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Contemporary

 Roq couldn’t count the times he had flushed the toilet. For some time, it was the only sound that he heard. He couldn’t recognize even his own breathing. The comfort room had given him more comfort than he had for the past few days (he chuckled at himself for the pun).

Deciding he couldn’t stay inside any longer as it might draw suspicions, he returned to the room. No one was there to welcome him but a small, short-legged bed. His face immediately soured. He hated it. He absolutely despised the bed. It would have barely fit him if he hadn’t lost some weight.

Thank god for the nasty food.

The only thing that he liked about it was the sheets and pillows, which were clean and white as the walls. The room didn’t offer much natural light as leaves covered the only window in there. Besides, it had just rained so the room was very dim and he rather liked it this way. What really bothered him was how empty it was.

There was a knock on the door.

Thank god. They'll finally let me out.

Two guards appeared. Roq smiled at them. They were very tall, almost at six feet, and he felt like a child between them.

"Will you take me to Mr. Duit?"

They didn't answer. Do they not really know who I am? I'll put them in place once I get out of here.

The building itself wasn’t very large but there was a lot of corners and dead ends. It almost felt like it was designed so people would get lost.

Roq asked them for the fifth time where they were going but they only said they didn’t know.

Liars.

He assumed it was just another of those dull service hours at the in-house chapel again, but to his surprise, he was taken instead into the visitor hall. He had never been visited since he was kept here in the detention center.

He was getting more confused, but before he could ask again, he immediately saw the answer.

On the far end, a tall, lanky man wearing a simple blue button down shirt leaned against the wall. It was a familiar face.

“Look who’s here! I haven’t seen you in a while, Golvo. You’ve got wrinkles,” Roq said as he grinned and stretched out his arms.

The man nodded but didn’t smile back nor returned his hug.

Roq expected him like this. Golvo was one of the most serious person he knew even when they were in college. They were very close, and he considered him as one of his best friends although they had very different personalities.

They went to law school together but Golvo dropped out. Roq always thought the latter was a smart person and he was always wondering about his decision to leave, but Golvo wanted to pursue his dream of being a journalist.

For some time after they went separate ways, they lost touch, but when they did meet again, some time ago, they easily reignited a friendship.

“How are you doing, Roq?” Golvo asked. They sat next to each other, figuring out it was easy to talk like that. At the far front of them were the guards who were standing still.

“I’m good. I'm just getting too bored here, although it isn’t bad as I expected.”

Roq lowered his voice as he glanced around. There were two cameras at the corners.

 “How is he?”

“Aren’t you going to ask about your family first?”

“I know they’re doing great,” answered Roq. Better even without me, an inner voice told him.

“Is your daughter still not talking to you?”

Roq shrugged. If he was being honest with himself, he couldn’t entirely blame his child. In fact, he understood her the most. She reminded him of who he was when he was younger. His ideals. His beliefs. He thought it would just be a phase for her like him, but she was different. She was willing to disown her family for her principles. Her sheer determination impressed him and annoyed him at the same time.

“Anyway,” Golvo spoke without waiting for Roq to say anything.

 “I don’t know if anyone told you already, but Duit has gone missing since last weekend, just as the court finally issued the warrant. My friends told me that he flew to China through a private plane and he brought his children with him. Of course, that wasn't surprising at all. I just thought he'd be wise enough not to make himself appear any more guilty than he was."

Roq frowned. "We'll he's old..."

And surely, he thought, Duit had all the means to do it. He was after all a former state president.

It was almost a year ago. The opposition won the elections and reinstated their claim on the administration. They didn’t waste time and immediately filed piles upon piles of human rights violation charges on Duit. Roq knew even back then that it was all too much to cover up.

He had really believed that his old boss was different, that his charm over people was invincible, and that he’d be able to get away with anything.

“Did he say anything about me?”

Golvo raised his brows, and then shook his head.

“No, but I have a news for you too. This is actually what I came for,” he revealed. 

“The plunder charge against you was dismissed for lack of evidence.”

Roq smirked. Of course.

“Then I can go now?” he said, stretching out his arms as he grinned again. "I told you. I told everyone I had done nothing wrong! Those bastards never listened."

The guard at the right door made an eye contact with him. Golvo was silent for a second before he shook his head and took a deep breath. He then revealed to Roq that they found an anomaly in one of his cases, and the other party would use it against him.

“What case?”

“The Tuan Massacre,” he said.

“What about it?”

The Tuan Massacre was something that wasn’t easy to forget. It had been decades since it happened but the memories of it still felt fresh in his mind. When Roq just graduated from law school, he immediately joined the Human International Law or HIL. It was a non-profit human rights law firm where some of his classmates also volunteered in. He was later part of the team that was assigned to the Tuan Massacre.

It was Roq’s first serious job although it was far from simple.

It was in fact one of the worst media killing in the history of not just the country, but of the world. In a southern province, hundreds of media members were killed out of political conflict. The suspects were the Tuan clan who had been monopolizing the local state’s power. The case had been going on for years and yet there was still no resolution.

“They are claiming that the torture and murder of Raya Tuan’s driver, Mang Jano, was your order. They initially thought the Tuans did it to silence their witnesses, but they found that it was you.”

“No!” Roq shouted. His palms slammed the table, causing their cold coffee cups to spill. "What a ridiculous accusation!"

