Mastery

Tuesday 25 March, 2014 (contd):

On the drive back out to Carthill, “I’m the black sheep of our family,” Michael tells me. “My older brother and sister finished uni and stuff. But I got into trouble, with gang people.”

This could well be true, I surmise.

And he goes on: “I ended up owing them a lot of money… so I gave them the car. To end it,” he concludes. “To just put a stop to it.”

“And did it? Put a stop to it?” I ask.

“Yeah, it did,” he tells me.

“Well that’s one thing, I guess…”

“Yeah, guess it is,” he agrees.

I consider that whoever Michael gave the car to might be racking up more fines. Ownership papers won’t have been changed. But I let this thought lie, for now. Because Michael keeps talking. He’s rambling a bit – but the whole story has a basic coherence to it, and so I listen.

 

Turns out that he’s had ‘a lot’ of money, ever since he was 16. He did a robbery, with one of his friends. “A really big one,” he says, quietly. “I got a lot of money from it, and it changed my life. I think that was when all the trouble really started.”

Something about Michael’s manner tells me that he’s not lying, at least not in the essence of things. I don’t know how ‘big’ this robbery was, exactly – and I’m sure he’s exaggerated the amount of cash involved. But I’ve always wondered how he was able to lend Tau so much money, and how he bought his car, and paid for those hotel rooms. The job at the store was a bagatelle really – one or two days a week, on call.

And I just keep on listening, while he explains that after he got all this cash, he started to find out who his real friends were. People kept on hitting him up for money, and then after a while it got even worse. He couldn’t trust anyone, even the people he thought were his best friends.

 

Michael suddenly says, “That’s what happened with me and Cluzo, Miss.”

“Oh,” I say, not commenting, just waiting for him to go on.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” he says. “In case… it changes how you feel about Tau.”

“It’s ok,” I say. “It’s up to you what you tell me.” I add, truthfully, “I don’t think anything could change how I feel about Tau.”

Michael just nods, at this. And then he tells me Tau tried to ‘rob’ him, too.

“Rob you?” I say, just curious, not challenging his story.

“He did, Miss, he tried to steal from me.”

“But are you sure?” I ask.

“I’m sure,” Michael insists.

“Did he admit it?”

“He was part of it,” Michael says “He set it up. Even Sheree was involved.”

I just think – well, I don’t know.

“I really trusted them, Miss,” says Michael. “I did everything I could for that family.”

“I know you really cared about them,” I say.

And it could be true, I guess… it could be. When people get desperate, sometimes it happens.

 

I remember one time, it must have been back in 2009, back when I first got to really know Tau… I went into the sports office after school, to use the photocopier. Tau came with me, he was going to staple the sheets together for me once I’d copied them. I opened a drawer and there was the stapler, with a ziplock bag of money underneath it, which I guess was kids’ sports fees and stuff.

Tau saw it and drew his breath in, saying, “Miiisss, can I take that money?”

“No,” I told him. “You’ll get me in trouble.”

“Ok, Miss,” he said, but adding as an aside, “If you weren’t here, I’d just take it.”

“No doubt,” I said matter of factly, making him laugh. “But I trust you – so I’m sure you won’t, now.”

“Miss?” Tau said earnestly. “If you went out of the room, I wouldn’t even take it then.”

“I know,” I said. “Thanks for that, Tau.”

“Miss… you could leave a thousand dollars right out on your table in your room, and I’d never touch it,” he told me.

And I believed him, and I still do. I trust Tau completely – and I’m not saying anyone else should, you understand. It’s just that I do.

 

Michael also talks about his drug habit. At first it was just weed, he says. And he still needs a lot of weed, just to relax. He’s not a big K2 user: “Fucks you up,” he comments, and then in the next breath, “But I need to cut down on the crack.”

“How long you been into that for?” I ask.

“Been using crack since I was um, 15,” he tells me. “Not too much… to start with.”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “It’s not a thing to get into.”

“It’s not, Miss,” he acknowledges. “But lately…”

“More, lately?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Mainly since all this shit happened. My mum dying – and not knowing who to trust. It just helps settle me down, I guess.”

“Mm hmm…” I say. “But it’s not a very safe bet, Michael, don’t you think?”

He shrugs

“I mean, look how Tau’s dad ended up,” I pursue this line gently. “Dead at 40. I mean, that’s probably old to you, but…”

“Nah, that’s not old,” says Michael. “That’s far too young to go. My mum was only 45, Miss. My mum should have had heaps of time left. She was still young.”

 

There’s a pause, and then, “But I’m not like those people who are addicted to crack,” Michael assures me. “I don’t live like that.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But Scott probably said that too, when he was young and strong.”

“I won’t end up like him,” Michael says. “Once I get everything sorted, it’ll be better.”

“That’s for sure, but…”

“But what, Miss?”

“But just be careful.”

And that’s where we leave it. But I know it’s easier said than done.

 

Oh, and there’s one more thing. Michael talks about that day the cops turned up at my place, to look for stolen goods. They were after some boys who had come over, apparently to slang a TV. I remember that day… Lorna rang me.

But anyway – they found heaps of other shit. According to Michael, there was a couple of ounces, and over a thousand bucks (I already knew about the money; it was Tau’s savings). But not just that: several guns, and a crack pipe.

And Leroi only got done with receiving stolen goods.

Tau and I had talked about it a bit, at the time. He said it was ‘lucky’ the cops were crooked, because no-one was being charged with dealing; they must have split the money and the weed. “Fuckin cops, aye Miss…” he mused.

“Fuckin cops, alright.”

 

But I never knew about the guns, and certainly not the crack pipe. Maybe it was Michael’s, for him to say that. But it still begs the whole question of whether crack was being smoked in the sleepout, and how regularly.

I’m not dumb, I’m sure it happened. But I guess I never thought it was on the regular. And now… I don’t know. It troubles me to even consider this possibility, it really does. There’s too many ins and outs to think about, just now. And I trust Tau – and I believe what he said back then: he was scared of crack, didn’t even know how to drive it.

But the boys – I hardly trust any one of them. I don’t even know that I ‘trust’ Michael, exactly. I don’t mistrust him either. I just… I don’t know. And Leroi – he was always so easily swayed by others. Never really looked out for me, and honestly, I know he would have considered his boys first, every time. It’s not to say he didn’t care – just that he was ‘young and dumb’, as Tau once put it.

 

The guns, too. I’d told Tau (after Robbie died) that I didn’t want any more guns lying around in the shed. Legal or not, I didn’t want them there. A bit like crack, in one sense: they just weren’t a safe bet.

So I don’t know, I don’t know… and right now I feel kind of tired, just thinking about all this.

But if (and it’s a big ‘if’) Tau ever needs that space, there’s no way there’s going to be boys setting up. After what we’ve all been through, I’ll be patrolling my borders so tight that I may as well be Checkpoint Charlie.

