26. Fagen declares war on God

Fagen slept. Miguel awakened him at twilight. "Capitan Fagen, you must come to the infirmary."

"Is it the American prisoner?"

"No sir. Please hurry sir."

A throng of men ten deep hovered around the hospital tent murmuring among themselves, straining to get a look inside. The young medic shouted "bumawi, bumawi," and the curious soldiers fell silent and let them through. Inside, a single lamp burned low, its feeble, flickering rays swallowed up by dark shadow. Miguel's assistant stood when they entered, but turned away, his face a mask. Frightened and consumed with foreboding, Fagen willed himself across the room to the operating table.

Nothing in his experience, nothing he'd seen in life, done, or even heard of could have prepared him for the shock of seeing Clarita lying wounded on that hospital bed. Fear and rage ravaged his consciousness, exploded in his brain, coursed painfully through his body. He wanted to cry out, summon curses vile enough to render God damned from Heaven for all eternity. He wanted to prostrate himself before Satan and sign a contract for revenge upon Him. Had he committed so many grave sins in his life that he deserved this? Had Clarita? He wanted to stand on top of the world, shake his fist and shout a never-ending stream of profane maledictions at the God who'd permitted this to happen, but he was in a daze, weakened, his brain had exploded and now only smoldered. Vituperation not then in his power, he sat down and asked Miguel, "How bad is she?"

"Bad, Senor."

"What can be done for her?"

"Not much. I've given her medication for the pain, but she's bleeding inside."

Fagen placed a hand on Clarita's flushed, feverish brow. She stirred, and then opened her eyes. In the dim light he saw fear and confusion on her face so he kissed her and said, "You're safe now, my love."

She lifted her hand, the palm warm and moist. Fagen held it tight, rested his head next to hers on the pillow and tried to comfort her while she drifted in and out of consciousness. In a moment he felt her hand move, the slightest pressure of one finger. He rose up and looked into her beautiful face. "Don't ever leave me," she said, and then closed her eyes.

Miguel hurriedly checked her pulse, listened to her heart. "She sleeps."

"How did this happen?"

The assistant left the tent and returned a few seconds later in the company of a shabbily dressed, shoeless, graybeard of a man. "This is Sofio, Capitan, one of the new recruits with Clarita when the attack occurred."

Hat in hand, the old man tentatively approached Clarita's sickbed, deep sadness in his eyes as he bowed his head in silent prayer. Fagen seized the old man's hands. "Sofio. Tell me."

"In the long valley south of here, Senor. We knew where the Americans camped. We heard their singing and thought we would pass well clear of their position. One of their guards saw us and shot his rifle. I don't know why he was out that far, Senor. It was dark, maybe he was lost."

Miguel thanked Sofio, and then dismissed him. As the old man turned to leave, he scanned the scalpels, clamps and bone saws on the hospital bench. He paused, hands trembling, knuckles white on the brim of his hat. "Excuse me, manggagamot, I would like to ask whether you know my sons, Meno and Pio." His eyes locked on the grisly tools of the doctor's trade, he added, "Whether they've been here to see you." David Fagen felt the old man's pain. He'd seen it in the faces of hundreds of Filipinos who'd suffered from the war. Under ordinary circumstances he'd sympathize, but just then all he cared about was his own selfish grief, all he had room for, and he wanted that man to take his problems elsewhere.

More charitable, Miguel put his arm around the old man's shoulders and guided him to the door. "Return to your company, Uncle. I am busy now. Later, I will try to remember."

Time dragged. Each precious, agonizing hour Fagen spent at Clarita's bedside depleted his emotional and mental reserves. Lost in fog, sinking into madness, he knew he had to bear up even though every passing second took him closer to his own private hell on earth, life without the only woman he'd ever loved.

Fagen lay beside Clarita and held her in his arms. Before he left them, Miguel had propped the bed up to keep the fluid in her lungs from rising, but it was no use, each bubbly, rattling breath was more difficult than the last. Fagen didn't know whether she could hear, but felt an overpowering need to talk to her, to connect before it was too late. He rested his head on her pillow and whispered in her ear. He talked about their lives together, starting with the day they'd first met in San Isidro. He reminded her of the good times they'd shared and asked whether she remembered this incident or that. He told her a thousand times how much he loved her and promised he'd love her as long as he lived. He vowed that after this life they'd be together for eternity.

Later, Colonel De Castro tapped on the tent post, and then entered. Ashen-faced, eyes red and swollen, he stood at the opening and said, "Forgive me, Capitan. Some people wish to pay their respects."

Fagen didn't want any visitors. Nobody loved Clarita as much, and he wasn't about to share the few remaining hours. He started to object when the little colonel pushed the tent flap back and Fagen saw Sargento Canizares standing in the shadows just outside with one hundred and eighty-five men, his entire company in single file behind him. Fagen's heart melted. Of course those men loved her too, their grief no less genuine than his. They deserved the opportunity to unburden their troubled minds. He nodded consent, and one by one, the men stepped forward, identified themselves, and then said a few words to Clarita.

"This is Pablo. We want you back with us. Get well soon."

"Clarita, this is Ambrosio speaking. We all love you and wait for your return."

"The revolution needs you, Clarita. We need you." Two hours passed before the last soldier took his turn at the entrance to the hospital tent. When finished, Canizares told the men there was nothing more to be done and ordered them back to the company area.

Miguel and another man entered the infirmary at dawn. "This is Father Diaz," Miguel said. "He is here to say the Viaticum." The priest was a little, grim-faced man with deep-set eyes and a long, aquiline nose. Ignoring Miguel's introduction, he went directly to the table beside Clarita's bed, donned a silk scarf and then spread the rest of his priestly paraphernalia. Fagen didn't like it. The man moved too fast, assumed too much authority, and besides, Clarita hadn't asked for a priest. Fagen stood up and blocked his way.

Diaz stopped in his tracks and let go an annoyed sigh, a dismissive look on his long face, as though he confronted a tiresome child. Miguel came between the two men. " Capitan Fagen, Father Diaz has traveled many miles to perform the Anointing of the Sick. It is the seed of eternal life. Clarita herself would have asked him if she were able." Fagen backed off. The medic was right, he thought. Just because he'd declared war on God, was no reason to drag Clarita into it.

The priest mumbled over Clarita's bed for five minutes, made crosses in the air and periodically kissed his Bible. Then he passed a wafer under her nose and wet her lips with a few drops of wine. His service done, he glanced at Fagen down his long nose and then said to Miguel, "The Church will provide what is lacking."

Another hour passed and Clarita stirred. Fagen saw her chest heave in a desperate struggle for air so he sat her up and rested her head on his shoulder. Her breath came in short strangulated puffs. She clutched Fagen's hand and murmured softly, "I love you, my darling."

Fagen gently lifted her head, and Clarita opened her eyes. No fear, only deep sorrow for a life that could have been. She held him in her gaze for as long as she could, but her lungs full, there was no more room for air. Pillows of pink foam formed at the corners of her mouth. She made one last, laborious attempt at breath, and then her heart stopped.

Fagen held her tighter, tried to shake life back into her. "Clarita, try again! Don't give up. I'll help, we'll breath together!" Finally, he realized it was no use. Clarita was dead and nothing anyone could do would change that. He laid her head back on the pillow, held her hands and cried while her warm, rosy color shifted to pale white.

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1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home