As a boy, I first knew I belonged to someone and something other than my
family when Stella moved into the grey pre-fab next door and began, at darkness,
to throw open her red front door, cross the threshold and make her entrance into
the world. She had impeccable timekeeping. Each evening, as the sky grew black
enough to reflect the glimmer of an odd star, Stella appeared. As she did so, I felt
the certain yet inexplicable sense of having found a kindred soul, someone who
was as brave as I knew I’d one day need to be. More than this, Stella made sure
that she never disappointed her audience, for her attire was always as immaculate
as her punctuality. Whether wearing a crimson dress and fake fur-coat, or her
sable op-shop number whose hem sparkled with hand-sewn sequins, or black
leggings, skirt and camisole-top a la Madonna, Stella stunned her neighbours.
Nightly, her square-jawed face a canvas of eye-shadow, rouge and blush, she
sashayed past Hampshire Street’s mycelial network of broken fences, untamed
sections and bleached staties, and never once winced when the locals glared at
her from their doorways and windows and let their kids call her names.
“Mickey! Mickey!” Mum’s rasping Derry drawl momentarily broke the
spell Stella cast upon me. “Stop looking at that thing!” I remember Mum saying
this when she was still getting used to Stella living next door. At the time, I
continued to watch Stella traipse towards the edge of the estate where, local kids
had told me, she walked the unlit pathway along the banks of the Avon then
caught a bus into Manchester Street.
Once Stella’s silhouette disappeared from view, I found Mum fiddling
through her purse for a dollar note. “Here,” she said. “Go to the chippy for tea,
will you, love?”
Later, as I dipped hot chips into tomato sauce and thought of Stella, I
heard Dad’s Monaro growl into the driveway. I trudged upstairs. In my room, I
sat with the lights out listening to 45s. Somewhere beyond the music (Culture
Club’s Victims, I think it was), I heard fractured sounds: the back door closing;
Dad’s deep brogue; Mum schoolgirl giggle; a gentle beat of feet climbing the
stairs. When Mum appeared at my doorway, she smiled. “You okay?” I nodded,
and she flitted away. As the last notes of Victims died away, I followed her.
I found Mum in her bedroom wearing a new cerise dress. She was
brushing her long, blonde hair, which I’d helped her colour that afternoon. I sat
on the bed and watched her apply lipstick. Revlon’s ‘Pink Ice’ it was called - I
know because I’d picked it out for her.
“You look pretty,” I said. Mum smiled.
“You’re a good boy, Mickey.” She came close and stroked my hair.
“You’re growing so fast. You’ll be a man soon; my own handsome man.”
I was twelve year’s old and acutely aware of how close I was to being a
teenager. Listening to Mum’s words, I felt raw. Of course she meant no harm but
hearing her speak, I sensed, as I’d often sensed in the months before Stella’s
arrival, I was a prisoner confined to my own peculiar cell which was empty but
for a two-way mirror that looked in upon a neat, clinical world inhabited, quite
comfortably it seemed, by men and women like my parents.
When Dad entered the room, Mum said, “Now, Mickey, Dad and I are off
for a night-cap. Be in bed by nine.” As she left, she added, “Sweet dreams.”
At the front door, Dad reprimanded Mum. “Stop fussing over the lad.”
“Oh, Fred,” Mum replied. “Leave him alone.”
Once the snarl of Dad’s Monaro had faded from earshot, I played, as I
usually did when I was left alone, with Mum’s make-up. Normally, I tried to
make myself look as pretty as Mum. It wasn’t easy, but the more I experimented,
the better I got. That night, though, I fixated upon Stella’s face and sought to
reflect her make-up upon my features. I was always careful to scrub my face after
these ‘experimentations’, but that night I forgot and fell asleep. I awoke as Mum
and Dad stumbled through the front-door singing ballads from the old country
like There Were Roses and Danny Boy. In a half-daze, I staggered to the
bathroom mirror. My smudged blue eye-lids and Pink Ice lips panicked me. I
washed my face clean before Mum shooed me back to bed.
* * * * *
Lee came later, like an after-thought.
We met the day we started high school. During recess, I stood in the
school-yard and watched boys kick balls or mock-fight. My skin itched. I noticed
a boy close-by. He was staring at me. Tall, he had brown eyes and a shock of
Simon Le Bon-style hair. As he wandered over, my heart beat like strong music.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” I smiled back.
