Adam rubbed the sleep from his eyes and signed in on the work-card. Noise buffeted him and his head was buzzing painfully. A shot of water in a styrofoam cup rinsed his mouth awake.
‘Too much beers last night eh Adam? M’h.’
‘Hi, Tama.’ Adam gave his workmate room.
Tama, who came up to Adam’s chest and was almost that wide, cleared his throat as he poured a cup for himself. ‘Nah, not in your character, eh?’ Adam smiled and didn’t reply, pulling on his smock as he stepped on to the workfloor. Machines rumbled as high as he could reach and the fluoro lights lit everything blue. He stepped among the aisles of clean white piping and screeching gears, squinting up at the crane working along the roof above. Tama followed, wheezing good-naturedly. ‘Just as well, eh? M’h. You’re probably not used to getting up so early!’
‘Well, my head’s hurting, if that’s what you mean.’
‘That’s okay! Don’t need no head for this job eh! Don’t need a brain, just to press buttons!’ Tama giggled. ‘Good job for when you’re still sleepy!’ He checked over Adam’s station with him. ‘All looks okay, Adam, all looks okay. Remember how to set off the first cycle going?’
‘I think so.’
‘Come on then. M’h.’ Tama watched, nodding. ‘See, easy, easy. Yes you remember. You’re gonna go high, little son, you got a brain, not like me… boy like you should be signing off our paychecks not down here doing pipes, eh? Good one son, all yours now.’
Adam grinned. ‘Thanks, Tama.’
‘I mean it, little bro. M’h. Why you even here? You could do better than here, sure as.’
‘My dad found this job for me.’
‘Maybe you should find a job for yourself? You stay here you’ll end up like old Tau, stuck. He’s got brains for everything but he just stays down here doing pipes, no goals or anything. Its sad that he wastes it. My kids, if they had his brains, I’d send them to the university.’
‘Who’s Tau?’ Adam asked, getting the machine warmed up. ‘Is he the one with the bandanna?’
‘Yeah, yeah, that’s him. He’s one smart fella, eh. Always reading. You go talk to him, if you like, ask him about anything at all and he’ll know about it. But he just does pipes. Waste of brains.’ Tama rubbed his belly thoughtfully. ‘Should do some work now I guess. All right Adam? You’re okay, eh? Stupid bloody place, who wants to work Sunday morning.’
Tama wandered off and Adam soon forgot about him and Tau. The routine of shifting pipes and pressing buttons was almost second nature already and that gave his mind time to wander straight back to last night. Everything was out of balance, and Richard had gone a bit crazy, and that was sort of scary. They could all have died there, even. Seriously. He kept saying it to himself but it still didn’t feel real.
If they’d hurt themselves right after whatever happened, Kirsty would have felt so guilty. She shouldn’t have to feel guilty. Richard didn’t do the right thing by her, getting upset like that. Did they still like each other? If they liked each other then shouldn’t they be together? Richard had said it was stupid because he was leaving soon, but Adam didn’t understand how it was a choice. Was that how it worked? He always figured that when you found someone it would just be the truth, and you couldn’t choose it to happen and you couldn’t choose it to stop.
But what did he know. He just wanted Kirsty to be around more.
Adam caught himself and shook his head.
Buttons shone and machines rattled and break time came. Adam wandered into the cafeteria carrying the sandwiches he’d made before coming in. He bought a coke and sat next to Tama, whose scoop of chips and potato-top pie were laid out before him. ‘Hey Adam! I’m so hungry, eh! M’h. Didn’t have breakfast. You got any spare sandwiches?’ Tama eyed his lunch hungrily, and then giggled. ‘Ah, you should of seen your face just now! I’m only kidding. Don’t you know how to handle bludgers? Just tell them to piss off, eh, and go make their own bloody sandwiches!’ Tama chomped down on his pie as Adam bit into a saandwich. The bread was a bit stale. There’d been a fresh loaf in the pantry but the old one had to be used up first.
‘Nah, you wouldn’t want this anyway,’ Adam said.
‘Hey!’ said Tama suddenly. ‘Hey, Tau! Come here!’
Tau approached. He was Maori, not tall or broad but he had some kind of presence that held your attention. Something in the way he carried himself. He sat down opposite them, red bandanna and a small tattoo on his cheek, and his voice was the sound of cigarettes and beach-bonfires. ‘Hey Tama. And you’re the new guy, Adam? Good to meet you bro.’
‘Adam only works Sundays, eh. He’s been here a couple of weeks.’
‘You’re at school,’ Tau said. It wasn’t a question.
‘Yeah, I’m doing my last year.’
‘So they’ve got you,’ Tau said. ‘And do you enjoy it?’
Adam shrugged. ‘It’s quite hard.’
‘Harder than it should be, Adam. Schools confuse logic with common sense.’
Adam nodded, unsure what to make of that, and Tama cut in. ‘Adam’s at St Francis. Didn’t you go there too?’
Tau smiled as he unwrapped a muesli bar. ‘You’re at St Francis? Does Heenan still teach there?’
‘Mr Heenan was a maths teacher. How about Brother John?’
‘Yeah, he does. But he’s just Mr Guest now.’
Tau was intrigued by that. ‘I used to argue religion with John.’
‘When was this?’
‘About twelve years ago. I got School Certificate, but I shouldn’t have bothered. I just didn’t care about what was happening there. So I left school right after that.’
‘I didn’t get School C.’ Tama grinned hugely. ‘I went to Pomare College!’
‘They don’t give certificates for your kind of wisdom, Tama,’ said Tau, smiling.
Tama giggled. ‘They should give certificates for best barbecue cook!’ He rubbed his belly enthusiastically.
Adam wasn’t sure how he knew that Tau was waiting for him to ask a question, but he felt sure that was the case. He felt a bit nervous but did it anyway. ‘Tama says you read a lot?’
‘Philosophy, science, history. Some other things too. You can learn everything you need from books, but you hardly learn anything you need at school. School teaches values and systems and obedience, but it doesn’t teach you how to think.’
Adam found himself warming to the serious-minded Tau. ‘How do you mean?’
‘At school you learn that certain things are important and other things aren’t. Look at the subjects – English literature, mathematics, physics, European history. What about ethics and politics? What about proper logic, or how understanding statistics lets you know when you’re being manipulated or lied to? What about activism and dreaming?’
‘Dreaming?’ smiled Adam, looking for the joke.
‘Dreams are powerful tools, but they’re useless unless we learn how to use them. Schools should teach how to interpret and how to challenge interpretations, and how to see through all the bullshit.’
Adam thought about it. ‘That doesn’t sound much like school any more.
‘Exactly.’ Tau smiled as he chewed the last of his muesli bar. ‘Listen to me, talking like I know all the answers. Don’t believe it, mate.’
Tama hoed into his chips, offering them around. ‘Nah, Tau, you’re good fun to listen to. Like the bloody talkback eh! I don’t understand anything those buggers say either!’
‘School,’ said Tau in a tone that indicated he was concluding, ‘teaches you things to know, but it also teaches you how to be. It makes you who you are but it never lets you see it.’
Adam swallowed some more of his sandwich. It was stale and unpleasant and he didn’t take another bite.