Chapter 3 - The Back-to-School Hassle

Mondays.

Freaking Mondays. Why were Mondays created?

The sizzling sound of the onions being sautéed and of the birds chirping outside our apartment brought a relaxing and calming effect on me as I cooked our breakfast in our makeshift kitchen, yet the day being a “Monday” drowned all of it.

I hated Mondays the most.

Others would see a teacher’s job as much easier than a worker in a convenience store or any fast-food chain because, according to some people who thought highly of themselves, we were just teaching students. One of my students once said that we were so lucky we just needed to sit to get paid. The audacity of the child made me mad; however, I had to cool my head, so I just let it pass through my other ear as a professional.

They were wrong.

I might be too lazy to think through this, but all the same, still had an idea as to how it worked. They didn’t know what was happening in a teacher’s schedule. Imagine having to bring all your paperwork at home just to finish them all, which, by the way, was supposedly done within the eight-hour shift that was not at all feasible.

And Monday was the worst of all.

I was about to pour last night’s rice when a rustle behind startled me.

“Oh, you’re already cooking. I was supposed to do that,” my younger brother said with a yawn.

He went into the kitchen silently—like an assassin. I liked to call him that. He had been a silent type of person since birth. He was the one assigned to cook our breakfasts, but since I woke up too early, I might as well cook for my family. Vincent looked so sleepy though he always looked like he was. He had sleepy eyes and a crooked, small nose. He had the weirdest complexion I had ever seen in my life: his face down to the left side of his chest was brown; the rest of the upper body (including his arms) down to the hips was lighter; the lower body was dark brown; and his right foot was pinkish brown. Lots of people teased him about this; in fact, he was bullied back in elementary because of the color of his skin. For me, though, it made him unique. And I liked it. 

“Make sure to replace the water gallon and wake mama up,” I replied.

“They are awake. Can you serve me a bowl?”

“Go serve yourself. I’m gonna go take a bath. Get me a towel and a pair of boxers.”

“And?”

“Where’s papa?”

“Went to work? What else?”

“Pack my lunch. Just rice. Alright? I’m just gonna step into the bathroom real quick.” 

I went in and slid out of my baggy shirt—God, how I loved to sleep in baggy clothing. The shower was not yet completely fixed, so I used the tabo. While pouring the cold water over my head, I imagined things that would be too impossible to happen in real life. You see, I loved imagining things and there might be a chance for them to happen as I had told you about my power.

But the main reason was that it was the only thing that I could productively do that required less effort.

I first imagined that I’d be able to publish books. I was into Linguistics and Literature; in fact, I finished my Education degree majoring in English, and I was currently taking up my master’s in English Language Teaching with a plan to take up any course related to Literature this coming semester. I loved reading and creating stories out of thin air. Sometimes, my ideas were spontaneous that I needed to write them down immediately, or else they would be gone in a matter of seconds. I had been writing lots of stories lately even if they were as bad as how I always made my rice uncooked.

Uncooked writing—what a comparison. 

I didn’t care if it would sell or not, though; I just wanted to share my stories to readers who would find them interesting.

Hopefully, it would happen.

I shifted my thoughts to the girl I liked in the school I was currently employed. She joined the faculty last year, but she was assigned on the fourth floor because she was handling lower year levels. 

I was recently transferred to the fifth floor last September because I needed to fill in the classes by one of the teachers on the floor. She was on maternity leave, and she extended it because no one could look after her baby, who somehow got ill. Last December, just before we ended our Christmas party, the headmaster told me that I’d be permanently assigned to the class of year 10A because teacher Shera decided to resign. I soon understood why, and here I was.

Anyway, back to Chevonne. Although she recently joined, we were just of the same age. She taught Science, and I taught English. I did hate schools, and if given a chance to change jobs, I’d do so—yet she was one of the reasons why I was still going on. 

I first noticed her during our seminar last summer: Teachers’ Furthering of Knowledge. It was a conducive and excellent training for teachers, especially for furthering our teaching pedagogies. Things that we had already learned were being taught again for weeks for us to be honed, and to refresh ourselves of the professional education units that we had almost forgotten. 

Nice, right? Did you think it helped me? No!

For some reason, my laziness backfired, and I missed the chance to catch on to lots of topics that had been discussed. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s Taxonomy had always been a part of us, Education students, since schooling in CEU, and because of it, I just took the seminar for granted. There was no real furthering-of-knowledge that happened to me.

And, yeah, I knew it was my fault. I understood the consequences and I had forgiven myself already.  

