The Ballad of the School Hallways
“Oi, Kyle,” I called the attention of my student when I noticed that Stephanie was slumped on her desk, though I had to whisper so as not to disturb her. “What happened to her?”
“Hmm…I think Steph has it, Sir.”
“You know…that thing every girl experience at the end of the month,” Kyle replied. “She’s complaining to us earlier that her tummy is painful.”
“Oh…did anyone ask Mam Gemma for a hot compress?”
Kyle shook his head, so was Ferdie and Denver, who were sitting nearby. The class president, Boris, heard us and told me, “Sir, would you like me to go to the clinic and get a hot compress?”
“Ah, yes, please. Thank you, Boris! You really are the prettiest gay in this school, inside and out.”
“I love you, too, Sir!” he winked at me and asked another classmate of his to come with him.
When he already got my permission, the class president headed out, accompanied by the class secretary, Tina. Then, I told Kyle and the others not to disturb Stephanie. You see, our school was so small that we had no dedicated clinic, not even a professional nurse on standby. What we did have was a space, taken from the stair landing, in which we erected a makeshift divider made of plywood. The ceiling was absent, and so, any noise that came from the students going down the stairs would be heard inside the ‘clinic’.
For the ‘nurse’, it was actually a teacher assigned on ‘clinic duty’. Of course, they had no formal training even in administering first aid, and—because of a schools division memo that ordered us to refrain from giving medicines to our students when they were sick—the teacher in ‘clinic duty’ would just recommend for the student to call his/her parents to fetch their child. I think it was stupid and ridiculous; I couldn’t fathom the purpose of our school’s ‘clinic’, save for a space for the students to escape the boredom of their classes by feigning sickness.
In the meantime, while waiting for Boris and Tina, I continued on my class. A few minutes of lecture, and then, recitation. Those two who were charged with the hot compress were still missing, probably they were told by Mam Gemma to go to the canteen to fill the compress bag with hot water. And, as usual of our canteen, they were only heating water the moment they were asked.
I knew Boris; he may be mischievous at times, but he never loitered around the school whenever asking for permission to go outside their classroom.
Everything in this school is dysfunctional, haa…
Anyway, after I gave my class their activity for the day, I went back to Stephanie to check on her.
“Hey, Steph?” I gently shook my student, “Would you like to stay in the clinic for a while?”
“C-Can I, S-Sir?” her hand never left the painful part of her stomach. I also noticed that Stephanie’s lips were already pale, so I could guess that she’s really in severe pain.
I called Kyle and Denver to help Stephanie to the clinic. Ferdie also came, carrying her bag, while I asked someone from their class to contact her parents via short message. Johnrick volunteered his phone, and we tried to call her mother’s number so she could fetch her daughter.
“Sir Seth! Sir Seth!”
I was awakened by someone shaking me, “H-Huh? Who is it?” I reached for my eyeglasses, only to realize, it was Mam Gemma.
“Sir, what about your student?” my co-teacher asked. “It’s already 5 p.m., and I was about to go home.”
“Oh?” I looked at my watch. It was five minutes past five in the afternoon; only two hours before class dismissal. A moment of silence, as I stared at Mam Gemma and her things. Then, it sunk to me. “Err…Stephanie’s still in the clinic?”
“Yes, Sir!” she replied. “I thought you called her mother?”
“Huh? She didn’t come?” Well, when Jonhrick and I couldn’t call her, I asked my student to send Stephanie’s mother a short message about her daughter’s condition. It seemed that, for some reason, the messages didn’t reach her. “What about her adviser?”
“Miss Carla also went home early. You know her, she’s always ready to go, even before the classes start,” Mam Gemma snickered as she revealed the whereabouts of 8-Jade’s adviser. “And, I was about to lock the clinic. I think you should take Miss Cefiro to her house instead.”
At that moment, the sleepiness in my head immediately dissipated, “What?”
“Do you have any choice?” she pointed out. “Miss Cefiro can’t focus on her class, so the best option is to accompany her home.”
“What about her parents?”
“Her mother didn’t appear, right? Just talk to Mam Andy about her condition and ask for a permit to take another student to help you…and also to avoid issues as well.”
I stared back at my watch, then to my co-teacher. I couldn’t help but heave a sigh; this was one of the days where I only got few classes, so I’d like to rest as much as possible. However, I guess Stephanie really needed to go home.
“Yes, what is it, Sir?”
“Can I ask you to talk to Mam Andy about Stephanie? I’ll search for someone who knows her house.”
“Ah, sure! Thanks for your time, Sir Seth!”
