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.

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Interdependence

Every now and then, I think: surely nothing else is gonna happen. Surely it’s all already happened. But there’s always more, that’s what I reckon.

Today I feel a bit… chastised, chastened or something. To realize that I kind of ‘depend’ on others to lift me up. But, don’t we all, in a way? Maybe that’s so. And still, I know I need to let go of the ropes… and drop down; or fly.

 

Wednesday 25 April, 2012:

Sheree, Scott and Leroi pay a visit. Leaving school has not helped Leroi’s confidence any; he’s actually timid, filling out the paperwork for various courses. Spelling; how to write the date; his signature… he’s scared of doing all of it wrong, and his eyes quiver with a bit of incipient shame. So I’m matter-of-fact, ignoring any errors (they’re minor, in any case), and praising him for his efforts.

Scott looks… aw, he looks good, actually. It’s crazy the way he just bobs up smiling. His leg seems to be fine, and he appears ‘healthy’ and (all things considered) cheery. Tau and I have commented on this aspect of Scott many times. He reminds us of one of those cartoon characters who plunges off a cliff; is blown up by a bomb; has a hundred ton weight dropped on him –  and bounces back within seconds. “It’s true,” Tau said, thinking about it one time. “My dad’s driven off a cliff… he’s been in a car that caught fire… got beaten up with a steel bar… probably had every bone in his body broken!”

We can’t help laughing, at the thought of Scott’s undismayed expression.

 

Thursday 26 April:

Old patterns: getting to be mouldy old patterns, got to hop out of them soonest.

By the time I get to school, I’m alright – really. I think, ok, well I’m gonna be able to do this day after all. I even kind of toss my head as I walk along. Just to say, ‘So there!’ In these moments, when you conjure up all the spectres and ghosts and the things that make you crazy afraid – the oldest mouldiest old patterns – and what? Middle finger up to them, you sashay past.

 

Friday 27 April:

I get home round 5, and no-one’s home. Nothing’s different, but I just have this ‘feeling’… that things aren’t the same as usual. And then when I check facebook, Shay has posted on her timeline: 😦

Then Sheree turns up. She’s been sent round to find out what’s happening – Leroi saw Shay’s post as well. And they, like me, have thought straight away: Tau.

Sheree’s in her pyjamas. She just looks so fresh and kinda pretty – sometimes she looks jaded, but not right now. We sit talking.

 

“It’s frustrating,” she says. “Poor bloody Shay.”

I nod.

“Sometimes I wanna call the police on my son!” Sheree bursts out. “But, I don’t know what to say. And Scott just tells me to leave it. And… I know Shay won’t like it, if I say anything.”

“She doesn’t want anyone to see it, let alone talk about it,” I agree.

“Poor bitch,” says Sheree, sorrowfully. “I feel bad – especially cos I know what it’s like; been through it all myself.”

And we sigh, because we know that there is no answer that makes perfect sense.

“Tau, too,” I say. “He won’t talk about it either. He feels so ashamed.”

“I know, and if we try, he just runs away… or we get the cold shoulder,” Sheree agrees, turning herself sideways to emphasize this point.

 

Then she swivels back round, and looks at me brightly, saying, “And I’m going to parenting classes!” She gives a little laugh. “The social workers have been sniffing around,” she explains,  and her beady-eyed expression makes me laugh as well.

“Oh… why?”

“Cos of me smoking P when I’m pregnant, I think.”

“But how did they know?” I ask.

“I dunno.” She shrugs. “Someone told them, I guess.”

“So, they want you to do parenting classes.”

“Yeah – but do you know what? I’m glad, in a way,” Sheree deadpans. “I could do with some tips.” She giggles, and so do I. And yeah – I know, I know. But I like Sheree, I really do.

 

Saturday 28 April:

Round midnight), I hear someone come back and let themselves into the shed. I’m half asleep, but it only sounds like one set of footsteps. Then, in the early morning, I wake when I hear the door of the sleepout open. This time I peek out the window and see Tau. He pads wearily down the drive, shoulders stooped. I long to go out after him, but I know that’s a bad idea. Tau’s never ready before he’s ready – if you know what I mean. And so I just leave it. I guess he’s going to Scott and Sheree’s, anyway.

And maybe I won’t find out for a while. Maybe I’ll get home and he’ll be back. And his face will say – don’t ask, don’t ask.

 

Later I get a text from Sheree:

Hi mis, , jus 2let u knw taurangi iz hea, im nt 2 sure wts goin on, but shayz at her mums. he’s told me he smashed her mums house windw, las nyt, drunk az, im so hopen shez alrite, an i feel hopless 4 her, other than that he’z nt sayn jac 2 me, tym out mite b good

Allgood sheree.. thanks for letting me know, u know i wil nevr be judgemental of tau and I know he must be feeling pretty bad right now.. he wont feel like talkng. I care a lot bwt both of them nd i too feel upset for shay. Tau knows im there for him, tht wont change.. i wish life was easy bt i no hez a good person, thx again

 Yeah mis, hard owt, i wish the same. xo

 

Sunday 29 April:

I hear the van and go out; it’s Tau and Scott. Scott’s driving – not a good sign at the best of times.

