When you’re not supposed to

Thursday 27 September, 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Ok, hard and fast…” says Slade.

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

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

Zion nods.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Hah,” laughs Zion, modest and pleased.

 

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

 

Friday 28 September:

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

Yes im at sch..

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“No,” I tell him, and Slade grins.

“Oh, why not?”

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

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

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

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

“Why not?” Tyler asks, again.

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

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

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

 

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

“Don’t encourage him,” I say.

“It’s funny though…”

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

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

“So don’t encourage him.”

“K…”

 

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

Monday 24 September, 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fuck her,” he replies, mildly.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Nah, what about her?”

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

“Aye?” I say. “What for?”

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

“Ok, tell me later.”

And he nods.

 

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

 

And then Slade says, “They’re overs…”

“Huh?”

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

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

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

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

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

“Aye? What you talking about?” I say.

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

“And what exactly are they planning to do?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Watch… with what?”

“With my bat,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Too late now,” he says.

“I know.”

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

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

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

I shrug. I don’t know.

 

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

 

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

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

“And she wants you to go?”

“Yup.”

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

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

“Oh, I see.” Which I do, I guess.

 

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

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

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

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

“Are you scared?” I ask him.

“Nope.”

“Hyped?”

“Yup,” he says.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

“How old were you?”

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

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

“How did she end up there?” I ask.

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

“You were there?”

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

“Slade? How old were you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Yup,” I say.

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

“It must have changed things,” I say.

“It did.”

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

 

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

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

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

 

The right thing

Sunday 23 September, 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“You too, Miss,” and we hug again.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“He’s Shanice’s cousin,” I add.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I say.

 

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

“Aye, are you? Where abouts?”

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

“Aw cool,” I say.

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

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

“Awww…” they say.

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

“Horced every day…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Aye, did you bring it?” I say.

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

Did you tell him?” I ask, in wonder.

“Haha, yupp.”

“And what did he say?”

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

 

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

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

“Yup, I will,” he says.

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

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

“So you guys are the top students?”

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

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

 

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

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

“Aye cunt? I got these two greens…”

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

“Yeah ge.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My corner

Wednesday 19 September, 2012:

Nothing much happens today. Wednesdays aren’t that great, now that there’s no Urban Art.

I read over my ‘Karys response. And you know, I wouldn’t change what I did, except to try do it better. Honest and truly, I’d do it all over again, if I had the opportunity. I think about that stuff, this morning. And in a way, I’m happy with my corner; my little part of the whole campaign. Better that – a thousand times – than not being in on it

 

Thursday 20 September:

Eddie and Simeon appear (with visitor’s passes attached to their chests) during 12 History; Marjorie arrives just behind them. They’ve said they’re here to visit me (thanks guys, just the kind of press I need right now…) But all the same, I can’t help but be pleased to see the two of them. So I tell Marjorie that I’ll supervise them until the end of interval, and will make sure they leave the school grounds after that.

They’re most impressed to see Zion doing work. “That’s because it’s your class,” Eddie suggests.

“No, Zion does heaps of work these days,” I assure them, and Zion glows with pride.

Slade is mentioned in conversation, and the boys enquire who he is. “Rook,” Zion tells them, adding casually, “He could rip you up.” Slade and Zion – such individualists – seem to have become pretty tight, lately.

We take a little stroll over to the cafe at interval, to get a drink. Mindful of my promise to Marjorie, I fully supervise this excursion. I even consider not letting them go to the bathroom. After Eddie protests, I send Zion in after them. “And don’t let them tag!” I instruct. “If they pull out a vivid, just come straight out and tell me.”

Later, as I escort them off site, Simeon and I talk about the circumstances of his exclusion from school, two years ago. “I stole a bike,” he tells me, matter of factly.

“Well it’s not exactly the crime of the century,” I say, and he grins.

