Monday, May 12, 2008

The Ambush

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 5: The Indomitable Lucrezia
Chapter 1. The Ambush

Lucrezia could not breathe!

A heavy body is on top of my chest. And why am I lying on the ground like a sack of potatoes? It’s Uncle Artie. He is trying to tell me something but I think he is choking. I can hear it so clearly. Why is he ill? Something wet and sticky - blood - is running down my face, neck, chest and arms.

She was covered in blood but she did not realize this now. Lucrezia’s lush scarlet dress, her first floor length gown with the butterfly sleeves and the hand embroidered carmine red roses, was soaked with something sticky. Ruined!

I am trying to turn my head sideways but there is another head next to my face. I know it is a head because I can feel the hair blowing against my face. Whose? Auntie Betsy? Uncle Artie’s weight is really crushing me. He has stopped gasping and he does not seem to be breathing. Why? Why is Auntie Betsy so still? Can’t they see that I am suffocating? Please Jesus and my Guardian Angel send somebody to help me here. I can’t call for help because I cannot open my mouth. Uncle Artie or could it be Auntie Betsy on top of me?

She could hear rapid bursts of machine gunfire going Rat… Tat! Tat! Tat! Tat! Are those machine guns being turned on my family? Again. Rat!…Tat! Tat! Tat! Tat! And then again, Rat…Tat! Tat! Tat! It’s gunfire. Screams. Terrifying screams. Never ending screams. And moans and groans and gasps.

Those are my relatives and friends out there. Some savage beasts are killing them all. Oh Child Jesus please save me from harm.

And then came a continuous roar. No it’s not a roar. My ears ache, but this sounds more like thunder without the rain and lightning.

The developing musician in her could not help listening despite her anguish. These sounds go Pow! Pow! Pow! Then there is a pause like a rest on a musical composition then it’s back to Pow. Pow. Pow. Pieces of metal are falling, branches are crashing to the ground, and glass is shattering. More screams. The beasts shouted and yelled harshly. No, listen carefully. Only one Beast is the voice, which carries across the forest. I can hear only one Beast. He is their Leader and he must be very brutal.

It seemed like United States Cavalry slaughtering the Filipinos at Tirad Pass. Except that cars, jeeps and weapons carriers had replaced horses and wagons. They all drove around the encircled Ortigas Nieto clan and fired at anyone that moved.

Lucrezia begun to weep silently. Funny sounds emanated from her throat and soon she was choking and gagging.

I can hear the dying – their throats gurgling, pleading for mercy, bones being crushed and dull thuds. The trees above her begun crackling. What does it mean?

The smell of burnt flesh, blazing cars, flaming tires overpowered her. Please! Could somebody come and lift the heavy bodies that are crushing me so that I can take a breath?

Lucrezia tried squirming a little. She persisted. The head with the long mane slid down her face. One of her nostrils was free to inhale a little amount of air.

The Tat…Tat! Tat! begun again. Or perhaps it had never stopped. The stinging smell was beginning to pierce her throat and burn her eyes.

It is unbearable. I cannot breathe fast enough from only one of my nostrils. I am going to try to open my mouth once more to let in a tiny bit of air. A small side of my mouth can suck in some air. Oh thank you Jesus for giving me that idea. She coughed. My throat is on fire. Why don’t Papi and Mummy come to get me? And where is my Amah Ah Wei?

Black army boots layered with blood paced back and forth. Lucrezia saw them out of the peripheral vision of her left eye. The carmine boots stopped somewhere nearby. Then things went dark, as if she had suddenly lost her senses or gone to sleep without feeling drowsy first.

It was the silence that caused Lucrezia to come out of the blackness. The squish, squish, squish, sound of the army boots passed by her left ear and her eye.

The boots are really a red color, not black as I first thought. You can’t see much blood with red on red. That has to be the Beast. Only one such as he could think of something so perverse. 