Tau just needs to pick something up. Probably money, or buds. He says, wearily, “Hey Miss,” as he unlocks the shed, nipping in and straight out again with something in his hand.

“Hey Tau,” I reply, and then just: “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.” But he looks so tired.”

“K then,” I say, and he nods, and hops back into the van.

“I’ll see you later, Miss,”

“Yup.”

And that’s pretty much it. Scott just gives me a cheery (and slightly out of it) smile, and says, “Heey.” He waves at me in a friendly way, as he begins to back the van down the drive.

 

I come inside, and for some reason I start to cry. I sniff, and cry, and sit on my bed wiping my eyes. Then I shrug, and go take a shower.

I really don’t know what’s going to happen next. Ok, if – and it’s a big if –they get back together, then Tau will probably come back here. If they break up – I’m not sure. So far he’s needed the mediating presence of Shay to navigate everyday life outside the family domain. Washing; cleaning; cooking him lunch: noodles, eggs, burgers. All the things he isn’t used to doing, or is shy to do. The things women do for him: Sheree, Shay, me. But especially Shay – who links with me and Sheree to provide for her man.

And where would that leave Tau? Back at Scott and Sheree’s? Ohh – that isn’t good, but what’s the alternative? And where would that leave Shay?

And I don’t quite understand how I can know something isn’t right, and still half-wish for it to be just as it was.

 

Later – to my immense surprise – Tau returns and tells me about what happened. We sit in the shed and talk, and he quietly recounts events.

Shay and Tau had a domestic on Friday morning. It had been simmering for days – I could see that. The way they were so quiet, and kept themselves to themselves all week. I tell Tau this, and he nods.

Anyway, Tau made her pack her stuff (or some of it) and he took her to her mum’s place and dropped her off. Then he went drinking with his friends: a few of the CP boys, I think. He got angrier and angrier as the day progressed. And he went back to Shay’s place (drunk as – as Sheree had told me) and smashed the window.

 

“But why?” I ask.

“Because I wanted to,” Tau says, as if this should be no surprise.

“Do you remember doing it?”

He nods, saying, “I thought about it for ages, and then I went round to see Inia, and asked if he had a hammer.”

“And did he?”

“No, he didn’t. But he said – I got a pole though, bro. I got two poles.”

“Geez…” I say, in awe (of a kind).

“And he said he wanted to come with me.”

“What… to talk you out of it?”

“No. He said – I’ll give you a hand, g.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” I exclaim, then, thinking about it, “Yeah, that’s right – that’s Inia – I should have guessed. Was he drunk?”

“Yup,” Tau says. “But I didn’t take him. I went by myself.”

“K – and then what happened?”

“Well, I went round there. And I hit the window with the pole – but nothing happened the first time. But I could see all Shay’s family in the lounge, and they just turned around and looked at me. So then – I did it the second time. And it just smashed – and they all got up and ran outside.”

“And did you take off?”

He nods.

“And they didn’t call the cops?”

“Nope.”

“I wonder why…” I say, and Tau shrugs, looking at me kind of limpidly. To be honest, I think he’s glad to be telling someone.

“But Tau,” I ask him. “Is Shay… ok?”

“I think so,” he says. And I don’t push him, or ask if he hit her. I reckon maybe he did. But I don’t know for sure.

 

“And I’ve been driving round everywhere, all over the place,” he goes on. “Into town, and to the Shore…”

“What – yesterday?”

“Yep, me and Leroi, and Mischa. In Mischa’s car. We got some boxes of Cody’s and went to the beach.”

“What – you all went drinking? And you were the driver?”

“Yup.”

“Oh, Tau… that ain’t good,” I say, despondently. And for some reason, this makes us both laugh. Can’t help it. It never ceases to amaze me how we (I just mean people in general) can just laugh at these very troublesome things; in the most worrisome moments – and I guess that’s a good thing. Otherwise where the fuck would we be?

I know,” he says, and gives a little nod – and something in Tau’s expression lets me know he’s trusting me, at this moment.

I feel my eyes just prick with a couple tears, then I blink them back, and say, “Well thank goodness you didn’t crash. Guess God must have been watching over you yesterday or something – everyone must have been saying their prayers!”

Tau looks tickled at this, and then he says, “Yeah I know, and I was asking all my mates – am I driving ok?” (I can just imagine it: ‘Am I driving ok?’ Shades of ‘Are we going beach now?’)

“And what? They were drunk, so they just said yes.”

“Pretty much,” Tau admits.

“Well – you were lucky you didn’t see a cop, then.”

“I did,” he tells me, implacably. “They just didn’t pull me over.”

“Ohhh!” I exclaim.

