We pledged of everlasting friendship and promised nothing could get between us. Contented was I in the shelter of our affinity for years that I’ve learned to trust the word “forever” once more. Don’t we crave for that word to provide a shade of permanence in our transient existence?
My best friend’s name was Ralph. The friendship began when he cautioned me against going out with one of his students – which obstinately took me some time to heed. Both of the same age; both private, hardworking people – Ralph and I found ourselves getting along better and better as colleagues. The camaraderie that transpired between us turned into a stronger bond. It’s been easy. Some of the best friends I’ve had in the past were male, gay or not. Oh, I forgot to mention: Ralph is secretly not straight. Although whispers have been passing around the academy for some time, I already knew about it the moment I first laid eyes on him. His voice and his movements had been telling. We never got to traipse on the delicate subject of his true gender in all the years we’ve been close pals. I have a feeling it had been a heavy ordeal for him. It could have been the reason he sought counselling in the past. It could be the reason, too, why he once tried to slit his wrist. These were events in his life he managed to share to me without unveiling definitive explanations. It didn’t matter anyway. The solidity and security I gained for having a friend like him were enough.
And so through the years, Ralph and I, together with the few buddies we’ve taken in to form as a group, revelled in each others’ company. Great times abounded.
Enter “Z”. My boss brought him to my room one morning and asked me to do what I can for him. This new student of mine happens to be handsome, well-built, sophisticated and smart. But so were the other students who came before him in our academy. Nothing extra special to my eyes really.
Now I’ve come face to face with the guy most of my younger co-teachers have a crush on. He had been staying in the academy for two months before he was handed to me as my new student. I’d also heard he has been juggling 3 casual girlfriends simultaneously. Repulsive – in my opinion. No doubt this is the kind of guy who holds a free license to siege ladies’ hearts. The kind of guy who’s confident about everything in himself. Well, except for his language skills.
“Teacher, I badly need to improve my English. Please help me.” Those were his exact words to me. A plea enough to spark the teacher in me. Words I need to hear so I could eagerly flex my best teaching muscles. An expression galvanizing my kind who thinks of no hindrance the minute a student expresses complete sincerity in learning the language.
In the succeeding six months, I focused on elevating Z’s skills. I took pains in constructing pedagogical blueprints on how to make things easier yet effective for him. His faulty memory caused by years of social drinking was our opponent. So we both worked harder against it. Relentless and determined, he’d follow everything I ask him to do. Homework, massive doses of reading, oral and written drills he would do diligently. I was pleased. We’d both glow with pride for every flawless sentence he could deliver.
What I didn’t expect was I’d eventually come to like him both as a student and a person. It’s not just about the good looks. He’s got depth than most of the pretty boys I’ve laid eyes on. He’s an artist – a metallic sculptor to be precise. Focused and insightful. A brave spirit with no limits. Watching the lone wolf in him from afar is mesmerizing. There’s also something about his deep, strong voice that stirs me. And his laugh…I love his laugh that can waft through the hallway when he is in a great mood. It made me delight in trying to be funny so as to elicit laughter from him in our every class – before we get down to the business of hard studying. Whenever we get tired from all the English books and drills, we’d resort to telling each other our stories and worries. This student Z has indeed inched his way into my heart like magic.
My boss once attempted a more important student replace him in our schedule – jettisoning him to a much younger and prettier teacher. I felt rotten. But Z did all he could to come back as my student. He might have surmised I was his best hope for his English ends. You could nonetheless imagine how happy I was to welcome him back.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned to observe my boundaries. I am not foolish. I might have crossed the line once in the past. Or twice. It was something I vowed never to do again. Not this time.
“Don’t forget to do the exercises on the book. I’ll check them tomorrow.” I reminded him one busy morning.
“Tomorrow is Saturday.”
“Oops, sorry. I’ll check them on Monday.”
Silence. He looked at me and slowly said with a slight smile.
“So…where are we going to meet tomorrow?”
Very tempting, I have to admit. “If you’ve got extra time this weekend, flip through the extra exercises at the end of the book. Do them as well.” I calmly remarked, calcifying my gaze on the papers on my desk.
I saw from the corner of my eyes how the smile faded from his lips. I was amused and felt victorious deep inside.