When I actually sit and think about it, it’s pretty lucky I haven’t been in any trouble with the law myself. Oh, I know I must have some kind of profile with the cops, especially with the general circumstances surrounding Robbie’s death. But there was also that time Tau was up on drugs charges… and later that same year was the search warrant… and then the stolen goods, last year (and that’s just scratching the surface, obviously), and the cops have been round various other times, just for the usual reasons.

And you know, I feel like I’ve been somehow protected through all of that, when there was so much potential for things to go awry. Maybe because my intentions have been good… hah, but they truly have. Knowledge of ‘illegal activities’ notwithstanding, my goal has always been to care for and provide a safe space for Tau, and anyone who has found some kind of shelter  in it – and I think again of Kepaoa.

But I’ve been looked after alright. I’m not sure how that works. But I’m sure I have.

 

Driving home… just turning into Municipal and going past the big McDonald’s on the corner, I get this one ‘clear’ moment. Who knows why, but I have this feeling of mastery. Or incipient mastery, I guess I have to go through this, until I know what I’m doing. It’s all going to teach me how to master my own job properly, and be legit with it. I’m not up to that level yet. But I will be.

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Light

Friday 7 March, 2014:

I’m fine all day until Chloe’s baby shower, which seems to drain the resilience out of me. Not that I say so, or act so. I mix and mingle with everyone, eating a duckling-yellow sugar cupcake (Chloe doesn’t know if she’s having a boy or a girl). I participate in all the games, which include singing lullabies, naming baby items and guessing on the staff baby photos. I do this because I like Chloe, and because I don’t want to be rude.

But I’m pretending the whole time. The event reminds me uncomfortably of all the managed ‘fun’ that I hate about school. So I go home feeling very subdued

 

Saturday 8 March:

I drive to the beach, take off my shoes and walk along the sand, finishing right up at the other end of the strand, where I sit on some rocks for a while, just breathing in the air and taking a couple pictures on my phone. You know… it isn’t much; it’s nice all the same.

 

Sunday 9 March:

Wake to a very loud knocking on the door. It’s 6 am but still dark, and I stumble to open up, rubbing my eyes, before stopping to ask, “Who is it?”

“Tau.”

The front door jams again, so I go round the side to the French doors, and let him in.

 

We hug, and I notice straight away that he’s fully sober (which to be honest I wasn’t expecting, considering the earliness of the hour).

“You okay?” I ask.

“Just been let out of the cells,” he tells me.

Now the sobriety makes more sense. “Tau?” I say, just giving his shoulder a little squeeze. “What were you doing in there?”

“Honestly, Miss, I can’t remember,” Tau tells me. “I’ve been thinking about it all the way here. Fuck, I’ve got no idea what they took me in for. I can’t remember anything.”

“Ok,” I say, without the least judgement to make about this. “Well, at least they let you out, huh.”

“Sorry for for waking you up, Miss,” Tau goes on. “But do you think you could… give me a lift home, please?”

“All sweet,” I say. “Just hold on a second, I’ll go get my shoes.”

 

“So what can you remember?” I enquire as we drive.

“Last night was alright… we were just drinking with the boys, round at mine. Kost and them, and Raphael, too.”

“Oh,” I say. “And is that where the cops picked you up?”

“I think so,” Tau says, and I can see he is trying hard to remember. “I think the neighbours came over, and…” He ruminates on this for a bit and adds, “I think they came with weapons and shit.”

“Fuck!” I exclaim. “You got beef with the neighbours now?”

“I… dunno.”

“Maybe they wanted you to turn down the noise,” I suggest mildly – and the thought of it makes us both snort with laughter.

“Fuck, Miss, I think there was some trouble though.”

And then the cops turned up?”

Think so,” he surmises.

 

“Oh well, at least you’re out now, Tau,” I say again. Which indeed is true. A thought occurs to me, and I ask, “But you don’t have to go court or anything, do you?”

“No – but Leroi’s still in the cells. He’s got to go court on Monday, there was a warrant out for him. When I got let out, he was calling out, ‘Bro, are you leaving me?’” Tau laughs at this, managing to convey that Leroi was ok, and irritable rather than upset.

“Why did they have a warrant out for Leroi?” I ask.

“Not doing his PD hours,” Tau tells me.

“Oh well, at least it isn’t major,” I say, taking this as a slight positive. “And yours was just… to sober up, right?”

“Yup, just a detox.”

“Well, that’s good,” I say.

 

“And did the cops ever catch up with you?” I wonder, after the time I’d seen them on the day of Scott’s funeral.

“Yeah, they did,” Tau says. “They tried to give me four hundred spot, the sneaky bastards.”

“Is that what they were after?” I say, as the situation begins to make sense.

“Yeah Miss, they asked me if I wanted the money, at first I was like – oh, yup, and then I thought about it and asked them, “So… what happens if I take the four hundred dollars?”

“Ohhh,” I say, getting it. “And, if you did…”

“Yeah, if I did, that meant I was saying it was mine, and…”

“And then you can be charged with dealing,”

“Yup,” says Tau. “So I told them, “You can keep the money.” He adds, “Bummer,” and I start to laugh. “Geez, they can be tricky like that,” I say, thinking about their strategies almost admiringly. I knew there’d be more to it than the cops had suggested to me at the time.

 

By the time we get to Rutherford Ave, Tau has started to recollect and process a little more of the night’s events.

“I think, I’m not sure… I think I might have smashed up the house,” he reflects, as I pull into the drive. He looks at the windows (which seem to be intact) and remarks, “Ohhh, hotty.”

“Why?”

“I remember the neighbours did come over… and I was trying to pick up chairs and smash them over their heads and shit. I don’t think anyone could control me…” he says, rather sorrowfully. “So I think it might be my fault that the cops came, and that we got taken to the cells.”

“Well, never mind that, at least everyone’s alright,” I say with some actual cheer, knowing it could have ended up a lot worse. I stop the car, and we just look at one another. “I’m glad you’re alright, but just take it easy, ok?” I conclude.

“I’ll try,” he says.

And I can sense we’re both trying to just keep things light.

 

Later, Mia and I wind up at the park, where we get ice-cream and sit on the grass under the shade of a huge tree. Mia tells me all about her dates (there are many) – I must say it makes me even less inclined towards online dating than I was before. It’s kind of fascinating listening to those stories, though.

Afterwards I come home and cook up a big as stir fry.

 

 

Part of me

Saturday 15 February, 2014:

I think about what Mia said last night. She’s been on a couple of dates with a guy called Chris, who she met on ‘Find Someone’. It didn’t really go anywhere, but she said it was alright. And she’s been mailing another guy too, who she might see for coffee.