Tau manages to smile, and I think to myself how I cannot ditch this kid. Just can’t, won’t, and you know I never will. I don’t know what’s happened – and I do care, oh I do. About Shay, I mean. But I love Tau like I raised him. Doesn’t make it right what he’s done, doesn’t make it alright at all. But… there’s something about Tau that remains firmly ‘good’, and I know it, and I see it – and I’m not ditching him. And that’s the way it is.

Dented and subdued

Saturday 26 February, 2012 (contd):

When dawn breaks, we’re awake again. Shay’s eye looks shocking. “Miss – let me go out and see if he’s still there,” she says. “I promise I’ll come back in straight away.” She is adamant, and eventually I agree: “Ok, but I’m going with you.”

We venture out past the splintered jamb of the front door to find an empty shed, containing only an aura of the night’s events; an imprint on the atmosphere. The light is still on, and the heavy panel of the shed door has sagged its way quietly onto the concrete floor, where it now rests, lit up in a bleak fluorescence.

It turns out Tau’s woken up and – realizing what’s happened – fled to Scott and Sheree’s. Sheree texts me soon after:

Tau’s to shamed to come bk today. And we wnt to pay for the doors.. ox

 

Later, she brings round five hundred dollars, telling me, “And if it’s not enough, we’ll get you more.”

“He can’t remember much,” Sheree says. “But he remembers the doors. He’s shamed, Miss. He’s too shy to see you today.”

Shay is wearing sunglasses by now, and actually looks very beautiful – unless you peer down to the swollen purple bruising underneath. She leaves with Sheree – armed with more Panadol and the re-frozen ice pack.

 

Oh, I don’t know what to do. So I just take care of the cleaning and the washing. I hang out Tau’s washing too; it’s been sitting in the machine since yesterday. I ring the handyman, and he arrives at 4:30.

By 7:30 pm the front door is repaired – rather miraculously – for two hundred dollars. Alexej is very patient in completing this task; he tells me he restored antiques in Russia. He looks at the finished job with some pride, asking me, “So… what do you think?” Together we regard the door, and Alexej runs his hand over the frame, where there is no longer a single tear or a splinter. “Look…” he murmurs. “No-one would know, it looks the same as before, no?”

“You’re an artist,” I say truthfully, and he smiles.

He tells me the shed door will be harder to repair; he’ll come do the work on Monday.

 

Sunday 26 February:

Kepaoa texts me. It crosses my mind to tell him what’s happened. But as yet, I don’t say a word. It’s not a subject for a text conversation. And I definitely don’t want Elroy to know.

I feel dented and subdued.

  

Monday 27 February:

School’s hard today. Nothing feels right. I hate pretty much every single action I have to perform, and every word that comes out of my mouth – apart from in a couple of brief instants. One is when Andre calls in at my room, at interval. The other is a few words exchanged with a boy named TJ, in 9 Social. He’s one of the most non-compliant kids in the class, but although he tries my patience, there’s something about his eyes that tells me he’s just as frustrated with school as I am. And so, in very small moments – we connect.

 

Tuesday 28 February:

This evening, Tau comes back. He almost creeps down the driveway, then straightens himself and walks over to me, brave-faced. His eyes slide to the side before he speaks. “Miss?” he begins. He manages to bring his eyes back to check mine, then he puts his arms out hesitantly.

I put my arms around him too, and he just rests his head in my neck for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he chokes out.

I whisper back, “It’s ok, Tau.”

 

But everything is all at the top of my head, and later on when I lay down in bed, I can’t sleep, and then I start to cry. It’s the first time I’ve cried since it happened. I hold onto my pillow as if it’s a living person sent there to comfort me. And I think about everything and I don’t know where to go, or what will happen to any of us now… and I just keep holding onto the thought that Tau has trusted me just enough to return.

The other person I think of is Kepaoa. I hold onto that thought too – because I think I can trust Kepaoa Alesi. And eventually I fall asleep.

 

Wednesday 29 February:

School continues. The only thing that brings me any happiness there is Urban Art – which for some crazy reason works.

I tell Kepaoa about what’s happened… I figure I’ve got to tell someone or I’ll go crazy. We discuss it further via facebook messaging:

its allgooods miss straight uhp if you dont tell sumone it gone be heavy on yah you know, naah miss its algoods iknow erybodys got struggles and bumps in there life just gota find a way ta better it or get past it, iaint a judgmental person. cause who am i to judge ? aiint mah bidniss ta judge and that, but it is ma bidniss ta try and help and listen ta what you have ta say and all cause you always were there for me during sch and after sch till this day. mayn aiint ever meet a palagi lady like yourself miss that never goes down widout a fight and that you stand strong nau matter what! proud a yuo miss for being there fo them thats tha bidniss, always here for you! straight uhp and left side

 

Hard

Saturday 26 February, 2012: 

Everything feels… just as hard as little stones; as cold as hail and ice in my heart. I don’t sleep – except for a couple of hours intermittently, sometime between 4 and 6 this morning.

