He liked trees. Trees are tough and strong. They’ve been around much longer than people. This one had, that’s for sure. He’d seen an old yellowy photograph of the school from the days of carts and horses, with women in long dresses and big hats, moustached men standing stiff in suits, kids playing with hoops. The tree was there then, and that was a good while ago. Like the sign on the front gate said: Jarrah Central School 1861.
You could feel the oldness in its gnarly trunk, like skin tanned by time. People had carved names and stuff into that skin, but the tree had never flinched; it could take it. You have to know how to take it, just like you have to know how to deal it out. If you don’t, they grind you into the ground.
He liked the whispering quiet that wrapped around him when he stood beneath the tree, as though the leaves were swapping secrets. But most of all, he liked how you could shift among its shadows, losing yourself until you felt invisible. Invisible under the oak tree, watching.
Watching the teachers leave. They just walked straight past as though he didn’t exist. No Tuck your shirt in, Katter or What are you hanging about for? Dickheads. What would they know? Just books and shit. Wouldn’t know how to kill a boar with a naked blade. That’s when you really have to keep your head. Quick and the dead.
Watching the mothers pick up their primary kids. Most hurried past, eyes down. Some sneaked a glance at the tall, slightly stooped youth who hung in the shadows, hands in pockets, blond hair lank and greasy, his watery blue eyes avoiding theirs. Or staring until they looked away. She walked out one day, years ago. And Dad’s only there on weekends, if then. It’s just the two boys, really. They look after themselves.
Watching the other students spill through the gate. If they looked at him at all it wasn’t for long.
She was on the other side of the main quadrangle talking to a group of girls and laughing, her hair flowing down her back like a river of black. Nariah had only come to Jarrah at the start of the year, barely six months ago, but in that time she’d affected everyone with her energy. It bubbled from her now as she talked and laughed, throwing her arms about. He liked how she bubbled.