“Good morning everybody” a sing-songy voice shattered the companionable silence in the teacher’s room as a girl entered the room, she was a tall, svelte girl, fully-made up and with clear skin that bespoke wealth and high-maintenance.
Tessa felt her spirits sink as she thought in dismay, oh no, what is she doing here at this time of the day? She wasn’t made to wonder very long as Marga announced, “I decided to open my schedule up a bit, so I’m here earlier on Wednesdays and Fridays. Isn’t that great?”
Just perfect, Tessa thought to herself as she smiled weakly in response. “Great, it’ll be nice to have you around more often.” Ack! She thought, gagging inside, did I just say that? How plastic!
It wasn’t that Tessa minded having a fellow Filipino on-board at the school; it was just that the attitude of Marga usually rubbed her the wrong way. On the whole, Marga was a nice girl; but she was rich and she knew it. She was a brat. She was a scholar from the Philippines and took every opportunity to remind them all of that fact. Her family was big in Manila as one of the top clothing retailers and she was used to having her every whim catered to. Being the only child and the only girl in a family of male cousins, she was more than used to being pampered.
Before coming to Tokyo to do an MBA program at Waseda University she had dabbled in managing the family business. But based from her regular stories, her ‘work’ seemed more like a ‘hobby’; she went into work when she felt like it and indulged in long sabbaticals in between. Her weekends seemed to be filled with jet setting to this and that tropical location and her weeknights were all colorfully whiled away at the top bars and restaurants in Makati and Manila. She was a known socialite, her face was plastered in the glossies and she was friends with all the people in the know in Manila. She had been somebody. That was probably why it grated so much to be nobody in the sea of faces in Tokyo.
On a whim, one of her best friends had suggested applying together for the Japanese government scholarship program because Tokyo seemed like a nice place to live. They did so, however, only one of them passed. Marga had wanted to give the scholarship up, but her family had pressured her into pursuing it, saying it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that it would be good for character building. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford to send her elsewhere, she had explained in an aside, it was just that her dad (who, according to Marga, had gone to Harvard) believed in character building. Tessa almost choked on that one. If her dad really had believed in building up her character, he would not have started too late. Tessa suspected that it was his way of injecting late-intervention measures into a potentially hazardous situation.
So, half-hearted, Marga had come to Tokyo with two huge cases crammed with clothes, accessories, makeup and shoes. And since last year, she had been pouring this poor-little-rich girl story to anyone willing to listen. Kaye had reported that when they had met at a students’ soiree a couple of months ago, Marga had been complaining about life in Japan non-stop.
Since the Japanese Ministry of Education had decided to slash the stipend of scholars, a lot of them had had to find part-time employment. Some waited tables at restaurants and packed cards at phone companies, some worked as part-time researchers or teaching assistants, and some decided to teach English. Since she couldn’t imagine working at a call center or something similar, Marga decided that teaching English would be a no-brainer, since she spoke it fluently. Tessa however, cringed every time she spoke in that sing-songy Kris Aquino accent that a lot of colegialas and Makati-girls adopted.
Since Marga started working part-time at the English school were Tessa worked, she had been complaining daily of having to walk everywhere, about the crowded trains, about how she had to cook and clean and do laundry by herself. She had even complained of how her dad had forbid her from charging all her purchases to him and suggested she look for something to supplement her income. She spoke wistfully of how full her life had been in Manila, full of parties and beautiful people. She spoke of how she missed her car, her dogs, and her friends. When Kaye had heard of this, she had started fuming with anger, “If she wasn’t sure about coming here, she should just have given it up.” She said, pounding a fist on the table for emphasis. “She wasted a slot. There are tons of other deserving people who would give their eyeteeth to come here.” Kaye was one of those students who did not have much opportunity to improve themselves back home, but with the help of the scholarship had actually managed to establish themselves. They were part of the new breed of professionals who supported their motherland from abroad.
Oh well, Tessa thought as she browsed through her schedule for the day, I’ll only be seeing her during the five-minute break; I should be able to survive that. Or so she hoped.