So, while Mam Gemma headed to the guidance, I called a random student from Class Jade and asked her if she knew anyone among her classmate who could accompany me and Stephanie to her house.
A few minutes later, Kyle presented himself, “Sir, I know Steph’s house; it’s pretty nearby!”
“Can you come with us? She needs to go home.”
“No problem, Sir!” the boy readily agreed. “But can you ask for Mam Ria’s permission to let me?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Thank you, Sir!” he smirked and muttered, “This is my opportunity to escape her boring class! Hoho!”
I could only chuckle at his motive.
Compared to earlier, Stephanie’s color was much improved, and her pain was lesser than before. In fact, when we came to the clinic to fetch her, she was already sitting at the bed, eating a snack Mam Gemma provided to her. The hot compress—though it was not so hot anymore—was still held against her stomach.
“Feel better now?” I asked.
She nodded, “Thank you for your concern, Sir.”
“No problem! Would you like to go home?”
She nodded again, “But my mother isn’t here yet, right?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Mam Gemma recommended I accompany you instead.”
“Sir!” she protested, “I’m already disturbing you!”
“Nah, I’m good,” I smiled to reassure her. “Besides, I only got your class for today, so after that, I’m free up till dismissal.”
“Come on Steph,” it was Kyle. “This will be our first time to head home early—ow!”
“Not you,” I hit his head lightly. “Only Steph will go. You will accompany me, but you’ll also head back here after.”
“Alright Sir,” Kyle was strangely excited. “It’s all fine!”
“You’re really looking forward to go out of school, huh?”
“I’m sure Kyle is, Sir,” Stephanie laughed. “It’s my mother’s birthday today, so he’s excited to chomp on the foods she prepared for the occasion.”
“Oh?! Happy birthday to your mom, then!”
“Maybe that’s why you weren’t able to contact her, Sir,” she further explained. “In any case, if you’re going to come with me, might as well eat with us, Sir Seth.”
“Nah, I’m good,” so I said to her, but in reality, I’d really like to try the food.
And so, with me carrying Stephanie’s bag, and Kyle on standby to help his classmate, we set off for her house. As it coincided with the class dismissal of the nearby elementary school, there were a lot of children on the streets, all were also headed home. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to risk it for my young companions, so I had them walk at the inner side of the road, farthest from where the cars were passing.
“Sir…” it was Stephanie. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“It’s about what you told us before in your lesson about infatuation and love,” she continued. “I remember you said to me that when only one partner is working in the relationship, it’s toxic.”
“I did say that, yes. Why?”
My student was silent for a few moments, before she said, “Sir, does it include the times when you try to change your partner for the better?”
“You mean like, ask him to be good, or kind?”
“Stephanie,” Kyle suddenly interjected. “I think you and Sir Seth will not understand each other if you keep a lot of details secret from him. You and I know that we can trust Sir Seth, right?”
I guess that last part of Kyle’s words were actually meant for me, not to his classmate. Nevertheless, I reassured her, “Steph, I will only pass your secrets to the proper people when it’s a matter between life and death. If it’s anything else, then you can count on me.”
Another round of silence. Kyle also kept quiet, as we traced our path to Stephanie’s house. I thought she understood what I told her: I never really cared for their secrets, unless it’s something that endangered them. I just couldn’t say to her with straight eyes, ‘the moment you finished confiding to me, is the moment I forget what you said’.
I believe it’s my secret to my reputation as someone that can be trusted.
Moments later, however, Stephanie spoke, “Do you know Matthew Rico, Sir?”
“Matthew Rico? I knew him. He’s from that batch whom I didn’t teach. See, before, I was assigned in Grade 9. But for some stupid and selfish reason, our principal transferred me to Grade 8. Technically, I skipped them so they didn’t get to experience my classes.”
“I see…” she took a deep breath and revealed, “Matthew is my boyfriend, Sir.”
I doubt if Stephanie and Kyle saw my reaction, but I knew myself that I was surprised. Her parents, especially her mother, was so strict, she was forbidden to have romantic relationships with anyone. And, as if to worsen the situation, her uncles—our former students—were like her mother regarding their treatment of her.
For short, it’s as if Stephanie has four strict eyes watching her every move.
But, what’s even more astonishing is that, Stephanie evaded the radar so far.
My thoughts were interrupted when I heard her voice once again. “A-Ah, don’t worry…it’s not that dangerous, so I guess you can be rest assured I won’t tell it to anyone.”
“Thank you, Sir Seth,” Stephanie smiled at me.
“Wh-What’s your, uh, question again?”
“Right…well, Sir, you see, Matthew and I are a couple. However, I disagree with his lifestyle. You must know it; he’s a drunkard, a heavy smoker, and a habitual tardy student in his college.”
