Chapter 4:

CHAPTER 3: STORM SIGNALS (GRADE 8)

The Ballad of the School Hallways


From the start of classes in June up to the month of August, we teachers often call these months the ‘dry season’. This was because, it was during these days and weeks that we get nothing. No salary bonuses, few holidays, long ‘work weeks’, and tons of paperworks—in addition to our usual class responsibilities. Because of those reasons, it was a welcome respite to us whenever the weatherman would announce that…

“We have a low pressure area east of xx province.”

I turned up the volume so that I could hear his report properly.

“The weather experts say that it can turn into a tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours.”

A glimmer of hope (for rest) sparked within my chest. For someone who’s daily struggle was to control and teach 285 students in a day, divided in four sections, that announcement was a welcome one. It meant that we get to have a few days’ rest, if ever this weather disturbance develop into a storm.

Our education system had a ‘four storm signals’ system in place for guidance whenever situations like these arose. The first level (Signal 1) called for the suspension of classes in the kindergarten. The second (Signal 2) would automatically stop the classes from elementary to high school. The third (Signal 3) meant that the weather was dangerous even for the college students, while the final and fourth level (Signal 4) implored everyone—including government work—to shut down, save for the emergency agencies.

“…”

However, the last time Signal 3 and 4 was raised, I was still in college. I think it was five to seven years ago. Nowadays, the storms that happened to pass our region were not that powerful, compared to the ones that often ravaged the southern parts of our country. People had become relaxed. It’s as if they didn’t learn a thing on the repeated disasters brought about by the severe monsoon rains that would visit us yearly.

Well, I couldn’t push all the blame to them. See, there was also that confusing order from our government saying when there’s no storm but rains were severe, it was up to the discretion of the local officials to suspend the class.

The result was a pandemonium. There were a lot of times that the ever-competent (I was sarcastic) local officials would suspend the classes only when the morning students were already in the middle of the class, having crossed the flooded streets of the cities. Or, even though some parts of their area was inundated with waters reaching the house roofs, these officials would still give a green light to classes. I also remembered that one time when our mayor declared that one district of her city had no class, while the other one was business as usual.

Not only did I find it stupid, it also brought hardships to the students who lived in the first district, but was coming to the schools in the second district.

So, whenever these types of announcements come into the airwaves, I always expect someone from my students—or their parents—would message me for questions about class suspensions.

“…”

Since the storm was likely to develop within 24 hours, we still got classes today. Nevertheless, if the weather was foul tomorrow, for sure there would be suspensions. So, I was thinking of modifying my lesson plan, to include some of the activities meant for the next day.

-----

By the evening after arriving from class, the weather began to take turn for the worse. There was a slight gale blowing, and occasional drizzles that made my motorcycle ride a bit difficult. As I didn’t want to wear a raincoat until it was a downpour, my clothes got a little wet during the travel. I had to take a warm bath to avoid getting a cold the moment I got home.

“The weather experts say that this storm isn’t that powerful,” my mother told me as I got out of the bath. “But they did tell us that it has packed a lot of rainwater to dump.”

Oh? So the signals isn’t up then?”

“No signal yet. I think the weather guys determined that the storm won’t pass directly over our region. But your city mayor had announced a suspension of classes for tomorrow.”

Oh? When?”

“We’re watching the 7 p.m. news,” she explained. “The anchor listed the cities that would suspend classes in anticipation of the coming storm.”

“That’s great then,” I chuckled. “I guess I can play games ’till morning.”

“Confirm it first though,” my mother advised. “I think your city only suspended the classes for kindergarten.”

What the fuck? Are the elementary and high school students waterproof to be allowed to come to class tomorrow?

Anyway, I wanted to make sure that the suspension was the kinder students, so I opened my laptop and checked. True enough, our mayor—as considerate as she was—announced that it would be dangerous for kindergarteners to come to school tomorrow, so their classes were suspended. Normal, if you ask me, though ridiculous and stupid.

“…”

And, as usual, I could see my students posting their pleas on my social media feed.

‘Hey mayor! We can get wet, too, you know?’

‘Mayor only loves the kinder kids!’

‘Anyone has an inflatable lifejacket? Can I borrow it in preparation for tomorrow?’

I couldn’t blame these guys if they posted messages like that. My school was located inside a village subdivision, in which, a small stream passed. When it was constructed, this stream was nearly filled with soil and concrete…only a small ‘canal’ was made to redirect the water flow to the nearby bay. As a result, whenever there was a downpour, the village would be submerged in floodwaters of varying levels—from water that reached only the soles of your feet, to levels beyond human height.

Then, while I was scrolling down the news feed, the first messages from my students came in. No, not the ones that would relate their daily struggles to me. It was the chats asking about the suspension.

‘Sir, good evening! Is high school included in the announcement?’

Did you not read the mayor’s post in her account? Ignored.

‘Will we have classes tomorrow, Sir?’

You could post about random stuff, yet you won’t look at the news? Ignored.

‘Sir, please answer quickly! Do we have classes for tomorrow?’

Wow…were you paying me to answer you at your most convenient time? Ignored.

For these questions, I won’t waste my time answering. If ever I decide to give time to them, I’d rather send them a link on the announcement, complete with a short message: ‘Please read and understand’.

However, the students kept on bothering me. So, I wrote a post on my timeline that read: ‘My home is an hour away from the school, and you live within a stone’s throw away from its gates. If you have the time to bug me with your questions, why don’t you come to school tomorrow and see the suspension for yourself?’. I also put in a background so that it would be noticeable to everyone’s news feed.