However, there was one thing that had kept me alive and kicking during that seminar—her existence in that room.

I always caught a glimpse of her talking to her friend. She liked to show off these smiles of hers that could make thousands of men fight against one another, ready to sacrifice their lives for her hand. She was not the typical cute and pabebe girl that you would find anywhere; she was the type of girl that only I could understand—at least, as what I wanted it to be. Pathetic, wasn’t it? Einstein once said that if you couldn’t explain a thing as simple as you could, you didn’t understand it yourself. 

Full of crap. 

Just because you couldn’t explain it simply, didn’t mean that you didn’t understand it at all. Some things were just too complicated to explain. Like emotion. It was the hardest concept to understand in the universe, and I believed that not only human beings could enjoy and obtain it. For me, even non-living things had an emotion in their own way. I sometimes imagined the winds being happy that they were whispering a calming lullaby to me whenever I felt stressed, or that they were singing a sweet and assuring melody whenever I felt lonely and isolated. Just like a loving mother, making me feel loved. I sometimes felt the trees frolicking along with the winds when I traveled around Cebu for some relaxing get-away trips, looking like they were welcoming me even with all my flaws.

If only I could feel Chevonne’s feelings as well. How wonderful would that be? She loved talking with her friend and would always flash her perfect set of teeth, not caring if it could make someone’s heart skip a bit that would eventually develop into something much more complicated.

How I wished I was her friend.

I knew Jelly as a good-natured teacher. She was polite and would solemnly talk with others, except with her close co-teachers and, of course, Chevonne. Apparently, they were classmates in college.

Vincent pulled me out of my daydream with his call.

“Kuya, I can’t find any pair of boxers here!”

“Try to dig in deeper. They might have been mixed with my shorts. Or you might have been searching in the wrong drawer!”

“Second to last, right?”

“See? You’re searching the wrong one. It’s in the last drawer, you fool-head. Maybe you should try remembering it next time!”

“Ah, there. Found it!”

I changed to my job-clothes—a complete business attire with a suit, necktie, and all—and jumped to my scooter. I recently got my Honda Beat last year. My friends sometimes teased me with the color I picked, which was pink, but little did they know that it was my favorite. One of the problems in Cebu was the commute and traffic; hence, I wanted my own wheels forth and back for convenience. It was a big bite in my pay, though.

I fired the engine and drove out of the curb into the hellish prison masked as a school.

† † †

I was almost late when I punched in. Some teachers were almost finished with their breakfast in the cafeteria.

I went to my desk in the faculty office, just beside the cafeteria. Each of our areas was in low cubicles wherein you could still see each other even when you were sitting down. There was a transparent glass boundary between each desk, a territorial reminder of where you should and should not put your things. You were lucky if you were sitting with your friend because the boundary might mean nothing, depending on the days you were in good terms.

Put. Grab. Clean. Pour. Drink.

It was my daily routine: put my bag on my desk; grab the coffee mug, making sure that the spoon was untouched and still the usual one; clean the insides using only the hot water from the dispenser that was just an arm away from my area; pour my everyday elixir that would keep me functioning throughout the day; and drink the contents, enjoying the mixture and taste of the greatest and cheapest patent in the coffee world—Nescafe: Original.

“Josh, it’s the first day of school, yet same again?” one of my friends asked in the cafeteria when I lined up for my food. 

“Wha’d’ya mean by that?” I replied lazily.

“At least, say good morning to me. You’ve been doing this cold treatment for almost three years already. Also, for god’s sake, it’s the first day of the second half of school!”

Yes, I had been teaching at this school for two years and a half. Even I didn’t know how I endured this long. It could be the students that made me stay—of course, aside from my crushing on Chevonne—or the working environment. But definitely not lesson planning. Let me use this analogy that you might have already heard somewhere: if my work was to be personified as my friend, and I was with him, Lenin, and Hitler in the same room with a gun in my hand that had only two bullets, I’d undoubtedly shoot my friend twice.

That was how I hated it.

I ordered my usual breakfast: rice, ham, spam, and sunny-side up. I’d eat breakfast twice for the sake of having an excuse to talk with my friends, not making it too obvious that I wanted to converse and have fun with them. I told the one who was managing the cafeteria to list my meal, and then I sat beside Veruca. She was a feisty individual for a four-footer. She might have been deep asleep when God gifted heights to people.

I sliced my egg, ate a piece, and asked, “Where are the others?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they are really here, but just invisible. Try asking the vacant seats,” she sarcastically replied.

“Just like Veruca,”

“Yes, just like me.”

