Archive for May 25th, 2011
Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
“The Chase” is a short story I’ve written while I was studying at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop (New York City) in 1994. Stories that depict the rebels and uprising in 70′s were banned in the Philippines up to now. Thanks to the Internet and the freedom of speech here in America, I could openly post this kind of short story without fear.
The day’s headline news, which hit the homes and streets was about the killing of Dakila’s Mayor Agustin Curacot. He was gunned down and killed on the spot by three young teen-agers aging from 15 to 20 years old, members of the NPA liquidation squad called the “Sparrow Unit.”
To Andrei, the said operation was not a complete success with the captivity of one of the Sparrows by Policemen serving as bodyguard of the Mayor. He could imagine how the young rebel may have been mercilessly tortured by the military men before he was liquidated. What frightened him most was the probable revelation of the captive Sparrow if he was not able to endure the intimidations. All of these dreadful conceptions were flowing into his mind while riding on his 125cc Yamaha sports motorcycle along the Plaridel highway.
Andrei slowed down his motorcycle’s speed when he viewed from a distance a red motorcycle at the side of the highway. There was a smile on his face when he finally realized that it was his best friend whom he wanted to meet before dusk. The man in blue Levi’s jacket seated and troubleshooting his two-wheeled vehicle was Joe.
The sun was turning reddish beyond the western hills. The wind was nippy, piercing even the thick leather jacket of Andrei. The flowering rice plants at the paddies on both sides of the highway were dancing with the rhythmic tunes of the wind. The rain clouds were swiftly moving towards the sea, outside the town of Plaridel. The afternoon buses overtaking Andrei’s motorcycle were starting to hit the roads. These were the south road passenger-buses going on a twelve-hour trip to the city of Manila. Passenger jeeps passing by were clustered with commuters even on their carriers and rooftops.
With a soft grip of the gasoline throttle and a foot brake, Andrei pulled over unnoticed just a few meters behind Joe, who was already furious with his motorcycle. “‘Tang Ina!” (“Mother fucker!”) he muttered and hit his motorcycle’s cylinder head with the screwdriver.
“Keep cool, Pare ko!” (Keep cool, my friend!”) said Andrei to his friend, as he tapped his shoulder to calm him down. He placed his heavy black shoulder bag on the ground and sat down on Joe’s left. The latter was surprised by the sudden appearance of his friend. His friend’s presence was a relief though. He had been attempting to activate his motorcycle’s engine for an hour already, but failed many times.
Thirty minutes later, Joe sighed with great jubilation, as he stepped towards the motorcycle tuned-up by his friend. “You’re always a savior to me, Pard’s!” How will I pay you for this again?” They called each other “Pare” or “Pard’s”, for they had made each other Godfather at each of their eldest son’s baptismal. This relationship made their friendship stronger than ever since their high school days. They were closer than real brothers.
“Ha-ha-ha! It will cost you more than what you’ll pay for a mechanic! Sky is the limit, if you want. ” Andrei laughed as they both prepared to go.
Joe did not hesitate to say yes. How could he say no to a very good friend. Besides, he may be gone mysteriously for a long time again. So, everytime they cross each other, they enjoyed their meetings as if they would never see each other again.
Joe and Andrei were both leaders who were fighting for reforms in their town and their government. But they had opposite ideas on how the reforms should be done. Andrei was a Commander of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the rebel group against the government’s corruption and foreigners’ imperialist and capitalist interest in the Philippines. He was called “Commander Silent” by his followers in the rugged hills of the NPA territories. He got this alias from his followers because of his ability to remain an ordinary public high school teacher, without the general public knowing that he was a commander of the most dreaded rebel group. Unlike other NPA commanders, Andrei was the only rebel Commander who could openly roam around like an ordinary citizen. Andrei was also the leader of the most distinguished vigilante group of the NPA, called “Sparrow Unit”.
Joe had a great interest on people’s welfare and the government, too. But he had a different way of gearing his attention. He was a leader of mass-based group, and remained open in fighting against the government’s shortcomings and corruptions at his wife’s hometown, Plaridel. His townmates and the press called him “Parliamentarian of the Streets.” Several of his opinions and suggestions during street demonstrations with different mass-based organizations were adapted as laws by their local government. Unlike Andrei, Joe did not believe in violence or rebellion as the real solution to the problems arising in their country. In fact, he was planning to join politics someday and initiate changes if he win the electoral process.
