of doing it myself. I understand how it is when your family can’t make enough money other ways.”

At lunch, we sit right out in the open, at a table in the café, Kepaoa displaying his visitor’s pass (on his knuckles) as strolling DP’s and Deans walk past. I’ve already emailed the SLT (politely) to notify them that Kepaoa is on site for a legitimate purpose. Yet it’s fun to be so blatant about it. Kepaoa gives them all his best calm and insouciant looks as they walk on by. “I like pissing off the DP’s,” he says, biting into his chicken burger.

 

Monday 21 November:

A successful morning with Kepaoa – the Automotive course go out of their way to smooth the enrolment process. They even bring us coffee and cookies while we sit and do the application forms. I can see Kepaoa beginning to relax, after starting the day with some trepidation. Then the tutor shows us around, and takes a great shine to Kepaoa, for his demeanor (respectful and enthusiastic), his results (Level 2 in the bag), and the fact that a teacher is there in the flesh to recommend him. Not only does he offer Kepaoa a place on the course (starting tomorrow), he also personally sorts out a work placement for him – two days a week at a mechanic’s workshop. This is actually quite unusual, as we’ve been told already that students are expected to find work experience for themselves. But the guy says to Kepaoa that he’s prepared to give him a chance.

Afterwards, he’s buzzing out. I take him home and go in to tell his mum the good news, at Kepaoa’s request –  he’s not sure she’ll believe him otherwise.

Consistency

Wednesday 28 September, 2011:

I ring Tau, just like I said I would. I’m so consistent with Tau, come hell or high water – I always do what I’ve told him I’m going to do. I sometimes wonder at myself – this ability to show up, no matter how dumb or useless I sometimes feel. I just sigh… and do it anyway.

And Tau wants to talk, too – so I let him talk, and tell me all about his week, and about course, and about Math, and how the tutor wasn’t much help lately, moving ahead before he understood the work. “He’s a faggot,” complains Tau bitterly, “And he didn’t even give me any homework.”

“Never mind,” I say. “Let’s do some math on Friday – I remember the stuff you were doing – we’ll just do some more questions like that, ok?”

“Ok,” says Tau, trustingly.

“And we’ll have a talk, about how you can ask him to stop and explain things again, if you need to. Cos Tau, he probably doesn’t know he’s going too fast.  I mean, if you aren’t saying…”

“But I can’t say – cos he just keeps going, and I don’t know how to tell him.”

“Well, you will be able to, Tau – don’t worry, you can easily sort that out.”

“He’s a little faggot,” Tau grumbles, but I can see he’s mollified to some degree.

 

Friday 30 September:

I go pick up Tau this morning – just the usual Friday. I’m there a few minutes early, so I start walking down the drive, and I see Tau close the tilting door of the shed, and come down to meet me. He looks… a bit dishevelled, to be honest. He treads heavily towards me, and in his eyes is that weary, stoical look I’ve seen so many times before.

“Hey Tau,” I say, and then, “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” he says, and then, “Just a bit tired.”

I give his arm a little stroke, as we walk. “Yeah, you look a bit tired. Everything ok?”

Tau half-nods, half-shrugs, just walking beside me. He draws me further down the drive – steering me with an arm – then says, urgently, “Today’s not a good… not a very good day to come round here, Miss.”

“Ok,” I say, accepting this at once. “So – something’s going on? That’s what I thought, when I saw you.”

“Yeah, Miss – I was gonna tell you in the car. It’s not a good day to come over, my dad’s been on fries for the last two days, he’s just coming off it now.”

 

This explains a lot about Tau’s appearance today. “Oh,” I say, and then, “Man, I thought your dad was going through a good patch lately.”

“He was, but…” Tau says, resignedly.

“And – have the drug and alcohol people been round? I thought you said they were coming every day.”

“They have, but the last two times my dad just yelled out to them – Fuck off, unless you wanna get shot in the head.”

“And so – they did?”

“Mmm hmm,” nods Tau, wearily.  “My dad should be alright by… um, about Sunday. Today will be like his worst day for mood swings, then over the weekend he’ll get a bit better.”

“Is this his worst day, coming off it?”

“Yup,” says Tau. “It’s always like this.”

“So tonight’s like the danger time?”

“It is,” Tau nods. He leans against the car, patient and tired. “Lucky I’ve got the shed,” he says. “If I go in the house tonight I’ll just get stressed, and then I’ll probably lose it. So I better just stay in the shed.”

I try to be as matter of fact as I can be, saying, “Well at least you know what to do, and that’s good, Tau.” I unlock the door, and he smiles, getting in and sitting back – just resting.

“K then, Tau – shall we go?” I ask. “Do you still feel like going?”

He nods.