 

Friday 21 September:

13 History are working on their assessments, so I float around the tables a bit,  ending up at Riley’s side for a chat. I love Riley so much, some days. Her pretty, pugnacious, gangstafied little face sneers at half the stuff she hears, just out of ‘right’. She pushes her silky hair back and scowls as she catches a fragment of conversation from the next table. “Miss,” she says, in outrage. “They’re being racist over there!”

“Huh?” I ask.

“They are, Miss,” she insists.

“I doubt you heard it properly,” I say, soothingly, because I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to cause offence.

“Nah Miss, it was racist,” says the very beautiful Nakesha. “They were talking about the Maori awards night, and she said it was discrimination.”

“That racist girl did,” adds Riley matter of factly, pointing to Lauren.

Now that, I can imagine. Lauren is… well, not racist, but she has a disingenuous streak. And her academic ability comes coupled with a complete lack of political awareness.

Nakesha, Demet and Riley huddle in towards me. Riley looks at Lauren’s unsavvy back and grimaces, then smiles like a hungry crocodile.

I sigh, hoping to defuse this situation with honour. I say, “Oh… was that what it was. Well, perhaps it’s just that they haven’t heard of equity.”

Nakesha looks at me radiantly. She says, “Yes Miss, equity.” And she and Demet nod at one another.

“What’s equity?” asks Riley, with interest.

“Equity is when one group of people, who have been historically disadvantaged…” I say, and Nakesha nods again. “Get special opportunities – in certain areas – to try to even out the playing field again.”

“It’s a good thing, aye Miss,” Riley says.

“Yes it is, and it’s fair,” I tell her.

And with that, she looks perfectly content.

Later on, when I’m at my desk, I hear Nakesha murmur, “It’s like Miss said… haven’t they heard of equity…”

 

Break time, and Slade, Zion and Carlos arrive. We all just sit around and talk. It’s the friendliest, most relaxing time of day. Zion and I also have a little ‘secret’ today, which no-one else is aware of. He looks at me, I give a slight nod and point towards my desk, and he laughs.

This stems from yesterday. Slade makes a kind of a pitch for one of the leftover cans, the pink one. It’s the only full (ish) one left. He does it so nicely, and so unassumingly, that I tell him, “Ok.”

“Can I really have it, Miss?” he checks, before believing me.

“Yes, you can. But come get it after school, ok? I don’t like you walking round with a can in your bag.”

“I will, I’ll come straight after class!” he tells me, in jubilation at his good luck.

 

After school, Slade and Zion both arrive. I unlock the desk, take out the can, and give it to Slade. The boys know there aren’t any other fulls left, and they seem quite happy with one… and I assume (because Zion’s there with Slade) that they’re going to share it, anyway.

So off they go – and then later my phone goes: ‘Ur sad miss weaz mi can haha, awguds den’

I reply to Zion, laughing to myself: ‘Huh? I thought you were gona share it cos it’s the only full one left. You should have said.

Haha nah yeah awguds miss haha i dnt lyk asking for paint by my self only if ur offering it an yeah rook wont share his can anywys haha,

I’m actually surprised by this text, and the way he’s thought about it. How he feels slighted, a little bit, and can find a way to express this. So I reply at once:

Aw im sorry zion I feel bad now. k then im offering my atmosphere can as a replacement il bring it tomorow 

Eah haha awgud miss u dnt hav 2, coz I dnt wanr be lyk stink about it haha but yo il hav da can only if u war giv it away hahahah,

 No worries il bring it tomorow

 

And I do. It’s my only full can, and Atmosphere is my favourite colour. I’ve kept it back, for some reason (in the laundry cupboard), and I’m glad to give it to humble Zion. It touches my heart  just so much that he could actually tell me how he felt. I remember when I first started noticing Zion. Little boy with big eyes, and how he just used to slip about on the fringes, running for cover when anyone looked twice at him. Inarticulate… but his eyes said a lot more.

After school he comes back on his own.

“I’m sorry about yesterday, Zion,” I tell him. “I really thought you guys were going to share that can. I didn’t know ol’ bossy boots was intending to keep it for himself.”

“Awguds Miss,” says Zion, grinning. “Yeah… he wasn’t gonna share. And thanks, Miss.”