“…”

Well, that did stop some of the questions. A few minutes after I posted that, there were a lot of ‘laugh’ reacts, though there were a few of other reactions, too. What’s left for me to deal with was some of the parents, who kept on chatting me about the suspension.

‘Good evening! Please refer to the city announcement, Mam! I’m only a teacher, so I don’t have an authority to suspend classes,’ was my answer to one of those persistent parents. Of course, I couldn’t help but mixed in subtle sarcasm, since I was pissed that these people—though they were adults already—had no ‘common sense’ to read or watch the latest news.

Yet, they can browse the internet, and are always updated with the latest gossips.

Haa…honestly, this was one of those moments that I wish hitting both the student and their parents was legal. If they were, I’d knocked some sense and responsibility on their heads.

Answering the parents’ queries took a while, and I was increasingly annoyed at their questions; those could be answered if they’d only watch or read the news. By the end of the impromptu ‘Q & A’, not only was I exhausted, but I was also raging. Then, when I noticed that there was no one chatting with me anymore, I decided to close my browser, but…

‘Sir!’ a M*ssenger pop up chat came into my screen again. I couldn’t help but mutter an expletive; nevertheless, I looked at who was the sender. It was Stephanie.

-----

I kind of expected what she was to ask me, so I chose not to answer her and closed my browser. However, as I opened my game, my phone (which was also connected to my chat box) rang once again. It was another message from Stephanie, saying, ‘Sir, please can you give me a moment of your time? I need to ask something important.’

At that point, even though my computer reached the game’s main screen, I stopped on what intended to do and replied to my student. Messages like this demand my special attention, since she’s pleading me to answer her.

‘Yep, what’s up?’

‘Sir, is there any class for tomorrow?’

I nearly threw my phone in sheer annoyance. But, as I was already talking to her, I chose the diplomatic—albeit sarcastic—route. ‘If I’m elected as mayor, I’ll suspend it for you, don’t worry.’

‘Yey!’ Stephanie replied, along with a laughing emoji. Then she followed it with, ‘Don’t worry, Sir! I’ll tell my mom to vote for you, should you decide to run.’

‘Why, thank you! Is that all you want to ask? You’re disturbing me.’

She answered that with ‘Hahaha!’ I was about to drop her, when another chat came, ‘I’m only joking, Sir! You’re too serious.’

‘I’m playing a game. Now, if you’ll excuse me…’

‘Sir! Wait!’

‘What now?’

‘Really, I wanted to ask something from you.’

‘If it’s money, then I’m not your parent. Go ask your mom!’

‘Sir, what do you think of me? I’m your student, not a beggar.’

‘Alright then, it’s good that we understand each other. What is it that you want to ask?’

Then it took Stephanie for a while to answer back. As it turned out, she was uploading a drawing on our chat box. When it loaded, she asked, ‘What do you think of it, Sir?’

Honestly, her drawing sucked. As I suspected before, her anatomy was off. The body proportions were off. The entire figure was off. Of course, I couldn’t demand something of higher standard from Stephanie, she’s just a budding artist. But then, I knew I had to be careful of my words; one mistake and I could bring her aspirations crashing down. So, like I always did, I took the safe route in giving my reviews.

Hmm…not bad. I guess it’s okay,’ I typed. ‘If anything, your artwork reminded me of Pablo Picasso.’

Stephanie said nothing for a while. Thinking that she already left, I locked my phone and returned to my game. However, just as I was about to load my saved file, she sent in another chat message. ‘Sir,’ it read, ‘I’m not mad, but if you think my art is bad, then just say it straight.’

I was dumbfounded by that. I don’t know what to say to her, though I’d been typing a message for an answer. I guess, I was caught off guard by Stephanie’s message.

‘Really, Sir,’ she sent again. ‘You have a roundabout way of telling me I sucked. I searched for Pablo Picasso’s art, by the way.’

Well, shit. I surely didn’t expect that. All that I could tell her was, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Hahaha!’ was her reply. ‘You’re really funny when you’re serious, Sir! I’m being honest; I’m not angry! Though as what my idol said about my work, I guess I need to improve.’

’Then why did you still have to ask me instead of listening to your ‘idol’?’

‘Eh? You are my idol when in comes to drawing, Sir!’ Stephanie explained. ‘Everything you say, I always follow!’

‘Really now…’ I felt a small, guilty feeling from my chest; I treated her with contempt.

‘Please don’t apologize, Sir,’ she told me. ’It’s not like I can’t understand why you talk like that. I’m aware that you’re afraid of hurting your student’s feelings, so you go the ‘roundabout’ way to tell me that I sucked. And for that, I appreciate you.’

‘Thanks,’ was all that I could say to her.

‘My pleasure, Sir!’ Stephanie followed her message with a smiling emoji. Then, as I was typing my reply, she continued, ‘By the way Sir, our city mayor announced just now that classes for elementary and high school will be suspended tomorrow as well.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes, so we have no class for tomorrow! I think I’ll miss you, Sir!’

‘Well, I don’t,’ I jested. ’If anything, I want to get away from you brats.

‘Even from me, your cute student?’

‘Yes.’

’Well, I’ll just take comfort from the fact that you think of me as ‘cute’.’

‘Shut up! If you have nothing else to say, then I’ll return to my game.’

‘Okie Sir Seth! Have a good night…and sweet dreams!’

Well, it turned out that Stephanie’s wish for me that night was true. I did have a nice dream, though I forgot about it the moment I woke up the next day.

L. Moonlight
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