One guard walked to them and asked if anything’s okay but it was Golvo who answered. He slipped an envelope to the guard’s hands, as he requested that they would be left alone. It stunned Roq how his friend could be so skillful in handing out those things, like he was some sort of magician. Each time he tried to do it, it would always fail at one way or another.

The guard, who looked like a young man in his 20's, didn’t react for a while. He stood there, contemplating what to do. Eventually, he just nodded and said that they would still stay behind the doors.

 “What basis do they have?” Roque asked once the guards had left.

“Joel.”

“You mean Riquez? Joel Riquez?”

His friend nodded.

Ha! Roque let out an exasperated sigh. What an asshole, he thought.

Joel was a chinito who was slightly older than Roq. They weren’t very close when they worked together in HIL but they shared the same ambitions. They thought being a lawyer was a life of nobility and pride, but this all changed during the case of the Tuan.

Since the crime suspects were very influential people, they were awakened to what the real world was like. They were the Davids without a sling shot. They were mere rats. Roq had always wondered, if he had done things the most ideal way, he probably would have been dead.

“Fine. But it was Joel’s idea that we take those witnesses to our own hands. We couldn’t possibly get anything if we play it fair while the other ones are finding the dirtiest things they could get.”

“So you took matters to your own hands.”

It was a rainy Saturday midnight. Roq was sitting on the tiled floor. His shirt was soaked in sweat and his pale hands couldn’t stop shaking. Joel changed his mind. On the corner was Mang Jano’s unconscious body, all beaten up. Roq had told Joel that they couldn’t back out. Their faces were already seen. Roq said he had no choice.

 “I had no choice,” he repeated to Golvo. His friend sighed and leaned back against his chair, as his hands massaged his forehead.

“You really are messed-up,” he said. “I assumed this was the real reason you left HIL?”

“Right.”

“You know I used to like that about you."

"What?"

"You were this idealist lawyer who fought for the right things. Maybe you convinced yourself that the end justifies the means? That you doing the wrong things are okay as long as the reasons are right? Or was the reason selfish? I didn't think you'd spiral way too low.”

“No!” Roq was now getting annoyed. “Did you really go here just to insult me?”

Golvo ignored his question.

“Tell me then, Roq, why right after you left HIL, you cheated your way to become a congressman? And eventually just to serve a president whose morals are…”

It was enough.

 Roq wasn't going to let him continue. He had far too much pride for his ego to be stepped on like that. He abruptly got up, causing the wooden chair to topple down.

What the hell was going on?

Golvo had never said anything to him about his job in the past. They had met at press conferences, had lunches out, but Golvo remained neutral. His questions to him had neither personal nor political malice.

He knew Golvo didn’t exactly adore the former president, and he knew Golvo could see through his lies. But his friend never brought it up. Why was he suddenly saying it all now?

Of course, Roq wasn’t dumb.

 He was well aware of the discrepancies, and the questionable behaviors of Duit.

And if he really had to think about it, it was Golvo who was being reasonable. 

Roq turned to leave and murmured a brief goodbye.

Golvo stopped him.

“Why did you work for Duit?”

Why?

Roq couldn’t possibly give a right answer. He knew Golvo wouldn’t understand. Golvo was always at the top of his game. That man knew exactly what he wanted. He was smart and people had always held him with the highest regard. Someone like him couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to strive hard in doing the right things just to end up being stepped on.

“When I’m at the top, when president Duit gave me power, I felt way more respected than when I was in HIL. I felt like I had more control.”

“But people laugh at you now.”

Roq didn’t say anything back. It was true and he couldn’t deny it, not to his friend anyway.

Because of him kissing the president’s ass, he had become a sort of a national joke. He was a clown just like the rest of them. He had dumbed himself down.

What use was power if nobody truly respected you? He often asked himself that question.

All he wanted was to live a good life. Did he really have a good life? At least, he pretended to.

"The trial will begin some time this month."

"Who's the judge?"

"I wouldn't count on it," Golvo said. "He's the opposition's pet."

Roq rolled his eyes. "I still have other connections."

"Oh, you mean the ones who were so easy to switch sides?"

"Not them," Roq hissed.

"Ah. But your Duit won’t do anything for you now,” Golvo whispered as he walked ahead. He didn’t falter. There was absolute conviction in his voice. It was one thing that Roq didn’t like about Golvo. He was too harsh, especially when he said the truth.

“He left without any word to anyone about you. I won’t rely to him if I were you. There’s no one to save you.”

Of course, Roq had felt it. He'd been in detention for a year now and nothing had been happening. If anything, it was just getting worse. All his properties were seized. His family had stopped visiting him. The new police chief officer transferred him into the most horrible room-- and even hinted that it wasn't his last.

Surely, he thought, Duit could have done something.

He had his fists clenched this time.

"You're wrong. He's going to get me out of here."

He would, right? I had done everything for him. I had served him. I had done horrible things for him! He would get me out of here! Then, I'll become the president someday!

Roq watched Golvo looked at him with pity.

He hated it so much. He seriously wanted his friend and punch him straight in the face. Golvo may be taller but Roq still had more weight in him. If the guards hadn’t returned, he would really have done it.

“Visiting time is over,” they pointed out.

Before Golvo left, he said one thing to Roq.

“It's all over, Roq. Goodluck.”

June 18, 2021 11:59

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