We’re interrupted by Slade knocking at the door, and Zion slips the can into his bag before opening up.

 

‘Ol’ bossy boots’ I’m also extremely, extremely fond of. There’s just something about Slade that appeals to me. He’s oddly confident, for a start. Confident to a fault.  When he starts waving his arm around and holding forth on one of his pet topics (tagging, toys and biters, cake niggas…) the self-confidence of this skinny, unselfconscious, unrepentant boy just intrigues and delights me. And as usual, I see beauty in all the little things, the things you start to notice once you know and care about someone.

Today, Slade tells us he had a job (back down the line) as a ‘bobby calf lifter’. Then, after a minute, “Miss, do you know what a bobby calf lifter is?” he asks.

“Not… exactly,” I tell him.

“We had to put the calves onto the truck. There’s three levels. After you fill up the bottom, you have to lift them, and then kind of throow them up onto the next level…” and he demonstrates the manoeuvre.

Do you?” I exclaim. “I thought they had a ramp thing, to walk up.”

Slade looks at me in disbelief.

“And do they go ‘mooooooo’?” asks Carlos, in a fair rendition of the probable sound.

“Yeah, yeah… just like that,” says Slade, and moos and flails around, showing us how the calves try to escape their fate. “Sometimes I just grab them and push them in, and they go down, like this…” He splays his legs out, making the boys laugh.

“Aw, what do you do that for?” I say, tsking.

“Cos, who cares – they’re gonna be mince meat and hamburgers soon anyway.”

“Are they just going to the meat works?” I ask, half aghast. “Is that where they’re going?” I guess I just don’t have those country sensibilities.

“Yeah, from all over… the truck goes round everywhere, all the farms.”

“Ohh, that’s kind of sad.”

He shrugs. “Oh well.” (this is a favourite expression of Slade’s)

We all just sit round the front table and yak, today. No-one even picks up a pen. I feel so content; so content, so content. When I see Zion’s big, sensitive eyes; Carlos’s Cheshire cat grin; Slade extending one bony finger as he emphasizes some point to us… I feel so totally safe there, and I just do.

 

 

A way back

Wednesday 12 September, 2012:

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

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

 

Thursday 13 September:

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 14 September:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Saturday 15 September:

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

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

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

“Yeah, he’s like that,” I agree.

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

 

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

 

Monday 17 September:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Tuesday 18 September:

Romeo and Juliet have gone back to Verona.

Later I get a text from Kepaoa, which reads:

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

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

 

Blatant plus dumb

Tuesday 4 September, 2012:

13 History, 9 Social, and painting both breaks. Just Slade and Carlos today; Zion having gone fishing with his dad.

 

We have a chat about the absent Zion.

“Don’t be critical of Zion,” I rebuke Slade, but only mildly – he has just pointed out some more slight ‘flaws’ in Zion’s piecing.

“It’s good to be critical,” Slade says, waving his can around with glee. “I’ve got can control – I can be critical, when I know what I’m doing.”

“Yeah, well Zion knows what he’s doing too.”

“Mm, he’s all good, I know. But… I’m just saying, he cut away that ‘M’ a bit too much.”

“According to you.”

“Yeah, according to me,” and Slade begins an assiduous display of ‘cleaning up’ the M. “I wouldn’t mind if someone was critical of me,” he continues. “If I caked it… but I haven’t caked it.”

“Nah, you haven’t caked it,” I agree. “But neither has Zion. You’ve just got different styles… and that’s only a small canvas.”

“True,” agrees Slade. “We’ve got different styles.” He eyes his work. “But I’ve got lots of different styles,” he can’t help adding, somewhat extravagantly.

“Well so has Zion – I mean you haven’t even seen him paint much, yet. Not on big surfaces I mean.”

“I’m all good on walls too…” begins Slade.

“Yes, I know you are,” I say patiently, then I sigh a little bit. “Slade,” I tell him. “You’re really good. You are. I know that. But so’s Zion… and I just… well, I guess, I’m…”

Slade looks at me with interest.

