Chapter 5 - The Short Meeting

Friday.

Blessed Fridays. Why couldn’t all days in a week be Fridays?

The day of the retreat had finally come. I had been waiting for this day in like, forever. Finally, I’d be able to go back to Bantayan and experience the beaches I had been planning to go to but failed to do so because of time constraints and the people who I was supposed to go with. Sure, I was into traveling but I just couldn’t do it without a friend or two to accompany me. 

All the teachers who were assigned to attend the retreat were already in the audio-visual room for the meeting and the final preparations. The school bus would pick us up at five, taking us to Hagnaya port in more or less four to five hours. The student council officers were ready with their things and had had their consent forms all signed. I’d surely enjoy myself even with the cumbersome conjunction of minding the students’ security.

Including Finlay. Especially Finlay.

The school’s AVR was not spacious; they had to move the equipment to the sides to give enough room for us in the middle to conduct the meeting. The atmosphere kind of reminded me the first time I attended an open forum during high school—serious and solemn but at the same time ghastly. Chairs were dotting the middle area with some teachers already sitting and waiting for teacher Mary to arrive and officially start the meeting. Veruca was waving at the back portion of the room, gesturing for me to come. She surely could come in handy at times like this.

I sat beside her on one of the chairs she had reserved for us. Blanch and Arjun were not yet around. Perhaps they were prepping their stuff for the retreat. I spotted Chevonne talking with Jelly and her gang in the front row seats. 

“Okay, everyone, may I have all of you properly seated,” teacher Mary instructed as soon as she stepped inside the room. She was impeccably dressed in our Friday uniform. This was the only day that I liked our dress code because we only had to wear our last Teachers’ Day outfit, which was an orange polo-shirt with an ‘ANHS teacher’ print on it. Our names were also printed at the topmost part of the back. “To start the meeting, let’s have teacher Selena for the opening prayer.”

We all bowed our heads, and most of us did the sign of the cross. Teacher Selena led the prayer. The silence, together with the mood of the room, took this simple prayer to something too surreal to explain. We took our seats right after.

“Thank you for that, teacher Selena. Now, our meeting for this week will mostly be focusing on the five-day retreat in Bantayan Island. Manong Trinidad is already waiting for us at the school grounds. I have already given instructions for the other teachers who are not coming with us to load the things we need on the bus. I hope that all the officers have already turned in their consent forms. May I know those who have not submitted yet? This is for the advisers who are handling an officer.”

No hands.

“Okay, very good. Now, I will be announcing the names of the attending teachers. Say ‘here’ once your name is called,” teacher Mary said. She grabbed her planner from the table.

“12A adviser, Vhina Escorita.”

“Here, cher.”

“12B adviser, Ritchelle Berduda.”

“I’m here.”

“11A adviser, Alyssa Gonzales.”

“Here.” It looked like she was keeping in mind that the instruction was just to say “here”. By the way, we taught the same subject.

“11B adviser, Selena Guzman. Actually, no need to answer that. How about 11C adviser, Norkie Verde?”

“Here,” he replied with a deep voice. How I wished I had a manly voice just like his.

“10A adviser, Josh Kabungcag.”

“Here.” I just kept it simple. No need for extravagance.

“10B adviser, Samuel Cuer.”

No reply.

“Where is teacher Samuel? Anyone?”

“Cher, I think he’s meeting one of his student’s parents. He told me earlier, during lunch,” teacher Norkie replied. They might be friends or whatever.

“Okay, but I have not received any info from him. Kindly tell him to give me prior notice next time. Moving on. 10D adviser, Jelly Diaz.”

“Present, cher,” she replied with utmost integrity, looking like a primary schooler. What on Earth was that? The instruction was simple, yet she managed to change it? Well, seemed like teacher Mary didn’t care about it.

“8B adviser, Arjun Lovindina.”

“Here,” he squeaked in a girly voice, which made some teachers chuckle—including me. Teacher Mary didn’t like it, so we refrained from chuckling. Once again, she continued with formality.

“8C adviser, Veruca Navarro.”

“Here, cher.”

“7A adviser, Blanch Mendez.”

“Here!” Her bubbliness was giving off a vibe that was too cute not to notice. Don’t get me wrong. I already had my eyes on Chevonne.

“And, 7C adviser, Chevonne Amamapaw.”

“Here,” she said. There, that was how you should reply properly. If only I could say, “Don’t worry, Chevonne, you’re also here in my heart.” 

Now, that would be cringe-worthy.

“Who was not called?” teacher Mary asked.

No hands.

“Good. Now, keep in mind that some of you may not be handling an officer, but still you need to keep the security of the students well-maintained. We are going to be out for five days straight and you will be held liable to anything that will happen to the students. I hope it’s clear with you all.

“Just a reminder, we will not be the only ones on the barge. There will be passengers other than us, so advisers who are handling an officer, kindly remind your student to behave properly—” she broke off and searched for someone in the crowd of teachers with her gaze. Then, she locked in, “—especially Priscilla, teacher Vhina.”

Vhina nodded her head. The way she did it had made me remember how my mother used to scold me about my misdoings back when I was a child wherein I’d just vigorously nod my head in agreement whenever she reached the “do you understand?” part, keeping it in a low but about-to-burst voice, just to make my apprehension be done the soonest. I wondered if it was just because of it or if it was something associated with fear.

“Well, I will not hold you for long. We need to prepare a lot of things. Teachers, kindly—” teacher Mary hesitated as soon as we all felt the building move. No, it was shaking.

An earthquake.

“Alright, it’s a small one. Don’t panic. Just cover your heads. Wait for it to stop. Not yet. Teacher Norkie and teacher Josh, kindly guide the officers from the next room to the evacuation area. Ritchelle, not yet! And... Go!” teacher Mary cried when the quake ceased. It all went smoothly because it was normal for us already. It was not something new.

True, it was a small one compared to the first big earthquake that hit Cebu before.

I was a first-year college student back then. The teacher who was proctoring our exam during that time was an obese, middle-aged man with sunken cheeks. He didn’t care about his job and just handed the test papers out—no greetings at all. He was giving the instructions of the exam and I was doodling the back of my English notebook about how I’d get my crush that time to like me back when a vertical

earthquake hit us. Everyone was hysterical. It seemed the drills we had done were useless; we ran for our lives. It was in the news for days.

Due to the sudden phenomenon, our departure had been moved the following day. Well, better be safe than sorry. All officers were sent home, including Finlay.

Things that you used to fear would surely turn to something insignificant and annoying in recurrence. These earthquakes were good examples.

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