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ned stark
June 4, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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You Must Be Ned Stark’s Bastard

“On average, these results are pretty poor…”

They were still mid-meeting when Carl walked in, but nobody looked up. Good. It was always better that way. No need for his face to freeze into something unnaturally impassive if they weren’t looking. When they were looking he always thought he might look resentful, even when he wasn’t. Okay, maybe a bit. But only because he was almost done with the day and Jono had assigned him to HPPI. The POLS and IR guys were certifiably the worst.

But they weren’t looking at him today, so he just grabbed the rubbish bag, put a new liner in and left. Almost free – Jono had said something about the desks in Kirk, but if it was too late he’d probably let it slide. That was really more of a job for the holidays. He finished the department without seeing anyone else, thank god, then grabbed the cart and went downstairs to find Jono.

“Hey man!”

Frank bounded up to him, clapped him on his back, beaming.

“How you doing? It’s been too long man!”

“Hey Frank. I’m good, you?”

Frank grinned, adjusting the cuffs on his coat – they’d been turned up so the red lining showed. It matched his socks, Carl noticed.

“Really well, yeah, great. Hey if you’re around tomorrow, about – six?” he said, yelling over his shoulder to the group behind him, nodding when a girl confirmed, “six, you should come to our meeting, maybe? It’s on José Carlos Mariátegui – great name, yeah?”

Frank was big on names. He’d taken Carl’s to be a sign, despite the spelling, that he would be a good Marxist.

“We need guys like you, man,” he’d told Carl once, “guys on the front lines, y’know? It’s all very well and good trying to change the world from our ivory towers, but, to tell the truth we’re all a bit bourgeois, like, kinda quite upper middle class. I’ll tell you a secret,” he had said, leaning into Carl, “my real name’s actually Franklin. Franklin! How upper middle class is that? We’re a bit sheltered, really.”

Then he’d laughed, and Carl had decided, once and for all, that he liked him.

But today he was tired and didn’t want to get into a long discussion about worker rights in Bangladesh, so he made a show of checking the time then looking harried, interrupting–

“Sorry Frank, I’ve got to go check in with the boss. You know how it is,” he said, knowing that, no, Frank really didn’t. He left with promises to try, if nothing else, to make it to the meeting. Those kids and their meetings.

Jono pointed at him as soon as he came in.

“Carl, my man! Need you scrubbing the desks in Kirk. That cool?”

What could he say? “Sure thing.”

“Cool cool. Do that, then you can go.”

He kept his sigh to himself, and headed back the way he’d come.

Cleaning graffiti off desks wasn’t an easy job, but it was nicely repetitive. He’d probably have enjoyed it if he hadn’t been made to stay late: alone, in an empty lecture theatre at night, he had some time to himself. Really, it wasn’t too bad, even though dinner would be over by the time he caught the train home, and his mum never remembered to put glad wrap over his leftovers, so the meat always dried out. There weren’t many jobs where the space he was in was big enough to get rid of the smell from his cleaning products. It made him feel almost healthy, for once.

The lights buzzed on. Cheap vinyl and bad carpet: the big, drafty space came to life. Being there, he realised, was the same feeling he’d had, in classrooms at night, after Parent-Teacher meetings, waiting for his mum to pick him up. Even in the early evening it felt too late, and he was struck by the sense that he was trespassing. Yes, he must be. Even though he wasn’t; even though he got to be there when they couldn’t, hours after the last class of the day when the place still held some rustle of seats being folded down, bags packed and unpacked. Even when he got to have this stillness. No, it wasn’t trespassing. Not at all.

These students weren’t too messy, and he appreciated it, even if thinking that did make him feel uncomfortably like their dad, coming in after they’d all left to survey the damage. What they were was bored. Well, that was understandable. He would be too. Most days he couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in those seats, listening to a string of old dudes drone on and on. So the graffiti was annoying, but it was also kind of okay. Sometimes he liked it.

Jono didn’t get this, neither did Jack or Te or the other guys. Yeah, but they were all ancient. These kids were around his age. Actually his age. If he hadn’t left school he’d be here now, anyway, but in a different way. Which was a thought he didn’t like touching much. Not that he was at all cut up about it, just, huh, that happened. And now this was happening. He wasn’t so much a part of the university as his mum had thought he might have been, but he still sort of was, which was weird position to be in. But an okay one. He’d never even been much for school and the place was kind of nice, in a scummy way.

On the first desk he cleaned off the inevitable penises, a (pretty solid, he thought) feminist analysis on men’s need to draw phalluses everywhere, a couple of bored-looking trees and an expertly copied meme. On the second there was a tally of the number of times a lecturer had said “um” in one class, the word “hello” in – he counted them – seventeen different languages, and a sketch of a pokéball bong. He spent some time on the third: a more than life-sized caricature of John Key’s face, “COCKSUCKER” written above it. Alongside this, someone had scrawled “HE’S” – and here Carl actually stopped spraying clear so he could work out the word: it looked like “fucking” had been written over “raping” – “YOUR EDUCATION.” Across the top of another desk someone – Carl guessed a Philosophy student – had written, in block caps, “WHO EVEN ARE YOU?? WHO EVEN AM I??”

People had chimed in with their suggestions:

“I’m Chuck Bass.”

“I’m Perd Hapley?”

“You must be Ned Stark’s bastard.”

That one, man. He almost didn’t want to clean it off, but if Jono did an inspection after he’d left he’d be in deep shit, so he sprayed and wiped, then sprayed and wiped again. It wouldn’t remove the indentations in the wood, and in two days’ time all the lines would have been redrawn. There really wasn’t much point, except that it would make Jono and the University happy. And whatever made Jono happy made him happy, as Jono was fond of insisting.

He was done, he thought. One last inspection, a few smudges to remove, then, yes, done. He took the cart back, he signed out, got rid of his horrible bib, then left. It was cold outside and he breathed into his collar for warmth as he half-jogged down the hill. On The Terrace he almost ran into a group of students coming up from the Church St steps, their hands growing a dangerous purple with the weight of their shopping. He jumped onto the road and ran around them, back onto the pavement when the traffic lights started again and a stream of cars went past. He was on Woodward Street in no time, then Lambton. At least, he thought as he passed the Law School, he didn’t have to deal with Pipitea.

At the train station, he turned. Kelburn was still there, slightly hidden behind the buildings and hills. The library was side-on from him, so he didn’t get the full impact of the view he would have from town: a solid block of lights, an ugly building made for looking out rather than looking in. But the best view of the city was from there. Anyone who’d been there could look up and be safe in this knowledge. And in looking at it, they were looking out of it, remembering looking out of it, tracing the curve of the hills as they grew into the evening, the sky sinking into the land, the city slowly lit up, block by block, until it was night. The leafless trees would be standing out against the rest
of the bush as if a pattern had been burnt into the Green Belt. Soon, the windows would stop showing the ferry’s movement across the harbour. Reflections would take over. Looking out, the faces would become beautiful for a moment; quiet and haunted, so much like their parents’, before they all turned away from the windows and back to their work. He would move between the aisles, emptying the bins, pens scratching all across the building.

Yes, he had something too.

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