You are at school. The teacher decides to change the seat plan since the current one isn’t working out. It’s her fault for putting the good kids on one side and the shitty ones on the other. What did she expect you shitty students do? Actually study? Of course you’re going to cheat. Too bad one of your friends got caught writing keywords on the palm of his hand. You told Jimmy to write on the sides of his fingers instead so he can cover them up. He didn’t listen, and now he’s serving a week of community service while the rest of you have to transfer seats. The teacher talks about this phenomenon called the ripple effect where the “actions of one can have an indirect and drastic effect on others”—her words, not yours. She is in a good mood, so she decides to let everyone pick where they want to sit. Of course, she’ll make some changes once everyone has settled down. But for the most part, the students’ choices matter.
Miraculously, Jade Teñoso is absent. Apparently, she’s off attending some relatives’ wedding somewhere in Davao. You think it’s most likely at Eden Resort. Jade’s relatives are loaded, except for her family, though. Jade’s father got into a fight with his father who decided to disown him and his family. The grandfather’s long been buried six feet under so everyone’s welcomed them back with open arms. They’re still poor, though. No one’s bothered to give them a million pesos or something. And how do you know all this? Well, you learn a lot about someone if you’ve lived beside them for the past sixteen years.
You’ve wanted her seat for a long time. Besides the fact that you can’t see shit from where you’re sitting, which really far from the board. She sits beside that friend of hers you think is quite the looker. Nadine’s her name, and you usually waste the hours in class staring at her back, at the cost of your quiz scores.
With Jade out of the way, you’ll get to spend the rest of the year besides your one and only love (your Ate laughed at you when you told her this and shook her head).
There’s a third reason why you want to move seats so badly. Your seatmate Mark has been annoying throughout the three months you’ve sat beside each other. He’s reliable when it comes to quizzes and seatwork, sure—he loves to share his answers. It makes him feel special—but his mouth runs like a minigun, and you don’t know how to turn it off. If he wasn’t so “helpful” when it comes to academics, you’d have “salvaged” him a long time ago.
When the teacher says, “Pick your seats!” you immediately stand up and dash to that empty seat in the second column, third row. You notice that this other guy Jake who also likes Nadine is sprinting towards the empty seat. Unfortunately for him—and lucky for you—you run into him on your mad sprint so you shove him—hard—and in the frenzy of everyone trying to pick seats he doesn’t notice it was you who rammed him face-first into the teacher’s table.
You get to your dream seat. In an instant, you realize that Nadine might have also decided to change seats so you look at her place. Boom! Right there beside you is the girl you’ve been fantasizing about ever since she introduced herself (the new girl) just a few months ago. You notice that she’s been looking at you wide-eyed ever since sat yourself beside her. You guess she is just startled since she suddenly just got herself a new seatmate. You don’t know what to do so you just wave and say, “Hi!” “Real smooth,” you think.
Everyone settles down, and the teacher—who you nicknamed Miss Minchin after her resemblance to the character—switches some students’ seats. Most chose to sit beside their friends, and to Miss Minchin, that’s a big no-no. She separates the delinquents sitting together and puts some of them beside your other classmates who actually give a shit about their future.
You notice Miss Minchin staring at you. She then turns her gaze on Nadine. The thought that she might transfer you or Nadine to another seat sinks in, so your heart starts beating fast. But she looks satisfied, and she then stares at another runt sitting beside the door. You exhale. You remember Jade, so you turn your head around to look for an empty seat. “Hala yawa!” you think. Then you panic. The only empty seat is left is the one beside the female delinquents of your class: Marta, Jenny, and Miranda, the class-branded sluts of your section. Everyone knows they spend almost every night sitting on the laps of guys all over town and drinking beer with them till the sun comes up. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. You remember that one time you and your friends drank with them after an exam and Mikey, one of your friends, started making out with Jenny. He was already on top of her when Marta’s father, Ambrosio, suddenly appeared. He was a cop—a popular one, at that—and found out his daughter was out drinking with her friends again. He wasn’t happy with what he saw, and Marta went home crying that night on a police car while Mikey spent the next week nursing a busted nose and a black eye.