“I’m kind of protective of Zion,” I tell him. “Probably ever since Mrs Kirk tried to kick him out of school a couple of times, last year. I had his back, and I still got his back.”

Slade nods, in understanding.

“I think you’re really good, Slade,” I say again. “Honest, I saw that straight away. I’m just saying – you should wait and see what Zion can do, too. He’s got a really good eye for those big pieces… and I reckon your styles will probably be all good together too, doing a wall.”

Slade looks at me quite graciously, which makes me splutter with laughter. He can actually take criticism on the chin – which I think is one of the marks of a real artist: Inia and Zion are like that too.

 

Tomorrow we have some kind of Year-Levels thing in option time; who knows? Maybe I should try going under the radar with the painters again. I’ve honestly come to think that playing it ‘blatant plus dumb’ is mostly the way to do it. Blatant – because trying to hide your actions just makes you look like you know you’re in the wrong. And I don’t think I’m in the wrong. Dumb – because if you get snapped, you’re better to pretend you just didn’t know you weren’t allowed to do that. Yup, as a strategy, blatant plus dumb gives you the best chance of success, from every angle.

 

Wednesday 5 September:

Aww, what a tiring and stressy day it was today. I had to manoeuvre on several fronts at once, and I don’t think I did a great job with it; I tried is all.

In a way it was like the ‘old days’. Five gangstas sitting in… and that’s always a difficulty in itself. Cos one gangsta’s chivalrous, two are courteous, three are biddable, four are manageable, and five are thinking they can run things. I gather them round my front table: Slade, Zion, Carlos, Skat, Andre.

“Listen you guys,” I tell them, shamelessly paraphrasing Bob Marley. “You think you’re running it? Just remember, the people who think they run it can’t control it.”

All day…” remarks Slade, with some actual regard for this sentiment.

“So just be good and be smart, ok? If the DP’s and that walk in, they’re gonna pick this up…” I reach for the paper on which Slade has been carelessly tagging ’ROOK’. And say – ”

“Hey, I saw that up on the library…” finishes Carlos, making us all crack up laughing.

“Yes, exactly. And then we’re all in trouble… including me!”

“Even though I didn’t do it!” Slade reminds me, apropos of the library tagging.

“Yes, but that’s not the point – the DP’s won’t know that.”

“Ok Miss… Sorry Miss!” they hasten to say.

I sigh, knowing they mean it, but still sensing the potential for chaos.

 

Carlos, lounging on the floor at the front of my room, says, “Miss?”

“Mm..”

“You’re not like all the other teachers…”

“Yeah, hard,” puts in Skat, who’s been a last minute addition to the gathering. He’s arrived in the block with the renegades; the Attendance Officer in hot pursuit. Slade, Zion and Carlos have their slips, but Skat merely looks at me and makes a little prayer with his upheld palms, as she questions them. “Is he with you?” she asks me, dubiously.

“Yes,” I tell her, knowing I can’t ditch him.

So in they come, all of them.

 

To be honest, it’s not as if there’s much for them to do today. We’re almost out of paint, and board. And I’ve been assigned a year 11 group in options time (this accounts for Andre’s presence). But the others aren’t going to go to their year 12 meeting in the theatre – that much is obvious. And so, the chances of trouble are high.

All day long, they’ve been talking about a fight at Municipal, involving boys from Carthill High. They discuss the idea of gapping and going down there after lunch. But Slade, I can tell, is thinking:

“Miss?” he asks. “If we go down there before school’s finished, do you think the cops will just pick us up and bring us back?”

“Probably,” I say. “Especially if they’ve heard about a fight – they might even be there already.”

“Yeah,” Slade says, thinking about it. “I don’t really give a fuck, but…”

“But there’s no point in getting into trouble again,” I emphasize.

“Nah, not really,” he agrees.

 

So I’m actually glad they’ve decided to stay – I don’t want them getting involved in fights, at least not so far as I can contain them in advance. Besides, they tell me that they’re stopping by at Leroi’s on their way to Municipal.