So I just go on the website for a bit, and look around – and I can tell right off the bat, it’s not for me. For a start, most of the guys look like the stereotypical ‘Kiwi bloke’. Second, there’s all these tabs with headings like Who should pay? and Sexual etiquette, and when you click on them, there’s advice about keeping your sheets clean (like, seriously?) and that it’s nice to make a phone call the day after. And tips for what to say in advance: ‘I believe in equality, so I’d like to share the cost of our dates.’

And I just can’t handle the patter. I think I’ve been spoilt for all that nonsense, by the reality of the the things that have happened in the last five years. It could never compare to the feeling of boldness and confidence which you get from knowing you can pack up at a moment’s notice, and ride out through the narrowest path, with the tightest of time frames. There’s a strong “male” energy – I have it too, somewhere. It isn’t the whole of me, I know that too. But it’s part of me now, and I can never go back to those same old mores and conventions.

 

Later I’m hungry and grumpy when I realize that I’m pretty much out of snacks, thanks to the burglars. Hope they enjoyed those snacks. I wish I could have a bowl of noodles, round about now. Instead I’m starting to make dinner (early, but it’s going to take me a little while to bake the potatoes).

It makes me laugh how I’m starting to cook again – I think that all started when Tau and Kepaoa were here. I wanted them to know for sure it was ok to eat, there wasn’t a shortage. Especially Tau, who’d dealt with conditions of scarcity his whole life. And then it just snuck up on me that I still like cooking. Even though I’d told myself for a long while that I didn’t care about it anymore.

I keep noticing little things gone too, like the margarine… and the hand wash in the bathroom. But in a way, it’s good to free up space. And so I keep on looking appraisingly at my stuff and thinking, ooh, I don’t really need this, is it just going to be back in the cupboard again? I don’t want to do it all at once – but I’m sure there’s things that I could give away or throw out.

Temperamentally, I’m not a hoarder at all – that figures, I guess. So it’s not a big task or anything. It’s just something that’s occurred to me.

 

Sunday 16 February:

It’s been, in the immortal words of Levi – a cunt of a day.

It starts off alright, at the gym. Afterwards I skip off to Municipal for no particular reason. I park out the back of the supermarket (by the bakery), then I walk through the shops and cross Municipal Rd. Pick up a takeout coffee – that takes a bit longer than usual, there’s a big queue of people in the café. I come out, heading back to the car – and there’s Leroi, walking by at exactly the same moment.

Only he doesn’t even notice me. He has this faraway expression in his eyes.

I say, “Leroi?” and I see him gently snap his mind back to the outside world, saying, “Oh!” and then, “Miss…”

“Hey, Leroi,” I say again. “How are you?”

“Algood,” he replies, as a pleasantry I guess.

“What you been up to?”

“Um, not much… um, Miss?” he says, hesitating and then looking at me very searchingly.

“Yeah?” I say.

“Have you heard?”

“No, heard what?” I begin, and then, sensing something is up: “Leroi? No, I haven’t heard anything, why? Has something happened?”

“My dad…” he says, sighing once and deeply. “The stupid cunt hung himself. At the park, on Friday afternoon.”

I just gape at him, I guess.

“It’s alright, Miss. I’m algood. Fuckin stupid cunt, aye Miss.”

“Geez, Leroi,” is all I can manage. And then, “I’m so sorry.

“It’s alright,” he says again. “I’m ok. He’s been on life support, at the hospital. But they’re gonna turn the machine off. My mum and that are already arranging the funeral.”

“Oh my god,” I think I say. It’s a shock, and I just repeat, “I’m so sorry…” and then, thinking of Sheree, “Fuck, your poor mum.”

“She’s doing ok. My Nan’s there,” Leroi tells me.

“Shit…” I say, in the most futile way.

 

“Miss?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Can you… could you get me a sesh?”

“I don’t have any money on me right now,” I begin (which is true).

“Aw, no it’s ok, I got money – I just need you to get it for me, cos I’m under age.”

“Oh, I see,” I say, suddenly realising he’s on his way to High Times (right next to the café). I can’t help laughing, just a little bit. “Aww, you know how much I hate that synthetic shit. But yeah, alright Leroi. I think the occasion probably calls for it, huh.”

“Thanks, Miss,” Leroi says gratefully.

 

We proceed to the store, where Leroi consults the sales assistant as to the available choices, deciding fast on ‘Silver Skunk’. He hands over the money, and the guy looks at the two of us with a passing interest (hesitating only slightly I think, maybe in case I’m part of some kind of media sting).

“It’s ok,” I tell him. “I’m getting it.”

“Sweet,” he says, happy to ring up a sale.

 

Leroi receives his legal high (which is, after all, technically a legal purchase by me), and we walk out, just talking

“So he’s still on life support?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Leroi, is there any chance your dad could still… make it through?”

“No, the doctors said he’s already brain dead,” Leroi tells me.

We stand outside in the sun. “Do you need to go anywhere?” I ask. “Can I drop you off?”

“Nah, it’s ok Miss, I’m just gonna kick it round here for a bit.”

“Ok,” I say. And we part company.

 

I retrace my steps to the car. My mind is just thinking, thinking, the whole time. And I go take some cash out of the ATM ($200), and put it in an envelope. I’m not sure who I’m going to give it to. First I think, Sheree – then I think, no, Tau. And I don’t know. I just drive round there anyway, telling myself there’s no point in talking myself out of it, even though I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to say.

I get there and walk round the back, and the first person I see is Tau. He’s standing out on the steps, as stoned as fuck. So stoned he can barely stand up. His eyes are half shut, and he says a slow, sleepy, “Heeey, Miss.”

“Hey, Tau,” I say, and then, “I saw Leroi a little while ago.”

He nods.

“He told me what happened…”

Another nod, and a very stoned smile. To be honest, he looks quite approving of my presence there.

“I won’t stay for long, but I just… wanted to come,” I finish, and he says, “Thanks, Miss. Thanks for coming over.”

“No worries, Tau.”

 

Turns out Sheree’s not home, so it’s easy to decide what to do with the money. I simply hand the envelope over to Tau, saying, “This is just to help out.”

“Awww,” he begins, and then, taking it, “Thanks, Miss.”

We stand outside talking. I don’t ask too many questions about what happened, I can see it isn’t the right time. But Tau tells me Scott was taken off life support late last night, it was just Sheree there.

“Me and Leroi were drinking round here, with the boys, Quest and Kost – and then Statik and Rich came over too,” Tau informs me.

“Well, that’s good,” I say. “It’s good they came.”

“We were drinking till 5 this morning,” Tau continues. “I’m really tired – it’s just that I can’t get to sleep.”

“That’s not surprising,” I said. “Algood Tau, just try to get some rest later on.”

“I’ll try,” he tells me.

 

I only stay around half an hour, I keep thinking of how tiring it must be for Tau to have to talk about ‘stuff’ – not Scott exactly, but just anything, really. But like I said, he seems pleased to see me, in his way. He says again, “Oh, thanks for coming, Miss. I really appreciate it.” He smiles, and my heart goes out to him so bad.

