15. Fate takes over|
Fagen struggled against his injuries and sat up in the wagon. They were passing through the outskirts of San Isidro.
He looked around, and even in the darkness recognized the road they traveled.
He inhaled the clean night air and welcomed the attending sharp pain under his
bandages. The steady clip-clopping of Roberto's little burro through
the dusty side streets brought focus to his thinking, and his brain reeled
with myriad images that flashed before his eyes in quick succession.
He saw Ellis, bigger even than in real life, marching down the gangplank their
first day in Manila, looking back at him with guileless, unsuspecting eyes. Then
later, inside their tent after his confrontation with the misanthrope, Otis
Youngblood, Fagen heard himself promise his cousin. "The army is like a wife
to us. We took an oath and we're joined in the eyes of God. She's
even better than a wife. You see the army can't ever divorce you. You
give your life to her, and she can't ever turn her back on you." That
hurt Fagen more than all his injuries. If it weren't for him, Ellis
would be safe at home on their little sharecropper's farm in Georgia.
Then a thousand more scenes flashed across his mind's eye like a collage of
garish pictures painted on a carousel, but the one that came to the forefront
over and over was of Ellis in chains, kidnapped in the night, a stinking, vermin-infested
blanket screening him from the outside world. "Help me Davey! I
don't want to go away." The image too terrible to contemplate, Fagen
banged his head against the wagon sideboard to free himself of it.
Fagen's mind raced over his own time in the Philippines. In the beginning
he'd wanted so desperately to prove himself, to show the world what he was
made of. He'd never forget his first day in combat, the exhilaration
of discovering himself in battle and the joy he'd experienced believing he
was destined for great things. Now that time seemed like a thousand
years ago. Since then life had handed him harsher realities and
Racial hatred among soldiers in the Philippines had been far worse than he
could ever have imagined. Youngblood had been right, Jim Crow and Uncle
Sam arrived in the Philippines at the same time. Had they always been
traveling companions? The Filipinos were a colored race, and the Americans
couldn't kill them fast enough. "Like shootin' rabbits in a field," Fagen
had heard one white soldier remark. He recalled the day they marched
to Camp McKinley and he first heard the words "gugu" and "slope." Now,
white American soldiers used dink, slope and gugu interchangeably with darkey,
nigger and coon.
He saw again the propaganda leaflets the Insurrectos had left in their camp. Your
masters have thrown you in the most iniquitous fight with double purpose - to
make you the instrument of their ambition, and also your hard work will soon
make the extinction of your race. Now more than ever, Fagen
believed he knew the truth behind that dark prophesy.
He remembered sitting across the table from Emilio Aguinaldo, listening to
his earnest appeal. "David, you are oppressed in your own country. White
people call you a sulking brute. They burn you on their crosses, kill
your children. Is it your destiny to live out your life among people
who despise you?" The general's words echoed in Fagen's brain
and reminded him that now he'd been charged with murder, perhaps the end
of his life was at hand. Was it his destiny to surrender himself to
the mercy of a kangaroo court, knowing full well the last thing on earth he'd
see was the sneering grin of the hangman as he placed a noose around his neck?
He knew then why Clarita had taken him to see Aguinaldo. Dear, sweet
Clarita had tried to save his life, and he'd repaid her with scorn. How
could he have been such a fool? Would she ever forgive him? A
vision of her appeared before him. She stood smiling alongside EL
Presidente while he spoke. "Join my army. We welcome you
with open arms. You have the opportunity to help an entire nation achieve
its independence. Countless generations of children will be born into
freedom because of your actions. Your joining our fight will be a signal
to other brave men like you that it is possible to love your country and at
the same time hate its politics."
Roberto's wagon hit a bump and jolted Fagen out of his brown study. The
moon, at its zenith in a cloudless sky, gave off a steady, white luminescence. Fagen
was sure he recognized the terrain, and when he saw it knew where he was. Slowly
inching his way to the back of the wagon, he hung his legs over the tailgate
and when sure Roberto wasn't looking, slipped off and started walking.
He'd seen the trail that led off the main road and followed it through a small
valley between ranges of rocky, green hills. Soon the trail narrowed
and darkened, and the cliffs to his right and left became steeper. Ignoring
the agony that came with each step, he found the path and started up, keeping
to the rocks and away from the slippery grasses that lined the cliff face. Weakened
by pain and exhaustion, it was an hour before he reached the narrow opening
that led to Clarita's Simbahan, her sanctuary. "The one place
I always feel safe," she'd said. "Nothing bad can happen here, there
is too much beauty."
Fagen made his way down to the beach and collapsed onto the soft white sand. Tormented
and tortured, mind and body, he resolved he would no longer let fate have its
way. From that day forward he'd be in charge of his own life, and he'd
do whatever he needed to remain free. With his last measure of strength,
he reached out and put his hand into the cool water. Soon he felt the
pain and anguish drain from his body through his fingertips into the pool. Every
inch of him ached, and it hurt wherever she touched him, but her hands were
cool and dry, and her nearness gave him great comfort. She lay down
beside him and held him close. "I heard what happened," Clarita said.
Fagen rested his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. "I prayed