 

And like always, with Tau… bits and pieces just come out when he’s ready.

“Miss,” he says, as we drive to the TI. “When my dad’s coming off fries, he talks about killing himself.”

“Does he? That must make everyone feel really stressed, Tau,” I said, acknowledging it, while trying to sound calm.

“It does, Miss… and he cuts himself, he cuts and cuts at his wrists.” Tau turns his palms up and runs one finger across his own skin, saying, “There’s scars from where he’s done it.”

“I didn’t know that,” I say, and then, “So is that why the mental health people have been coming round a lot lately?”

“I think so,” Tau says.

“Has… he always been like this, or do you think it’s getting worse?” I ask.

“It’s always been like this, but it’s getting worse, too,” Tau replies. “He’s done it before, but now it’s more…”

“More often?”

“Yup. It used to be like he was alright for a while, in between – but it happened when I was younger, too.” Tau pauses, and then tells me, “When I was a little kid, my dad tried to hang himself in my room. I came in, and he was in my closet, and I saw him just hanging there –” Tau’s hands describe it, calmly and vividly outlining the shape.

“And… what did you do, Tau?” I ask him, very gently.

“I called to my mum, and she ran in – and we pulled him down.”

 

“Tau,” I say, imagining the scene, and the fear. “How old were you, when that happened?”

“I was 9,” he tells me.

“That must have been terrible for you,” I say, and he nods. “It’s hard on my mum, too,” he adds, and I know he means now, as well as then.

“Course it is,” I murmur.

“Cos my mum’s like… she’s the only one who can calm my dad down. But then she gets stressed out, and she does stupid stuff and makes it worse.”

I nod.

“Getting drunk, getting all mouthy… fucking my dad off.”

“I guess,” I say. “You know, getting drunk is like her way of coping, huh.”

“Yup, getting drunk is her way of coping,” agrees Tau.

“And I guess it’s understandable… just like getting stoned is your way of coping.”

 

Tau chuckles, saying, “I got drunk on Wednesday though, Miss.”

“Did you? Where was that?”

“After course, well, after lunch – with the boys. We gapped it, and went to the park and got drunk.”

“Which boys – the boys from course?”

“Yup. we took the cars, went to the liquor store, went to the park and sat there drinking.”

“Did you drive?”

There is a little silence, which means yes.

By now, we’ve arrived at the TI, and are just sitting there in the carpark, in the sun. It’s quiet, and Tau’s elbow rests softly on mine. I said, “Aye Tau, you shouldn’t be driving.”

“I know, Miss.”

“And what will happen… if the cops pull you over again?”

Tau shrugs. He just says, looking down, “I don’t care if the cops pull me over.”

“Yes you do care,” I tell him, tenderly and with conviction. “You do care if the cops pull you over.”

“Nah…”

“Yes you bloody do, you idiot!” I say, just to make him laugh, because he knows both that I mean it; and that I understand.

 

And so we just go into McDonald’s and sit down, and I go get us a feed. When I come back with it, he just says, “Shot Miss,” and eats everything up, and pads off to refill his drink several times – and I realize that Tau is real hungry and thirsty, today. It kind of breaks my heart to think of it. Tau just waiting – down in the shed – for Scott to come off the fries. Because he’s as damn patient as he can be, when he has to be. I look at him just sitting there close, weary and unshaven, and at least fed now. It doesn’t matter – Tau always looks beautiful to me. That’s the honest truth. I always look at him and see his strong, brave, and exceptional character, and it’s always like that. Always.

 

The other thing is we start filling out the Independent Circumstances forms. I need to talk to the Youth Law people, before we do the part about addresses and stuff. But we do all the parts we can do, right now. Tau has to write a statement about why he needs to live apart from his parental home, and it’s difficult to put into words, of course. Just objectifying it like that seems to make it stand out; make it loom in front of us.

“Can you write it?” pleads Tau.

“No Tau, it has to come from you. There’s a whole page that I have to write, as well – but this part has to be what you think.”

“Can you help me, though?”

“Course I can,” I tell him. And together we discuss it, until Tau comes up with a statement which he writes down. “Fuck, that’s the most writing I’ve done for ages,” he says, when it’s finished.

“Well, I guess it’s good practice then!” I say, and he grins.

We’re not sure how to answer the part which asks him to: ‘Describe how you have been supporting yourself.’

‘By selling… illegal… drugs…”  I pretend to write, and we both fall about laughing.

“I think you should just leave that section for now. I’ll ask Youth Law, cos there’s no point in being honest now, is there,” I say. We sit there and joke about it – which sometimes is all you can do.

Tau fills up his drink again, and clears our table, and gives me a hug before going to his tutoring appointment. And I go back to school.