When I get home, I can’t settle. I go tidy up in the shed a bit, I think Tau will be ok with that. I just pick shit up (there’s still stuff on the floor from the break in) and then dust a little bit, and you know… just sweep. For some reason it makes me feel a tiny bit better.

Fireworks and pouring rain

Wednesday 30 October, 2013:

I remember that (according to Tau) today’s the day Scott gets out of jail. My heart just sinks, thinking about it. I don’t know if there’s any ‘plan’ in place. I doubt it. Agencies and institutions talk a good game about this stuff. I’ll be surprised, truly, if they’ve actually done anything at all.

Oh well. If Tau needs to get away, he’ll come. I just don’t want all those other boys, and cars, and hangers on, they can all go somewhere else.

Yeah, I already know I’m not special – but I’m not stupid either.

 

After classes finish for the day, I find Ezekiel on the stair outside my room. He asks if I ‘have time’, and I say (truthfully) no, not really. I’m intent on marking assessments for an hour. But he follows me in, anyway.

“So… you don’t really have time?” he asks again, though not with particular hope.

“Time for what?” I say.

“Um… to get a ride home?” he tries.

“No, sorry, I don’t,” I tell him. “I have to get this marking done, that’s why I’ve just made a coffee.” (I have it in my hand). “Anyway, it’s a nice day – you’ll be ok.”

“Oh, okay,” he says. He looks crestfallen, and I feel guilty, irritating myself.

“You’ll be fine,” I say again. It is, really, a nice day. If it was raining, maybe I’d be swayed. But I think to myself – no, best to let it go.

 

And he leaves. I feel guilty for a bit longer, and then just sigh to myself and mark the assessments – some of which are quite good.

Ezekiel’s not a bad kid, not at all. But I can’t be at anyone’s beck and call. And I don’t know what the story is, with that one. Maybe I’ll never know. Anyway, I don’t want to get attached to anyone else, at school.

 

Thursday 31 October:

Bloody school… bloody useless today. And it’s Thursday, so that’s not fair! Thursdays are supposed to be alright.

The thing that pisses me off the most is the overt sentimentalizing of the ‘last week of school’ with the seniors – the whole place feels like like some big playroom today. Honestly, it’s so false, the system that apparently celebrates their success at the same time as it’s already booted out so many of their peers over the years.

13 History today, in the main they’re smug lil fuckers, pissing me off with their self-indulgence – like no-one else has ever left school before. Eli comes and works with me, which pretty much saves my bacon. Because at times I feel I’m gonna snap and tell all the rest of them to fuck off.

“I know, Miss – I can tell,” Eli says to me quietly, apropos of this sentiment. I’m very grateful to have him there, I can tell you.

 

After work I leave the whole stupid place behind and take small measures to ‘normalize’ my day: stop at the gas station to put air in the tyres; pick up fruit and vegies; make a coffee at home, head over to the gym…

And the gym is another life-saver. Soon as I hit the treadmill, I can feel the whole chaotic vibe lift. Then I’m alright again.

When I come back home I make fried eggs, eat them with bread and tomatoes, avocado, and then a big chunk of pawpaw. Two posses of cute kids trick-or-treating arrive at the door, and I give them Doritos. Altogether I feel much, much better.

 

Friday 1 November:

Funny old 9 Social in the morning, they’re quite sweet.

Jackson says to me, right off the bat, “Miss – do you live with CP?”

This surprises me so much that at first I’m almost shocked… then I just about choke with laughter, and he and Deshaun look at me, wide-eyed. I say, “Um, yeah right. They all live at my place,” and they actually wait with bated breath, checking to see if I’m joking.

Once I realize that they’re not even trying to take the piss (which is very un-Jackson, to be honest), I say something like, “Heey, where did that come from?”

“I met this guy in Carthill, and he told me,” Jackson says.

“Who on earth was this?”

“Um… a boy who used to come here, but he got kicked outa school,” he explains. “He asked me if I knew you, and then he said – you’d better be good for her, she lives with CP.”

“Who was he?” I wonder.

“I don’t know his name,” Jackson says. “I just met him.”

“Oh,” I say, still wondering.

But not wanting to inflate the matter any further, I just tell them with a certain degree of frankness, as we walk over to the library. “No, I don’t live with CP. But I’ve had a few… foster kids, from time to time.” I don’t really know how else to put it, in a way that would make sense. And more than that I can’t say, obviously.

Jackson and Deshaun are fine with that – and they leave it. I’m as matter of fact as I can be, with these two really very nice boys. And they pick up on the vibe, which ensures there’s no ‘secrets’ in the air, nor rumors flying around the library.

At the library, Eli and one of his friends come over and work at my table, chatting to me in a most collegial way throughout the period. The 9 Social boys look over with interest, and I realize that my stocks are currently quite high, the understated presence of these two lending additional credence to the earlier reports.

 

Saturday 2 November:

Mia and I go for brunch, it’s good… and a little bit not. We order pancakes, which turn out to be very bijou (and expensive to boot), and I’m still hungry afterwards. City cafés, hah. Not like out in Municipal, where the pancakes come in fat stacks.

And I feel tense, it’s an effort to hold that in, and at the same time I don’t really want to – I just don’t know what else to do. My jaw and my eyes get stiff from the effort of smiling and conversating. And both before and afterwards, I can’t stop yawning – some kind of attempt to release the tension, I guess.

 

Leroi turns up unexpectedly when I get back. He’s looking for Tau (and I haven’t seen Tau since that one time last week.) Which makes me feel even tenser than I already am.

Scott’s out of jail. He’s staying with them too – just as I thought. Of course he isn’t supposed to, but does anyone really check? Nope. The probation officer came over, and Scott pretended Sheree was his aunty.

“And they believed him?” I ask, very incredulously.

Leroi nods, in an amused but still matter of fact way.

“Sheree doesn’t look like she could be Scott’s aunty,” I continue. “ You’d be way more likely to think Scott was Sheree’s uncle.”

“I know,” Leroi agrees, and we snort with laughter.

 

Leroi says it’s going “ok,” with Scott. Then he adds, “So far…”

“He off the alkies?”

“Kind of…”

Honestly, I know it isn’t a good bet. But no-one’s sorted anything out for Scott, and so where the fuck is he supposed to be going? It’s not exactly his fault. Or Sheree’s. And those probation people and social workers and men’s groups don’t do shit. All those so-called ‘wrap-around’ services. Just like teachers never do shit either – I’m not saying they do.

And so… Scott’s just ‘out’. No home detention, no community service. Nowhere to go, and wanting to see his family. What the fuck would you do? Honestly – what would you do? If you were Scott, or Sheree, Tau or Leroi? All the same, Sheree’s the one who really gets the crap deal here.