The long and winding road towards Plaridel town was starting to darken. Distant lights were like flickering fireflies. Two unnoticed motorcycles behind them tried to catch their speed after a moment. Each motorcycle had two riders, all wearing crash helmets. The blue 125cc Honda tried to go nearer Andrei’s motorcycle. While the other yellow 125cc Suzuki remained behind Joe’s motorcycle. The first motorcycle’s back rider gazed closely at Andrei’s face, trying to identify him. They speed away later towards the direction where Joe and Andrei were going.
It was 8:00 o’clock of a cold and dark evening when when they reached their usual “hang-out” – the Kayumanggi Beach Resort, five miles outside the town of Plaridel. Their meetings were always more on exchange of serious opinions than drinking – usually topics about life – the illiterate starving people, ills of society, corrupt government, and the world. They had lots of serious and confidential matters to tell each other everytime they met in this place. The rumbling waves of the sea at night were good cover for whatever secrets they wanted to share each other in this place.
At the beach’s entrance was a small house where an old couple managing the resort live. The dwelling was brightened by a 50-watt bulb dangling at the center of the couple’s room. An old woman in her 60′s came out to welcome the two.
“Good evening, Aling Gloria!” Andrei greeted the old woman as he reached her right hand to be kissed by his forehead, as he bended down. The greeting was a way of respect by the NPA’s to people who were older than them, a traditional show of respect slowly vanishing among Filipinos.
“Good evening, too, Andrei. ” She made a sign of a cross in front of him, as a response to his kissing of her hand and said: “Pagpalain ka nawa ng Diyos!(God Bless you). I ‘m really so proud of you. You’re not forgetting that old way of showing respect to elders.”
After securing his motorcycle against a wooden fence, Joe walked towards Aling Gloria and greeted the old woman the way his friend made earlier. “Where is Mang Bosyo?” he asked.
“Ambrosio is at the sea now. He’ll try to catch some fish for our food tomorrow,” Aling Gloria answered as she led the two to a row of open bamboo cottages. Upon reaching the first shade, she turned on a pendulous electric bulb, swaying everywhere as the raging wind of the forthcoming storm hits it. Joe reached for an old rag clinging at the hut’s wooden beam. He started to clean the bamboo table. Andrei placed his black shoulder bag on top of it and sat down on the long bamboo bench facing the sea.
The wind was becoming colder and harsher. The sea waves were roaring like the growing thunder of the dark skies. The beach was usually a hang-out for night-time swimmers during summer. During cold days of November, few people dared to visit this place at night. The sea was usually rough and dangerous.
Andrei handed two one hundred peso bills to the old woman and asked for six bottles of cold beer, plates of rice, roasted fish, and jackfruit cooked in coconut milk with crabs.
Joe tried to hand some paper bills to the old lady. “This is enough, Jose,” Aling Gloria said as she blocked Joe’s hand with his own paper bills.
Joe protested, “I thought I am the one who ‘s going to treat you now.”
“Ha-ha-ha! Keep it for my wake tomorrow. Just give it to my wife when you come to visit me at my funeral,” Andrei told his friend, with signs of crisis on his face.
“Don’t talk like that, Pard’s. Masamang damo usually live longer,” Joe laughed as he kept his paper bills to his wallet. ‘Masamang damo’ was a Filipino terminology for people who live in immoral deeds – a common joke among friends. He then sat down beside Andrei to watch the sea not far from the hut.
The wind was becoming chilly. The moonless skies showed an impending thunderstorm. A heavy rain was sure to fall.
“So how’s the hills going, Kumander?” Joe asked while turning his head to see if there were other people around who may have heard him. “I’ve heard over the radio this morning that the Mayor from Dakila town was killed by the Sparrow.” He took a deep breath and continued, “Ahh, when should this kind of killings end, ha, Pard’s? Our society is becoming ill. But killing among Filipinos should not be the way to solve these problems of our society!”
“Shhh… the old lady is coming. Let’s not go to that extreme topic any further. I have a problem which needs your help. Let’s discuss it when the old woman leaves us”. Andrei tapped his friend’s shoulder as he rose to assist the approaching old woman with a basket, full of their orders. “Hmmm… your food smells delicious, Aling Gloria.”
The alcohol content of the cold beers added more life to the serious conversation of the friends. They exchanged ideas between sipping of beer and eating.