“Cos he’s coming with us,” Zion informs me.

“And Taurangi?” I ask.

“Mm.. probably,” Carlos replies.

“Aah sheesh…” is all I can say. Cos what can you do? Honestly, what? I almost hope he’s too drunk to care.

 

Zion has also slightly alarmed me by telling me that “Miss Tunbridge stopped us, and took our slips. But she was allgood.”

“She took your slips?”

“Yeah, she said she was taking them to check.”

“To check what?”

“I dunno,” says Zion, unworried. “She was allgood though. She said – ok, have a good time.”

 

Two thoughts occur to me. The first is that Marjorie is planning to follow this up at her leisure. The second is that maybe she’s actually relieved to learn this group aren’t going to disrupt Karys’s year 12 assembly. Perhaps I’m doing a kind of ‘community service’ for the SLT after all! I don’t know which possibility is more likely – so I expend no further energy on these thoughts. Instead, I just go with the flow and try to take my own advice on running vs. controlling.

 

When the boys leave at the end of the school day, I feel alright about it. I’m glad they’ve been voluntarily corralled, and so won’t have had the opportunity to be first on the scene at Municipal. But all the same, I check out the train station on my way home – Andre is the first person I see.

“Any dramas?” I ask him.

“Not really,” he tells me. “There’s been a lot of kids standing round, but the cops and security moved them on. Everyone’s just waiting for their buses and trains now.”

“Ohh, thank goodness for that,” I say, and he grins

In the entrance to Foodworld, I bump into Chloe. She’s heard about the fight too. We talk for a while, she says she was there when the kids were moved on, and had assisted the security guards on the bridge. So I tell her about the boys, and how I’d tagged them to keep them at school this afternoon. “You did the right thing,” she assures me. If Karys says anything to you, I’ll back you up. Most of the teachers don’t even know what these kids get up to after school.” She added, “Or they don’t care.”

 

When I got home, I send Slade a message:

hope you eggs didnt get into trouble after school!!
just all of you take care and be good ok thats all

He replies:

me and carlos went and got some ciggys haha, andre gapped for the fight i think, and quest went home, yip shot miss you take care aswell

 

The things we predict

Sunday 26 August, 2012:

Writing straight to e-copy now, after recent events. No more pieces of paper being toted around in my bag. Ooh, the things we predict, huh. It was nearly two years ago, I said I was only going to keep a week’s worth of hard copy – and now any of that’s for emergencies only.

This morning I still feel set adrift a little, like I’ve been just summarily disconnected from some big source of power or energy – and I know I’ve got to find it from somewhere else. I keep getting this mental picture of sunlight dancing and dissolving in and out, in and out; now you see an image and now you don’t. And I don’t wanna lose… I don’t want to fade out and be without love or power or intensity. I want life so much, and I don’t know how to make that image stay. I wish I knew how to hold it; keep awake at the switch.

I try colouring my hair with a new product (henna based), and end up in abject misery as the green paste drips and oozes down my face from under several layers of cling film plus the shower cap (all as per the instructions on the box). My face; my T shirt; the carpet – I don’t think I can bear the further two hours which are suggested for this torture.

Honestly, I feel so disgusting with this goo all over my head and the little globs that kept on falling onto my face and ears and neck. I actually want to cry. I hate seeing myself at my worst – I feel like it’s irreversible, for some reason. All I see is my flaws, when I’m stripped back to bare skin and all the rudimentary tricks of beauty are gone.

And I’m grieving, I know it. I think that I’ve straight failed to be of any use to Tau, when I see him this way. I I can’t stand it at times; I honestly think I can’t bear it. And I have to bear it, because there’s no point in telling anyone else. How can I explain it? I can’t explain it – so I just have to go on, even when it seems like there’s nowhere to go.

Anyway, I jump in the shower and rinse it all out again, the colour seems to have taken – my hair looks alright.

 

Monday 27 August, 2012:

First day back at work, and my room is like a tip, after relievers for a week and a half. It takes me a whole hour to clean up, and my classes all get a growling.