Six months into our progress, changes were made in his class schedule. Suddenly he found himself sitting face to face with another instructor – aside from me. It was Ralph. At first I said in alacrity, “Great, my friend, let’s join forces to help the guy.”
“I don’t like your favourite baby. Too sure of himself.” Ralph would sort of assure and tease me. I’ve confided to him how Z has become my “baby” student, even though I harbour no romantic interest in the guy whatsoever. I swear.
Well, here’s the piecemeal twist of event: Z must have found my best friend funny, too – as I would hear both of them constantly laughing in their classroom in the days that followed. Gone are the days when I was the only one who could cheer him up at school. Z’s laughter would echo and waft through the hall, transforming the echoes into tiny arrows that struck through my heart. Worse, as time went by, he would tell Ralph “stuff” he couldn’t reveal to me because, you know, I am a woman. Man to man they are. Z has no idea his new best teacher is gay.
It was lunchtime. I was checking some test papers when I glanced up and saw Ralph leaning on the door, his arms folded on his chest. “You haven’t talked to me the whole morning.” True. I have been evading his presence. I haven’t felt like being chummy with him these days. “I’ve been busy.” was all I managed to say. We went out for lunch and engaged in some small talk. A cold resentment building within me. Secretly.
It got harder and harder for me as the days went by. Me jealous, perhaps? I have no idea how to spell out my answer to that.
One day during break time, Ralph came to my room to share a story he already narrated to Z, gleefully relating how the latter found it highly engrossing. Not sure if he’s trying to prove something, I could feel the green-eyed monster crawling its way to me again. The bell rang. He wrapped up his story. As he started to walk away, I couldn’t contain myself anymore and blurted out, “Good, I hope the two of you live happily ever after.”
No way could I take back my words. An unsettling chill boded for some five seconds. Then he turned to me and said, “What did you say?” Discerning the danger through the sound of his voice, I averted my gaze so as not to meet the glare in his eyes. Then he started screaming at me. I dared not answer back. The other teachers got petrified – seeing and hearing our most mild-mannered male teacher lost his cool. He kept shouting at me while I kept silent. Real life accounts of ladies getting battered as a consequence of an altercation with someone like Ralph crept into my mind. The head teacher arrived and ushered him away from my room.
Knowing I was in the wrong, I apologized after a few hours. He accepted. In the two days that ensued, we got on as if nothing happened. The problem was, I still couldn’t take Ralph and Z getting closer. I still could hear their laughs, and sense their pending closeness. So I resumed ignoring and avoiding my friend again. Ralph must have gotten it; finally resigning to let the growing distance between us plant its ground. He must have liked Z that much too, as he circumvented and remained passive throughout this thorny matter bedeveling us. The death knell for our friendship kept flashing for weeks.
Finally, I asked Z to leave my class and look for another teacher. The conversation that followed wasn’t a pleasant one, yet we ended up peacefully saying goodbye to each other. Me – in tears. Then I marched into the office and implored my two bosses to allow me a two-month vacation. No reason given. They refused, but I was adamant. I didn’t attend school in the succeeding days, citing sleeping troubles which had long been afflicting me anyway. My bosses gave in and assented to my leave. Without pay, of course.
Emotions in tatters, I took a break from it all. I figured I’d come back when Z has gone back to his homeland – which I did exactly after two months. It was the only way for me, in spite of the staggering fact I put my job on the line.
It’s a decision I never came to regret.
This is a story that took place some two years ago. Ralph and I currently have a mere working relationship – and that’s all. We couldn’t go back to what we once were. We both understood the crack in our bond was beyond repair.
There goes another narrative I have put behind me. It’s now a closed leaf from the pages of my yesterdays. You always think you’ve learned your lesson well and everything has already fallen into places. Then all of a sudden, an episode will grip your heart and erode your peace and sense of order. It’s an episode I refuse to analyze, justify, and dwell on.
Up until this time when I’ve decided to write it down here.
Nature always pays for a brave fight. So does a human soul that grows most in the darkest hours preceding dawn. Sometimes she pays in strengthened moral muscle, sometimes in deepened spiritual insight, sometimes in a broadening mellowing, sweetening of the fibres of character – but she always pays. – W. G. Jordan