 

After Leroi leaves,  I cut my losses and take a nap, wake up and turn on the TV. Got nothing more than that to do, nowhere to really go. The foxes have their holes… and the birds of the air have their nests. Didn’t Jesus say that? I sometimes think of a happy place, when I’m sad. Lions, resting in the long grass, by a little river.

Or I think of my ‘one good thing’. How I won’t let Tau down. It feels like my atonement for everything else I’ve done or left undone. But at the same time, I’ll be ashamed, if he comes. I’m so shamed, just thinking about it. My heart cries, quietly. Because I used to be special and now I’m not. Serves me right, for being so bad at everything else I’ve ever put my hand to.

And I don’t know anything. I just pine for those days of being special too.

 

Sunday 3 November:

When I lay in bed last night, I ‘talk to’ Slade, Kepaoa, Nio and Tau. Actually address them, each one. Say the words I’ve been wanting to say. Then as my brain gets tireder I start actually falling to sleep, and I hear myself mumble some random out of it things. “Reading a book…” I say, at one point.

Reading a book? Oh well, why not?

 

The gym’s good, this morning. I chuck some extra weights on my bar, and feel a bit better for it. But it’s kind of a precarious feeling, just yet. Still, I tell myself – the reason you’re feeling better is because you chose to feel better. Got off that bad buzz all by yourself!

And well, maybe things aren’t over at all. Maybe things are only just getting started. Stuff keeps right on happening, there’s always something new about to happen – even when you think it’s not.

 

Monday 4 November:

My muscles are aching after another round of Pump. One thing about the gym, I always show up when I say I will.

Partly, this is because I don’t want to waste my gym fees. And partly, it’s because I like it. And then, even when I feel tired… I tell myself that half the battle’s won just through showing up. Which is true, in pretty much anything I reckon.

I get home and take a shower and wash my hair, it’s the night before Guy Fawkes and there’s fireworks exploding all around Municipal, literally.

Fireworks and pouring rain.

 

My moments

Wednesday 28 August, 2013:

I could explode, thinking about the whole dumb day. I waste my morning on Professional Development, babysit 9 Social at the library, and then have to sit through the inter-house speech finals – Chloe has appointed me one of the judges – which last the whole of lunchtime. As if I care about the speeches, most of which are full of the glories of being a ‘MC learner’. The winning contestant spouts the most wretched drivel. The other judges seem to quite like this, seeing as it all sounds a bit like a TED talk. Credit where credit’s due though – a couple of the others are actually alright. .

After missing my lunch break, I have 12 History – with Nellie, her big eyes popping and rolling. She gives the usual performance over shit all, just as I’ve come to expect. Only this time I’m furious. I feel like I want to smack her.

Chloe takes her away to DP alley, and I tell her on the way out that there’s no way I’m having her back in class. I don’t give two fucks about that restorative crap, I think to myself. No little bitch is speaking to me like that.

Then I get home and find a power bill for over $500. It’s an actual reading, which means that the last one (an estimate) was way under – hence the astronomical sum. And money’s really tight this week, I don’t know how I’m going to pay it.

 

Thursday 29 August:

Still on my mind: the power bill. There’s no way I can pay by the due date. I ring the power company, they say I can split it and pay half next time – but it means I lose the discount (a considerable $53).

Oh well, it’s been cold and we’ve had heaters on, taken hot showers. I’m not sorry about that.

 

Today at school, a lot of times I feel that tangled up messed up unruly pain in my heart, at having to be there, and function and exist there. Chloe wants to meet about Nellie. And then the data projector in my room stops working, and the electrician can’t come till Monday.

So, 11 History with the old-fashioned things: paper and the whiteboard. They grumble, but only in the most routine way. But that pain in my heart won’t quit. In my non-contact, I have to re-do the whole year 13 lesson, knowing the prop of the data projector is gone. I mail the class the powerpoint and activities. But I don’t care to teach history today, as if the events of the past were destined to be nothing more than a learning activity. I suffer all the way through the afternoon, and at 3 o’clock Slade and l leap out to the car and share a cig on the way home.

 

Friday 29 August:

After school I take Leroi (and Raphael) to Youth Services, all Leroi’s paperwork needs to be dropped off. While we’re there, I become aware that the two of them have stepped outside and are eyeing up some boys in school uniform, who have halted on the footpath – right by the door. I hear a bit of two-way verbal interchange going on, like, “Bring your boys…” So I go out too.

“Go back inside,” I tell my two, and they actually obey this directive. The lady on the front desk looks at them uncuriously, no doubt having seen this all before. But she seems none too pleased, either.

 

“Who are those boys?” I say.

“Dunno.”

“Carthill boys.”

“And do you know them – have you met them before?”

“No, we’ve just seen them around,” is the reply.

“Well, I want you to leave it,” I tell them. “This isn’t the place to bring trouble.”

“It was them who started it,” Leroi says. “They were eyeing us up, down Municipal. And then they came past and saw us here.”

“Probably just trying to step us out cos we’re wearing blue…”

“Probably,” I sigh, guessing this is quite accurate. “But I still don’t want any trouble. This isn’t the right place for it. Think, man!”

“Sorry, Miss,” Leroi says, and then in the next breath, “If they come in, I’m gonna pick up that chair -” He looks at Raphael.

“One of them’s got a knife,” Raphael informs me. “It’s down his sock.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I say, exasperated and also getting alarmed at this piece of news.

“They might not come in,” Leroi goes on, and then, seemingly resigned to action, “But when we go out, they’ll be waiting.”

“Yeah, they will,” agrees Raphael.

“No they frickin won’t,” I mutter. “You two stay here.” And, “I’ll move them on,” I add, half to myself as I go out the door. For some reason I feel perfectly calm, and sure enough, there they are, not a few metres down Municipal Rd.

 

As soon as the two of them see me, they turn away and take a couple of reluctant steps in the direction of Bream. But I walk a little faster, and catch up with their faux-nonchalant pace.

“Hi boys,” I say, and neither of them acknowledges the greeting. A couple of girls are watching, now.

“Hey boys,” I say again, and this time their heads turn. They look about Leroi’s age, and regard me with some ambivalence.

“Everyone needs to get on their way home now,” I say, in a voice that signals friendly firmness of intention. “That algood?”

They look over their shoulders, pause again – and I decide to drop a deliberate signal into the conversation. “I’m a teacher at Municipal College,” I tell them, using the despised persona (well it’s got to be good for something). “And those two boys in there are with me. So everyone needs to leave it, and go on home. I’ve told them exactly the same thing,” I add, to try convey a sense of equity. “Exactly the same as what I’ve told you.”

They nod, deciding it isn’t worth the risk. She’s a teacher. She’ll probably ring our principal: I’m sure these are the thoughts going through their minds right now.

One of them starts walking away, and the other one follows suit.

