Chapter 16:


The Ballad of the School Hallways

There were times when a teacher won’t show up for class for various reasons, like an emergency, or a sudden meeting in our schools’ division office. If that’s the case, our principal—or the officer-in-charge if our head was missing—would assign a ‘caretaker’ in the room with no teacher. The job of the ‘caretaker’ was to ensure that no student would loiter around the corridors, or they won’t get noisy enough to disrupt the neighboring classrooms. Sometimes, the ‘absentee’ teacher would leave lesson notes that the caretaker would give to the class secretary to write on the board for their classmates to copy.


And of course, the ‘caretaker’ role would fall on the teacher who had no class for the hour, or day. Coincidentally, Wednesday was my ‘no class’ day, as we were only required to teach four hours per class each week. So—even though it was my precious ‘break’—I was given the duty to watch over our Grade 8 students in place of an absent colleague.

Damn it. I hate this.

Class Jade was third in my itinerary, though the absent teacher’s subject was fourth in their schedule. This was the time just after the recess, and so the students were full, and restless.

Oi, keep the guitar down!” I reminded one group, who was getting carried away with their singing. “You can sing and play, but don’t get too loud! Your adviser is in Platinum; if she hears you disturbing her class, she might confiscate your instrument!”

“Yes, Sir!” and they did try to lower their voices. I said ‘try’ because, while they followed my warning, their singing was still loud enough to cause disruptions in the neighboring rooms. So, I came to them and asked for the guitar, “I’ll hold on to this for the meantime. You can get it later, don’t worry.”

That’s one problem down. The other ones include students who’d ask for my permission to let them go to the comfort room, which was seemingly an innocuous request. But in reality, it’s their excuse to wander around the school grounds.

In such case, I would only allow one student out for the boys, and a pair if it’s the girls. After all, with the ghost stories circulating about the girls’ comfort room, I understood that they needed a companion to feel safe whenever they’d do their ‘business’.


Well, in the few moments I got nothing else to focus upon, I’d check on my students on whatever they were doing. Some were writing their songs, or stories. Others were doing some drawings, which I would give them advice once in a while. There were also students who brought out their phones, and with their headsets, would just watch whatever they wanted to kill time.

After all, my co-teacher didn’t leave anything for them to do.


Meanwhile, Kyle, Stephanie and Ferdie were gathered in a circle, talking about something. Denver was playing a mobile game beside them.

“Sir,” it was Kyle. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes? What is it?”

“Actually, it’s not me,” he turned to Stephanie. “Steph here has something she wanted to ask from you.”

My eyes went from Kyle to Stephanie. I noticed that her face wasn’t the usual happy and mischievous one from before, so I guess this would be a serious talk. I took a vacant chair and asked her, “Yep? How can I help ’ya?

“Well, Sir…” she began, with her voice seemed to have apprehensions in saying what she had in mind. “There’s something that’s bugging me…”

“Yeah, I know…you won’t talk to me like that if it’s something trivial.”

Eh, you listen first, Sir!”

I laughed, “Yes, yes, I’m listening. What’s worrying you?”

Kyle and Stephanie exchanged glances; Kyle nodded to her, which gave Stephanie the courage to open up, “Sir…it’s about my mother.”


“You know my father is a seaman, right? As such, he is rarely home, just like now. I think it’s already his fifth month on the ship he’s working with.”

“Just like mine, though my pap’s just around two months old in his ship.”

Stephanie nodded, “Well, Sir…what do you think of this situation? My mother has a friend named ‘Honey’ who’s messaging her. I saw it last Saturday, and it hasn’t left my mind ever since.”

“Honey? What’s the content of the message?”

“It said, ‘Where are you? I miss you!’…”

“This ‘Honey’,” I asked a few more ‘probing’ questions, “that’s her real name?”

“I don’t know, Sir,” Stephanie admitted. “Well, all I saw was the Messeng*r chat and the name ‘Honey’. There’s no profile picture as well.”

When my student told me that, I began to have suspicions. I’d been a teacher in this school for almost four years already. That’s how much I’m helping my charges with their problems, family issues included. And, I’d seen this scenario before. However, as I didn’t want to jump into conclusions, I kept on probing her, “Did you ask your mother about this Honey?”

“She said it was a friend, but she was angry that I saw Honey’s message. And I can’t even touch her phone ever since.”

Yep, this is way too familiar. A parent will get busted for their affairs, and will be defensive about it.

“What do you want to know?”

Stephanie paused for a bit, took a deep breath, and said, “Sir, is my mother having an extramarital affair?”

Bingo. However, I knew that she would get deeply hurt if I told her the truth right away, so I gently made her realize, “Stephanie, as much as I wanted to believe the otherwise, you have to be prepared for that possibility. Can I ask about your mother’s relationship with your father?”

Uhm…she’s always angry with him.”

Yep, this is it. People who were involve in this type of shit always look for reasons to blame their partner for everything; sometimes it was justified, most were not.


Looking at Stephanie was painful for me. I mean, she’s a happy child. Though mischievous, she was always smiling that her classmates and my co-teachers grew fond of her. When she first told me the story of her family, I got the impression that Stephanie believed that her family—her mother and father—were on good terms with each other.

And now, that illusion is breaking. Goodness, I myself had gone through a similar event with my own parents. It wasn’t a good experience; when I was confronted by the reality, it felt like I was betrayed that I became withdrawn and irritable.

Well, for the moment, she’s still in denial. I’m afraid that if the truth came crashing on her, Stephanie’s world might crumble down.


Ah, yes…” I returned to my senses when I heard her voice call out to me. “Steph, listen. Whatever happens, I want you to think that your parents love you, and they wish the best for their only daughter.”