Suddenly, you become paranoid. While they are a load of fun, you don’t want Jade hanging out with them. They can turn her world upside down. But, it’s Jade! She’s the consistent first honor of your class for a reason. She’s the only one who aced three exams in one grading period. She’s the Jade who gave that senior named Markus two black eyes three years ago when he tried to pull at her bra while she was fixing herself at the fire-extinguisher-slash-mirror. The same Jade who defended you in elementary school when Butch the bully came for you and told the teacher.
The same Jade who would go to class either with teary and swollen eyes or bruises around her body.
She probably has the common sense not to hang out with those three, you think. You are satisfied with your thoughts, and put the worry at the back of your mind.
You don’t know how, but the topic of the class has shifted to Miss Minchin’s personal life. Before changing the seat plan, she set up a projector she is going to use for the class. She turns it on, and you find that her desktop background is a picture showing her—all smiles—sitting beside this famous actor from that TV channel you barely watch, who is grinning towards the camera. You hear the chorus of wows followed by Miss Minchin talking about how she met him in a conference and how he was basically stuck beside her throughout the whole event.
You block out the sound of her voice. “She definitely put it there to show off,” you think. Moments later, you suddenly feel something at your left shoulder. You turn your head and you see it’s Nadine who’s been poking at you, trying to get your attention. “We have an activity. By pair,” she says.
Jade is back the next morning. She’s late for your first class. After a bit of scolding from Miss Minchin, she heads to her seat but hey eyebrows scrunch when she sees you sitting on her spot. “That’s my seat,” she tells you. But before you can say anything, Miss Minchin starts talking. “Jade, we changed the seat plan yesterday,” she points to the empty seat beside the trio. “You’ll be sitting over there.” Jade heads there instead.
Recess comes two hours later, and you see Jade leave the classroom with Marta and her friends. You are worried, but for the rest of the day, you put this at the back of your mind.
Over the months, you befriend Nadine and become closer and closer to her. You find out her favourite food is French fries, and that she loves to drink iced tea. You learn she is ambidextrous and that she left her old school because of a fall-out with her friends that got bigger and involved even their classmates and teachers. She has not described it in detail, but you learn enough to know that she’s not welcome there now.
Jade, however, has found new friends within the delinquents. Weeks after the change in seats she, along with the trio, started disappearing in the middle of classes. Sometimes, she would miss the first class and enter the second one late, nursing a hangover. While she was already usually tardy to begin with, it never got to the point that she actually missed classes. Unlike you, she values education, that one.
One morning, you arrive at school to find Nadine crying in her seat. You approach her and ask what is wrong. She looks up and suddenly hugs you. “It’s Jade. She was miraculously early today. I found her sitting here all alone so I decided to talk to her. She’s been cutting classes, Vin. Her grades are sinking. I asked her to stop what she was doing. She just told me to go fuck myself and not to get myself in others’ business,” she sniffles. “This is last year all over again.” She continues to cry.
You hug Nadine and comfort her. Seeing her so distraught does not sit well with you. You, too, have become worried with how Jade has been acting. Almost every night, you’d hear her father scream and Jade shouting back. This would be followed with the sounds of glass and ceramic shattering and Auntie Fe—Jade’s mother—begging, “Please stop!” Ever since that started, you’d see her walking around with cuts all over her arms. Everyone in your neighborhood has started talking. Enough is enough, and you decide that something has to be done before something worse happens.
You decide to talk to her. She has to stop before she goes down the hole further. “Where is she?” you ask Nadine. She doesn’t know. Jade stormed out after their talk ended badly. You think of possible places where she could be but then you realize you’re neighbors so it doesn’t matter. You decide to visit her home later that day.
Lean Alejandro C. Dango is a student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao on his freshman year in BA English (Creative Writing). He lives in the Island Garden City of Samal.