He introduced himself. “Lee.” He said his name so quickly, I wonder now
if he were ashamed of it. Perhaps he thought it unoriginal or too androgynous.
To me, his name seemed as raw as skin nurturing a bruise.
“Mickey,” I replied.
“I know,” he said then told me about his himself: his love of chemistry,
physics and math, and his attendance at St. Mary’s. And his favourite record?
“Borderline, I guess.”
“Yeah,” I smiled, “I like that one too.”
* * * * *
Borderline was everywhere that summer. Its catchy melody and lyrics
gave it endless radio air-play, whilst the video, featuring Madonna as a defiant
model, was on every TV music-show.
It was Borderline that first drew me towards Stella. Not long after meeting
Lee, I was walking home from school when I heard Borderline.
Something in the way you love me won’t let me be
I don’t want to be a prisoner so baby won’t you set me free?
I looked around and saw Stella. Normally, her nocturnal hours of work
meant she drew the curtains on her neighbours during daytime and slept. But
there she was, sitting on her front-step, sewing up a hole in a skirt and listening
to the radio. When she noticed me, she waved. Sensing the twitch of a nearby
net-curtain, I put my head down and walked on.
But the next day, I felt brave enough to wave back.
The day after that, I found her leaning against her gate.
“Hi, sugar,” she said breathily, like Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.
“Hi,” I replied. In her eyes, I saw warmth.
“How was school today?” she asked.
“Good.” The sound of someone tapping made me jump. I turned to find
Mum, cheeks aflame, at the kitchen window. She looked like she’d spent the
whole day cooking.
“You’d better go,” Stella murmured.
I nodded. “Bye.”
“You shouldn’t talk to that Stella person,” Mum counseled. “Your father
would go crazy if he found out. You know what he’s like.”
* * * * *
Of course, I knew what Dad was like. But I was past caring whether I
offended him or not. When he did find out about me seeing Stella, he called me
names and hit me so hard I fell to the ground.
When I came to, I was alone in my room and it was growing dark. That’s
when I told myself that I wasn’t going to let Dad stop me from seeing Stella.
Lee was another who wasn’t happy about me befriending the local “fag”.
“Fag! Fag!” the older boys at school chanted when they heard that I was
Stella’s pal. “Fag! Poofter! Queer!” Possessing neither the physique nor desire to
retaliate, I ignored the taunts. When Lee heard the insults, he demanded to know
why I was being mocked. My explanation made him angry, but not as angry as
when our association led the older boys to target him too.
“Fags! Poofters! Queers!”
Lee gave the first boy who teased him a black eye. This put him in
detention. More importantly, it silenced the derision. Later, once he’d written an
essay about why fighting is wrong, he turned his fury upon Stella.
“I’ve heard all about him from my Dad.” Lee spat out the male pronoun
as if it were something foul-tasting. “All of Christchurch knows who and what
that Stella is! He’s a degenerate! You’ve got to stop talking to him.”
“Her,” I corrected.
“Him!” With that, Lee’s resentment dissipated. “Anyway, why do you
speak to him?”
“Don’t know,” I shrugged. “I like her. She’s my friend.”
“Friend,” Lee scoffed. “People like that don’t know what friendship is.
That’s what my Dad says. He says that freaks like Stella leech off peoples
“What does your Dad know?”
“A lot. Dad’s given our Sunday-school class a lecture on perversion.
Anyway, you’ve don’t need Stella; you’ve got me. I’m your friend.”
* * * * *
Lee was wrong. The truth was that my friendship with Lee wasn’t enough.
Soon I sat on Stella’s doorstep most afternoons after school and chatted to her
about her job and her past as a boy called Shaun.
“Where were you born?” I asked her once.
“Heaven,” she laughed. I waited for a proper reply. Eventually, she said,
It sounded unreal, a place on the fringe of the imagination. “Moonlight?”
“It’s a tiny settlement on the West Coast.”
“And you grew up there too?” I asked. Stella nodded. “So how old were
you when you left?”
