The heaviness of keys
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 22: MoneySexPower
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Edwina Shaw
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Edwina Shaw's biography and other articles by this writer
‘You N me Miss, 2 gether, 4 eva.' Dylan is just finishing the chalk heart around this message when I walk into the classroom, books under my arm, keys jangling. He shouldn't be here at all – I'm supposed to unlock the door. One of the guards must have let him in. My face burns as he stares over his shoulder at me, not even smirking. It isn't the first time I've found love messages on the board or in the cardboard suggestion box, torn off bits of maths book, with ‘I love U miss' or ‘U R pretty miss' or ‘marry me miss?' scrawled on them, all in the same cramped handwriting.
At first I thought Dylan was joking, paying out on the new teacher, teasing me in the cruel way of boys. But he's kept it up for months now and there's never any laughing – only long, serious stares. Some days I can't help looking back at him and I get caught, trapped in his gaze. I stop talking in the middle of a sentence, forget about the classroom and the shouting of the boys, standing open-mouthed and sweating, blind to everything but his eyes.
It's 1992 and I've been working for a few months in the School for Special Purposes within a maximum security and remand Juvenile Justice Centre in Sydney's western suburbs. They call it a JJC but it's a prison, no matter what fancy words they like to put on it. There are cells and bars and uniforms, high walls with rolls of barbed wire on the top and no way out. I've become used to having guards in the classroom, having students frisked before they come in and when they leave too. A properly chiselled ruler makes an effective weapon.
I don't have to worry when Dylan is around, though – he makes sure of that. His class (the older group of boys) is always the best behaved, even without the guard who is supposed to be present at all times for my protection. Dylan must've said something, or paid something, to keep the enormous Tongan away. I always brace myself for the worst, surrounded by young bank robbers, rapists and murderers, but when Dylan's there the others are pussycats, willing to try any of my maths problems without a murmur of complaint.
‘If I had $20,000 to share between four boys, how much would each get?'
‘Not really, you see.' I scribble some figures on the board. ‘How much is twenty divided by four?'
‘No Miss, I get ya' like that, but it depends.'
‘Depends on what?'
‘Depends on who done what. Who planned the job, who just sat in the car. Who's got the gun.'
Dylan stares at me and lifts the corner of his mouth, the closest he ever comes to a smile. It's no surprise he's picked me to love: I'm the only woman here within a ten-year age range. There are only five years between my twenty-three and his eighteen.