Chapter 4 - The Troublemaker

“Okay, class, you’re dismissed.”

I went straight to the faculty office to drop off my instructional materials and joined my gang at the cafeteria. Around the table were Ritchelle, Vhina, and Alyssa. Every lunchtime, Ritchelle would get our reserved food ahead of time because she was the first to dismiss her class. She had her classes only in the morning. 

A month had already passed since then.

“Hey, why is the you so late to sits here by the us?” Ritchelle asked just seconds before I settled on my seat. 

“Me is the stressed by the students, but I scolded them, which make me the stresser,” I replied, following with the flow of the joke. 

“Wow, I’m impressed that both of you can understand that kind of English,” Alyssa commented as she professionally sliced off the egg white of her sunny-side-up, to be given to Veruca later who notably liked it. Our conversation low-key annoyed her because she was an English teacher.

“Join we. We is the teaches you how to says we is the language,” Ritchelle offered. 

“Also, you is the one who tolds us that there’s no wrong English because of world Englishes, remembers?” I added. “Even ‘Vi’ cans the surely is recall.”

“You know what? Your type of English is the only one that is not acceptable. And please, stop that. It’s making me cringe.”

“Guys, listen first. I have something to tell you,” Vhina said. “And, Elly, as I’ve told you, my name has an ‘h’, so it’s vuh-hiiii. Pronounce it correctly because it makes a lot of difference!”

“As if it does.”

Vhina ignored me and just told us her story about her hard-headed student who kept on shaming her indirectly through side comments and whispers to his seatmates. She didn’t care about this because, for her, it was only a “small thing”. But when small things were amassed, then surely it would turn to something alarming, and would eventually affect someone’s emotional state. She added that time came she had had a mental breakdown and just hid it from us; well, not from me. Her pride just could not stand it when others pitied her.

We talked about lots of things afterward and kept on laughing here and there. Sometimes getting angry about how inconsiderate and insensitive our students were with their teachers. Sometimes about our funny experiences.

Josh was at the adjacent table all alone. He was sitting in an unlikely manner and was eating his food lazily with his earphones on. He dozed off for a moment, and I caught him in the act. His hair was still as unkempt as usual, and he was still wearing an unironed uniform. What I couldn’t take off my mind was the way he was purposefully playing with his thick lips by flicking them with his fingers, looking like an idiotic, lazy bum. What was he even doing?

I remembered something.

“Hey, I almost forgot. You all know Finlay, right?” I whispered.

“Yes, why? Did he do something big again?” Ritchelle murmured, emphasizing the word big by intentionally pouting her lips in pronouncing the word.

“Not just big, but something really interesting. During my discussion, he kept on insisting that lightning was the sound, while thunder was the flash. I kept on telling him he had gotten them interchanged. However, he didn’t believe me, and he stood and went in front of the class to explain his point. You know how good he is in arguing, right? But what to argue about lightning and thunder? I mean, it’s a fact!

“I just let him be, though. He kept on explaining until he got tired and eventually went back to his seat. I was about to laugh at that time, but his arrogance is greater than my being about to laugh, so I scolded him and called her mom to come to school to discuss his behavior. And seems like he’s still not convinced about thunder and lightning, which is kind of hard for me to keep a straight face whenever he’s around,” I stifled a laugh.

“You’re really brave, huh? Calling a parent for a meeting? That’s the greatest nemesis of all teachers here, and you of all teachers should know,” Alyssa negatively remarked, recounting my experience about a parent who complained about my teaching style, and the way I handled my students during my first year of teaching. That was the first time that someone outside my family made me cry. 

“You know what? I think it’s Josh’s fault. He is the adviser, yet he couldn’t discipline his student properly. Hey, Josh! Are you listening?” Vhina cried at the other table.

“Whut?” Josh lazily replied, pulling his earphones out. I noticed that he seemed lacking some energy. 

“Whut your face. Can you come here for a while?”

“Oh, okay. Wait a minute.” He dropped his emptied plate into the dish bin and went to our table. “What was it?”

“It’s about Finlay. Can you tell him off next time? He did something again. It happens with other teachers as well, for your information.”