But blood coagulates, its color turns to a dark brown or even black. Lucrezia was supine and she was viewing the boots in patches of sunlight and smoke .

“Get out of here. Now! Everyone’s dead,” a voice thundered in Tagalog, which Lucrezia spoke along with four other languages. The harsh voice full of hate walked to the exact spot where Lucrezia was lying and tugged at the body on top of her!

Lucrezia passed out when she heard that horrifying piece of news about all of them being dead.

“You idiots. Get rid of this carcass lying by the side of the girl. She should have suffocated by now but she is very much alive. I hate the vile Dona Esperanza but this child seems to have inherited her mettle. Pick up the headless corpse and the head to which it belongs. It has rolled down the incline leaving a trail of blood. No! Puta ang ina mo- Your mother is a whore. Did I tell you to remove the trail of blood? Now stack all the body parts. Do it quickly now. We are running out of time. Lucrezia must remain untouched Joe Flores is going to be maimed for the rest of his life. Nobody touches him, is that understood? Pass the word to all the men. Hack all of the others to pieces. That’s an order,” snarled Victor Vencer.

He bent over and slung Lucrezia over his shoulder.

“I am going to take her out of this clearing and place her far enough away from the holocaust. The smoke from the burning cars and tires, trees and underbrush plus a few humans thrown into the burning pyre might damage her lungs and kill her. I want her alive and well. That will be my vengeance against the Ortigas Nieto for their foul deeds,” he muttered .

She regained consciousness for a short while and heard the sounds of the jungle. But the oppressive heat, the heavy sorrow that was like a big stone against her chest, and the nauseating smell  caused her to relapse into the blackness.

I don’t remember for how long I have been lying all alone on the slimy green ground. It seems like forever. How many times have I passed out? Am I going to die?

Only fragments of memories and incidents remained in Lucrezia’s mind when the Philippine Constabulary found her with an unconscious Joe Flores beside her.

 An ambush and a massacre had taken place in a breathtaking area somewhere outside of Manila. The undulating emerald hills filled with santol, mango and Nangka fruit trees all towering royally over a hundred feet now resembled a war zone. The scorched hills held nothing but rotting pieces of humanity that had once played, laughed and prayed with her.

Uncle Artie and Auntie Betsy, both so sparkling and affectionate people, lay dead. Cousins Sonny, Carly and Mickey had perished. Her best friends Cookie and Chi-Chi would never play piko (a centuries-old Chinese game of hopscotch) with her ever again.

Forty innocent people had been savagely slaughtered in the ambush of Montalban. It took 10 days with five churches and funeral masses recited every day to honor and remember the fallen dead – many of them relatives, friends, workers and acquaintances of the Ortigas Nieto clan.

Indeed the common denominator was their connection to the Ortigas Nieto clan.

Only two had survived the ambush at Montalban. One was Lucrezia, 7 years old and without a visible scratch on her. The other survivor was Ben Flores, the mayor of Montalban. He was devoted to the Ortigas clan and had links with them going as far back as Don Cesar, the Tycoon and his late sister Dona Urraca.

Since the ambush and massacre, Lucrezia would not respond or talk. “Shock, poor dear little girl,” said Uncles Bertie, Benito and Basilio, esteemed medical doctors all.

“All she needs is time and tranquility to recover from the tragedy,” they said in a vain attempt to comfort Lucrezia’s anguished parents Camilla and Edmond.

Ben’s father Lito had been Don Cesar’s trusted major domo. Ben’s entire education had been borne by Don Cesar,Don Alcibiade and Dona Esperanza. Ben had shown wonderful aptitude for public service. He attended the Jesuit College, Ateneo de Manila, the same school which Don Cesar and his brothers Don Torquato and Don Mamerto called their Alma Mater.

“Ben lost a leg, an arm and an eye. No expenses will be spared. Let’s send him to America as soon as he’s well enough to travel. They might have new techniques for rehabilitation,” suggested Dona Esperanza.