 

Last night begins with just me and Shay. Tau’s gone out drinking somewhere, with boys we don’t know. All the same, we’re contented enough. We just talk and watch TV. I make butter chicken with rice; she does the dishes.

Around 11 pm I take a shower. I’m in the bathroom when I hear footsteps coming indoors: Tau, and drunk – I can tell by his heavy, slow tread. I don’t hear voices, just the sound of Shay’s little running feet, out to the shed behind him.

There’s no sign that anything is really amiss. But I have this feeling that something isn’t right. So I go out to the shed, and gently push the door open.

Tau’s standing there, looking across the room. His arm is raised, as if he’s just swept something before him. No sign of Shay.

“Tau – where’s Shay?” I ask.

Suddenly the closet door opens, and Shay literally pops out. She has a mute expression of terror and entreaty as she looks at me; then Tau. “Miss, I’m ok…” she whispers.

“Fuckin’ shut up, cunt,” Tau shouts at her. “Shut the fuck up, bitch!”

I just automatically put my arm around her tiny shoulders, and she looks at me as if she doesn’t know whether to beg me, ‘Stay,’ or ‘Go.’

Tau knocks a few things from the shelf to the floor, then begins to cry and breathe hard, and flings himself to the far end of the room. He sobs on each breath, muttering, “Fuck, gonna kill that nigga… gonna fuckin’ smash that nigga,” in a high-pitched, soft, wail.

“Who?” I mouth to Shay, and she shrugs.

We go closer to Tau – Shay putting her hand on him timidly – and sit on either side of him until his sobs ease. Then he sniffs, rubs his eyes, and draws himself up again. He stands without a word, and walks out of the shed and down the drive. We hover a little distance behind, and see him turn left onto the street. Shay shakes her head, and, “Oh, where he’s going?” she says sorrowfully.

“Don’t go with him Shay – come inside,” I say. She hesitates, then suddenly turns and runs after him, up the road and away. I try to pursue, but she disappears down the alleyway into the park, and is gone.

I feel sick with fear. I lock the shed door and take the key inside, just because I don’t know what else to do. Then I lay down on my bed. I can’t sleep.

 

A half-hour later, the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel: Tau, on his own. He looks at me, nods briefly as I unlock for him, then goes into the shed without a word. Through the partially closed door I can see him rifling through his things – I seize this small chink of opportunity to go look for Shay, unobserved.

As I walk down the driveway, towards the gate, I hear a rustle in the bushes to my right. The girl who hides there, half-concealed, looks like a little imp; honestly, that’s the first word that comes to mind as I see her peer up from behind leaves, lit by the moon. Her face is swollen and stretched and tear-stained, and her right eye is just a lump.

“Miss…” she whimpers. “Where’s Tau?”

“In the shed.”

“Can I come with you? To hide… in the house?”

“Yes, I came to get you, that’s why I came: to look for you!” I say – with urgency now, and pulling her towards me.

“But he’ll see me…” she cries, desperately afraid of him, yet coming into my arms.

“No, he won’t – just be quick,” and she flees into the house, her feet flying and making barely a sound.

I follow with slow, deliberate steps to put Tau off the scent – I need him to think it’s just me coming back. Then I go in after her and shut the door.

 

Shay is in the lounge, standing still, as if she’s afraid to move at all. When she sees me she turns away and crouches, saying, “Miss – oh, my eye.”

“It’s ok, shhhh,” and again she springs into my arms, saying through her tears, “Ooh, it’s so shaming!”

“No it’s ok, you don’t have to be ashamed, sweetheart,” and she clings to me, sobbing.

But I’m still aware that we’re right in the lounge, lit up against the window. “Ok, we can’t stay here – he’ll see you if he looks in.”

“Then where shall I hide? The laundry?” she says, helplessly wheeling around, her eyes big and roaming .

I tell her, “No, go into my room.”

And she does.

I keep the light off, and sit next to her where she huddles in the corner behind my bed.

“You ok?” For now – that’s all I mean.

“Yes, Miss.”

“Then I’ll go back out.” I want to deflect him from the house. “I’ll say you’re gone.”

 

Tau’s hunting for her outside now, and when he sees me he calls out hoarsely, “Where’s that bitch?”

“Shay’s gone. She ran away.”

“Fuck, she’s here – don’t fuckin’ lie!” Tau shouts at me.

“No, she’s gone, Tau. She took off.”

“Fuckin’ outa my way, bitch,” Tau says, exerting his way along the deck to the front door.

“She’s gone – she ain’t here,” I say as calmly as I can.

“Nah, fuck you… fuck off, bitch.” He peers into the lounge window, cupping his hands to see, before banging the glass. “Bring her out!” he commands. His face is lit up in the moonlight for a second as he turns to me, and his eyes glitter like dull iron.

“She’s not here – she ran away, Tau.”

“Fuck you, nigga,” is his reply. He’s looking right at me, but I can see that he’s not even talking to ‘me’ anymore. “Fuuuck off you lil shit nigga, unless you want me to smash you – then I’ll fuckin smash you.”