“The end of the road must be nearing for me, Pare. One of my members in the liquidation squad, who killed the Mayor of Dakila, had been caught by the military. He was a new recruit, with no proper orientation and training yet. But his insistence to join the mission forced me to approve his involvement. He must be dead already by now.” Andrei explained in despair as he gulped his beer. “I’m afraid he must have confessed my role in the Sparrow Unit. ”
“You should be hiding by now, if that’s your contention. The Dakila Mayor you liquidated is a powerful man in the whole province of Bayani . He has a lot of tentacles who may follow you even beyond your grave.” Joe responded as he shook his head with regret. “He was untouchable. You know what happened to those who tried to expose his wrong doings… they’re six feet below the ground now!”
“That’s the reason why we killed him! All of those who will be like him must be washed out from our society! People like him is the reason why so many of our countrymen are suffering!” Andrei answered back in a harsh voice, then picked another bottle of beer.
Joe wanted to explain more about how the society should be changed in a peaceful manner. But he thought the conversation would just turn extremely long without Andrei surrendering his ideology. “So how am I going to help you now, Pard’s?” Joe asked as he tapped his friend’s shoulder.
“I want you to join our group, Pare. I want you to replace me, if I’m killed someday. Please lead our struggle in the hills. My comrades in the underground already know you. They recognizes you as my best friend. They know you as a very honorable leader.” Andrei pleaded as he continued to gulp more beer. “They always hear your voice over the radio everytime you give your opinions on the ills of our society. However, they could not be convinced easily that the way to change is through a peaceful manner. It would be much better if you use your ideas in convincing more people to join our ranks. The more we create violence, the more we could force the government to initiate reforms.”
Joe was in silence, holding his response. This invitation had long been offered by his friend, but he had a different opinion about “change.” While it was true that his objectives were for the suffering Filipinos, he had a different idea on what should be done – a slow transformation by educating young and old Filipinos, and fighting corruption in the open halls of power. He was against violence of any means.
“It’s alright! S-sorry. . . sorry, Pare. . . I know, you will just be denying me again. Ha-ha-ha! I am just trying my luck, if I could convince you this time.” Andrei interrupted his friend’s silence, as he embraced him. He was a little drunk by now. He finished four bottles of beer already, compared to Joe’s one. “Anyway, as what I have told you. . . I feel my end is really nearing. So, I wanted you to keep this for me now, before the military catch me down.” Andrei opened his black shoulder bag, and handed to his friend a red book tucked inside it. “Please keep it for me, and for the generations to come. It’s a collection of my writings about the revolution, the change that we really need for our country and its people.”
Headlights from two motorcycles brightened the fence of the resort’s compound. Their engine sounds from distance could not be heard, however, being overcome by the angry waves of the sea. Suddenly, the motorcycle lights were gone.
“I smell dangers, Pare. This must be the real thing!” Andrei rose up from the bench and ran to the direction of his motorcycle. “I don’t want you to be involved with this now. Come! Get your motorcycle, too… and go ahead!” He pulled out a 45-caliber gun from his black bag, and tucked it at his waist. He drew out a pair of high frequency two-way radio, and gave one to Joe. “You will need this… Keep it open on the road.”
“Oh, my God!” Joe sighed with fears as he tucked the book behind his back, inside his denim pants. He tucked the two-way radio at the pocket of his denim jacket. He was not used to this kind of threat. If his rebel friend, who was used to real dangers felt the fear, how much more he was?
Andrei was alert and keen-eyed, while both of them started their motorcycles. Aling Gloria was standing near their motorcycles when they arrived at the resort’s gate. It was her habit to watch the vehicles of her customers while they’re inside her property. “What made you in a hurry, Andrei. . . Joe? The night is still young.”
“W-well. . . the rain clouds above the sea are packing so fast. A heavy rain may drop soon. We may not be able to go home with the hard shower along the highway,” Andrei answered. “G-good night. . . we’re going home now, Aling Gloria. Thank you very much for your good service.”
Two more motorcycles arrived and screeched to a neighboring resort next to Aling Gloria’s compound. They were more sophisticated 5-speed race motorcycles. Joe’s heart quivered faster than they were before.
“Please go ahead, Pare. I’ll just follow you. If you can escape with your motorcycle as fast as you can, please do it. They’re just after me. So, they may not hurt you at all.”
“No, we must go together. There is a greater chance that they won’t hurt you if you have companion beside you,” Joe replied. The impulse of survival forced him to start his motorcycle’s gasoline throttle to its full and speed away. Andrei followed behind him with greater speed.
