My new Neighbours

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Next day I am dragging my feet to the school. I have spent a sleepless night, kicking myself for being stupid, naive and an idiot. I was so happy to get my first permanent job in a government school, when other students in my class were struggling to get even a temporary job. I thought I got my job because of my merit. But maybe I got the job because people don't want to work here or they leave as soon as possible.

I am looking at my surroundings with new eyes. The area is full of contrast. The train station is underground and quite modern. It has multiple exits going in different directions. Train station is surrounded by modern apartment buildings. If I walk in the direction of school in a straight line, I walk through the red light area. I can avoid it, if I take a big detour.

The surrounding area is one giant mesh of hodgepodge houses. Old Victorian homes, sixties style charming tiny cottages, modern and well maintained mansions right near depilated and abandoned structures. Strangely everything goes together giving the area a unique charm.

It looks quite innocent in the morning and day time. Even the sleepy red light area looks like series of normal shops and businesses that haven't opened yet.

I observe people as well. Lots of people, going for a walk, or walking their dogs. People walking to the train station to catch a train, to go to their workplace.

Some people look like they are living here for generations. Many are recent immigrants from nearby towns, interstate or even another country.

The school itself is quite small, with capacity for around 200 students. It struggles to get even that small number of students. Most of the students belong to low income or single parent households.

There are two types of teachers. Teachers from the area and once outside of the area. The principal and 3 other teachers are from the area. Some of them have been working here for some time. Kate and me are the only out of area teachers. There is still shortage of 1 teacher. Currently the principal takes that class to cover the shortfall. All the teaching staffs are made up of women.

I have two options, work here as one of the temporary teachers, or be part of teaching staff who is permanent here. The first option feels too much like giving up, tucking tail and running away. I don't want to fail at the first real test of my life. I am going choose the second option.

The long lasting teachers all have formed close knit group and are reluctant to let new people in. They will not be convinced of my intention to stay unless I start living in this area.

There are plots within plots here. I don't understand all of it yet but I am unravelling some of it. I think showing me the room was sort of test. Someone expects me to run screaming after looking at the view but I can't understand the motivation behind it.

Kate has made it clear that she wants to leave this school as soon as possible. I am the only unknown factor. May be this is how they judge whether a teacher is going to stay or leave. A sort of initiation ritual.

I am going to stay here. My students need me. Luke needs me. I am not going to abandon him. I will make the person who came up with the idea of showing me the room to regret his decision. I am going to take Sam's suggestion and rent the room. I am going to live in the room on the top of the pet shop.

There will be challenges as well. Thankfully Mel is too busy with her own big move this week. She has transferred herself to the interstate office and taken leave of absence from next week. She is going to fly to their new home town on the weekend and look at number of places that Pete has chosen for their home and office to rent or buy. She will give her final stamp of approval. Soon they will be moving in their new home.

I call Alex to convey my decision. I make a list of things I need to do to make the room liveable. Bedroom and bathroom can stay as it is. I will ask Gary to install some roof ventilation and glass roof panels. The existing hole in the ceiling can be used to let the sunlight in. I need to fix the whole kitchen, do pest control. Buy a second hand washer and dryer. Rather than buying a mattress for the bed I will remove it. I can sleep on the floor if I have to. Slowly a picture starts forming in my head.

I meet Gary and Alex after school to negotiate the rent. I manage to negotiate it down to an affordable figure. Gary agrees to all my conditions. He even offers to help out with cleaning and painting. I decide to move this weekend. I will clean the place as much as possible till that time I can do the rest later.

Luke and Joe are again with me. I am now quite used to them being around. I even have food for Luke if he gets hungry. I am comforted by Luke's innocent presence. I am not scared of Joe anymore. He might be vicious dog but he is my dog for now. I strangely feel safe to have him as friend and a protector. Sam is absent again. I manage to learn that he has gone out of town for business for a week. Strangely I miss his presence.

The guys are quite helpful, driving me in the cab showing me the area. They are careful not to drive through the Red Light Area. I am cautioned not to go in certain parts in the evening or night. Upon my request they show me a supermarket, vegetable shop, butcher, fish shop, hard ware store, paint shop, bank, chemist, and a church. They wait for me patiently while I do the necessity purchases from various shops. Gary asks for my opinion when buying the roof ventilation, glass panels and paint.

We head to the room to prepare for the cleaning job. The men just dump the things there. I rearrange it so that they are neat and tidy. I am too tired to start cleaning the kitchen. I will spend some time giving Luke the much needed bath instead

Alex, Gary and Joe leave upon my request and I am left with Luke. They agree to come in half an hour to pick me up and drop me off at the train station.

Bathing Luke turns out to be another experience. At the beginning he is very shy around me. So I let him leave his undies on. I cut his nails using a small nail cutter I bought. I try to give his shaggy hair bit of trim. I scrub his knees, legs, hands, armpits. I clean his face, areas around his ears and eyes. I shampoo and wash his hair.

I hand him the bubble soap I bought and instruct him on cleaning his private areas. I show him the towel on the rack. I am still reluctant to leave him alone in the tub. The tub is so huge that he can easily drown in it.

It's tricky to bath a child. You have to be aware of the child's modesty at the same time you have to look after his or her safety. I turn all the water jets off, drain some water so it's only up to Luke's knee. Make sure that the water is warm but not too hot. Luke reassures me that he will be a good boy.

I am thoroughly soaked by the time I leave the bathroom. I see Joe, Alex and Gary waiting for me in the bedroom. I find myself facing three men in a bedroom wearing wet clothes. I am suddenly conscious of my state. Thankfully they quickly avert their eyes and leave the bedroom to go in the kitchen. I put on my jacket on my still wet clothes.

Meanwhile Luke comes strutting out of the bathroom dripping wet and naked as the day he was born. I quickly grab the towel and help him dry up. He is so clean now, that he is almost shinning. This boy is going to break hearts when he grows up.

I leave him with towel wrapped around his body. I don't want to put dirty clothes on his clean body. He lives just across the road anyway.

I grab my bag and come out of the bedroom. We are not meeting each other's eye. I think the guys are more embarrassed than me.

I get in Alex's cab and he drives me home without a word.

My meeting with my new neighbours has turned out to be interesting.

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