He shoves past, still shouting, then looks back and calls to me quietly; heartbreakingly himself for an instant, “Miss, do you want me to go? I’ll go…”

“Tau…” is all I say. But I also know I can’t reach him – for his face shines coldly again, his eyes glint, and he says simply, “I’ll get her, I’ll break the door down.”  He kicks it in: the frame splinters; the hinge snaps – and he goes inside.

 

Lounge… kitchen… laundry (I’m so glad Shay’s not there). Then back through the lounge; into the hall; past the bathroom (he simply flings the door wide to search each room as he goes by); spare room… and then for some unknown reason, he hesitates before my room, and doesn’t enter. To my astonishment he stops himself, and just looks at me… and for one second I see my Tau’s dear and beautiful face again. Then he just turns and leaves through the broken front door. As he does, he jerks his head back and snarls, “If you just bring that bitch out, everything’ll be sweet.

“No, it won’t,” I whisper, and then, “She’s not here…”

Tau strides to the shed, throws the entire door off its frame; it groans and lists from a twisted hinge. He grabs two spray cans, and marches down the drive, panting and shouting: ”CP gang, motherfucker! This is CP turf!”

 

And I go back to Shay. She’s under my bed by now, trembling and shaking. “Miss…” she cries, and launches herself out and against me.

“Shhh… it’s alright,” I say, stroking her hair and trying to soothe her.

“Where’s he gone?”

“To do some tagging.”

“Oh, that’s good… it’ll calm him down,” she sobs.

“Unless he gets arrested first –” I say with momentary sangfroid, and she dissolves into more tears.

 

We just sit behind the bed, holding onto one another.

“Miiiss…” Shay keeps weeping. “Miss… I’m scared.”

“I know, sweetie, I know, but it’s ok… I won’t let him take you, I promise. I’ll call the cops if I have to.”

No Miss!” she squeaks. “He’ll be more angry with me, he’ll know I’ve told you.”

“You don’t have to tell me,“ I say, and then, “I can see for myself. D’oh… I’m not dumb!” and we both can’t help laughing, at the absurdity of the situation.

 

“Shay – I can’t lock the door now. Tau kicked it in. If he comes back to get you, I’ll have to ring the police.”

She nods, whimpering, “Ooh, I heard him… is it broken?”

“Yup. But it’s ok – at least it’s just a door, not you.”

We just sit there pressed together, and talk. I get Shay some panadol, and an ice pack for her eye.

 

And then – footsteps on the gravel again.

“He’s going into the shed…” I say, peering out the window.

“What’s he doing?”

“Dunno, trying to shut the door, I think…”

“Ooh… is that door broken too?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“I dunno… I dunno… ummm…” I say, trying to see without revealing myself at the window.

“Ohh, Miss – maybe he’ll just have a sleep,” says Shay, with fervent hope.

And suddenly, the lights in the shed go out, and there is silence.

 

We wait, scarcely daring to breathe. And then, gradually we do breathe, and sigh, and yawn – and begin to talk in soft voices. We talk about a lot of things, and Shay keeps shedding tears, resting her head on me. “I love him,” she tells me. “But sometimes I don’t think I wanna be with him.”

“I know,” I say. “I remember that feeling. But if he’s not careful, he’s gonna lose you,” and she nods.

After a while: “Sleep in here, Shay, don’t go out there again,” I say.

“I won’t, Miss – is it ok if I just bunk down with you?” she asks.

“Yes, that’s the best thing to do,” I reply.

So we lie on my bed, just whispering to one another a bit.

“Are you warm?” I asks her.

“I’m warm as…” she says, and she adds, as she falls asleep, “Miss… at Sheree and Scott’s, they never let me come inside when Tau was like this. They always just left me outside with him.”

And with her ice pack on her eye, she sleeps.

 

A sense of normality

Monday 16 January, 2012:

This morning Scott comes around while I’m out, and demands money again. Tau says no, and Scott smacks him over the head before taking off.

I don’t find out till I get home. Tau and Shae have spent all afternoon inside the locked shed, bolting themselves in. As soon as I get back they spring free like puppies out of a cage and gambol inside, relishing the nice, fresh air.

We discuss everything every which way, and my heart aches that I can’t protect Tau from his dad, when this is supposed to be a safe place for him. I don’t know what to do. A trespass order might just escalate the situation – a piece of paper’s never stopped Scott before. And Tau’s worried I could get hurt, if Scott wants to take it up a level. He tells me, “Miss, my dad’s a scary guy. I’m scared he might hit you.” He doesn’t even want me to go out and talk to Scott if he turns up again.

“Tau,” I say. “I don’t wanna be scared of Scott. I’ve been scared of someone once before…” and Tau nods. “This isn’t his place,” I continue. “He’s got no rights here, not like he has in his own house. I’m not scared to ask him to leave.”

“I know, but I don’t want him to hurt you,” Tau says. “And it’s not your fault – it’s my problem.”

“It ain’t just your problem,” I say, and he just smiles, in kind of an ambivalent way.