For a moment, Stella peered out over Aranui’s dereliction. “About your
age. One day, instead of going to school, I packed some clothes in my satchel
and hitch-hiked out of town. A nice lorry driver called Derrick picked me up and
took me to live with him in Nelson.” She paused. “But he was too much in love
with Shaun to ever like Stella, so I moved to Christchurch.” Then she became
animated again, “So here I am: Stella in all her glory!” I laughed, but kept
thinking about Shaun, his flight from Moonlight and a road-train with a teenage
I asked, “Don’t you miss your family?”
“No!” Her eyes clouded over. I realized that, in her mind, she’d returned
to Moonlight. I waited a while before I disturbed her.
“So when are you going to have an operation?”
“Never.” Like a preacher, she added, “God gave me this body and I
intend to make sure that it stays that way.” She stared provocatively at me.
“Anyway, the men I go out with would hate me if I had a sex-change.”
This answer puzzled as much as it intrigued me. I let the matter drop.
* * * * *
I didn’t care that sometimes Stella was a mystery. All that mattered was
that I enjoyed her company. For her part, Stella clearly enjoyed mine. Whenever
we met, she praised my long hair and slender stature, and said I looked like
Mum. Even if no one else noticed such things, my perfect skin and blue eyes
were marvels to Stella. A smile, a joke, a pat on the hand: these were her gifts.
Take the day I got my ear-pierced.
“Jesus Christ!” Dad seethed when he saw the single gold stud in my lobe.
“You look like a fuckin’ fairy!”
“Fred,” Mum soothed, “all the boys in Mickey’s class have got their ears
pierced.” But Dad ignored her and went to tinker with his Monaro.
“Looks divine,” Stella cooed when she saw my ear.
“You should get the other ear pierced,” she winked. “Then I could lend
you some ear-rings.”
“I might just do that,” I replied, feeling unusually brave. Stella looked at
me like Mum did when I came home with a good school report.
Lee was less taken with my ear-ring. “What did you do that for?” he
“Because I wanted to.”
“Doesn’t suit you.”
“I think it does. So does Stella.” Lee grimaced and sulked. Later, though,
he was chatty and helped me when I couldn’t solve my calculus.
* * * * *
The following Saturday morning, whilst I was busy writing a story for
literature homework, there was a knock at the front door.
“Get that Mickey, love,” Mum called from the kitchen. “It’ll be Mr.
Maloney. His money’s on the sideboard.” But when I opened the door I didn’t
find old, gnarly-teethed Maloney, the debt-collector, I found Lee.
“Hi!” He wore a broad grin and, above his eye, a blue-black shadow.
“How did you do that?” I asked, wanting to stroke his forehead.
“An accident; Dad and I were boxing.”
“Mickey, who is it?”
“A friend,” I said. “From school. His name’s Lee.”
Initially, Mum peered over my shoulder and studied Lee as if she doubted
his existence. Only then did she smile and say, “Hello, Lee; nice to meet you.”
“Hello, Mrs. Border.”
“Come in, love, I’m surprised that Mickey hasn’t mentioned you before.”
“Mum!” I scowled.
Whilst Mum was in the kitchen fixing some lemonade, Lee said, “Got you
this.” He placed a box in my hand; inside were two diamante stud ear-rings.
“Beautiful,” Lee said, “huh?”
I nodded. “Thanks. Where did you get them?”
“New Brighton. I go shopping there on Saturdays.”
“Something to do.”
“They look expensive.”
“Not really,” Lee smirked. As Mum bustled back into the lounge, I thrust
the box into my pocket.
Lee stayed for hours, buttering Mum up with talk of St. Mary’s and his
home in Fendalton. Then, late in the afternoon, he said, “Better go. Dad’ll kill
me if I’m not back in time to help him prepare the church for Mass.”
“Fred’ll run you home, love,” Mum said.
And he did. I sat in the back of the Monaro and Lee sat in the front. Lee
chewed Dad’s ear off about a Kingswood that was once his Dad’s pride and joy.
When we arrived at Lee’s palatial home, he led me through to the lounge. There
his parents sat waiting. His Mum was wiry and wore lots of make-up. His Dad
was as broad-shouldered as a wrestler.
“This is Mickey,” Lee said.
“Hello.” I offered my hand.
Lee’s parents nodded then his Dad snapped, “Come on Lee, time to get
ready for church.” It was my signal to leave.
When I climbed back into the Monaro, Dad stared at me through the
rearview mirror. “That Lee’s a decent lad,” he said. “Isn’t the sort to get his
bloody ear pierced either.”
