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Authors: Nick Earls

New Boy

BOOK: New Boy
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From the Author

In the car, Hansie goes crazy. I'd been waiting for that. He bashes his Spider-Man action figure against the arm of his booster seat, then throws it on the floor and throws his hat after it.

‘Don't want to go!' he moans. ‘Don't want to goooo.'

He has no real idea of where he's going, other than away from Mom and me. That's nightmare enough. Snot comes out his nose. There's a string of it stretching from his nostril to his left shoulder.

‘Look, Hansie! Web!' I say to him. ‘You've made web! You're more like Spider-Man than we thought.' It's supposed to distract him, but he's too caught up in the tantrum.

Just two minutes ago all was looking good. Hansie had yet to process what was ahead and Mom was posing us on the front steps for first-day photos – first day at Australian child care for Hansie, first day at an Australian school for me. He struck all kinds of finger-cocked web-shooting poses then, without the aid of any snot-web.

‘Look at him in his big hat and Spider-Man shirt,' Mom said. ‘Shame. You stay just like that, Hansie, and I'll take a photo for your pa.'

She sent the photo while I buckled Hansie's seatbelt.

The hat is now on the floor, with one of Hansie's shoes on top of it, and his feet are pounding on the passenger-seat headrest.

Mom uses her calm voice, then threatens to turn off his nursery-rhyme CD. Somehow, with that threat, Hansie manages to take the tantrum up a level. Tears are squirting from his eyes and his little pale fists are flailing. I scramble to get my phone out in time before the moment of maximum insanity passes.

Mom starts shouting to try to cut through the wailing. Hansie's a streaky blur of limbs and bodily fluids when I get the shot.

‘Herschelle!' Mom shouts. ‘Not helping!'

‘It's a follow-up for Dad – before and after.' I turn the phone so that she can see it, but she refuses to look. ‘It's quite artistic.'

It's 8.30 in the morning, but Dad will have just finished his shift at the mine. His new job has started with two weeks of night shifts. He used to work nights in South Africa too, but it wasn't just the four of us back there. We had fourteen other family members in Cape Town – I counted them last week, when having zero around started to feel very different. And we had friends, loads of them. We never ran out of people to see. Here it's just us.

The car is still all snot and tears and noise when we get to the drop-off zone outside One Mile Creek State School.

As Mom's door opens, Hansie's screaming makes everyone look at us – students, parents, teachers, all arriving at this same precise inconvenient moment. This is not the perfect beginning to my first day.

I am supposed to look cooler than this.

Once we're out of the car, Mom wipes some of the snot from Hansie's face and he grips her leg so tightly she can't get him off. I stand a few steps away, checking my phone, trying to look as if I've never met them before in my life. But that just depresses me. Double depresses me. My phone's got yesterday's pictures of a hockey game I should have played in – my team won, on the other side of the world – and I'm still part of the stupid Hansie screaming-and-snot spectacle.

‘What if I carry you?' Mom says to Hansie, and he gives in.

She picks him up with one arm and with the other she tests that the car doors are locked before stepping away. We both keep our eyes on it on our way to the gate. It's not like it is at home. In Australia, when you park your car, there's no one to give money to to look after it. So far we've been lucky. We've parked at the shops and come back later and the car's still been there, every time. I wonder if it will be there when Mom gets back.

As we get to the gate, Hansie starts moaning again, and then wailing. He was never this miserable in Cape Town. Mom hugs him and tries to say soothing things. She doesn't get it.

There was no family meeting about this move. We have meetings about holidays, and plenty of other things. We all get to talk about where we might go out to dinner. We got to decide the colour of our bedrooms. And then this massive life-changing move came along out of the blue. No discussion.

‘It's okay,' Mom says uselessly to Hansie. ‘It'll be okay.'

I type ‘Loving Australia' into my phone as the caption for the tantrum photo, and I send it to Dad.