 

Wednesday 18 January:

Tau and I both know this situation’s only on hold. The only reason Scott hasn’t turned up again is because he loaned money from someone and has cash, temporarily.

Having said that, I can see we’re attempting to let a sense of normality prevail. I find it quite difficult at first, I don’t want to leave Tau there like a sitting target. It requires some application of will even to just go take a shower, not stay at the window on full alert. But after a while, I start to do everyday things.

 

I also hear from Zion today: Miss jst wanr noe if i can cum bakk 2 skwl??

Yup of course you can come bk to sch, I reply, then add as as a slightly suspicious afterthought: you havnt had any more letters frm sch zion? (cos I wouldn’t put it past the SLT)

Nahr miss but idnt wana restart year 11

I try to explain, to put his mind at ease: What happens is you’ll be in yr 12 but stil have to finsh your level 1 credits so they might get you to do yr 11 eng/math again. But lots of kids have to do that. Leroi the same. you wont hav to do your whole yr 11 again.. you got heaps of credits!

It’s true: Zion managed to collect 51 credits by the end of last year. He only had 7 at the time of his original suspension in June; the rest were gained after his reinstatement – and if that’s not a success story I don’t know what is! (not that Karys or the DP’s will care or notice).

Then there’s another text from Zion straight after, and touching my heart greatly: An miss i really want 2 cum bakk 2 skwl haha.

 

Thursday 19 January:

Kepaoa’s due in court this morning (for the relatively minor charge of tagging along Carthill Rd; someone called the cops on him.) He’s not exactly the calmest about it either, partly because he is 18 – so it’s no longer contained in the Youth Court.

I get a text later: Yhp got comunty cervece! Hah 50hrz nau fine dau

Did you get your bike back yet? I ask (the cops having confiscated this at the time of the incident)

The answer comes swiftly: Nah da fuken cop sht!! Aint rung bk da fuka!! Fuk ht dm uhp pig shts! Just got baild haha. Was in da cell wid all deez ada niggaz. Lol hahahaha yeah fk them dy kan kis ma blak ass!

So that’s that!

 

Friday 20 January:

Out with Mia, some guys in a bar chat to us. One asks me, “So what do you do?”

I reply (‘admit’ describes it better), “I’m a teacher.”

“I don’t like teachers,” he says, obviously hoping to get a reaction.

But this mildly amuses me (because, you know, I don’t really like teachers either), and so I just laugh, saying, “Oh, fair enough.”

He looks nonplussed, and a few minutes later he asks what I teach.

“Social Sciences,” I tell him. “History, Social Studie… that kind of thing.”

“Waste of time!” he snorts.

“We-ell,” I say, thinking about this. “Sometimes it can be.”

He looks perplexed, unable to have his fun, so I decide to throw something extra into the mix. “Oh, and I also have a graffiti art class,” I tell him, calmly.

“Graffiti art!” he says (wait for it… ) Then, to my great surprise: “Now, I like that!”

“You like that?” I say, unable not to smile at his expression, which has suddenly gone all enthusiastic.

“Yeah, I like that, it’s artistic,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to get my shed painted for ages.”

“You want to get your shed painted…” I repeat slowly, my mind already several steps ahead on the possibilities. “Are you serious? Because I can arrange that.”

“Yeah, I’m serious,” he tells me at once, and then, “Hey Lucas,” (his mate). “She does graffiti art – I’ve been looking for someone to paint my shed for ages.”

Lucas hears this, and comes over at once.

A discussion follows, the upshot of which is that the first guy (Rob) gives me his number, and we plan to meet up so I can take photos and get measurements. He tells me it could take a couple of days to paint his shed – it’s big. My eyes light up at the thought, although I do need to see what the boys think, first.

I text Tau on the spot, but don’t hear back. And as I drive home later I think to myself: well… maybe not. Cos you know, I’m never entirely sure that I know what the fuck I’m doing. And so I protect myself a little bit, by mentally just shelving the idea for the time being.

 

But when I get home – first thing Tau asks about is the wall. He tells me he’s already talked to the boys: Inia and Noa want to come, and so do Kost and Chase. But their court case looms as well – one or both of them might be banged up after that, or on home D. So I better organise this as soon as possible.

It strikes me right now, writing about all this, how kind of weird it is, or ought to be. That I should be able to organise such a thing. And that people actually want to be in on it. Like I have a frickin clue about anything… and yet for some almost unfathomable reason, these guys are buying into it, like it’s real and not fake, and like it means something to them too.

And for that I’m truly grateful. Because it isn’t fake to me either, and it means something to me as well; more than a lot of things in my life have ever meant to me. Of course, I don’t mean just the wall, you know. That’s just a… one manifestation of what I mean. And ‘now’ – right now – is all I have to work with. So I’ll take it.

