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A Cruel Moveable Feast

It was a Saturday. I am not now sure if it was the 21st of September or the 20th. Through the sheer machinations of the dictator, the documents were ill-dated, post-dated like a bad check. It was a carte blanche, a blank check that would allow those who found themselves suddenly in power to write off debts through repressed memory; or to cause some to be indebted in jail.
Saturday was also the regular formation of the ROTC, the vestigial remains of a military training that had secured its inspiration from histories of fighting three world wars for another nation. In the ROTC, one actually felt being groomed to be a hero. That Saturday, all of us ex-future heroes trooped to the training grounds in front of the Ateneo Gymnasium. Some of us missed our breakfast. Some missed the calesas, and had to do push-ups. All of us missed that morning the voice of Rufo Tuy, with its unmistakable timbre. The newscaster was a local legend, his fame ascribable to his stockpile of Bikol terms, mostly modifiers that managed to fuse the ring of onomatopoeia crashing just a few inches short of the vulgar. If Fr. James O’Brien then was the odd (because he was a New Yorker) inspiration to study Bikol language and culture, Rufo Tuy was the role model for the application of the study.
That morning, his voice courtesy of Eveready, the battery, vanished, for awhile we thought. Radio was gone for that day. No one had any idea then what has befallen this republic.
At about 9 am, we were not yet going through our drills. The officers were talking with the commandants. Then came out the news, flaky and sad and unnerving: martial law had been declared, and all the critics of the Marcos administration bundled off into jails and detention centers.
Some students were excused earlier so that they could clean up their offices, all located then in the oldest part of the campus, the green-and-white wooden structures flanked by the Burns and Santos Hall. In those rooms were posters of Che Guevarra, Lenin, Marx and Mao. Up on the boards around the walks, the hammer and sickle were recurring motifs to our search for new universes, where the ordinary – the masses – had the same opportunity as those living in huge houses. There was no stalling, for the military forces were coming to the school.
I do not remember now when we were dismissed. I just remembered seeing off friends, for we were all friends in the small campus where everyone knew everyone. Most of us were not going home. Most of those young men did not even have the chance to see their parents. In their homes, some men were waiting for them with “invitations” to go to a military camp in Pili. A few of our friends went down the roads radiating from the school and were never seen again. That morning, the mountains behind us loomed so near we could touch them with our escape.