I talk to La-Verne about the police search. The only other people I tell are Zion and Slade. Like always, I just trust who I trust.

After school, I start to tidy up the shed a bit. There’s broken glass all over the floor in there. And I know – Tau could do it himself. But he won’t; state he’s in at present. He can’t think further ahead than drinking and dealing just now. Scott and Sheree tell me they’re keeping nothing at theirs, for the moment. Must be all round at the safe houses. But they won’t stop dealing – how can they? It’s all Scott’s done for years and years (even if badly); all Tau’s ever known. Tau mentions something about selling from the neighbour’s house, too.

Sheree says Tau’s buying nothing except alcohol for himself and the boys. Honestly, that isn’t like Tau either. He doesn’t spend money on anyone, unless it’s Christmas!

All this makes me miserable, kind of grief stricken. The only thing that soothes me today is painting at break times. Just being with people who I can be normal with. I think about the boys, and how they come everyday to talk, and paint, and just hang out. Sometimes we don’t even paint first break; just pull up chairs and sit around and talk. They like being there, and I like them being there… and I think: What do they see? What on earth do they see, that makes them want to come back every single day? When I don’t feel like there’s anything to recommend me; anything I can do, say, or give as my contribution to this world.

And – love’s so embodied, as far as I’m concerned. Love has to be warm and alive and physical, and have breath and life to it. I can’t love abstractly, I can’t love ‘the environment’, or ‘spirit’, or ‘peace’. Cos, you know… what I love is to sit around and talk shit, just hang out with these gangstas and know that their warm-alive presence is right beside me.

I remember those days with Tau, and now it hurts my heart to see him destroy himself, even if I can understand it.

 

Tuesday 28 August:

Things are so relentless, and I just try get along with it. I wake up at 5, I’m eating breakfast by 6… by 9:30 I’m starving, and go get a pork bun up at Municipal.

After school I take a blocked can back to the store for a replacement. When I come home, I clean up more broken glass in the shed. The middle panel on the inside of the door has been smashed. Either the cops were looking for something under the door frame, or they broke it while trying to open up the shed – I don’t know. But it makes me cry to see everything gone over and turned upside down, and glass smashed on the mat. All Tau’s things dumped in messy heaps on the couch and the floor. I sweep up the glass, and vacuum the mat. I don’t wanna go through Tau’s stuff, so I just take things off the floor, and pick up Tau and Shay’s clothes and just lay them on the bed, gently. I feel so sad. Shay’s little shoes, and earrings that have been trampled down on the ground. Tau’s pens and markers tipped out everywhere. It looks so bleak, especially because I understand that Tau really can’t take care of himself, or anyone else, at the moment. He would have seen it and hated it and still had to walk away. Whereas before, he would have set to work at once, cleaning and sweeping and tidying up before I got home. Like he did when the next door neighbour’s kids broke a window with their ball.

And I miss Tau, I really do. I don’t just mean ‘miss’ – like you miss a person when you don’t see them for a while. That goes without saying. I mean I miss all the little things, the signals that told me Tau felt safe, or as safe as he could feel. I miss those things so much that it actually hurts. And yet I have to just get along with the frickin’ day; go to school and talk, and do stuff, and act like a teacher. And it’s all a big act – except for when the boys come in at break to paint, and I don’t have to pretend anymore. I can be real, for just this little part of the whole stoopid school day.

No more Urban Art – there’s to be no optional classes anymore; not for anyone – Karys has cancelled the whole shebang. She’s going to hold year level assemblies and announce some other initiative. Meanwhile, we (myself and a few painters) are gonna try fly under the radar tomorrow and hold a ‘special assembly’ of our own in the ROR. To paint, that is. Will we get away with it? Perhaps… if Karys hasn’t organised staff into particular roles yet.

Once again, I bawl my eyes out when I go to bed. It often hits me worst when there’s nothing but the calm night, and the dark room, and my quiet bed – and nothing to do but cry then sleep.