Manit never returned to class. He was found at a roadside with his arms slashed off, head burned, gunshots on his torso. He was my mentor, who taught me to open my eyes and see a government that deprives its people their rights, to fight for these rights, and not to fear death in the attempt. He was also a friend; one you could share secrets with, silly ones and important ones; and be sure none of it will reach somebody else’s ears. It was hard to find that kind of a friend during that time; he was worth a hundred – no, maybe a thousand – men of valor, a thousand brothers, but I felt that killing that many would not avenge him enough.
Classes went on as usual after I heard the news. The subject was Social Science, a comparison between some country’s political structure during this age and that age. Boring. Writing an underground newspaper article about the death of a fellow activist was more interesting than that. It shifted to a song, then a poem. I was not that good with tunes, but there were a lot of good composers in the organization. I finished just as the discussion shifted to how we felt about the passing of the Martial Law after six years. I mouthed off what was on my mind, angry words, and it felt fine for about a few seconds. You never knew if there were spies in the room, or out the room, or if the teacher’s question was a trap. I pretended not to worry, and told myself to be more careful next time, if there were a next time.
Then somebody spoke up. “We can’t blame him, ma’m, if he sees how bad the government is in solving crimes. We are all aware that Manit was killed a week ago, and up to now there have been no suspects. Why is that?” James spoke, another of my friends. I met him back at high school and became close. Not exactly best friends, but we did stuff together; crazy, harmless stuff like filling trash cans with pebbles and scattering grass on the streets. We never met again until that semester, during Social Science. He became highly charismatic, with his, “Praise the Lord” chants and prayer chains and such. I thought he’d gone cuckoo, but then so have I. That’s what you become when you believe something.
The class poured out its sentiment over Manit’s death, and I just realized that James saved me then. The bell sounded, classes ended, and he was gone before I could thank him. No matter, I thought, I could do it some other time.
Manit’s death sometimes took over my logic and I sometimes find myself speaking, audibly, against the government. Sometimes James was there to stop me, sometimes he wasn’t. That time I was ready to join the brothers in the mountains, if I could survive a few more weeks without the government making a move. One day James walked with me to the vehicle terminal.
“They talked to me,” he said.
“What? What did they do? What did you talk about?”
“You’re being watched,” he said, softly, calmly. “Even now. I don’t know where, but you’ve got to be more careful.”
“They’re on to me? Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but thanks for the tip.”
“The Social Science professor? She’s a spy. Also the girl at the back row with a ponytail, and the guard, the skinny one,” he took my book, leafed it. “What page was our assignment?”
We passed by a person reading the newspaper. “Chapter Five, I think. I wasn’t listening,” I said. He handed me my book back. So James was an informer. He seems to be on my side, but you really could never tell. I decided that would be our final conversation until this nightmare is over. We parted ways and I walked on a different route.
That was the last time anyone saw James as well. The organization wouldn’t look for him; after all, he was an informer. I thought about those times when he stopped me whenever I made a public scene about how the government sucked, or something similar to that. Was he a spy then? It would be a huge risk for someone like him to collaborate with the enemy like that. And for what purpose? What would he have gained? Friendship? God’s favor?
Years after Martial Law was lifted I think about these things. I have my assumptions about the matter, but no answers. Still, he is more of a hero than what I had become then - a freedom fighter, champion of the oppressed.
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