The channels of communication

Monday 3 October, 2011:

Whoa! Three of my favorite gangstas: Riley, Kepaoa, and of course Tau – going head to head and toe to toe, over a pair of shoes: Leroi’s Chucks, which may (or may not) have been stolen by Kepaoa, but which have now been returned to Leroi’s possession.

 

It’s a long story. First I hear of it is at 6pm. But actually the whole ‘shoe’ thing goes back further than then, in terms of chains of events.

For earlier I find out, as well, that that match made in heaven – Riley and Kepaoa – has come to pass. Yup, they’re an item. Makes me laugh too, honestly. Two big bosses hooking up like that.

Then, when I got home this evening, there’s an email from Marjorie, saying that Leroi’s Chucks were stolen out of his bag in the gym today, and Kepaoa (whose class had been doing weights in there) was the prime suspect. He was apparently sighted next to the bag, by some year 11 boys – although nothing was proven).

Marjorie obviously wants to know what I think – and that in itself interests me. She says something like, ‘Of course he won’t admit it,’ and implies that I should check it out if I can. So I reply, saying that I know Kepaoa pretty well, and if he’s taken them (which in my opinion isn’t really his style), I can probably find out, and that I’ll talk to him tomorrow.

 

I intend to wait till then – but then, funnily enough I get a text from Riley, which goes as follows:

tel cluzo kckbck dnt step out my boyfrnd agen, il cm see u at sch tmoro k mis.’

I dont think taurangi even knows who kepaoa is.

‘Ye he stepd out kepaoa, hs cuzn ws txn me sayn stuf bwt kepaoa & sum shoes bt yea, idnt thnk he wuda takn thm bt f hes gt thm hes obviously holdn thm fr smbdy else

I decide to ring Tau, to find out more about what’s going on.

 

“Tau?” I say, when he answers the phone. “Did you just step somebody out? About Leroi’s shoes?”

“Yeah, I did, Miss… how do you know about that?” Tau enquires, in a friendly way and with some surprise at the channels of communication running so fast.

“Cos Riley’s been texting me…” I begin.

Riley has?” says Tau, even more surprised.

“Yeah, because you stepped out Kepaoa, and –”

“Who’s Kepaoa?” asks Tau. “I don’t know who I stepped out… we just stepped out all of them.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” I ask, with some trepidation.

“Me and my dad and Leroi; we told Leroi to get in the car, and we drove down to find the boys that took his shoes. And when he saw them, we just got out of the car and ran across the road and stepped them all out.”

“Where was this?”

“Down by the mall,”

“Oh, thank goodness it wasn’t at school…” I exhale. “And what happened then?”

“Well, I stepped them out, and… who’s that guy you said?”

“Kepaoa.”

“Which one’s he?” asks Tau. “I don’t know any of their names – the senior with the white shirt?”
“Yup, that’s Kepaoa,” I tell him. “He’s Riley’s boyfriend.”

“Fuck,” says Tau, “I didn’t know that. Well, he wasn’t the one who took the shoes… another guy had them.”

“What other guy?”

“This guy who took off – I chased him, and he had the shoes in his bag,” Tau tells me.

“So Leroi’s got the shoes back now?” I check.

“Yup,” Tau says, with some pride.

“Well, I guess that’s something anyway,” I sigh. “Well done then… I guess,” and Tau chuckles.

 

“So that’s Kepaoa…” Tau muses, thinking about it. “I didn’t know who he was.”

“Yeah, he’s the one I’ve told you about – the boxer. Inia and Noa know him.”

“Oh, that guy.” It makes more sense to Tau now. “Well, he’s a little faggot, anyway,” he concludes.

“No he isn’t, Kepaoa’s alright – honestly Tau, he’s ok.”

“Nah, fuck that little cunt,” Tau replies, with no particular malice.

“And I don’t think he’d take Leroi’s shoes, that’s not how he operates, Tau. I’ve known him this whole year – I don’t think it was him.”

“Well, he didn’t have them…” concedes Tau. “It was that other guy.”

“So, you’re just gonna leave it with Kepaoa now though?” I check. “I mean, you have got the shoes back, and it looks like he didn’t take them in the first place.”

“I dunno…” Tau thinks about this. “I should just smash him in the head, next time I see him.”

“Fuuck, don’t be stupid,” I admonish Tau. “That’s why Riley’s been texting me – she wants you guys to leave it, too.”

“Does she?” asks Tau.

“Yup, she said tell Cluzo to kick back.”

Tau laughs.

“So… I can tell Riley you’re gonna leave it?”

“You can tell her I’ll leave it if he wants to leave it – and if he leaves my cousin alone,” replies Tau. “Otherwise I’ll just shoot the cunt.”

“Oh fuck off, you’re a menace,” I tell him, and he laughs. I add, “So, yup – I’ll tell Riley it’s all good then.”

“It might be; it might not be,” Tau says, even handedly.

“Nah, no Tau, it’s all over and done with now, k? And Leroi’s got his shoes back, so everyone’s sorted.”

“Maybe…”

And that’s the best I can do.

I text Riley and she replies: ‘Yp swt as. Algd fket nw, aha evrybdys algd ae.’

