I sat silently in my seat, unsure if I should tell someone like him. After a few awkward seconds, I decided the best way to get rid of him was to tell. “Yeah.” I answered rather nonchalantly, wondering who told him about what I have been doing.
The students called him Mister Chen, and he was the discipline master of the school. Unlike his position however, he was anything but a role model. Sure, he might be fierce and the students feared him, but it was not out of respect. The students knew he smoked, he made little effort to conceal it. People would usually catch a whiff of smoke around him every time he entered a class. It was an open secret that he smokes regularly in the staff room’s toilet.
Other than that, he was also uncouth and vulgar, with an inflated sense of self-ego. He thought that his method was the best method to discipline students, which annoyed me to no ends. To him, students were creatures out to be punished into submission. Caning, scolding, shaming and other forms of punishments are the best way to teach a student according to him.
He was also a busybody, always poking his nose into the affairs of others. Like how he was asking about my use of online dating websites right now. To make things worse, he would usually offer his opinion without you even asking, and thought that his opinions were always the best. There were also rumours about him being a pervert. He has this funny way of looking at girls, a long unbroken stare, and he makes some of the most sexist comments ever. He was the archetype of a jerk, I would always think.
Together with Miss Tan, they were both the most hated figures in school, from staff and students alike. Couple made in heaven, Mr and Mrs Devil, the students would tease. Teachers on the other hand, stayed away from them. I was no different, and ever since starting work in the school, I have not talked to Mr Chen more than five times. I was hoping to never cross paths with him. But my luck seemed to have ran out today.
Mr Chen proceeded to pull an empty chair from the nearby table, and planted himself next to me. I tried to appear busy, flipping through my students’ homework and not maintaining eye contact with him, but he did not take the hint. He moved closer to me, putting his elbow on my table, and tried to position his head in front of me to block my vision. The stench of sweat and cigarette invaded my space, and I was sorely annoyed.
Not wanting to appear impolite to a senior teacher, I laid my pen on the table, and pushed myself back a few inches from him. “Yes, Mr. Chen, you have anything to say?” I crossed my arms and legs, and did not attempt to hide my annoyed face. From how he reacted, he was either really bad at reading body language or pretended to not see all the signals that I was sending. I could so see where this was headed. He was going to offer his opinions.
“You see, to me online dating is lame.” A line that I had heard a thousand over times. One that I did not need to hear from him. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and then pulled me towards him. It caught me off guard and I tried not to flinch from disgust.
His voice dropped to a whisper, his breath inches from my ears. “It’s no different from going to those chickens in Geylang, right,” he said, referring to the prostitutes in Singapore’s infamous red light district.
“All you want is some fun time, right, you know what I mean, so you try to find girls online for some fun,” he said it with a condescending smile, acting as if he knew what I was thinking. I tried to open my mouth to argue back, that not everyone was as lustful as him, but I could not find the voice or courage to do so. I was quickly cut off by him.
“You young people care too much about face, and too kiam siap to pay a little money to have some fun. So you use this bullshit called online dating instead, in the hopes of getting the chance to sleep with a girl.” Kiam siap, in the local language, meant stingy. So he has this idea that online dating was only for hookups.
I felt like punching him after those statements. Out of all the nonsensical beliefs that I have heard before about online dating, his took the cake. I felt offended that he actually thought this way. “Mr. Chen, I believe that’s not the case,” I replied briefly, finally finding my voice. A part of me wanted to scream at him, but I had to control my feelings. The last thing that I would want to do was to flare up in the staff room and to be caught in a heated argument with a senior teacher about online dating. My thoughts were in a mess as I tried to collect them, but Mr Chen soon cut me off again.
“Ah, don’t try to bluff an old bird like me,” he laughed while saying that, waving his hands around. He stood up from his chair, and pointed at me with his index finger, like how he usually did to students. Never have I hated him so much before than in that moment in time. “Tell you what. Let this old bird teach you something tonight. Instead of using that stupid and sad online dating thing to have some fun, let me bring you to the real thing. After work tonight, I will bring you to Geylang, with my other friend. How about it eh, I know some girls who look like Taiwan celebrities.” He laughed again and patted me several times on my shoulder, like he was my buddy, as if he just did something good for me.
His suggestion caught me off guard, and before I could protest or say anything, he had already walked away. He shouted “I’ll see you tonight” near the entrance of the staff room, causing a few other colleagues to throw suspicious and concerned looks in my direction. I had heard about his endeavors from several hushed up conversations before, but never expected to be invited to one. The entire exchange left me fuming inside, for various reasons. Like not being able to talk and having been accused of something that I was not.
