Freedom. Such sweetness to the spirit still eludes us. People have fought. People have died. And after six-hundred years, we still struggle.
The voices of those who oppose have been silenced. The eyes of those who have witnessed have been forced shut. The hands of those who defy are now inept. Those souls who only wished for this elusive butterfly now wander in limbo.
More than a hundred years ago, a Rizal was fired upon by people of the army. Prior to that, some tribe leader in the Visayas killed the commander of an armada who sought to occupy the islands. A Bonifacio formed a revolutionary group—a Katipunan—aiming to overthrow those who subjugate us. He and the rest of his league have never been heard of ever since. Hundreds of them have fought for this freedom. They have died in vain. Their visions of freedom finally dawning on this miserable land have been buried alongside their carcasses. They are nothing but glorified dead: figments of legends and myths.
“Gabriel,” whispers my brother directly to my ear. It has not even been an hour since I finally dozed off. It is still dark but the whole camp is rustling, packing up and silently preparing to move again.
“The veladoras are coming, about fifty meters now,” he says.
Eping was always into this revolution and freedom stuff. I never was, and I do not wish to be either. In fact, I would not even be here if Inay was still alive. But I have no reason to stay in Santa Cruz—I wonder if I even have any reason to be alive right now. I think almost a month has passed since we left home. This precarious routine we are in right now tells me we are nothing near to seeing peaceful dawns and dusks again.
I reflexively try to cover my ears. I am too late. A high pitch is ringing in my ears. My head starts aching. I open my eyes. Inay is sprawled on the floor, lifeless and blood-soaked—shot point-blank. I run towards her, but someone pulls on my collar and tugs me back. Next thing I know, we are running. Still stunned by abrupt turn of events, I cannot even find the impulse to cry for Inay. Eping and I continue to run until no more guardias are in sight. We have been running for hours and finally our feet fail to carry on any longer. We come to realize that the hours of running have brought us to Quiapo. We decide to spend the night in the church, or what is left of it. Its grandeur was put to rubble in the war nearly ten years ago. As I lay down to sleep, I finally come to my senses. Then, I realize: Just like that our Inay was taken away from us by the Kastila, forever—all for the cost of a few cuartos.
Naturally, my brother sought to avenge her death by joining the rebels. I just wanted to return home, to our normal ways of life. I guess that will never happen, not soon at least. But where else will I go? Who else is left to trust? What choice do I have but to be a brother and survive? We hide and we run. Now, we are on our feet yet again.
We have reached Antipolo on foot in just a few weeks. We settled near the edge of some forest in the Sierra Madre. The customary night watch group has driven us deeper and deeper into the forest, and now, they have finally found us. We flee as fast as we could, but none can outrun their vehicles. One by one we are taken, until only Eping and I are left. A strange pulse forces us to run, faster and farther, only to find out that we have reached the edge of the forest, almost sliding off of a precipice leading to an unknown abyss.
It is a dead end for us. We are cornered by the veladoras, and we have no choice but to surrender.
“Eping, let’s just give it up,” I say.
“No,” he replies, with bitterness in his tone. He must be thinking of Inay. I am too, but I am thinking she would favor it if we stayed alive.
“You are out of your mind, brother! This… this freedom…This freedom you are fighting for is ridiculous. None can ever have it, especially not here in our country.”
“Maybe. But it is not impossible.”
In the distance, a night-watchman pulls out his weapon, a revolver of some sort, and effortlessly pulls the trigger.
Eping does not fall. No, not like I played in my head. Instead, I realize I am sent to the ground in the blink of an eye.
A strange impact has struck me—sending my heart to pump faster, my lungs gasping for air, and my nerves growing numb.
My brother is shouting.
I could not make out any of his words.
A familiar high-pitch is shaking my head.
Darkness is closing in.
In the nothingness, I hear my brother’s voice, having but a few words to remind me.
“It is not impossible.”