“Oh, sorry about that. I’ll make sure to tell him about it.”

“You better do because you’re the adviser. And don’t just tell. Make sure he’ll remember and learn from it.”

“Okay. I’m really sorry about it.” 

“Also,” I inserted in a high pitch, adding some awkwardness in the atmosphere. “We can see that you’re eating alone there. You might still be adjusting to your new environment coming from the fourth-floor peeps, which we can totally understand. However, we would want to tell you that you can talk with us if you’re having some problems or questions regarding anything on this floor. We might still be novices, but we know how this floor works already.” I bent down a little and whispered, “It’s okay if you don’t pass your lesson plan on time as long as you’d finish it before the school year ends.”

The last statement brought a smile to his face, which we found new. We were taken aback by the chuckle that followed.

“Yes, yes. Thank you very much. I actually want to start a conversation with you all to introduce myself properly. I might be of a different gender, but I assure you I can have a decent talk with women,” he said after he let out a not-so-obvious-but-apparent-enough relieved sigh while wiping his teary eyes.

I looked around and tried reading my friends’ expressions.

Well, we might have a problem talking with you in particular, Vhina might have thought.

Wow, he sure knows how to talk casually, Ritchelle might also have thought based on how she nodded.

Of a different gender? What a choice of words, Alyssa would surely say.

Thank God. I thought he was a scary one, I muttered under my breath.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Josh asked me.

“No, I—we just want to welcome you here!” I stood, and with a vigorous motion, opened my arms wide enough to hit Alyssa and Vhina both at my sides. There was another awkward pause before a teacher approached us, carrying a gray and black Asus laptop. We all greeted “good afternoon” to the newcomer and offered her a seat that was nowhere around.

“Teacher Jelly, I just want to remind you that you’re going to have a meeting with Mrs. Garcia at three. She already confirmed. You can dismiss your students earlier since they wouldn’t have their Digital class in the last period,” teacher Mary said in an articulate manner. She was the instructional supervisor of the school and the authority radiated from how she talked alone.

Something that was recognizably weaker than how I talked earlier escaped from my throat, “Yes, cher, I’ll be there.”

“Very good. And, teachers, it’s five to one. Better prepare for your afternoon classes now.” She winked and smiled at us naturally which was very unlikely of her strict nature. With her age, she sure looked young. She knew how to handle herself. Her waist-length, newly rebonded hair swayed along with her gait as she walked toward the elevator. She was wearing a pair of two-inch heels with her Monday uniform, which conveyed a strong message that she was way above the normal teachers.

Lunch had ended, and we all went back to our respective classrooms. Before turning to go to mine, I saw Josh sighed lazily. 

† † †

I was already in the guidance office on the third floor, waiting for Finlay’s mother, while fidgeting over the G-tech pen that Molly gifted me last Christmas break. At first, I jokingly complained about how common and cheap the gift was, but deep inside, I liked it. I was thankful that she came back after one week and acted as if nothing happened, which I found remarkable and convenient at the same time. The pen was almost running out of ink, which made me think that I was waiting for almost thirty minutes already—my time was also running out. The parent-teacher meetings in Arullina were only limited to thirty minutes to minimize the consumption of teaching time; however, it was already dismissal and I could surely spare some more minutes with the parent who, when the long hand of the wall clock ticked ten, barged in the office, barely catching her breath.

“I apologize for being late, teacher. The traffic is really long,” she said after I offered her a glass of water.

“It’s okay, madam. Please sit here and make yourself comfortable,” I replied, accompanied by a smile out of courtesy. Mrs. Garcia settled herself comfortably on a monobloc chair. Her assorted, colorful bangles made me think that she might be a collector of some sort. The pearl earrings that she was wearing were something that I found unnecessary; rather, unmatched with her pointy, out-of-style, and boyish haircut. She wore thick make-up as if going straight to a club after the meeting. If not for her luxurious clothing: sparkly purple dress, branded beige high-heels, and aquamarine-ish Lacoste handbag, I’d—without a doubt—assume her for a bad-ass-mama partygoer.