There was nothing much to talk about when it was just the two of us. We went to our faculty and prepared for the first period. 

God, let me get through this day as quickly as possible.

† † †

The morning classes went as boring as they could be. I loved my students, but I couldn’t escape to the fact that my classes bored me a lot. The experience right now compared before was different. If not only for my students, I wouldn’t have come to school today.

Four of my co-teachers were eating at one of the round tables set just outside the cafeteria. I wanted to sit and have a conversation with them to at least have some friends with the new faculty I was in, but unluckily, there was no more seat for one person. Bringing the lunch box with rice only, I ordered my viand and pretended that I was finding a table to settle on, where in fact I was just wondering at the artistic beauty of the whole cafeteria.

If there was one thing that I liked about this school, it was the cafeteria.

Aside from the food, the design and positioning of things made the student who loved arts inside me shiver with excitement. Throughout my entire life in schools I had been to, ANHS was the oasis of them all, as far as comfort and design were concerned. The round tables—ten in total with four bolted chairs each—were unique in their own way. Four circular patterns of twigs and leaves covered the totality of the tabletop. The bolted chairs were intricate themselves; the edges were crafted masterfully to resemble an oak wood, matched with the right brownish color. Each chair had a stem that looked like a tree stump, which connected the seat—darkish brown—to the floor that was strongly bolted.

I was about to go to my desk inside our faculty office after digesting all the beauty that I could stomach when someone called me.

“Josh, come here! Eat with us,” Veruca called out from the staircase. She was going down to the fourth floor where the faculty I once belonged to with her last school year was located. She was the only one who I managed to be friends with because of how easy-going and approachable she was. Just to be clear, I was not the one who introduced myself first because I was too tired to do it.

She was like the friends of all ages. I wouldn’t doubt that she could befriend a monkey or the dead rat that once gave a strong smell for weeks when I was still on the fourth floor.

And because of her, I made friends with two more teachers. 

“Where would you eat?” I shouted back as I twisted ninety degrees to approach her.

“In Blanch’s classroom. It’s her class’ Students’ Day, so all of them already went home.”

“Who are eating with us?”

“Arjun, Chevonne—”

“Okay, count me in!” I interjected. Veruca got why and just nodded.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Recently, Chevonne was adopted by them because she was the only newly hired teacher in the middle of June last year. In short, she was my replacement. I didn’t care about this; in fact, it was an opportunity for me to establish a good relationship with her as friends first, and I was not even a bit tired of doing it, nor would I ever be.

Blanch’s classroom was a strange and at the same time beautiful world not just for grade seven students, but also for anyone who had a great taste in arts and aesthetics. The quotations on the four walls were catchy, but the one on the front wall might be the perfect truth-sign that would have a great impact on students’ integrity: God can see you. The corners were all decorated with dark-brown tree trunks, and branches stretched up to the upper middle area of each wall, just beneath the quotations. Different learning corners were displayed around the classroom: the reading corner, which was full of different children’s books and some lunch boxes that were forgotten by some students; a humongous memory wall that covered almost the entire back wall of the classroom, consisting of different handouts and announcements from each subject; and the birthday corner, background info, and the cleaning duty assignment that were all posted on the left wall, just next to the windows. The whiteboard was full of last morning’s lesson-writings and the STEPS area was full of names of students who were evidently the rowdy ones inside the classroom. A large Samsung TV monitor had been mounted up the middle portion of the board. All the chairs were piled up already. The remaining unadorned walls were patched with different sizes of cartolina-made autumn leaves.

Blanch and Arjun were seated at the teacher’s table, just next to the door, munching some of their food already.

“Hoy, Josh! It’s been centuries since you visited us!” Blanch shouted as soon as I stepped a foot inside the classroom. She was also a four-footer herself, just like Veruca, but a few inches taller and she was not feisty at all; on the contrary, her whole being was cute. Her sparkling, black, large eyes were the black holes that could pull your heart in, complemented with a cute, little nose and a glossy pair of pouty lips. Her short, black hair was tightly kept in a bun. I once liked this girl, but it never lasted as much as I wanted to.

“Yeah, what’s up? Seemed like you got really hungry in the middle of waiting for us,” I retorted, grabbing a student’s chair to sit beside them. Veruca followed suit.

“We are all good here. Let me guess, you didn’t do anything during Christmas break, did you?”

“Hey, don’t just assume anything just because I hardly do things. As if I’d waste my precious break not doing something productive.”