Why do humans like him exist, I wondered. There was no way I was going to follow him to Geylang tonight, I told myself. It was something that I would never consider doing anyway, what more with him. I silently cursed under my breath, angry that my peaceful afternoon was broken with this unwanted intrusion.
When 5 pm came, I started to quietly pack my bag, hoping to evade Mr. Chen and just leave silently. Home was the only thing that was in my mind. I thought that I was lucky, as I made it all the way to the school’s front gate without bumping into him. Just when as I thought I was safe, a I was startled by the sound of a horn going off behind me, followed by a voice calling my name. A voice that I hoped not to hear. “Hey Teacher Jaren, just where do you think you are going? I’ve been looking all over for you! Come get in my car now!”
“Damn it,” I thought to myself, and slowly turned behind me. Not surprisingly, it was Mr Chong in his white Mazda alright, his head and elbow sticking out of his window. So close, and yet so far. Another man whom I did not recognize sat beside him in the passenger seat. A cigarette was pressed between his finger, as he blew a puff of smoke out. His ability to stay as a teacher for so long never fails to stump me.
He pressed his horn again, and motioned me over. I wondered if I could just make a dash out of the school gate and towards the bus stop. It was a tempting idea, but knowing that I would have to see him back in school again made it not feasible, and there were not many choices for me to choose from. Running away was definitely not one. But I was determined to reject him. I just don’t know how.
I gave a huge sigh as I reluctantly dragged my feet to his car, the inside of me spinning in turmoil. I hated him for simple mindedly judging everyone who used online dating, and I hated him even more for the kind of character that he was. A teacher like him was supposed to be a role model, but he was anything but one. And right here in the middle of the day, he was asking me to go to have some “fun”, when he knew fully well that he had a family. Not to mention, that the whole school knew he had a family.
His actions disgusted me to no end, but still, I was unsure of how to reject him. As a guy who was regularly bullied in school, standing up for myself was not something that I was good at. I stood next to his car, clutching on to my bag. “Mr. Chen, I am sorry but I think I would not want to follow you tonight.” I scanned the environment around me, trying to find an excuse to slip away, while avoiding eye contact with him.
Mr. Chen must have caught the stutter in my voice, as he looked at me angrily. “What do you mean you cannot make it tonight?” His voice was raised, like how it does when he was scolding students. I could feel a threat masked behind it.
His tone of voice annoyed me, and somehow gave me the courage to talk back. “Look Mr. Chen, I don’t want to sound rude here, but I really don’t think that as teachers we should be going to places like Geylang. And I think that you are judging by saying that all guys who use online dating are just looking for a fun time is wrong. Because not all of us do. You maybe, but not me,” I said defiantly. I had no idea what got into me, but somehow the words just poured out. It was like a wild west standoff, the way the both of us were staring at each other.
I stood there, feeling triumphant, convinced that I would be left alone after this. Mr. Chen just stared at me blankly, perhaps surprised at my comeback. I did not know how I pull that off too. His friend just sat there, fiddling with his phone, not interested at all at to what was happening between me and Mr Chen.
A few moments of silence past, as I felt a sense of accomplishment bubbling inside of me. To have silenced the ever noisy Mr. Chen, that was something that I had wanted to do for a long time. Without any retaliation coming from him, I turned and headed back towards the school entrance, happy. Happy that I won, and happy that I do not have to follow Mr Chen to a place like Geylang. How wrong I was.
I had barely taken a few steps when the sound of a door being opened came from behind me. When I was about to turn and look, when I saw Mr. Chen charging towards me. He pinned me up against the school gate, both his hands on my collar. “Listen,” he growled menacingly, “No one ever disrespects me like that, not even my colleagues.”
From the corner of my eyes, I spotted the aghast face of the students around us, while the security guard came running towards us. But Mr. Chong seemed to not care one bit about what was taking place around him. His eyes were fixed on me alone. The entire incident reminded me of how I was used bullied back in secondary school. “Either you follow me tonight, or I am going to destroy you, right here, right now.”
And that was how I ended up in the backseat of his car. So much for winning the argument.
P/s: So the updates have fallen to Mondays and Thursdays, due to me overestimating my editing ability, but I will still keep to the schedule. Meanwhile the cover to the book will soon be done! Hurray. Will share it when it's ready :)