“Okay, so without further delay, let me get straight to the point. You called me here regarding an important matter about my child, and I expect you to fill me in head-on. Please, don’t beat around the bush.” The fake smile she gave me vanished like a popped bubble after she collected herself.

The sudden change of composure and, to say at most, manner of tone, caught me off-guard. “Okay, madam. It all happened during my class in Science this morning. You might have an idea already that he sometimes purposefully interrupts discussions and exerts to explain himself about his answers, which can drag the lessons more than necessary.

“So, we were talking about lightning and thunder when he incorrectly interchanged the two terms for their definition and tried to defend his answer. The thing is, the way he approached me was very rude, and all his classmates found it the same way I did. I just want you to be informed about this because it would greatly affect his performance per se, especially his good moral character, and hopefully, you will help me by also reminding him at home of what he has done and on how he should correct himself. It would be best to guide him, not forcing him to become better as it might just backfire.” 

“Okay, got it, teacher. But did you explain it properly to him? My son might just be confused about it and he might just need you to explain the facts properly to him.”

“I explained everything to him, madam. However, it seems like his pride hinders him from accepting his mistakes, and he doesn’t want to look stupid in front of everyone, especially after the confidence he displayed.”

“Wait. Are you telling me that my son is stupid?”

“No, madam. What I’m saying is, he doesn’t want to look stupid to his classmates.”

“Well, my son is not like that. He does not care about anyone’s opinion or what they think of him. You must have been mistaken about something here, teacher.”

“Madam, you might not know this yet, but seems like Finlay likes someone from his classmates. We have an idea as to who she is, but it does not matter. Anyway, as wha—”

“Wait, teacher. Are you telling me that he has a crush on someone?” Mrs. Garcia asked. This brought a bubbly voice from her throat.

“Well, seems like it. But again, as what I am telling you, madam, it won’t matter any—”

“Teacher! What are you talking about? Of course, it matters a lot! That is why he was being proud and persistent about himself because it’s not like he does not want to look stupid in front of the class, it’s more likely that he does not want to look stupid in front of that girl! Mrs. Garcia stood and somehow acted lively and all-knowing about her child’s behavior. She was the mother, after all, so she should know better.

I had never seen it like that—not in a way.

Mrs. Garcia settled back down and for some seconds pondered over something. I was tongue-tied and just waited for her to speak first. She smiled and extended her hand, “I think I know how to help you with this, teacher. Thank you for being good to my son.”

I shook her hand, and we parted. Upon going back to the faculty office, I wondered about Mrs. Garcia’s queer actions. Did it settle the matter about Finlay? Did it end in a friendly note? Was she mad at me?

Inside the office, teacher Mary was sitting on my chair. She had been waiting for me.

“How was it?” she asked first.

“It was good, cher,” I lied.

“Really? Then, that’s good news. We need her to be on our side because our ride for the retreat will be sponsored by her. I was wishing that the meeting would come off positively because if it had not, then we’d have to deal with another problem.”

This made my body rigid. Had I only known about this then I’d surely have made the meeting much more pleasant. If only not because of that Finlay.

I heard that teacher Mary had once become an investigator before becoming a teacher—well, I was not certain of it—and by experience itself, she would surely know something much more than what the surface would tell of a person. She must have taken a hint already by the way I stood so stiff. She finally asked, “It didn’t go well, did it?”

It took another moment for me to respond. “I’m not really sure, cher. But I told her what happened, and her child was really at fault. Everybody knows Finlay, and I surely know that his mother knows him, too. Anyway, she kept asking me about her son crushing on someone and how it matters a lot regarding the child’s misbehavior. She was even ecstatic about it. Then she went away in a hurry. It was weird.”

Teacher Mary might have seen how concerned I was. She only sighed, and added in an indifferent tone, “I will arrange a meeting with her again, tomorrow afternoon. I should have known better. I’ll talk to her myself just to make sure that she understands the situation without jeopardizing the sponsorship she offered. I might call you to add some feedback, together with his adviser. Kindly inform him for me.”

† † †

Tomorrow came fast and I informed Josh about the meeting first thing in the morning.