“Thanks, boys,” I tell them, in a fulsomely teacherly way.

“Algood,” one of them says, politely. Thus signalling an end to the whole thing.

 

I go back to Youth Services, and find Leroi and Raphael have stayed put – good boys – though at the same time they are lunging towards the door, straining to see what’s happening outside. When I come in, they wait with bated breath for my report.

“They’ve gone home,” I say, and I actually see the tension lift in Leroi’s eyes. But it bothers me, of course. That he wouldn’t have considered where he was, or who else was there.

“This isn’t the place, Leroi,” I tell him again.

“I know, I’m sorry Miss,” he says, and I can see he means it. But he’s still hyped.

 

It’s funny to me, how I can be calm, authoritative, and unafraid in this situation. One of the boys has a knife, I don’t even think about that when I go to talk to them. I literally forget Raphael has even mentioned it. It’s only afterwards that I freak out a little bit – not because I’ve put myself in danger (I haven’t: we’re out in the open, and I’m pretty sure the ‘teacher’ reference will do the trick, if my manner’s alright). But because Leroi wouldn’t have hesitated, if they’d come in.

And how is it that can I handle myself like this, and then be so upset by  little idiots like Nellie, who don’t mean anything to me. Or feel a kind of downcast shame at the very idea of having to teach the year 13’s. I guess it’s because I feel ashamed, to be fake. Whereas today, I behave as myself. I actually feel stable, and certain of my actions. Which is why it works, and why teaching can never work like that for me.

Ohh, I have my moments. But they’re nothing to do with teaching. They’re just small moments of connection or freedom. With Slade – or with Aurelius the other day. When you ‘bow’ towards someone, and think to yourself: this person is good, this person is kind, this person is worth my time and attention. Even in the midst of the falsest environment, I can feel gratitude, for a little while.

 

Visible

Friday 19 July, 2013:

Slade comes over for a bit – he’s going down the line tomorrow. Says he’s been feening for a paint, but hasn’t wanted to interrupt my holidays. Ha, if he only knew. Been the stressiest frickin holidays I’ve ever had, pretty much.

Later, when Lois stops by to collect him, Slade lingers for a second, almost as if he is going to reach out and hug me. Then he just says, with feeling, “Miss, take care. I’ll see you soon.”

“You take care too,” I tell him. “You be good, down the line.”

 

I have a glass of wine, fry up some eggs and meat patties and make a sandwich. Tau comes in a couple of times, he doesn’t say much. I feel like he’s carrying a lot of stuff in his mind, and so am I.

I always used to feel strong, with Tau. Sometimes, nowadays, I feel ashamed of being weak. I don’t know how to do this stuff, and I often think how everyone can see that. I feel like I’m so visible. Whatever I do, people can see it.

 

Around midnight I wake up and someone’s knocking, I can hear them trying different doors… then the sleepout door (softly), and then there’s a little tap-tap on my window.

I go and open up the door, and Elroy is standing there.

I’m relieved and pissed off all at once, to see Elroy. My first thought is – oh man, it’s so good to see him. My second thought is – I’m just gonna be hustled.

 

My expression must be uncertain. Because Elroy says, hesitantly, “Miss? Can I come in… can I use the phone?”

“I guess so,” I say. I feel awkward, even. Like – here’s another person to see me at my weakest moments. I think I say, pretty much straight away, “I can’t drop you off, Elroy.” I add, “I’ve hardly got any gas right now.” Which is indeed true.

“It’s ok Miss, I’m not asking you to drop me off, I’ll ring… someone,” says Elroy. I’m sure he would have asked me to drop him off, if I’d looked more willing. But I feel kind of heartbroken… I don’t know.  It’s like there’s all this stuff that I can’t say. I want to cry, because I’ve missed him and Kepaoa so much, and at the same time I feel laid low by everything.

 

He comes in and rings Paki. I hear him say, “Can you pick me up, I’m at Miss’s?” And then I hear Paki ask, “Why can’t Miss drop you off?”

“She’s busy,” he says.

Paki must have asked him what I’m doing, because he goes on, “Uh, busy… sleeping.”

I feel a surge of irritation at this. Am I your brother’s taxi? I think to myself. You come get him.

Elroy hangs up the phone and tells me, “He’s out with his girlfriend – they’ll pick me up on their way back.”

“Where are they?” I ask.

“In the city, I think.”

“Oh… ok.”

 

So we just wait. I tuck up on the couch with a rug, and Elroy starts talking. Tells me he was arrested the day I dropped him off at Clancy. He got drunk and stole a car from right outside a dairy – a man had left the keys in the ignition when he went in. Elroy drove off and the cops chased him. “High speed chase…” he informs me, casually. “I crashed in Carthill and ran off, but they caught me and locked me up. I’ve been inside ever since then.”

“You’re a egg,” I tell him. “Honestly, Elroy, you are.”

“Yeah, I know Miss,” he replies.

“So when did you get out?” I ask

“Um… about a week ago. I’ve been on 24/7 at home. Actually I was better off inside. I knew I’d breach bail if they let me out. But my lawyer was this young… lady, and she wanted me to get bail.”

“Oh fuck,” I mutter. “Fuckin useless lawyers.”

 

Then, “So – was jail ok?”

“Yeah, nah… it was algood, but I kept having scraps. There’s too many people to have scraps with in there. I was in the Youth Unit, but then they put me on Management – where all the naughty ones go, the ones who keep causing trouble.”

“Geez!” I scold Elroy. “Man, you’re not helping yourself you know! You can’t keep on doing this all the damn time. Do you wanna end up like Tau’s dad? He’s in jail now and no-one will bail him – no-one wants him at theirs, cos he starts trouble wherever he goes. Do you want to be like that – where even your own family won’t have you?”

“No,” says Elroy, meekly.

There is a pause, and I feel my eyes swim with tears, for no reason and for lots of reasons.

“And I didn’t mean to breach my bail tonight, Miss. I was ok, I cooked dinner for my mum and dad, but then I got drunk, you know how I like to take off when I’m drinking, and…”

“Roam around,” I finish for him.

“Yeah, roam around.”

“And what the fuck did you think would happen?” I say.

“I didn’t think about it…”

“Well, maybe you should have.”

“I know,” he says. “I’ll just get locked up again now. I shouldn’t go home – I’ll go to Eddie’s and turn myself in on Monday.”

“Go to Eddie’s?” I say in surprise. “Why would you go there?”

“Cos his dad’ll be algood with me. He’ll let me drink.”

“Well he’s a stupid old fool then,” I say, exasperated. “Honestly, he needs his head read. And who’s gonna take you all the way out there, to…”

“To Range Rd,” says Elroy. “I’ll ask Paki to take me.”

“Geez…” I say again. “That’s a long way. Your poor brother, you know what – you should just go home and harden up, and let the cops come and lock you up.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Elroy sighs. “I’ll just go home.”

