Monday, 4:10 PM.
“Yo, Mrs. Chung cancelled today’s meeting too!” Vikas rubs his head full of thick, curly black hair. I move closer to the door to read the green post-it note stuck on; ‘Peer Helpers meeting cancelled.’ Mrs. Chung is the school guidance counselor and the head of the Peer Helpers club at Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School.
Mrs. Chung’s usually glossy pin-straight hair looks coarse and untidy. Her once shiny, manicured nails are chipped and uneven, her elbows dry and cracked and her eyes heavy and droopy. Her noisy 5-inch pumps and suit is replaced with white running shoes and faded grey track pants. Mrs. Chung flies past me, clutching onto a folder overflowing with papers. She accidentally drops her Blackberry and jumps back; as she reaches for her cell phone, her folders slips from her hands, the papers flying to the floor. Mrs. Chung grits her teeth and scoffs.
4: 20 PM.
Vikas gently slaps the back of my head with a rolled-up Bristol board, “What’re you spacing out for?”
I shake my head, “We didn’t have a Peer Helpers meeting for 3 weeks now! I think something’s going on with Mrs. Chung.”
Vikas looks thoughtful, rubbing his stub of a chin, “hhmm… true. I could’ve sworn I’ve seen her crying in her car this morning.”
What if Mrs. Chung had a nasty breakup? Is she overwhelmed with work? Maybe it’s health problems. I’ll investigate. Even guidance counselors need someone to talk to. There would be no Peer Helpers without Mrs. Chung.
I walk to the school office. The soft grey reception desk is organized with a bundle of folders on one side, and colorful souvenirs and knickknacks on the other side. A mini Santa Claus figurine in an orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt and black sunglasses bobs his oversized head from side to side. Two identical reindeer bobble-heads with apple-red noses and matching sunglasses with a drink in their hands jingle their heads back and forth on each side of the Santa figurine. Mrs. Persaud likes to collect bobble heads.
Mrs. Persaud greets me with her best smile, her brown eyes sparkling “Hello dear, how I can help you?”
I set up an appointment with Mrs. Chung at 4:10 pm tomorrow. All appointments for today are cancelled. I scribble my signature and student number onto the sign-up sheet and head out, thanking Mrs. Persaud. She waves at me, the colorful charms on her silver bracelet dangling.
Tuesday, 4:25 PM.
I wait outside Mrs. Chung’s door, poking at Mrs. Persaud’s bobble heads. Mrs. Persaud returns from the cafeteria with a steaming cup of coffee.
Mrs. Persaud frowns, “Mrs. Chung’s not here yet?”
I shake my head and immediately spot Mrs. Chung through the glass in the empty corridor, speed walking. Her shoulder-length hair is caught in the handle of her violet Gucci handbag. She frantically tries to untangle her hair as she creaks open the office door. Mrs. Chung rushes into her room, placing her Starbucks coffee and leather handbag onto her cluttered wooden desk overflowing with transcripts, paperclips, a couple of pens and pencils and folders. She gestures at me, asking me to come inside. Her face looks haggard and tired. The wrinkles at the edge of her dark brown eyes are prominent. Her skin looks dry and irritable, her usual tan glow missing.
“So, what would you like to talk about?”
I stare at the pale grey-blue carpet. My mind remains blank and my body is stiff. I listen to a muffled ringtone coming from Mrs.Chung's handbag .
“Just give me a minute” Mrs. Chung grabs her cell phone out of her handbag and walks out the door.
I sink back in my chair, relieved. I gaze around the tiny room. The shelves are stuffed with thick encyclopedias and novels, and photos of her two young children; a boy and a girl. Everything looks the same like before, except the desk is more cluttered. I search for the family picture in a polished, wooden frame. I scan the room closely; it’s not here. Maybe it was a separation. I hear Mrs. Chung’s footsteps approaching closer. I sit back in my seat.
“Don’t worry sweetheart, Daddy will come by next week, ok? Ok, I love you.”
Mrs. Chung throws her cell phone onto her desk, nearly missing. Her face instantly reddens.
“Sorry, I just need to reorganize everything and I’ll be good to go.” she admits, tying her hair up in a messy bun.
I nod, unsure of what to say. The clock reads 4: 45PM. A student waits outside the door.
“Looks like my time’s up, Mrs. Chung. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Sure. See you next week in the Peer Helpers meeting!” Mrs. Chung smiles warmly.
Mrs. Chung shuffles her notes, organizes her folders and clears the food from her table. Half the clutter is already gone.