“I apologize for not taking Finlay’s behavior seriously. I should be the one talking with his parents,” he apologized after I told him how the meeting turned out.

“It’s okay. Besides, we can’t change anything about it anymore. I just hope we’ll be able to make Finlay aware of his misdoings and change on his own accord. Come right on time this afternoon, alright?” I replied with a side of a smile. He smiled back and went to the cafeteria to eat with Veruca, Arjun, and Blanch who were all waiting at a table for him.

Afternoon came and teacher Mary was already inside the guidance office, sitting formally, wearing the Tuesday uniform, which comprised of a black blazer with a fuchsia blouse and a pair of khaki pants. Josh and I went inside and offered our greetings. The moment we settled down, Mrs. Garcia proceeded. She was calm in her bearing and proper in her attire. She wore a plain, white, knee-length, cocktail dress as if straight out of a wedding, but not a piece of jewelry in possession. 

I noticed that there was something strange in the way Mrs. Garcia was staring at teacher Mary. It was like she was scrutinizing her.

“I made sure not to be late this time,” Mrs. Garcia said, who winked at me and had herself seated on one of the monoblocs. Her seemingly bouncy and positive behavior today made me much less nervous.

“I hope we are not getting in the way with all of your businesses around the city, Mrs. Garcia. It’s just that talking about your child’s performance and behavior inside the classroom is a must. What he has been  displaying recently is of something that a delinquent would do,” teacher Mary started without doubting her words. She might have known the parent well that she wanted everything to be straight to the point.

“Of course, I know. I’m sorry, too, for my son’s mistakes. I’m sure you’ve heard from teacher Jelly about our meeting yesterday.” Mrs. Garcia turned to me, and then added, “I apologize for what I’ve shown you of myself. I hope you will be able to forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to worry about it, madam. I’ve expected it to come from a loving and caring mother. You were worried about your son, so I understand. I also apologize if I said something that had made you angry or disappointed.” Despite being less anxious, I still couldn’t help myself being intimidated.

Teacher Mary cleared her throat, and in a stern and serious tone continued, “Anyway, we will not keep this meeting for long, madam, for I know that you still have some important matters to attend to. We just want to inform you that if Finlay commits another grave misconduct in the classroom, we will not have a second thought of giving him the last written warning, and he will need to attend the community immersion every Saturday as well.”

“Of course, yes. I’ll make sure to give him some scoldings at home. Thank you for always looking after my child, teachers.” Mrs. Garcia stood and extended her left arm. She was clearly in a hurry, just like yesterday. What kind of businesses did she have?

We shook her hand and gave our farewells. Mrs. Garcia was almost through the threshold when she remembered something. “Ah, teacher Mary, the barge will be ready late in the evening this coming Friday. Maybe nine or ten. I’ll email the specifics once I’m home. The captain said that they might be carrying some passengers with them if it’s okay with the school.”

This brought a smile to teacher Mary’s face. I loosened my shoulders and sighed slowly. “Thank God”

was all I could think of.

“No worries about it, madam. Thank you very much for being so generous as to offer your services for the betterment of the student council.”

“Just keep your word about bringing Finlay with you to observe what the student council does. I’ll make sure to encourage him to join next school year. This might be a chance for him to change, too.”

“Yes, yes. As promised. And you are right. This might be a splendid opportunity for Finlay to think things through,” teacher Mary replied. I might have mistaken the smile Mrs. Garcia gave teacher Mary in reply. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

“Um, madam—” 

We turned to Josh’s place. I almost forgot that he was with us.

“Yes?” A smile, but not the smile she had shown teacher Mary earlier, was shot at him.

“I’m the adviser of Finlay. I just want to say that he is not at all times misbehaving inside the classroom. It might just be me, but he’s well-behaved in my class and some of his actions are tolerable, if not acceptable.”

Mrs. Garcia’s smile curved down and her eyebrows arched. Even teacher Mary and I gave him the face. “Well, thank you for that, Mr. adviser. I’ll surely tell Finlay that you complimented him.”

“Yes, please do,” Josh replied.

Mrs. Garcia was gone in a second. 

I smiled and patted him at the back. “That’s it. Put some more energy to it next time.” 

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