 

I look at him and sigh too. Half of me wants to hug the idiot, the other half wants to just growl and growl, and keep on growling. It isn’t really fair, either. He’s kind of getting the fallout from me being upset with Kepaoa, and from what’s happening with Tau and Leroi, and I know it.

So I just say, “Elroy?”

“Yeah, Miss.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “It’s good to see you. It’s just that… it’s been kind of a hard day. I’d drive you home, but I haven’t got gas, and I’m tired, and I just wish… that things were different. I don’t like seeing you get into trouble all the time, and, I don’t know… it’s like everything’s changed. I reckon I’ve gotta start looking out for myself a bit more.”

“Yeah, heaps of things have changed,” Elroy agrees, rather reflectively. “I went round to Cluzo’s and I saw that there was a new door, and the house had been painted, and there were different people there. And then I went to Kost’s, and he said Cluzo and Leroi were living here…”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean, well that’s part of it,” I say. “They’ve got nowhere to go, and they’re here, and I just have to harden up myself, or else all those other boys are just gonna hustle me. I mean the ones that think they can roll up and do whatever, you know how it is.”

 

A thought crosses my mind, and I sigh again. “And so is that why you came round – to see Cluzo?”

“Um… yes and no. I wanted to see you, and Cluzo,” says Elroy. “I thought I could have a drink with Cluzo, and -”

“See!” I say, even more exasperated. “What makes people think I want drink ups here, huh? This is half the frickin problem. Boys thinking that I’m gonna be all good with them just cruising up.” I add, “It’s not just you, Elroy. I even had to tell Noa and Kost and them off, for the same thing. I don’t want everyone drinking over here. And if bloody Scott wasn’t inside, then I wouldn’t be having to deal with this shit all the time… that’s what I mean! You don’t want to end up like him, giving everyone stress cos they’ve got to sort shit out for you.”

We look at one another, and Elroy says, “Yeah, I know… I’m sorry Miss. I just wasn’t really thinking.”

“I know – and it is good to see you, even though I’m pissed off,” I concede, and he grins.

 

“Can I use your laptop, check facebook?” he asks, and I go get it for him.

After a bit, I say, quietly (because he hasn’t mentioned Kepaoa at all), “So, did Teri go back to Oz?”

“Teri?” says Elroy. “I don’t know. I’ve been inside since that day you dropped me off. Kepaoa’s down the line. He’s been down there for a whole month, I haven’t even spoken to him. I don’t know what’s happening with Teri.” He pauses and says, “I don’t like Teri.”

“I don’t like her either,” I say.

“And my family don’t like her, Miss,” Elroy adds.

“I don’t trust her,” I say. “She messed with his head when she came back.”

“She thinks she’s a big shot,” Elroy says. “She thinks she’s hot shit, aye Miss.”

“Yeah, I reckon…”

 

Then I say, wanting to cry, “I got upset with your brother and yelled at him, and afterwards he just chopped me, straight up. I tried to get in touch, but he won’t talk to me. He never replied to any of my texts, so I just had to leave it. But… I miss him,” I finish. “I do, really. Is he ok?”

“He’s ok,” Elroy says. “He’s working down there – he’s doing good.”

“Aw, that’s good,” I say, softly.

“I haven’t seen him in ages,” Elroy says again. “I miss him too.”

 

“Did he get his knee sorted out?”

“I don’t know,” Elroy says. “I don’t think he did.”

“Oh well,” I sigh. “I dunno, Elroy. I still really care about him, and I care about you, too.”

“I know, Miss,” Elroy replies. “I’m sorry for giving you trouble.”

“You’re not,” I tell him. “I’m just… it’s just been a hard time, lately. For lots of reasons. It’s not your fault.” I can’t help adding, “Though I do wish you’d start acting like a sensible person,” and we both crack up laughing.

 

It isn’t until almost 2am that Paki arrives and toots the horn from out on the road. Elroy says goodbye and goes out, then I hear him running back inside and he appears in front of me again. “Miss?”

I get up.

“Can I have… a hug, Miss?” says Elroy.

I put my arms around him and we just stand there and hug.

“Take care,” I tell him. “Please Elroy, just look after yourself… just try to.”

“I will Miss,” he says, no doubt meaning it in that moment at least.

“And, good luck with the rest of the weekend, and the cops and everything.”

“Yeah, I’ll just go home, Miss,” he assures me. “I’ll take what comes.”

“Good boy,” I say. “I do really care about you, Elroy. You and Kepaoa. I really do.”

“Thanks, Miss,” he says, and hugs me tight again, and lopes off into the night.

 

Then I go back to bed. I dream about Zion. Dream that I bundle him up in my arms and carry him, as if he’s a young, sleeping child. We go to Denny’s and get a feed: eggs and mushrooms and hash browns and bacon and chili beans.

Don’t ask me why I should dream that, I don’t know what anything means.

Negotiations

Monday 1 July, 2013:

In my break I go see Nio and Kayla, taking KFC for lunch and a baby set. Nio’s so proud to be a dad. It’s easily the calmest and happiest I’ve ever seen him.

He brings up Kepaoa’s name a couple times, but I don’t say too much… just that I haven’t seen him for a while. I kind of mention that we’ve fallen out. Because Nio is obviously expecting me to ‘know’ things, which I don’t – and I don’t want to pretend that I do, either. He is (surprisingly) uninclined to mock, and just says, “Aw, sorry about that,” or words to that effect.

 

Tuesday 2 July:

After school I drop Slade off, then go home. And Tau comes out of the shed. He looks at me, and I see his eyes trying to assess the situation. So I just sit in the car for five seconds, thinking, ooook. And then I get out and say, “Hey Tau,”

“Hey Miss.”

“You alright?” I ask him.

He nods, saying, “Me and Leroi are gonna stay the night – is that ok?”

“Yup, course it’s ok,” I say, and he looks relieved.

 

“What’s happening?” I ask, trying to sound at ease with things.

“Um, we had to move out – yesterday. And my mum’s gone down the line. My dad’s locked up, for maf.”

“Maf?”

“Male assaults female.”

“Oh,” I say.

“And they won’t let him out, cos he’s got no address to get bailed to – and no-one wants to give him one, not even my nan.”

“Shit,” I say, and then, “Can see why though, I guess.”

Tau just nods.

 

I know, of course, that I can’t turn them away. I know I can’t even act like I need to think about it (though obviously I’m thinking non-stop). Tau’s so sensitive to the slightest hesitancies – the merest hint of being rebuffed would send him striding down the drive and away. I already know that. And Leroi would run after him, at once.