After a few moments, two motorcycles swiftly passed beside Joe. They were the same motorcycles which chased them while they were on their way to the beach. Each man on the back ride had short guns aimed toward Andrei. With his left hand, Joe picked out the two-way radio inside his jacket and warned his friend, “Pard’s! They’re behind you now. . . they have guns! They’re going to shoot you. . . Oh, my God! ”
Another pair of race motorcycles swiftly passed beside Joe ‘s motorcycle. This time, the two back riders had UZI guns at their hands. Joe felt more dangers with the this couple of sophisticated motorcycles. They’re five times faster than their 125cc motorcycles. “They’ll be able to catch my friend. Andrei will be dead soon with those UZI guns in their hands!” lamented Joe with tears almost dropping his eyes.
“BANG! BANG! BANG” sounded the fires of 45-caliber guns. From a distance Joe concluded that they were fired by the first pair of motorcyclists chasing his friend. Every single sound of the gunfires were like a hit in Joe’s heart. The last sound of shots made him feel dead. He wanted to stop and wait until they left his friend’s dead body. But he can’t do it. He must pursue them, follow them, and see what he could do to save his friend.
“PRAAKK!. .. PRAAKK! …PRAAKK!” Joe saw from a distant the flashing lights from the UZI guns as they were fired. The shots came from the race motorcycle riders. Joe’s heart pounded faster. His knees turned soft, and his grip on the gasoline throttle loosened. His motorcycle crashed to the grasses beside the highway. “Oh, my God. . . why should this thing happen to him?!!!” Joe screamed with anger as he pounded the gasoline tank of his downed motorcycle.
“PRAAKKK! . . . PRAAKKK! . . PRAAKK! . . . SCREEECHHH! . .. KABBLOOOMMM! ” Echoed the combined sounds of UZI guns on fire, motorcycle colliding with the road. . . and an explosion.
“Someone’s motorcycle had exploded. It must be Andrei’s.” All that Joe could see later was a flash of fire and the rising smoke from the explosion.
There was a sudden silence. But the fire and a smoke from the distance at Joe’s position was visible in the midst of darkness. This time, Joe could hear the pounding of his heart. Later, a growing sound of motorcycle – louder and louder, until it was nearing Joe’s place. “OH, MY GOD! They won’t spare me…,” he thought.
The blinding lights of the race motorcycles were nearing him. He’ll be dead soon if he move, was in his mind. But he could not afford to die like a powerless prey. Joe secretly and slowly pulled his gun. He’s using his gun to fight back!
A choppy sound started to come out from his two-way radio: “P-PARE… ARE YOU OKEY? HA-HA-HA! IT’S NOT YET OUR END! You’re right, MASAMANG DAMO NEVER DIE YOUNG! Ha-ha-ha!”
Joe held high the radio toward his right ear, with his other hand holding secretly his gun. A different pair of motorcycled men went closer to him, with the UZI guns just clinging to their shoulders.
“It’s over now, Ka Joe!. Commander Silent is alive…” shouted the first man as he pulled up Joe’s motorcycle from the ground.
“Please go with us… he’s waiting for you,” said the other armed man.
Joe could not believe what had happened while driving towards Andrei, near the burning motorcycles and dead gunmen. He stopped his motorcycle in front of Andrei. “Ha-ha -ha! We must be thankful to Ka Rosa’s group. They saved us from these enemies,” Andrei calmed his friend as he embraced him.
They walked towards the front seat of the big van and waited for the other armed men to place their motorcycles inside it. After the motorcycles were in place inside the van, the driver gestured to the two friends beside him that they were moving. The men in two race motorcycles went ahead of the van.
The driver of the van answered Joe’s puzzles as he talked with Andrei. “We were assigned by Ka Rosa to inform you that the SUPREMO is here, and wanted to meet you before midnight at Plaridel. But in your camp, your comrades told us that you were trying to reach Ka Joe – possibly at your hang-out in Kayumanggi Beach Resort. When Ka Jimmy and Ka Enso, those Brothers in front of our van, reached the resort, they radioed us that you were speeding away already. They thought something was wrong when your motorcycles were running at extraordinary speed and being chased by those dead guys. So, the rescue was ordered immediately by Ka Rosa.
The driver’s explanation was clear. Being tired and sleepy, however, the two friends did not ask any further. What mattered to them was they were still alive. From above, the chopping sound of military helicopters could be heard, going towards the direction of the clash. Later, a group of military trucks could be seen moving also towards the direction of the hostilities.