24. Benevolent assimilation|
Clarita followed her grandmother down three flights of stairs to the cellar. "How many?"
The fortuneteller held the lantern higher as they descended. "Ten fighters
"Ten! I expected thirty!"
"There were thirteen, but three changed their minds and left this evening."
"Ten... Grandmother, what's happening?"
The old woman stopped outside the cellar door, and Clarita saw concern on
her face. "Things have changed, my darling. Recently, the Americans
have garrisoned troops in every village and hamlet. Soldiers blanket
the entire province. They call it 'Benevolent Assimilation,' supposedly
for our protection, but now two Filipinos can't have a conversation without
an American looking over their shoulders. It's a hateful, insidious
policy, and breaking the revolution. People are frightened to make a
move. The flow of weapons and supplies from the barrios has been cut
to a trickle. If the enemy suspects a villager sympathetic to the cause,
he is immediately arrested, the trial short and the verdict predetermined. I'm
afraid the tide is turning, my pet. I worry about our future."
"I too worry sometimes, Grandmother, but as long as El Presidente leads,
we'll fight with what we have."
Grandmother tapped once, then twice more on the door, entered and ten Filipino
peasants got to their feet. Shocked, Clarita signaled the men to sit
as she walked among them in the dank cellar. Since she joined the revolution,
she'd never seen such a wretched, miserable assortment of recruits. Barefoot,
malnourished, sickly and without firearms or ammunition, they were the bottom
of the barrel and clearly frightened out of their wits. Barely able
to hide her dismay, Clarita smiled and approached one of the men. To
make him feel more comfortable, she spoke in his native dialect. "What
is your name, sir?"
The man jumped up and leaned on a wooden staff, his face animated. "Mauricio, Senorita ."
"Have you no weapon, Mauricio?"
The man's eyes brightened, and he hopped on one foot for balance while he
raised his crutch before him. "Oh, yes. I have this, my lady." Clarita
glanced down at the man's foot, twisted at the ankle and dreadfully deformed.
"Here are my weapons, Senorita !" A boy of twelve
sprang up and crossed the cellar floor, his outstretched hands proudly displaying
two sharpened nipa sheaves and three rusty nails. "I can hide these
in my hat and belt, and when the enemy comes close enough, I can stab him in
Clarita patted the boy's shoulder, and then moved among the recruits until
she came to an old man sitting on a tattered blanket away from the others. Emaciated,
thin white hair, deeply lined brow and sunken chest, he made no effort to rise. She
knelt before him, and the man lifted his head. "I have no weapon, little
"Why did you come, Uncle? You should be home with your wife drinking
tea, dispensing wisdom in your village."
"I have two sons, Meno and Pio, twins. They joined the revolution last
year, and I have not seen them since. I had no choice, I had to come."
Clarita got the men up and gave them their orders for travel. When
ready, the two women kissed good-bye and Clarita wiped the tears from her grandmother's
leathery cheeks. "You'll have to hurry to get this bunch into the forest
before daybreak," the old woman said. "Be careful, the Americans
are everywhere. I know I'm a silly old fool, but I'm frightened I'll
never see you again."
"General Aguinaldo will devise a way to outsmart the Americans, and the flow
of recruits and supplies will resume. Soon you'll have a cellar full
of able-bodied patriots, and then as always, I'll be back to get them. Stay