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Chapter 17: Who You Are is Where You Are
Fourth Term and an ending
By Doug Posted in Term 4 on July 11, 2019 0 Comments 7 min read
Chapter 16: The Red God Rage Previous Chapter 18: Freedom, Pending Next

For the Year 12s, the fourth term is an afterthought. Two weeks of class, and then swotvac, and then exams. It’s a fine day in early spring when I return after the break. Sun-induced smiles everywhere, the faint scent of flowers from nearby front yards, the light green of new growth.

In the resource centre, Aadan saunters past. “Can’t wait to be done,” he says. “12 years of schooling, done. I can’t wait.” Still thinking of being a cop? He nods, a half smile. “Of course. But my community…” he says, trailing off. What about working in a community liaison team? He scoffs. “A what? Bro. I want to be a real cop, out solving crimes. But first I got to burn down the school.” He glances around, a hangdog smile. “Anyone hear that?” He’s joking, of course, but it speaks to his frustration. School has not been easy for him. Many of his peers have dropped out. He’s stuck to it, even though he feels he’s often being judged and found wanting.  “Nah. I’d never do it – I couldn’t handle jail,” he says. “I’m 18, so it’d be big boy jail. Not like the easy time playing Xbox in Parkville. Dalmar knows lots of young guys who are there for armed robbery. They see it as a holiday.”

We stand near the photocopier as he tells me a new truth. Aadan has a bad egg uncle who has done time for robbery, drink driving, assault. His father – the stalwart pillar of the community – has done his best to steer his brother back on track. Nothing has worked. His uncle does the time, comes out, runs wild, goes back in. Aadan shrugs. And as he walks away, I watch him. Cops and robbers – the lie he told me about how he hurt his leg, way back at the start of the year. A lie with resonance, a lie hiding a deeper truth. The gulf, yawning. Aadan wants nothing more than to pull himself clear of the wreckage, dodging drug-dealer acquaintances preaching the gospel of cash and ice, of his rough uncle and his scaly mates. But who you are is not always up to you. The people who surround you, the ones who talk to you, the ones who do not. Who you are is where you are.

Kevin: After School Ends

I’m subdued when I enter the common room. The fight between Paul and Zahi has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I take a seat and sit quietly, watching Kevin hold court. He eels through the groups, past Daniel’s awkwardness, the Viet girls shyness – which presents as standoffishness – past African bombast, threading around white personal space, pausing to taunt his Italian mate – “Marco, what’s it like being in the mafia?”

Despite myself, I’ve cheered up. Kevin is a tonic. The Horn boys have been winding Kevin up in class today, getting him to say rude things in Arabic to Aadan. “It means bike, riding your bike,” they say, and Kevin saunters across, says the phrase, which of course means “riding your dick.” Aadan mock-attacks him, Kevin slides away. Playdoh for all.

Have you ever gone too far, I ask. “Not yet,” Kevin grins. “Hey, watch my skills.” He dials up a game on his iPad, boasts he’s gonna smash his opponent, and gets promptly trounced. He beams. Nothing sticks, nothing matters, nothing is serious. Except, that is, for girls.

The school formal is weeks away. And there, he allows, a girl. A girl he liked in primary school. She might be free. He’s thought of her a lot, even though he lived overseas for five years, even though he dated over there. Kevin hasn’t forgotten her. But he needs a plan. “It’s got three parts,” he announces. One, drink water for a week to get rid of pimples. Two, eat vegetables to ensure pimples are gone. Three, once pimples are gone, get Tim to take a good photo of him in a suit. Send that to her to demonstrate his Eminent Suitability, and then sit back and hope. Then his brow furrows. Money. Would she have to pay $85 for the pleasure of his company? He calls out to the room, and they all turn – Kevin, the fluid. “Of course,” shouts one of the Vietnamese girls.

Later that week, I catch Kevin, lounging insouciantly on his chair in the common room and flaunting aggressively mismatched socks. Have you always been the class clown, I ask. He beams. “Always. In primary school I messed around a lot, got in trouble. In high school I’ve settled down.” This – this is your settled down version, I ask with raised eyebrow. He grins. “Look, I get distracted easily in class, and sometimes I just wanna have fun you know. I talk a lot, that’s my trouble.”

Why is it, I ask, that you’re one of the few kids who moves between groups? Kevin offers his trademark hangdog grin that means he’s full of shit and he knows it. But then he shrugs. Screw it, he’s thinking. So he tells me the truth. “Tim is probably my closest friend but I only really hang out with him outside of school. In school, I hang out with Dalmar and Aadan and Omar, and Daniel and Steve from the Vietnamese students. I roll around between my Asian, African and white friends. I don’t really have one set group.” He ponders it. “Everyone is friendly, but they stay in close quarters to each other, sticking to their ethnicity. I’ve noticed that some people don’t want to mix or break the silence. It’s not just white kids. And the only three who bounce around are me, Paul, who’s Eurasian and Marco, who’s European. We break barriers, go wherever we want. If you roll with it, it becomes normal.”

But why? When nudged, Kevin allows it might be that he’s travelled more, lived overseas, that his mum is an artist who’s worked with migrant communities. “That might have washed off,” he suggests. “And I’m curious and the others like that, I guess. I like learning words. If Steve is speaking Vietnamese to Daniel, I get annoyed – come on guys, teach me, and they teach me bad words in Vietnamese. And I like learning about religion. I’m learning about Ramadan because my friends are fasting. I ask them what if you’re sick? Can you eat then? What if you’re working outside and you’re thirsty?”

A clown being sincere is a hard act to maintain, and I can see Kevin is shying away. Much more fun to troll and play without asking why why why. But I get a surprise when I ask who he’s going to stay in touch after Year 12 is done. “Hmm. That’s weird. Even though I love hanging with Dalmar and those guys, I probably won’t see them after school finishes. But I was friends with Tim from before school, so I’ll see him.” He looks back at his laptop. “I gotta work now.”

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