* * * * *
From then on my life had a neat routine: each day I went to school; each
afternoon I visited Stella; each Saturday Lee visited me. There was one Saturday
morning, though, when Lee failed to knock at the door. I waited until midday
before telephoning his home.
“Oh, it’s you,” Lee’s Dad said. “No, Lee won’t be coming to your house.
He’s ill.” He hung up.
At a loose end, I visited Stella. We sat on her step, listened to the radio
and gossiped about new songs, school and my handsome weekend caller. Often
I sensed Dad peering at me over the hood of his car, but I refused to stare back.
I’d just finished spinning Stella a tale about my mysterious visitor’s
background when I heard my name being called. “Mickey! Mickey!” It was Lee.
He stood at my front door.
Stella cooed, “Oh, he is dishy. You’ve landed yourself a real catch there,
Mickey.” I nodded and said goodbye.
“I thought you were ill,” I said leading Lee inside.
“Don’t worry about me.”
Up in my room, I put on Split Enz and Lee held out a silver key-ring with
a red heart-shaped pendant on it. “Yours,” he said. He turned to my mirror and
suggested he might spike his hair like Tom Bailey. Then he said, “You know,
I’ve been thinking that next time I go shopping, you should come too.”
I stroked the heart of the key-ring. “Okay.”
* * * * *
The first time I shopped with Lee, a bitter wind rushed off the ocean and
harried people strolling down Seaview Road. So Lee and I darted into Farmers.
There, I perused a pendant. Lee said it was mine if I wanted it, but then I spied a
leather-band which looked like the sort Madonna wore in the Lucky Star video.
“Give it here,” Lee whispered and, Stella-like, winked. He pocketed the
wristband and marched out of the door.
I found Lee sitting on a wall outside. “What’s the matter?” he laughed.
“Don’t ever do that again!”
Lee nodded towards Farmers. “They can afford it; what’s one stupid
wristband to them?”
“The wristband isn’t stupid, and anyway that’s not the point,” I replied.
Even so, Lee’s sweet lilt and line of reason had already defeated me.
* * * * *
As Lee and I turned into Hampshire Street, Stella appeared at her front
door. She looked Lee up and down, handsome as he was in his 501s and peach-
coloured shirt, then waved. I saw Lee blush.
In my room, Lee and I played records as we did our chemistry homework.
When it was time for Lee to go home, he said, “Nearly forgot.” He produced the
stolen wristband from his pocket then took my left wrist in his warm fingers. “Let
me.” He tied the thin piece of leather around me. “Suits you,” he said, admiring
* * * * *
Lee’s stealing changed me. It sounds dramatic to say this, but it’s true.
Seeing him filch the bracelet filled me with guilt and yet, because Lee had placed
the charm upon my wrist, I wore it to school, hidden beneath my shirt-cuff, for
weeks afterwards. Each weekend, as warm summer days gave way to cold
mornings and bracing afternoons, and as the leaves on trees browned, I went
with Lee to New Brighton. Even now, I’m not sure why I did this. All I can offer
in my defence is that there was something about Lee’s take on life that appeared
limitless. In his stealing, Lee – like Stella - did as he pleased irrespective of social
or parental regulations. I liked that. I liked being around him because he made
me feel liberated too.
As Lee’s partner-in-crime, I hid the cheap make-up, plastic jewelry and
trinkets he stole beneath my bed. I placed them there in the knowledge that if
Mum or Dad ever found them there’d be hell to pay. But the danger of being
discovered didn’t deter me. I hid Lee’s stash because each knick-knack reminded
me of Lee, our friendship and his artfulness. Many times, I watched on as he
identified his target, waited patiently for the coast to clear of observant sales-
assistants or for a confusion of customers to amass around him and act as
unwitting cover, and then lifted the item and left by the nearest exit.
So skilful was Lee that his hoard grew too large to conceal beneath my
bed. I passed some of the baubles on to Stella, who wore them to work.
* * * * *
“What are we going to do with it all?” Lee wondered one Saturday as a
pile of objects sat in the middle of my room like op-shop rejects.
“Wear it,” I said, fixing my eyes upon Lee.
