It was a long time ago, on another typical night at Brgy. G_____, a sleepy barangay at the outskirts of sophisticated city life. Cars and busses pass by the highway, their headlights illuminating the usual evening scene at the barangay: groups of young and not-so-young men huddled around their bottles of kwatro kantos and lapads, teenagers singing to the strum of the guitar, and the occasional love struck couples who seemed to be lost in each others eyes, oblivious to everything.
And as usual the barangay tanods were making their nightly rounds. Already they had silenced the almost nightly domestic dispute at the dela Fuentes and have slapped some sense into an overzealous Ginebra fan who had too much to drink of his favorite teams gin. They passed up a few offers of shot and tagay. Another typical night, or so it would seem.
Their rounds almost finished, the tanods were all set to go home. One remarked that it was already past midnight, and he still had to fix his sons baon. Some fellow tanods chuckled, but those who knew better kept silent: the mans wife was just recently confined to a wheelchair.
A spark from a lighter at a nearby waiting shed caught the tanods eyes. The tanods stopped talking and approached the waiting shed. Though it wasnt entirely unusual, it was their job to check up on things that even barely qualifies as suspicious. Tambays that had nothing to drink and were as silent as the night before Christmas had to be checked, especially since none of the tanods recognized the two men who were casually lighting their cigarettes. Sure, they could just be drifters passing through, but we have to check up on them just the same, one tanod said to another under his breath. The other grunted in reply.
The tanods separated the two men, and each was asked the usual questions: who are you, where are you going. After a moment or two the tanods congregated while keeping an eye on the two strangers, who still smoked their cigarettes.
What did your guy say? the tanod named Joey asked.
He said he was going to A_____, the tanod named Willie said. The city of A______ was due south of the barangay.
Thats odd, my guy said he was going to T_____, Joey said. The city of T_____ was due north, which was the exact opposite of going to A_____.
And there were already perhaps two jeepneys to T_____ that passed by. Why didnt he ride the jeeepneys?, another tanod remarked
The tanods talked for a while. The two strange men lit more cigarettes. The lighters strange glow gave a rather eerie aura. Now only the sporadic bus or car or jeepney passed by. The groups of men that previously offered the tanods shots or tagays have already finished their inuman, and the teenagers were already asleep, even the love struck ones. The tanods were sleepy themselves, but they have decided that the two strangers were just a little too strange to be taken lightly. They resolved to bring the two strange men to the barangay captain. Yes, the captain would know what to do. They formed two groups, each group accosting one of the strangers. A far-away frog croaked.
Sleep now, baby, please, tita has to work tomorrow.
The barangay captains neighbor futilely implored to her two-year old niece. Her sister, the babys mother, was somewhere abroad, earning enough dough to feed two families. But no amount of money could silence the cute babys lampin-induced cries.
The tanods passed by this house as silently as they could. At least two tanods were on either side of the two strange men. The trip was silent. Another frog croaked.
Joey knocked loudly on the barangay captains door. Almost immediately the captains wife answered the door, as if she was expecting them. And maybe she was, for the aroma of a newly made batch of instant coffee broke through the amazingly sweet smell of a nearby chicken coup and piggery. She brought the coffee to the tanods, who gratefully accepted the early morning pick-me-up.
The captains wife was already accustomed to these late night disturbances brought by the hard-working tanods. Why just last week the dela Fuentes were here, who needed the barangay captain to patch things up. Yet after tearful apologies and promises of everlasting fidelity the dela Fuentes were again quarrelling.
When she saw that everyone was holding a cup, the captains wife hurried to wake her husband. Joey and Willie looked at each other as they heard the captain complain, perhaps a little too loudly, about why his sleep must be disturbed, why he bothered to run as barangay captain in the first place, and that the infernal disturbances would forever discourage him from taking a seat in public office again. It was like that every time. Some of the tanods exchanged looks of amusement while Willie skillfully twirled his bolo around his fingers.
The barangay captain emerged from his house. Though he only stood at five foot four, five foot five with shoes, and was as gentle as everyones favorite uncle, one word that could describe the captain was towering. He had a massive muscle-filled frame that belied his forty-some years. There were already legends that sprung up around him. Some said that he punished a would-be carabao rustler, and the punishment meted out was whispered, so severe it was thought to be. Some said that in his youth he wrestled angry carabaos with ease.
And indeed, like an angry carabao he could cut an imposing figure when he wanted to. Looking at the two strangers who did not look like they were from his barangay, the captain now looked as intimidating as ever. He walked in between the two groups.
Whats the problem? the captain asked in a deep voice.
Willie talked first. These two guys were at the waiting shed. This one said he was going to A_____.
While this one said he was going to T_____. And there were already two jeepneys that passed by, Joey chimed in.
As the words flew out of the tanods mouths the two strangers looked at each other alarmingly. The one near Willie suddenly pulled out a gun and fired at the barangay captain. Without thinking Willie reached for the gun. The bullet just grazed the captains gently graying hair.
The stranger without the gun tossed something to his gun-toting partner. Like a praying mantis Joey grabbed the thing in mid-air, and saw that it was a magazine of bullets. Two or more tanods quickly immobilized this stranger.
Even before the stranger with the gun could fire again Willie already had him in a neck lock, the bolo poised around the strangers neck.
Ill kill this son of a bitch, I will, youll see! Willie screamed. Only the strangers eyes matched the size of the vein on Willies angry head. The barangay captain exhaled.
No, no! Not here! shouted the barangay captains wife. There was anger in her voice: You just tried kill my husband. You failed. Now its our turn.
The tanods dragged the two strangers away from the house, their eyes hungry, not for blood, but for justice. The blood was just icing, very delicious icing.
By now many of the neighbors were awake. They saw the bolos near the strangers necks. After a few questions and a few quick answers everyone already knew what happened: the barangay captain was almost killed by the one tasting Willies bolo.
And judging by the neighbors reluctance to intercede on the strangers behalf it was clear that the neighbors wanted justice as well. Most of them were simple folk, who wanted nothing more than a roof on their heads and food for their family and, if they are lucky, perhaps education for their children. It was people, would be murderers like the strangers, who made life miserable. The world would be a better place without people like them.
In a moment of silence that sometimes befalls even the most agitated of crowds the cry of the two-year old baby with lampin problems was heard. Perhaps it was a sign, for some of the barangay captains cool-headed neighbors pleaded with them.
Let the police handle this, a bespectacled neighbor said. The barangay captain just seethed. After all, he was the one who almost got killed.
Please, please, let the police handle this, another neighbor said.
It took some time, but the barangay captain agreed that the best move would be to call the police. He didnt want to sink to their level, to be a murderer. Willie, whose bolo already drew some of the strangers blood, looked disappointed.
Tie them to the cashew tree! ordered the captain.
A neighbor who happened to have a car fetched the police (for there were no phones back then).
When the police arrived the strangers were two bloody lumps.