“But Sir, I’m right, yes?”

Honestly, I found it hard to confirm her suspicions, though I didn’t like to fool her, “I…I don’t understand it as well, Steph. The adults have their reasons they do what they do. But, I want you to take heart and be brave in case something happens.”

She was silent. Kyle and Ferdie were quiet as well, for they were aware of what’s going on. As Stephanie’s childhood friends, I guess they were also affected by her sadness.


Damn, I really wish I can do something to cheer her up.

Right at that moment, a Grade 10 member of the student government passed by our classroom. It was the secretary; so I called for her, and asked, “Can you buy me four ice cream sticks outside? No, make it five, one is for you.”

Delighted, the Student Government Secretary hurried off, and came back a bit later with my request. Stephanie, Kyle and Ferdie were happy with my treat, but my worries for my cute student never disappeared.


The next day, Thursday, was normal…save for the missing Stephanie. Unlike in other countries where the students were required or encouraged to call-in sick whenever they’d be absent in class, here, we would only know of the student’s reason when he/she came back to class. Officially, we should be given a letter from their parents explaining their absence, but it was not strictly followed, so it was not uncommon for them to invent stories to escape our scrutiny.

So, really, if someone is absent in my class, I’d just record it and move on. With a class of 75-80 students, it’s actually favorable to us teachers that some of them are missing, since the smaller the class, the easier it is to control them.


However, for Stephanie to be absent was something. From Grade 7 until now, she had the perfect attendance. Heck, even during stormy weather, she would come to school, until the authorities would suspend classes in the middle of class hours. I tried asking Kyle, Ferdie and Denver, but they had no idea about her reasons for skipping school.

I can’t help but suspect that something happened to her and her mother. Despite that, I’m hoping that I’m just overthinking.


Friday. Stephanie was still absent. And her circle of friends were clueless as to why it was so. I could only utter a silent prayer that my friend was fine, and that her mother realized her mistake and stopped communicating with ‘Honey’. Or better yet, it’s a different concern.

“Hey, Sir Seth!”

I felt someone tap on my shoulder. Turning around, it was Maybelle from Class Opal.

Ah, Maybelle, do you need anything from me?” I looked at my watch; it was still 15 minutes before the 8th Grade recess ended. “Did you eat already?”

“Don’t worry about me, Sir,” she chuckled. “If it’s food, I’m always the first one to get it.”

Heh, tone down on food, or you’ll end up as fat as me.”

“Well, you’re handsome anyway, Sir.”

“Don’t come to my class anymore,” I joked. “I’ll give you a perfect grade in your finals.”

We laughed together, though the happiness didn’t last long. Maybelle, as it turned out, had something important to tell me, “Sir, I saw you talk to Stephanie Cefiro last time. If it’s okay with you, can I know what is it that she told you?”

The smile on my lips dissipated when I heard her, and I became suspicious. “Why would you want to know that?”

Maybelle, however, seemed to have seen through me, and said, “Sir Seth, don’t worry! I’m Stephanie’s ally. Actually, I already have a vague idea of what she said to you; I just wanted to confirm it.”

“I’d like to see you try,” I answered. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Her mother, right?”

I fell silent. Maybelle hit the target fair and square.

“You don’t even need to answer me anymore!” she grinned. “Your reaction is priceless, Sir! You quickly gave away your secret.”

“Wh-Why do you know about it?”

“I’m also Stephanie’s cousin,” Maybelle revealed. “Although a distant one. See, our grandfather on the mother side sired a lot of children from different women, our parents are still discovering a lot of their fellow ‘half-siblings’ up till now.”


“Our family—or rather, clan, history is turbulent,” she told me, amused at my expression. “Actually, I’m not surprised that her mother is following our grandfather’s mistakes.”

“So you also knew about that.”

Maybelle nodded, “Don’t tell Steph, but it is an affair for a year now. We don’t know who’s that ‘Honey’; but, our relatives wanted to talk to Stephanie’s mother about it. You know, try to convince her to stop what she’s doing.”

My student had no idea of how relieved I was to hear that. Most of the similar cases I encountered, it was the relatives of the person at fault who’d either encourage, or tolerate, such actions. Good thing that in Stephanie and Maybelle’s clan, they still possessed common sense to rebuke their erring member.

“What did her mother say?” I wanted to know Stephanie’s condition, so I asked.

Auntie is defensive,” Maybelle admitted. “But we’re hoping we can still persuade her.”

“I see…thanks for the efforts of your parents, Maybelle.”

Heh, I only said that to you, Sir,” she revealed. Then, she took out a piece of folded paper from her pockets and gave it to me, “You don’t know how much Stephanie trusts you, see?”

“What’s this?”

“Her excuse letter.”


Of course, once our student gave us an excuse letter to explain their absence, they were automatically given consideration for anything that they’d missed. That included the quizzes, activities and other stuff that might affect their grades. Stephanie did say in her letter that she would be back by Monday, which was quite relieving to me, so I guess she won’t miss much of the lessons.

Saturday came. Then Sunday. As my usual routine, I’d log in my social media and answer the concerns of my students, now including their frustrations at the anime shows they watched. It’s not a secret to my colleagues and classes that I love reading manga, and watching anime, so the ‘otakus’ among my students would always talk to me about the recent episodes.

It is quite fun, really, that I often forget that my hours are limited. Soon, I noticed that it is already time for sleep.


And, my sleepiness was further improved by the cold, rainy weather. I thought to myself, it’d be good to sleep with a blanket on. So I told my students that I’d hit the sack and said our goodbyes.

Just as I was about to close my browser, however, a chat box suddenly popped. It was from Stephanie, and I froze when I read her message…

‘Sir Seth! Help me!’