“What do you mean, wear it?” Lee grinned. It was this smirk, this little
letting-down of his guard that willed me on. I went to Lee’s stockpile, picked out
some bangles and put them around my wrists. Next, I threaded my hair with ties
and ornaments. Finally I painted my face with eye-shadow, blusher and rouge.
Throughout, Lee stared at me, passive yet attentive as if watching a pop video.
Transformed, I began to dance Borderline.
I’d like to say that I had Lee pegged, that I knew what his reaction to all
this would be. But, I didn’t. In fact, his response to what I was doing didn’t
trouble me. I did what I did because I wanted – no, needed – to. Thus, what Lee
did, as I danced around him, didn’t surprise me at all; though, later, once Lee
had returned home and I lay alone in the darkness of my bedroom thinking
through what had occurred, Lee’s boldness was a source of solace. For what Lee
did was he removed his shirt. He did this, even though the act of disrobing
revealed the bruises and scars that flowered upon his body. I stopped dancing,
looked upon his injured skin and saw myself in each ripened wound.
“Help me dress-up too,” he asked. So I picked out some jewelry for Lee
and did his make-up. Then I put Borderline on my stereo again, and we danced
wildly about the room. When the song finished, we fell to the floor in laughter.
There we hugged and kissed.
* * * * *
Over the next few weekends, winter neared, and we choreographed a
routine to Borderline. We fine-tuned our make-up; we lip-synched to Madonna’s
lyrics and acted out various interpretations of the video. For the first time, I felt
content with what we were doing; with myself. The afternoons with Stella; the
weekend dancing with Lee: however unconventional, such things had become
my sanctuaries, marginal places where I belonged.
Around that time, I listened repeatedly to Borderline’s lyrics.
Just try to understand, I’ve given all I can
‘Cause you got the best of me
They were an epiphany. The song, I realized, was a lament, its narrator
pushed to breaking-point by the object of her affection. But it was a celebration
too: of the heroine’s alternative lifestyle as she and her beau charted worlds of
physical and sexual excess. Understanding this spurred me onto develop our
Borderline routine. So, one frosty Saturday, I ventured into my parents’ bedroom.
I foraged out Mum’s cerise dress and a lemon skirt and blouse. Back in my room,
I tried on the dress and Lee wore the skirt and blouse. We began to dance.
Suddenly, Mum burst into my room. I froze; Lee tore at his clothes as if
they were on fire. “What the hell?!” she snarled. I turned and, for the first time,
saw terror in Lee’s eyes.
* * * * *
Lee and I had just put our trousers and t-shirts back on when we heard
Dad’s Monaro roar into the street. There were crunching noises as the car
mounted the pavement and skidded to a halt upon the lawn. Seconds later, Dad’s
feet pounded out a furious beat upon the stairs. My bedroom door crashed open
and there was Dad: face red, eyes feral, fists clenched. He came so close that I
heard the fevered intake and release of his breath, and smelt the alcohol upon it.
And then, after a moment in which Dad, Lee and I stood immobile, stage actors
at the close of a play waiting for the curtain to fall, Dad’s fist crossed the space
between he and I.
* * * * *
When I came to, I found Mum crouched over me stroking my forehead
and saying my name. There were tears in her eyes. Behind her, Lee peered down
at me, his face marble-white, his eyes pinpricks of panic, his body shaking.
“Leave the lad alone,” Dad growled.
“Enough, Fred, please,” Mum beseeched.
“I said, “Leave him alone!”” Dad pulled Mum away from me.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I mumbled as he locked my door.
I climbed to my feet and steadied myself against sudden giddiness. At my
window, I saw Lee get into Dad’s sneering Monaro. By now, Lee seemed so pale
I feared he might cry. But he didn’t; Dad wouldn’t have liked him to do that.
A ghost: that’s what Lee looked like as he left. Someone who didn’t exist.
Then I caught sight of Stella. She was sitting on her front step. Her face was wet
with tears. Her mouth released small sobbing sounds. Her arms were wrapped
around knees, cradling her. Clearly, she was replaying some horror once inflicted
upon her. I didn’t wish to add to her indignity by watching her any longer, so I
drew my curtains and sat in the dark waiting.
* * * * *
“What have I done to deserve this?!” Dad yelled as he stepped back inside
the house. This set Mum off crying and snuffling again. “Bloody freak!”