Always mindful that his opportunities as an international actor were limited if he could not communicate in English, Ken spent most of his spare time trying to perfect the subject. Thankfully, due to the nature of his father’s work, part of his childhood had been spent in the US and English wasn’t too much of an uphill climb for him as it was with others. He found that he was a quick study at languages and he sometimes regretted not being able to study other languages that interested him, such as Chinese and Korean. Although he managed to communicate fairly well in English, it was pronunciation that gave him pause sometimes. His accent was better than most of the haltingly syllabic English most Japanese people had, but he still felt there was room for improvement. More so for someone who was constantly in the public eye.
He regularly took classes from one of the more established English schools in Tokyo whom he knew he could count on being discreet. A lot of local actors and actresses favored this school and the branch where he usually took classes had a couple of other celebrities in their roster.
He had had Takashi schedule a couple of classes for him today. He hadn’t been to class in months since he had gotten busy with the new movie in L.A. However, he felt that his accent had improved a lot while he was in America and he couldn’t wait to try it out on his teacher.
He had been taking classes here for more than two years now. There were a lot of decent people here and teachers whom he liked. It always amused him that most of them had no idea of who he was. Things always got tricky when it came to discussing his job, since most teachers simply assumed that he was one of the many bankers, financiers, and lawyers who frequented their school.
The sound of the bell heralded the start of the class and he stood up as the door opened to admit his teacher for the day.
“Omigod. I cannot believe how cute he really is!” Marga squealed as she closed the door of the teacher’s room behind her when she came in during the five-minute break.
Mentally bracing herself, Tessa asked, “Who is it this time?”
“You know, it’s that actor…” Marga said dramatically, widening her eyes for effect.
“Uh, honey, might I remind you we have quite a few of them in this school” David, an Australian from Sydney piped up.
Marga started giggling, “Oh right.” She shuffled over to the schedule board and perused the list of names and turned dramatically to Tessa, “It’s that guy Ken Nakamura. You know---he was in that coffee commercial.”
“Oh right. I had him a couple of months ago. Lovely guy,” Sarah, a Brit joined in the conversation, “not as uppity as you’d imagine stars to be. Hey, you alright Tessa?”
Tessa suddenly erupted into spasms of coughing when she heard Ken Nakamura’s name mentioned. She then called herself ten kinds of silly for being affected by the news. She knew he went to their school, but she had never taught him and he hadn’t come to their school in months. Someone had told her that he stopped when he had to go to Los Angeles for a movie shoot of some sort. Tessa zoned out the rest of the conversations swirling about her as she mentally started composing a text message to Anna on her phone. Her reverie was interrupted when Marga sidled up to her.
“Hey Tessa, you’re room-mates with Kaye and Ana right?” she asked
“Yup, I am.” Tess answered as she began sipping her coffee again. What now, she thought irritably.
“I met up with some of our common friends over the weekend, you know, our sempais. And some of them were talking about how the other week Ken Nakamura was photographed at the airport in some sort of altercation with a woman and one of them swears that the woman looks exactly like Ana Madrigal. Wouldn’t it be a funny coincidence if … are you alright?” she asked as Tessa choked on her coffee yet again. She sat next to Tessa and rubbed her back, “Hahaha. Its not as if sempai Ana was the woman he was photographed with … was she?” she asked when Tessa raised guilty eyes to hers.
Damn! I was never good at subterfuge, Tessa thought as she faced Marga. “Please don’t tell anyone,” she pleaded.
“Omigod. It was her then?”
“Promise me…” Tessa began, but then the bell signaling the end of the five-minute break rang and everybody started to file out of the room.
Marga smiled mysteriously and said, “My lips are sealed,” and walked back to the classroom with an extra spring in her step.
Tessa was filled with dread as she saw Marga saunter out of the room. But she tried to push her worries aside as she concentrated on preparing for her next class. After all, what was the worst thing that could happen, she asked herself.
Forty minutes later, she was in the bathroom and had just finished brushing her teeth when the door suddenly burst open. Marga grabbed Tessa, toothbrush and all, and hauled her out of the bathroom.
“Hey! What?!” Tessa managed to get out.
Marga turned to her and smiled, “He wants to meet you!”
Oh no, Tessa thought as a wave of cold dread washed over her as she looked up into Ken Nakamura’s eyes. The worst thing that could happen just happened.
Go to Chapter 5