Honorable Dishonor

By Rosalinda Orosa

Jose Pérez was a clever boy. One might even say he brimmed over with intelligence. He
had always been the class valedictorian—from grade one up. Indeed it was a source of family
pride that all the other Pérezes—two brothers and a sister—had graduated with first honors.
Jose had no difficulty maintaining his class standing. Firstly, he was quick at
comprehending and grasping things. Secondly, he had an exceptional memory. Thirdly, he
studied regularly—not much (he did not need to) but regularly. With all these in his favor, Jose’s
classmates frequently exclaimed in awe: “Golly, that Pérez has everything!”
There was nothing more surprising, therefore, than the principal’s announcement that hot
afternoon in March: Jose Pérez was not finishing with first honors. It was the greatest
disappointment in the Araullo High School campus in years—a Pérez finishing second.
But Jose was not troubled; what seemed so puzzling to his classmates was that he even
appeared glad about it. As he walked up the stage to receive his diploma from the principal, an
inscrutable smile played lightly on his lips.
“What could be the matter with him?” his classmates asked each other. Nobody could
answer. Nobody, that is, except Jose. He did not care to, however. That was obvious. Settling
back on his seat, he evaded his companions’ queries, saying there was nothing to explain really.
When he saw his rival Santiago Castrence go up the improvised platform to deliver the
valedictory address, Jose leaned back, grateful for the interruption. For the moment, at least, he
did not have to answer any more questions. He closed his eyes, and soon he was lost in
recollection.
It all happened so fast (just a week before the finals) that up to the last minute, Jose was
dubious about the success of his scheme. His rival Santiago was a new boy, a Bulakeño, and one
of a widow’s two sons. Unlike Jose, he was poor. How poor Jose found out when he saw Alberto
Lozada, the laziest boy in class and the most impertinent, loitering in the school grounds.
The two chatted briefly. A raucous, zestful rendition of the Rock ’n’ Roll interrupted
them. It came from Alberto’s gang of rowdy, unbearably smug companions hailing him.
Throwing his book at Jose with a “Hold this ‘til I’m back,” Alberto was off. Jose missed the
book, and papers from between its covers went flying. Hastily picking them up, Jose found
among them an open, home-made envelope addressed to Mrs. Antonia Salazar Vda. De
Castrence. On its upper left-hand corner was written “Santiago Castrence, c/o Central Boarding
House, 1533 Azcarraga, Manila”.

” Jose said feeling guilty. “Alberto. not exactly. With trembling hand. shrugging his shoulders. I could earn free entrance and matriculation fees and so manage to study for a degree at night after working in the daytime.Why would a letter of Castrence be in Lozada’s book? Curiosity—a blind. his face brightening up. “How come? Oh yes. don’t you?” Jose asked as casually as he could manage to. “He’s some sort of janitor in the building. well. eyeing him closely. “You live in the Central Boarding House. Jose straightened up. Inay. but then. “Isn’t that where Castrence lives. It ran: Dear Inay. . I am writing you this so you won’t expect too much from me. he was glad that he had.” Alberto replied. unreasonable compulsion—took hold him. Without waiting for a reply. only to get disappointed later. no. He wished he had never opened the letter. Santiago’s valedictory speech was over. he read the letter. “He must have forgotten about it when he borrowed my book last night. Alberto was coming with his companions toward the basketball court.” The sound of applause interrupted Jose’s reverie. But please believe me if I say I am trying and shall keep on trying. Jose did not bother to read further.” Lozada replied. I think they give a discount of fifty per cent to salutatorians. too?” “Well. he continued. he put it inside the envelope. I am in good health. Just then. The short story above was reprinted in 1978 by the “Communication Arts in Social Living. The letter was still in his hand.” Social Studies Publications. Do not worry about me. He felt a vague tightness inside him. He walked through the corridor. Hastily. why should a letter of Castrence be in your book? It fell as you threw your book to me. then hid it between the book covers. you and I planned that if I were to finish as valedictorian.” There was a pause. I am afraid I shall be graduating with second honors only. Jose approached Alberto. What was the price for reading a letter—that particular letter—on the sly? He asked himself. and heartily joined the applause.