The boys crowded the steps as Kerri dragged her belongings past them and into the little apartment; each time making their jeering remarks, till eventually she gave them the cue to move along. Her bravado masked her inner disquiet, but she persisted till they had made a move.
“What - you my mother or sumthin’?” One of them mocked as they made their way down the street.
At twenty three years of age, she had taken her very first teaching position in an inner city primary school and was as far removed from her rural sanctuary as she could ever have imagined.
Her world had always been the grey greens of the Aussie bush and she had always been surrounded by loving family, a close knit community and lots of animals; farm animals as well as a continual stream of pets shared by all the family.
As she watched the young men move down the street a ways she began to doubt her choice of placement, but for some reason she had a real burden to share the simple goodness she had been fortunate enough to have inherited with those who had not. At least she had chosen primary children to work with, she thought as she stood on the top step.
Well those boys almost took up residence on her steps; they may not have been there when she left in the morning, but sure enough they were there in varying numbers every afternoon as she returned.
Over time she got to speak to each of them, learned most of them by name and some of their background.
To her questioning about their schooling or work opportunities, they scoffed at her.
“What do you do all day then?” She had asked.
“Hang around.” The answer seemed to satisfy them all.
Kerri made enquiries at the school about hiring the sports facility one afternoon a week to try to fill in their time a little more profitably.
The boys were amused, shocked and a bit embarrassed at her suggestion that they come with her to play basketball one afternoon a week. A couple of them admitted that they had never played sport before.
“What, nothing?” She was as shocked as they had been. “Well, that’s good because I won’t feel so bad when you beat me. Will I?”
It took a lot of cajoling before she got four of the boys to come with her to the little stadium. She got out a basketball and started to bounce it around. They threw it round a couple of times and Steve found that he could dribble the ball and pass it well.
From then on he was always first to go with Kerri on a Thursday. Other boys came and went over the next weeks and then there were enough coming to make up a team and play a half court.
More boys started just turning up at the door to watch and eventually, Kerri asked the P.E. Instructor to give her a hand. They also began appearing at her apartment for a talk and regularly she had a couple stay for a meal.
Quite regularly a boy would turn up either worse for wear and under the weather after hanging out with other mates for a couple of days; or one might turn up sporting a few bruises or cuts after having a ‘scrap’ with one of me Mum’s blokes. And there was the occasional scrap at basketball. She listened to them.
She helped Barry get a job packing shelves at the local supermarket and helped young men apply to do suitable courses, or return to study.
She watched as boys became men and made different choices and was thrilled when Steve introduced Alice and confessed that he wanted to marry the young woman. “We want to do it properly, you know; the whole kit and caboodle, she deserves the best.” He had told Kerri.
Kerri had stood proudly among family and friends to witness the occasion.
Seamlessly those leaving were replaced by others for years.
Someone once asked Kerri why she had never married and had a family. “I guess I was just too busy with my boys.” She responded with a grin.
‘Sing O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.
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