Wow…I didn’t know that Matthew was going through a lot. I knew that fellow; he’s already problematic when he was in high school. He got worse today.
“I’ve been asking him to change himself, tried convincing him that he’s destroying his life…” there was a poignant look in Stephanie’s eyes, “But he never listened. There are times that he would get angry at me for reminding him of that.”
“Sir, what should I do? I don’t want to lose Matthew, yet it’s as if I’m the only one doing the effort.”
I stared at Stephanie. Though I couldn’t fully see her expression, I knew from her voice that she was hurting. Of course, I guess no one—not even my relatives—would want their family member to end up with someone with a ‘bad’ reputation. As such, Stephanie was trying her best to make her boyfriend more ‘palatable’ to her family once they ‘caught’ them, or should they finally decide to come out about their relationship.
“Hm…well, you cannot force someone to change, you know?” I answered. “The best that you can do, as someone who loves Matthew, is to remind him of what might happen if he continues to self-destruct.”
“But I love him Sir.”
“And that’s why you won’t easily give up on him. Remember? True love is a decision. You chose to stay with Matthew, even though he’s a person full of bad vices. I bet you won’t surrender just because he’s not listening to you.”
“Of course not!”
“Yes…and when you decide, you also have to bring in a lot of patience. We all know that there are times when our choice doesn’t go our way. But even with all that, love remains…and so, we stay.”
Kyle and Stephanie were both in silent meditation as we took the final turn around the corner before her house. I guess these two brats understood what I was trying to say.
I just hope that Stephanie will really change Matthew, or learn to live by his faults…after all, true love sometimes involve accepting defeat and the imperfections of your chosen partner…
When class ended for the day, I went straight to my motorcycle to fix my things before going home. Honestly, Stephanie’s mother cooked a lot of dishes meant for their visitors, and since I was the teacher of her daughter, she also invited me in—along with Kyle. I tried to refuse, stating that we had to get back to school before the bell rang, but…
“Oh, come on, Sir!” Stephanie’s mother dismissed my protests, “If you returned now, you would still waste an hour walking, so you better eat first! And look, I think Kyle already disagreed with your plans!”
My eyes quickly fell on my other student, who was already shoving a serving of pasta in his mouth.
And so, since Stephanie’s mother would not let me go, I was eventually forced to oblige. Her mother told me a lot of stories about Stephanie, ranging from good ones, down to the more embarrassing moments, much to the dismay of her daughter.
Heh, now I got an arsenal full of jests and insults for Miss Cefiro.
In any case, as we’re already dismissing the students, I checked my drawing materials (which I always bring, since I didn’t want my hands to remain idle whenever I’m not teaching), my wallet and license, my gadgets, and other devices. I didn’t want to leave these at the faculty room, or someone else might become interested in my things, and keep these for themselves.
After making sure that there’s no problem, I closed my motorcycle box, and was about to lock it, when…
I heard my phone rang inside, and checked it. There’s one message in the inbox, coming from an old friend of mine. Opening his communication, my heart froze when I read it…
‘Hey Seth, you still remember Anne Marie? It’s her son’s baptismal soon, and she’s trying to reach you to give you an invitation. Since I got your number, I thought I’d let you know.’
Closing the box, I silently stared into the screen of my phone. The happy drawing I put up as wallpaper contrasted the mixed feelings that emerged in my chest the moment I read that message…
Soon, I noticed that tears were flowing down my eyes. Now that Anne Marie has become a mother, she’s also trying to contact me about her child’s baptismal…what does she even want from me?
And here I thought that after all these years, I had recovered from her memories. However, my heart felt an overwhelming sense of pain, and sorrow, as the moments of the past we shared suddenly crashed on me like a tsunami. I didn’t even know I stood there, with my motorcycle, for quite a long time.
Only when a student of mine greeted me that I returned to my senses.
Fuck, it still hurts like it just happened yesterday!
Damn it, why did Anne Marie decided to reach me? Why does she want me to appear at her son’s baptismal? Does she wanted to explain herself for her sudden disappearance four years ago? (1)
Author's Note: (1) In the Philippines, being invited to a baptismal often meant that you are the 'godparent' of the child. Traditional culture dictates that it is an 'honor', but in practicality, most parents choose people for their kid's 'godparent' simply based on their financial capability. It is not a secret that every Christmas season, these godparents are forced to 'give voluntarily' monetary gifts to their 'godchildren'.
In any case, another strange thing about being a godparent in the Philippines is that, you can't refuse to come, and even so, can't refuse the 'honor'. Doing so would be viewed with disdain.