Since the ambush, Lucrezia had decided to live in a world of silence.

I am enraged. But I am not quite sure yet at whom. All these fools asking the most ridiculous questions make the Mother Goose rhymes that I detest, look smart by comparison.

“How do you feel?” “Are you all right?” “Would you like some candy?” “New dolls?” “New clothes?” “Your favorite cakes?” Utter dunces all!

Her mother Camilla and her father Edmond were desperate and looked it.

I feel sorry for them but … I just don’t feel like talking.

Grandmother Esperanza simply let her be, occasionally entering her room to say “Hola! Mijita” (a contraction of mi hijita, little daughter) and turn around in a whirl of white linen, Joy perfume and pearls.

Her nanny, Amah Ah Wei never left her side, morning, noon, and night. After Montalban, Ah Wei slept in her room, bathed, dressed, and combed her. Great-Uncle Wak Nam sent a withered old woman every day to Santol Mansion. In a story silence the woman practiced Hilot, massages on pulse and pressure points throughout her body. She brought strange and bitter tasting brews which, Lucrezia drunk without a single complaint.

I enjoy Ah Wei’s endless prattle in Pidgin English or Spanish, sometimes lapsing into harsh guttural Chinese with sounds like gar Kar…Kar gar (it was a Hakka dialect). I love Ah Wei yet … does she not know that silence can be beautiful?

Besides keeping silent, Lucrezia had two public ways of dealing with the tragedy that had befallen her. She played the piano and enjoyed the company of Fray Paco. He seemed not to care about anyone at this delicate moment except for Lucrezia -" Lucre" and Dona Esperanza, “Espe” as he called her.

Lucrezia invoked a circle of silence around herself. This enabled her to reconstruct every anguished detail – every bloody image, sound, smell, and sensation of that frightful day.

I am going to relive the gruesome details of the Massacre of Montalban over and over until I get some clarity out of the jumble of death and destruction. In order to do that I must keep silent as talk will only distract me. Nothing must disturb me. Fray Paco is the only one who can help me. He knows what it means to be attacked and terrorized and almost killed.

This process would last the rest of her life and change her forever. For one thing it caused her psychic abilities to explode into being suddenly. Prescient dreams came unbid in her sleep. Faces, voices and conversations remained imprinted on her brain. When she awoke she visualized her dreams step by step and remembered everything. But she never,never told anyone about them. She absorbed them, studied them, regurgitated them and re-absorbed them again.

As she grew older the full significance of the Massacre at Montalban would make her “see” the political events and circumstances, business and political leaders in the Philippines and in the United States which, manipulated and moved the puppets on the world’s stage … and distrust all leaders and governments forever more.

I now realize who made up the real Mandanti of the Massacre of my clan in Montalban – those who commanded behind the black screen. Their pawns might even be rich, powerful and have a high profile. Why they might even be Presidents. It is meaningless. They are puppets and marionettes even if they think they are calling the shots. I mean that in a very literal way.

Men like Victor Vencer, one of the offspring of hate engendered by the De La Rama clan constituted the foot soldiers whose actions were controlled behind the black screen. They never had any significance in the Big Chessboard that was Life.

I think my Gran-Gran is also engaging in nightly meditations regarding the tragedy at Montalban. Perhaps, like me she is also able to take everything apart and then see the real truth, wondered a curious Lucrezia.

This continuous ruminations on the part of Dona Esperanza set off a chain of events deliberately caused by Dona Esperanza with a very unpredictable outcome.

1 comment:

  1. Cara Isabella,

    What an incredible experience -- one that can linger a lifetime, one that can bring ever new insights, ad infinitum, one that might never be laid to rest. I am interested to know how the family members who were not massacred managed not to be on the scene; I hope we'll find out more background on the perpetrators as well. Vivid and disturbing. You kept me on the edge of my seat.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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