But anyway, once the real (and not imagined) situation arises – I’m in no doubt. Underneath all the whys and wherefores of my thought processes, my mind is crystal clear. I actually experience a wave of relief, to know that when it comes down to it, I don’t even consider backing out. I just think: Tau, I promised you – and my promises I’ll keep. So I say, with true sincerity (even though I’m trembling inside as well, because of all the seriousness of the situation, and not knowing how to really help), “Tau, you know you can stay here anytime. You and Leroi. You don’t have to worry about that, okay?”

I can see how relieved Tau is too – I can see it in his eyes. He sits calmly on the couch, and talks to me. Tells me about how everything happened at once, Scott and Sheree just ‘sitting there’. “They just left it to the last day, didn’t even try to do anything,” Tau says. “We all knew we had nowhere to go.” And then on Saturday (the same day I went to Fitzroy) the shit hit the fan. Scott tried to strangle Sheree, and the cops came and took him, and locked him up.

I try to just keep things as normal as possible, I guess I have some sense of needing to let Tau and Leroi – and myself – know there isn’t anything we can’t handle. So I just go to the gym, pick up pizzas from Domino’s on the way back. We gotta eat, you know.

 

Wednesday 3 July:

Sheree’s back in town for the day, and turns up real early in the morning.

“I’m so worried about the boys,” she says. “No-one cares what happens to them now, well, no-one except you.”

“I do care what happens,” I tell her. “And right now they’re safe, and they’ve got somewhere to go. But we’ll try and sort this out, I’m not sure who’s gonna help – but we’ll try.”

She nods, trying to look brave. She’s a tough woman, Sheree. And I really care about her, too.

But I don’t know what to do, who to ask about this stuff. So eventually I just have to go to school.

And then it’s the worst day ever. I feel like I’m on the verge of snapping. I hate every single frickin minute of it. In fact, I get to the point where I tell my tutor class that I don’t give a shit about tutor. They look shocked, which actually kind of surprises me. I can hear them whispering to one another over in the corner, afterwards. I briefly wonder if they’re gonna snitch to Chloe, then I can’t work up the energy to think about it anymore.

I find it hard to tolerate 9 Social, too; Trudi-Clare in particular. She can be such a rude little bitch, and right then it incenses me. I only just make it to 3 o’clock without incident.

 

After school, Slade comes over to paint a board. We’ve been planning this for a couple of days, and now he knows Tau and Leroi are there, he’s even keener. I’m so stressed out right now that I almost suggest we just leave it – but I can’t bring myself tell Slade this, he’s looking forward to it so much.

“Your place is way better than Fitzroy,” says Slade, surprising me as we drive. “I didn’t really like going round to Cluzo’s. He thinks about this a bit, and adds, “I don’t really know why. Cos I wanted to go round and see him, lots of times. But that’s why I didn’t go.”

“Yeah, it was a bit… random there sometimes,” I say, kind of knowing what he means.

“Hard,” says Slade. “Anyone could turn up.”

“Different rules for different houses, I guess,” I sum up, just keeping it light, but at the same time hoping Tau and Leroi will be able to cope with the difference.

 

Friday 5 July:

I get back from the gym to find a whole lot of boys cracking cans open in the shed. I count seven, including Tau and Leroi. The thing is, it’s all people I know and pretty much trust: Inia and Noa, Kost, Little Michael and Raphael. None of them, except Raphael, are at school anymore. And Raphael, as everyone is quick to point out – isn’t drinking.

So Noa says to me, in his most diplomatic voice, “Uh, Miss, could we, uh… have a few cans round at yours, would that be algood?”

“Well, it looks like you already are,” I say, frankly.

There are a few sheepish laughs, from the assembled bystanders.

“It’s just gonna be us, Miss,” Noa goes on reassuringly. “No-one else.”

I think about it, and decide, with some reservation: “Ohh… kay.” But I can’t help adding, “As long as it’s just you guys. No randoms – and no more people turning up.”

“No.” “No way,” they assure me.

 

A bit later on, when I go out again, there are two more boys.

“I thought you said no more people,” I say, though not unkindly. It isn’t ‘who’ it is, exactly. It’s just the swell in numbers. Seven has barely been comfortable. Nine is pushing it – and I don’t know the new arrivals that well.

“It’s just the CP boys though,” they chorus. “The ones you know.”

“Yes, but that’s not the point,” I tell them. “You said no more were coming – and here’s two more. So who’s gonna turn up next?”

“No-one,” they say.

“Yeah, well you say that now,” I reply. “But if someone rolls up, are you gonna tell them to go away?”

They look at their feet, contritely.

“Look…” I sigh. “It’s not that I have a problem with any of you. You’re all people I know and like. But there’s a lot of boys here – with alcohol. And I’m not entirely comfortable with the situation.”

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau says. He doesn’t seem upset or threatened, I’m glad to note.

“That’s ok, Tau, and I’m just gonna leave it for now,” I tell him. “But I’m just saying – this isn’t the place for a big drinkup.”

“I know, Miss – and there won’t be anyone else here,” they repeat.

 

An hour later, there’s Zion. And obviously, I know him and trust him – but that still makes it ten.

“Tau?” I say. “Can I just talk to you for a sec?”

He follows me onto the deck, and I pat him on the arm, beginning, “I’m not growling at you, I promise. Okay?”

“I know, Miss,” Tau replies. “It’s algood.”

“Good boy,” I say, noting again that he is calm and not upset. “You know I care about you and Leroi, and you’re very welcome to stay here, and I don’t want you to go.”

Leroi has now come over to stand beside us, and both boys nod easily.

“And I trust you,” I go on. “You know that, huh?”

“Yes,” says Tau, and he nods his head. Then he says, “Miss? I knew you wouldn’t be happy, and I wanted to tell them, before they started drinking. But Noa kept saying, Miss knows us, she’ll be fine with us – and I didn’t know what to say. It’ll be algood if you tell them, though. They’ll listen to you.”

“That’s ok, Tau,” I say. “I know it’s hard, especially when it’s different at your mum and dad’s. It’s just that…”

“I get you, Miss,” Leroi puts in. “I felt the same as Tau – I wanted to tell them, but I didn’t know how.”

“Yeah, I know it’s kind of hard, huh?” I say. “But you see where I’m coming from with it.”

“We do,” they agree.

“Especially cos you’re a teacher,” Leroi emphasizes.

“Yeah,” I say, feeling sorrowful at the very thought. “Especially cos of that.”

 

Raphael and Michael appear at the foot of the steps, it looks as if they’ve sussed out that the situation is a little complicated. “Aw yup, we’re off now,” they say, in a friendly way.

“Kay, laters,” Tau says.

Then I go and talk to the others. Tau defers to me, looking grateful that the situation has been taken out of his hands. I just explain, once again (but to everyone this time) that while I’m fine with them visiting on an individual basis, this type of gathering has the potential to expand chaotically, and I’m uncomfortable with my place being a hangout spot for drink ups.

So yup, it gets sorted. But negotiations, negotiations.