Monday, September 25, 2006

Class traitor

AT 20, I subscribed to a world taken over by the Reds.

I had only read “Das Kapital” as a comic book. I often mistook Karl Marx as Albert Einstein scowling on a very bad hair day. But I believed that the Reds were the only ones who considered late-night karaoke-singing as inimical to the interests of the people.

At 20, I was on a bus, seated on my duffle bag, heading for Barangay Kalumboyan in Negros Oriental. Young and green, I was tasked to do the development grunt work of testing a comic book on land tenure among farmers sandwiched between our foreign-aided special project and the Reds, who were also into land tenure but totally not into comics distribution.

Seasoned co-workers had updated me that the week before, the Friendly Folks ambushed a suspected informer in the nearby barangay of Sta. Catalina.

So I came prepared. For my one-week stay, I arranged in my bag seven pairs of maong pants, folded only once in the knees for fewer creases, with new underpants tucked away in each pair. Should I meet the same fate as the Sta. Catalina worker, I did not want to die, deeply embarrassed, when they cut away my blood-soaked clothing.

My duffel bag was obscenely long and fat. It did not fit in the overheard slot of the rickety bus for Kalumboyan or in the space under its belly where all the chickens, piglets and carefully disguised sheaves of MJs were.

When the other passengers saw my intention of cradling my duffle on my lap (with whatever excess taken on by neighboring laps), they all ushered me to the bus “throne” that alone could accommodate me, all seven pairs of denims, survey forms, comics for testing, and tripod (my photographer, a believer of equal rights, generously shared a few kilos of his equipment, a Manfrotto tripod that was a spitting cousin of a miniature oil-drill rig or a baby submachine gun).

That was why I found myself squatting on my duffle bag, which was on top of the bus’ spitting engine, and gazing stoically back at about sixty pairs of eyes that knew, with felt compassion, how my two cheeks would fare after 100 kilometers or so of merciless steam.

Youth, however, is resilient. When we disembarked at the town of Bayawan, I was anatomically complete. My duffel though was a dubious matter. Aside from the pelting rain that was dripping over my throne (it was truly the privileged class because the bus did not leak elsewhere), the antediluvian engine was also hiccupping grease.

When I zipped open the bag, I found all seven pairs, which lined the bottom, to be indeed creaseless, swimming as they were in a kaleidoscopic soup of rain, black grime and copper-toned bus lubricant.

Propaganda can be peddled in the absence of conscience but never in a state of deep mental disturbance. While helicopters circled the green valleys, with frankfurter-like nozzles poking out of their exposed ribs, ready to rain fire (in case the comics were not huge hits with the local oppressed), my mind wandered far from the government’s war for the people’s hearts and minds.

I could stretch the pants I wore to cover six more days. But what were my options for, as they say in bureaucratese, “inside coverage?”

The thought of handwashing and hanging out to dry my virgin whites and buttery yellows and baby blues beside the macho blacks, greys and camouflage olives of the all-male crew (the local female staff went home after office) did not bear thinking. Fortunately, unlike in our other headquarters in the region, the Kalumboyan site management unit observed a curfew.

All Betamax-watching, drinking, karaoke-singing, and attempts at official thinking were suspended at exactly 10 in the evening. Since some bozo constructed our office beside the local military detachment, the Friendly Folks solicitously included us in their target practice.

According to the military, the generators were shut down to give away any treachery hatched in the dark. But according to bunkmates, the last exchange of unfriendly fire was triggered when some lout on our side insisted on warbling “My Way” past curfew.

Thanks to the Friendlies’ iron-willed refusal to tolerate off-key multiple abuse with a microphone and a minus-one, I dried my dilemmas in the dark and completed my ideological shift. What is the point of civilization without “fresh coverage?”

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