Later, he came into my room. His arms swept up all the make-up, clothes
and records, and hoisted them into the back garden. There, he built a fire and
guarded it until he was sure everything had charred.
“Where you going, Fred?” Mum asked once the embers had died.
“Back to the pub. To get bloody hammered!”
Once Dad had left, Mum came cooing into my room with something to
eat. “Promise me,” she said, stroking my hair, “you won’t have anything to do
with Lee ever again.”
* * * * *
I wasn’t to have anything to do with Stella either. I didn’t know it at the
time, but the sight of her weeping and swaying was to be my last glimpse of her.
That night, whilst working Manchester Street, she crossed the road and was
rundown by a dark-coloured car. This, at least, was what a female bystander
claimed though, as the papers reported, the eyewitness was a working-girl and,
no doubt, high on drugs at the time. Soon, such reportage included revealing
articles about Stella’s life. These published her real name and a small, grainy
photo of a boy wearing a school uniform. They described her death using words
like homosexual, deviant and prostitute.
* * * * *
After a brief autopsy, Stella was buried in Bromley Cemetery. On the day
of the funeral, Dad grounded me and locked my bedroom door. But I climbed
out of my window. At the cemetery, my legs tired from walking, I stood amongst
the trees. Beneath birdsong and the bones of branches, I watched a few working
boys and girls lay Stella to rest.
* * * * *
At school, Lee moved classes. He took up sports and became flanker in
the school’s 1st Fifteen. It took me months to find the courage to approach him.
When I got near he darted away. By then, papers speculated that Stella’s death
was, most probably, an accident, and her story vanished from their pages.
* * * * *
Lee and I didn’t speak again until we started studying for exams. He had
lots of mates he played rugby with. On odd Saturday mornings, I saw them in
town with their girlfriends. As I passed by, they sniggered.
Not long after, I realized that school was a waste of time. So, without
telling anyone, I bought a coach-ticket to Nelson. From there, I crossed the
Sounds. In Wellington’s red-light bars and shows, I met people who enjoyed
being unconventional; boys who wore make-up; girls who wore trousers. It was
here that I found work serving drinks and, later, performing. I began to take
special drugs and sleep during daytime. I changed my name to Maria and saved
hard for my surgery.
* * * * *
It was as Maria that I returned to Aranui. I didn’t contact Mum or Dad to
tell them I was coming. Instead, when I arrived home, I walked past their house
on the off-chance that I might catch a glimpse of them and reassure myself that
they were alright. I quickly realized, however, that they’d moved because a new
family was living in our old statie. In fact, there were new families in all the old
staties. Mostly, they were Maori, Pacific Island and Asian. Somewhere amongst
them, I thought, there must be a child like me.
And Stella? There was no trace of her ever having lived there. The pre-fab
she’d rented had been replaced by a new house. Its paint was fresh, its windows
shone and its garden was green and tidy. A realty sign outside said, ‘Vacant’.
In New Brighton, I saw how the town had been transformed in my
absence. There was a new pier, a new library, new shops, new pavements, new
streetlights. Even so, the place seemed emptier than I remembered it.
Later, in my hotel room, I locked the door, took out my I-pod and played
Borderline. I lay down, closed my eyes and allowed the song to envelop me.
Borderline feels like I’m going to lose my mind
You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline
The lyrics made me recall Lee, Stella and I, and the warm summer months
when our lives intersected. Soon the room grew dark. I pulled back the curtains
and gazed up at the night sky bright with the Southern Cross. Memories reflected
back at me: the way Stella fixed sharp eyes at me whenever she was provocative;
how a smile lit up Lee’s face; Mum’s white-blond hair; Dad’s dark Monaro.
Stars, memories, old songs: I saw how tired I was of living by twilight in
Wellington. So, in the morning, I visited a realty-agent and signed a tenancy
My new home? It’s lovely. The landlord, an elderly man, makes repairs
and tends the garden. Often I sit out on the front-step and watch my neighbours
watching me. Apart from the occasional taunt, they leave me alone. There is this
one boy, though. I’ve heard his Mum call his name.
“Maaka!” she shouts. “Maaka, come here!”
He’s tall and slender, a teenager with dazzling eyes, shoulder-length hair
and beautiful brown skin. I’ve waved to him a few times as he’s trundled home
Today, for the first time, he said, “Hello.”