 

Tuesday 4 October:

Riley (twice) and Kepaoa both come to see me separately, this morning.

Kepaoa is not really wanting to leave things with Cluzo just yet. I manage to calm him down a bit (I have to leave my year 9’s and just go out and sort it then and there), but later Riley tells me, “Don’t worry, he’ll leave it – I’m working on it.”

She and I have to laugh at the thought of Kepaoa and Tau, both of whom could keep it all going forever: we shall ‘monitor and intervene!’

 

Thursday 6 October:

I haven’t been up to the office for literally weeks – except to pick up books and stuff. Break times are spent in the ROR at present, with a collection of constituents who vary, but who often include: Zion, Leroi, Teki, Libya, a boy called Lazarus, ‘Little Michael’; sometimes Andre as well, or Skat and Sane. And it touches my heart that Zion often comes in first, on his own, and simply talks to me until the others arrive. He’s not even shy of me anymore – he just says, “Miss-ea” and “Miss-ow,” which reminds me of Alexander, except that Alexander was always so self-assured.

Leroi’s growing up. He’s got a girlfriend, and has also been in not one, but two fights lately (one with Anaru, the guy who really did take the shoes).

“Yeeeh Miss, he’s Kimbo Slice!” the others exult, and Leroi starts to laugh.

 

Tau isn’t keeping his head down at the moment, either. Leroi and I talk about this today.

“Miss,” says Leroi. “Taurangi’s aggro when he’s drinking – he looks for trouble.”

“I know,” I say. “Tau and alcohol aren’t a good mix”

“No, they’re not,” Leroi agrees. “Did he tell you about how he stepped out this man, down outside the mall at Municipal?”

“Yup,” I sigh (because I’ve just talked to Tau – all of first break on the phone). I say, “I’ve told him he should stick to weed, and give up alcohol…” and Leroi splutters with laughter.

“Weed makes him more mellow, aye Miss,” says Leroi.

“Sure does,” I say. “But he told me he’s hardly got any buds at the moment, he said he was only on one tin a day,” and we can’t help exchanging amused looks.

 

But it’s true, Tau’s not in the best space right now. Wanting to carry things on with Kepaoa, partly because he’s behind on the latest news on all this, and still thinks Kepaoa wants a one on ones. I put him straight; he listens, but doesn’t fully accept my argument:

“Nah Miss – he’s a cheeky cunt.”

“No he isn’t,” I tell Tau. “If you knew him – I reckon you two would get on pretty well.”

“Nah, Inia says he’s a faggot.”

“No he doesn’t,” I say. “Inia told me he thinks Kepaoa’s a humble guy.”

“Nah, cos at course, I asked Inia, and he said I should smash the cunt.”

“Yes, but that’s just Inia… you know how he always goes for that kind of thing,” I explain, patiently, and Tau laughs, cos he knows I’ve got a point, there.

 

And that’s when he tells me, “Miss, I stepped out this man, yesterday.”

“Aye?” I say, dismayed. “Was that when you were drunk?”

“Yeah, down Municipal,” Tau admits.

“And, why did you do that?”

“Well, I was drunk, and I called out ‘CP gang!’ cos I saw my mate drive past. But then this guy thought I was yelling at him,  so he got out of his car and stepped me out – and then I pulled out my gun and shot him,” Tau regales me.

“What? You didn’t actually shoot him –” I say, sounding alarmed and trying to keep calm, at this thought.

“Well, I shot… at him, and he sacked it and took off.”

“Oh Tau…” I mutter.

“It’s ok, Miss – then I just went back home and had a sleep.”

“Well, that’s good,” I tell him. “But I don’t like thinking about you running around with a gun when you’re drunk.”

 

Later on, Leroi tells me, “And Miss, when Tau’s drunk, he just pulls his gun on people – in the alley by our place.” I can see Leroi’s worried, and that’s probably why he’s talking to me about it, though he wouldn’t admit that’s the reason, I’m sure.

And I don’t how this combination of emotional states: love and respect, fear and worry, pain and pride… all co-exist in my heart, but they do. Some days it’s all I can do to just sit with it; carry it. All I can think about is how hard it is, and how it doesn’t make sense, and how it kind of hurts my heart. And then despite all the things that really confuse the fuck out of me, somewhere I still get it, and still understand what it is, and I think – does that make me kind of crazy? Maybe, yet some days it’s all I cling to, the stuff I find in myself that’s real, and not fake.

No simple answers

Sunday 28 August, 2011:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I look at his very trusting and worried face.

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

“Tau…” I exhale.

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

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

“What did he do?” I ask.

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

 

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

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

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

Tau nods, listening peacefully.

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

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

“What – you’ve lost your phone now?”

He nods.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“I’ll still hate him…” grumbles Tau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Well, that’s good. What did you do?”

“We did… math.

“And who was the teacher?”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“What’s ‘motivation’?” asks Tau.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

He looks at me, sensing it’s important.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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