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…”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.
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.