If they all arrive at the library on time, I could leave swiftly as agreed with Colonel Martinez. My family and I could move away into a safe place. Nobody would know me, and we can start a new life.
It is half-past nine now, and I can see them all from where I stand, outside the back window of the library, behind the acacia tree.
Vicente, Miguel, Juan, Apolinario, Gabriela and Josefa are already in. They must all wonder what this is all about. They must have found the messages they received this afternoon as strange. I could not copy the Supremo’s handwriting perfectly, but I have his seal. A mark that would not leave any doubt. They might think this is a meeting for the revolution.
Biblioteca Nacional, A las nueve y media
They all take their seats on a long table with only a tiny lamp transmitting light into that room blanketed by the stillness of the night as they wait for Supremo, who will never come. I see them start a discussion as Juan wanders about the shelves, looking at the books lying on the dark mahogany shelves. Gabriela, who’s always loud yet cheery, is laughing loudly. I could hear her from here. My heart is screaming, comrades, get out there! But I could only bite my lips and the truth that I will take with me to my grave.
My stomach starts to turn upside down trying to pull out everything from my insides.
‘Bring your wife and son with you. Go to the Pier, a las dies y media. My men will meet you there. I will arrange a boat for you.’
Colonel Martinez promised to take my family and me to safety, and so I take my wife, Magda, and my son Emilio to the Pier. We walk in haste, the type of walk you do when you know that someone is chasing you or when you know that your life is at stake. The cloudless night is dry and humid. The stars are bright; they shine like candle lights flickering through the open windows of the faraway houses. Many people are outside their houses trying to get some cool breeze that most likely would not come. I could hear some laughter and banter along with the cries of the crickets.
Magda carries with her a small lamp half-filled with kerosene that emits smoke as dark as this night. We walk at the same pace while Emilio's tiny feet struggle to follow.
‘Papa, do you know where we are going?’ he asks.
‘To the pier,’ I answer.
'I will tell you later once we get there.'
‘Are you sure about this?’ my wife asks me.
‘I trust Colonel Martinez,’ I assure her.
It will take us forty-five minutes to reach the Pier, that’s if all goes well. By the time we arrive there, Colonel Martinez’s plans must be executed already.
‘These Indios who learned in Europe thinks they can out throw the government with whatever nonsense they have in their small heads. Ilustrados they call themselves? Huh, Antonio?’
I only nod as he roars his laugh like a lion in a den. Only his has armchairs and a flag of Spain behind. I watch him be convulsed with laughter until he feels the pain in his round bodega of a stomach full of greed.
‘They don’t know a thing or two about patriotism. They should be thanking the King of España instead of spreading all this foolish propaganda. ’
We know a thing or two about patriotism, and it will not be long before the so-called Indios throw Spain out of our motherland. And if you all are not rattled by the Illustrados, you will not even hunt them.
‘All these little rats spread disease in the country. They need to go down the drain.’
You can do whatever you want, Colonel Martinez, as long as my family and I will live.
You see, loyalty is a pure act of devotion, and even though I swore my allegiance to my beloved motherland, I still want to see the beauty of the next sunrise.
I assume we just need fifteen more minutes to reach the Pier. By this time, my beloved compatriots must be lying cold on the floor of the library with bullets either in their heads or heart. And by now, Colonel Martinez’s henchman must be dragging the Supremo out of his house. He will be accused of plotting the annihilation of the Ilustrados. And with that, he will soon head into an unfair trial that will send him to either garrote or firing squad. He will die a horrifying death not fit for a hero. Everybody will hate him for being a traitor. He will not get the hero’s burial he deserves.
I don’t want to think about this, but I could not get them out of my head. They are my sworn comrades, but I have to save my life. Colonel Martinez promised me a new life in exchange for my comrades'.
‘Trust me, Antonio. And you will see the country’s new dawn if you cooperate with me.’
Trust is a double-edged sword. It could work in your favor; it could also be the opposite. It could kill or save you however you decide to use it. For me, whichever side of the sword could slit me. It is only a matter of time; it is only a matter of choice and a matter of who will use the blade.
‘Papa, I am tired,’ Emilio said.
‘Just a few more minutes, son.’ I try to comfort him.
‘Papa,’ he tugs my arms. His feet are bleeding, maybe from his slippers or perhaps from dried twigs. I don’t know. I carry my poor son on my back and continue to walk. I could already smell the fishy breeze and hear the gentle hush of the waves. I see a flickering light some hundred meters away. That must be Colonel’s men waiting for us.
‘We are nearly there,’ I say to Emilio. 'Look at that light over there, those are Colonel Martinez's men. They are waiting for us and send us away by boat.'
Sweat pops out of my every pore. My wife is panting.
We reach the Pier and I put down Emilio on the ground. I hold my aching back and take deep breathes.
There are about five men but I don’t see any boat. The one farthest from me is holding the lamp. I could not recognize any of them, but they all wear the uniform. The murkiness of the evening is hiding their identities.
‘Señor, do you know where the boat is? The one Colonel Martinez arranged for my family and me?’ I ask.
Three of them pull out their guns and point at me, my wife, and my son.
We all raise our hands and kneel in surrender.
‘Señor, please, save my son. Por favor.’
I hear the gentle gurgle of the sea, and a very soft summer breeze kissed my face. I take a final look at the velvet sky of my motherland and know that I will not see another break of dawn.
In the blanket of darkness, I hear the wicked laugh of Colonel Martinez.
Trust is a double-edged sword. And whichever side will be used on me doesn’t really matter now.
The Ilustrados - (Spanish) "erudite", "learned" or "enlightened ones"
Indio ~ the Spanish Colonial racial term for the native Austronesian peoples of the Philippines