“Productive? Wow, that’s a big word there. Never thought of you being too confident in saying such a word,” Arjun blurted out while gnawing his bola-bola. There were only four males among the teachers in this school: teacher Samuel, teacher Norkie, Arjun, and I. I had never been in close relationship with the first two teachers because of having a thirty-year age gap, which could tell a lot about the field of interest in topics that we could talk about. Arjun and I were both of the same age and he was the only man I could talk about boy stuff in this school. Well, he was not a hundred percent man. He was bisexual, and he had a joyous and fabulous personality.

I grabbed his left ear and playfully smacked his big head. He had a bushy hair that served as his ultimate defense against any objects or hostility from above, just kidding. “You’re one to talk, huh, Arj? How ‘bout you? As far as I know, you dated different men on Tinder and Tantan, all at once!”

“Hey, what’s wrong with that? They all asked me to be their boyfriend. How cold-hearted am I not to give them any chance? They might have been rejected before, you know. At least, I’m assuring them that there’s still someone who cares for them.”

“The ends don’t justify the means. Nice try.”

“Hey, don’t be too hard on Arj. Are you perfect, sis?” Veruca jumped in, defending Arjun.

“That’s right. At least, he is doing something productive. I’m not talking about his boys but with his paperworkunlike one person here who only creates his lesson plans after teaching,” Blanch added, trying to hit some of my nerves.

“Are you all even thinking straight here? No pun intended, Arj. I mean, how can you even think of dating people all at once? That’s an emotional crime!” I fired back.

“Really? So, you’re basically telling us that Muslims are emotional criminals, huh?” Veruca was quick on the uptake.

“That’s right,” Blanch added, not contributing to anything.

“Guys, listen here. Take a page out of my book. If I were to date someone, I’d make sure to zero in to that lucky girl—” here, a snort escaped Arjun’s throat. “—what’s funny?” I added.

“I just pity that lucky girl. But who knows, it might be you, Blanch.”

A disgusted reaction showed on Blanch’s oval face. “As if. Even if Josh were the only living man here on Earth, I’d surely not date him. I’d die first.”

“Wow. Just wow. Did you even ask my opinion about it? Do you think I like you in the slightest? Not in my loneliest moment have I ever looked at you as a woman, shorty,” I lied, making sure to follow up an insulting smirk to add some salt to the wound. My pride had taken some critical damage and I’d not let it go more than that. “Truth be told, I don’t like any girls in this school. It’s like I’m surrounded by some girls out of The Walking Dead!” 

All of them stared at me in disgust—not even hurt. It was like they were telling me that I could surely do much better than that.

“You can’t fool anyone here. As if you don’t have a crush on—” here, Chevonne rushed in with a high-pitched “Am I late?” not directed to anyone, bringing her own lunch and a pink hydro flask. She grabbed a chair and sat beside Blanch at which she was also, at the same time, sitting opposite me. She smiled at everyone, not exactly sure if I was included for I smacked Arjun’s mouth shut with my hands just right before she came in and pretended to scrutinize the food on the table as if they were at fault for the irregularity of my heartbeat.

Standing five-feet tall, this cutesy, chubby-ish of a woman had a mysterious pulling energy about her. She had a heart-shaped face with a softly shaped jaw, a well-formed nose, small ears, and generic but beautifully molded lips. Her black eyes were as large as how kittens’ eyes would be when staring at something or someone, paired with on-fleek, black eyebrows. She was wearing the Monday uniform just as with everyone else’s, consisting of white long-sleeves with a black blazer, gray pants, and a pair of black shoes.

Take note, this was my pity attempt in describing her indescribable pulchritude.

“Wow, you’re really glowing today, Chev,” Veruca complimented out of nowhere, taking a side glance at me. The tease got me mad and I gestured for her to stop.

“Really? Thank you, cher! You look great, too. Here, have some of my Afritada.”

Veruca joyfully snatched a large chunk of meat from Chevonne’s lunchbox, not even caring if she would get mad at her. Thankfully, the food silenced her. 

The whole gang talked and laughed their heads off about anything, sometimes, maybe, about me, which might be just my imagination, until all the food was gone. I was not paying any attention anymore. I didn’t know why I was like this, but when I was around her, I was rendered speechless. 

Rather, stunned.

Wait. The word was stupefied.

Time surely could fly fast when you were in your blissful moments. Blissful as it might sound for me, it was just a regular day for her. It was okay, though. I’d make sure that she would notice me one of these days.

We cleaned our mess and said our short goodbyes for the day. They all went back to their offices and I went up to mine on the fifth floor. All the teachers were already busy with their afternoon classes, making worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.

So much for the friendship that I wanted to establish with her.

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