I DID NOT notice dozing off until the screams shattered my reverie. I checked my watch, perhaps wondering about the darkness. It was pitch black in the hall behind where I sat. I was alone with those screams, which had then already faded into muffled cries.
The parking lot in front was almost empty, too. If not for the arrival of a van. He had arrived.
He alighted a dark green van as I lurked, motionless. The screams were gone and in its place loud thumping from a traffic of men rushing toward the steps. The sudden, if off-timed, commotion heralded a violence that hardly mattered to me. I had waited for more than an hour outside, waiting for his arrival, and the promise of a spectacle of blood and gore from a bunch of mama’s boys failed to dampen my eagerness to see him.
The van sped off without warning as he got out, swiftly as the fratmen scuttled like rats in the sun. For a moment he seemed lost, the faint glow from the lampposts illuminating a vaguely familiar face with a strangely dishelved longish hair. His light and lean presence an abnormality in the burgeoning darkness.
As he lighted a cigarette I can tell he had been away. Sitting on the pavement as he enjoyed what looked like the first cigarette he had in days, I can tell he had a long trip. His eyes were red, like it had too much air.
I am certain of this, knowing for a fact that long bus rides make your eyes red. Those and other things, like the way he took pleasure in the cigarette, tell me that much. I searched for him for eight days: in dormitory rooms, lobbies, libraries. I prowled the usual haunts, spied on his friends, peeked into his classes. He was nowhere in the campus.
I was actually worried. Finals are a week away, and I know he would not otherwise miss those classes. If not, that is, for an urgent meeting. He seldom skipped classes for an entire week. It must have been important enough to miss those classes that he before had been fond of attending.
I watched him finish his cigarette after I finished mine. Got up and walked to the direction I anticipated he will take. After countless hours of studying him, I had become an expert in this lurking game. I marveled at myself for being able to successfully predict the next few steps or moves. I marveled at my own memory of the minutest details – the routines, the schedules, the names of people he meets. There were moments that I get completely lost in those details, forgetting my own agenda. Sometimes, it was almost pleasurable. Or at least, I often catch myself admiring, forgetting his politics and the fact that we are on opposite sides.
I crossed the street ahead of him. I knew he was off to the dormitory. It was a long walk and even longer in the darkness. I guess he wanted to be alone, to think things through. I must admit I needed to think things through, too. I subtly glanced from behind, in an instant noticing him light another cigarette. Yes, it was going to be a long walk.
THE JEEPNEY THUNDERED across the intersection, startling me. Its tires screeched to a momentary stop, then sped off as swiftly as it arrived. I looked behind and he was nowhere behind me, his cigarette still smouldering in the pavement. I was too preoccupied with walking ahead of him that I did not notice him hailing and riding the jeepney.
He rode without warning, without any hint or indication he was going anywhere else aside from the dormitory. “Putang ina.” I cursed alarmingly loud.
It was a sign that he had become conscious of my presence. It took three years for me to get here, to be able to know what I know now. All that in danger of being squandered in my haste, my carelessness, my stupid eagerness. Somehow he noticed me walking ahead of him. “Putang ina.”
I reached for my cellphone in my pocket and called for my partner to fetch me in the intersection. In seconds, he was there, in his motorcycle, an annoying smirk plastered across his pimple-riddled face.
“So you lost him again?”
I knew better than to answer him. He had wanted out of this business of lurking. He had grand dreams – desk work in some safely ensconced airconditioned office a hundred stories high, away from the grit and dirt of field work. He was always cajoling me to get over with the student leader, to stop this obsession over such “small fish.”
“Told you we should have offed him when we had the chance,” he beamed as I silently rode the bike. I would have told him to shut up and just drive, if not for the possibility that he might tell on me. The boss would certainly not like that I lost my guy again. Worse, he might get me off the student leader for botching my cover.
As we rode off the intersection, my partner would just not let it go. “Maybe it’s time we do this guy. The boss says he had become such an irritant,” my partner shouted as we were making our way to the university avenue, to the direction of the jeepney.
Red light brought the bike to a stop. We were three vehicles away from the jeepney. “We could slither easily between the cars, you know,” my ugly partner said.
I was hesitant, of course. I wanted the pleasure prolonged. I would miss the excitement of having to lurk, the anticipation of the next few steps. I invested three years of having to watch the student turn into some fiery radical, a provocateur par excellence who had become a national celebrity. He was an enemy, yes. But one worthy of all the work I put into him. Three years had passed, and I was seconds away from its ending.
“Well? He might slip by you again. The boss thinks we should do it now.”
I did not know why, but suddenly the screams of an hour before came back to me. The cry for help from some hapless fratman in the dark hallway that cut short my slumber. Maybe it was the darkness of it all, the purposeless of the screams that portended unseen violence.
Without awaiting approval, my partner slithered the bike between the cars, positioning us right behind the jeepney.
The jeep was full of passengers abuzz with adolescent talk. The student was seated right in front of us. The faint light from the bulb inside the jeep faintly illuminated a face so familiar to me. He did not look lost, but rather deep in thought.
The red traffic light still on, my partner alighted the bike and drew a .45 caliber from his waist. I watched the student’s face – that beautiful face of an unsuspecting enemy – as my partner pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. Five loud shots rang, shattering his reverie, rudely interrupting the adolescent talk, cruelly intruding into the lazy awareness of motorists in traffic.
I watched as the student’s face shatter, his right cheek turned into a bloody gore faintly illuminated by the light inside the jeepney. We quickly took off, the screams slowly fading as we traversed the darkness.