‘Hansie,' I say, as toughly as I'm allowed to, to get his attention. ‘This one's not you. This is
school. I stay here, then you and Mom go off together. You can scream at her later.'

He blinks, wipes his face and turns to Mom, who nods, before giving me a look. I've just booked this one in to come back to bite her, which is fair enough. I didn't make us come here. I don't deserve to be taken down by the tantrum. The next phase of it is all hers. There's sweat spiking Hansie's hair and his cheeks are bright red. This is Volcano Hansie – dormant, between eruptions. It'll work well enough as far as I'm concerned.

The principal's office is on the second level of an old yellow wooden building. Most of the school is old yellow wooden buildings, all up on concrete posts, with benches underneath and markings on the concrete for handball and hopscotch. There are a couple of games of handball going on as we walk past. I don't know what rules the players are going by, but I think I could take them. The biggest boy there hits one shot with everything he's got and it slams into the leg of one of his opponents, who overbalances.

One of the others says, ‘Lachlan . . .' in a complaining voice, and the big one raises his hands in the air and says, ‘Victory is mine.' He picks the ball up and ricochets it hard into a nearby metal bin and back into his hand. It's a cool move.

Maybe these are the guys I need to find. Maybe I could have some fun with them.

Bergvliet Primary was on one level, all white buildings that weren't this old. And where are the security guards? Anyone could walk in. There are signs asking all visitors to report to the office, but that's not going to help anyone if things get difficult. Mom just keeps heading for the steps, talking to Hansie. She doesn't seem to notice there's no security here at all.

The admin window's just near the top, and the woman there says she'll let Mr Browning know we've arrived. She asks us to take a seat. There's a row of plastic chairs against the verandah railing. Hansie sits on Mom. I can already see snot on her sleeve.

‘So, you okay with this?' Mom says to me, as if we can't mention ‘this' by name. ‘You ready to get started?'

‘She'll be apples, Mom,' I tell her. ‘That's Australian for “it'll be okay”.'

‘Why is it a she?' She's looking puzzled.

‘Why is what a she?'

‘The thing that's apples. And why is it apples? Are you sure it's apples? They're not particularly Australian.'

‘Mom, it's just how they talk. Don't overcomplicate it. If you'd put the work in looking at the Aussie slang websites, you'd know all that. I'm ready. I couldn't be more ready. You should know this stuff. You should be fair dinkum too. Don't embarrass me.'

‘Fair what?'

Fortunately, before she can say more, Mr Browning opens his office door.

‘Herschelle, all ready then?' he says, looking from me to Mom to snotball Hansie.

He's smiling. He has steely-grey stubble around the bald top of his head and he's wearing steel-framed glasses. My paperwork is in his hand.

He glances down at it and then back to me, and says, ‘You'll be a great addition to One Mile Creek.'

There's someone else in his office. She has long straight black hair. I think she's from China or somewhere close.

‘This is Ms Vo,' he tells me. ‘She'll be your teacher. I've been showing her your reports from . . .' He pauses, to try to get the name right. ‘Bergvliet.' He goes a bit hard on the ‘v', but he's close.

‘Some very good results there, Herschelle,' she says, in a totally Australian accent, not Chinese at all. ‘We only have two weeks left of this term, and that'll give you a good chance to get to know the place. From what I've seen, you've studied different things, so don't be worried that the others are ahead in some areas. You'll be on level pegging when the new term starts. We'll start new work then. Okay?'

‘Okay.' I hadn't thought about anyone being ahead, or studying anything different. How different could it be? School is school, isn't it?

‘And here's Max Kennedy,' Ms Vo says, before I've had a chance to adjust to what she's just told me. She's looking past me. ‘Right on time as always. Max'll be your official buddy to show you around the place and help you with fitting in.'

A small nerd is making his way up the steps. They have misunderstood and paired me with a nerd. This isn't how it's supposed to start. And Max Kennedy doesn't look like he'd fit in anywhere.

BOOK: New Boy
5.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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