Jessa Rodene B.

Francisco IV – Aristotle

Hernando R. Ocampo Without taking his breakfast, Tura left the house very early in the morning with an old jute sack slung across his shoulder. Long ago the sack had contained rice for his family —for his daughters Ine and Clara, for his little son Totoy, and for his wife Marta. But now the jute sack was bulging with the sharp, hard edges of three big stones which he had gathered the night before. "What are those stones for"? Marta asked. "Mister Remulla said we must have three big stones in our sack. He said these stones would represent the three biggest islands in our country," Tura explained. "What are you going to do with them?" Marta asked. "I don't know," Tura answered, seemingly peeved. ―Mister Remulla said that with these stones we'll soon have something to eat, and that is all I care about. He told us we ought not to be hungry. We have as much right to eat and live as the proprietarious have." Marta had ceased to ask further questions. At the mention of rice she had suddenly seemed satisfied. But this morning, before Tura left, she asked again, "Are you sure there will be no trouble?" "How could there be? Mister Remulla knows what he is doing. He said that is what they do in America. He came from America. He ought to know." And slinging the jute sack with the big stones across his shoulder, Tura left his wife on the threshold, while his three children, ill-clad and ill-nourished, looked sheepishly on. Out in the street Tura wondered how things would have ended for all of them had not Mister Remulla arrived, but there was no use of that now. Mister Remulla had come. That was the important thing. And soon they'd no longer be hungry. They'd have rice; Mister Remulla said so. And thinking of this, Tura felt his unshod feet become lighter and nimbler, and in a short while he had covered the length of the narrow unpaved street of which he lived. He was now upon the asphalted provincial road which came soft and moist against his feet. Soon he overtook other men, each with a jute sack bulging with three stones slung across his shoulder. Some of them carried big placards with big letters. WE ARE HUNGRY, GIVE US RICE, LONG LIVE ALL OF US! The various placards said in the vernacular, and Tura, seeing them, felt happier. Soon his daughters Ine and Clara, and his son Totoy, would have something to eat. They would no longer subsist on salabat. And Tura rubbed his pointed chin at the thought, the palm of his hand caressing and being caressed by the bristly stubble on his unshaved face. Of course, he could have taken some hot salabat before he left. But what little salabat there was in the house had to be left for his children and wife. Water and ginger for the salabat and fuel with which to cook it could be had free. But sugar. You could not get sugar with pebbles or rocks. Thinking of this, Tura felt a slight rumbling in his stomach. He swallowed repeatedly, then walked on rapidly with the other men. They headed toward the plaza. The sun had risen midway between the zenith and the horizon when Tura and his companions reached the place, and already there was a big crowd of men, all with sacks across their shoulders. Banners and placards with big red letters rose here and there over the heads of the crowd concentrated around the bandstand, like a swarm of ants gathered around a lump of sugar. Soon Tura and his companions were lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Meanwhile, a ceaseless humming, as of so many bees hovering over a garden,

now amplified, now curiously muffled, seemed to descend upon rather than rise from the masses of men with sacks across their shoulders. Somebody stepped on Tura's bare toes. Tura frowned, but changed to a smile when the offended, a tall fellow with sunken features, who also carried a jute sack across his shoulder, turned and smiled apologetically. He must also be very hungry, Tura thought, seeing the man's lean features and remembering his own hunger. And again Tura felt the slight rumbling in his stomach, felt the vinegar like gnawing inside his body. If he could only have a smoke, everything would be all right. Tura wished somebody among the people around him would smoke. Then he would have nerve enough to ask for a cigarette, or at least a puff, a tiny little puff. He swallowed repeatedly, wondering when the whole thing would begin. He was becoming impatient, and the rumbling and the vinegar like gnawing inside his stomach was growing. He was still wishing for a smoke when a sudden roar rose from somewhere. The big crowd became more animated, and slowly it moved in ripples closer to the bandstand. In a l ittle while a man, in coffee-colored woolen pants and a black lumber -jack shirt, mounted the stand and another great roar rose from the crowd. "Long live Mister Remulla!" the people shouted, waving their placards in the air, and the man in the stand bowed graciously, then responded, "Long live! Long live!" the crowd echoed the response "Long live, Long live! Viva!" Now the man raised both hands, and gradually, except for a muffled humming, the crowd was silenced. The man dramatically wiped his face with a gaudily colored handkerchief, then began haranguing the crowd with excited gesticulations and emphatic pauses. Hedged far behind in the crowd, Tura heard nothing of the man's talk except such stray words as "we must eat," "we want rice," ―give us rice," "we are hungry," yet, without fully knowing why, Tura shouted with the rest when the man in the bandstand made one of his dramatic pauses. And as the moments passed, Tura became more enthusiastic, more excited, and as his excitement and enthusiasm rose, he began to forget the rumbling and vinegar like gnawing in his stomach. Tura was now perspiring and feeling hot and good and strong. He felt he could do anything – anything. He swayed with the wave of the throng when the man in the bandstand raised his right hand in a dramatic gesture, then left the stand to lead the crowd out of the plaza onto asphalted provincial road. With their jute sacks bulging with stones and with their big- lettered placards, the people noisily followed their leader. An unshod army of hungry men, with placards, red-lettered, swaying overhead, trod the asphalt provincial road, a continuous amplified humming as of so many bees seeming to descend upon rather than to rise from them. As they neared the warehouses of the Chinese merchants, the humming suddenly rose into a series of deafening roars. Tura, now oblivious to the insistent gnawing inside his stomach, pushed ahead of the men in front of him. He brushed them aside with strength hitherto alien to him, not unlike an animal athirst which had suddenly sensed water a short distance ahead. Tura had now almost reached the front ranks; he could see the imposing figure of Mister Remulla, their leader, shouting, perspiring, waving his arms, leading his unshod army, his hungry army, onward. A few meters away from the first warehouse, the biggest among the huddled squat buildings of concrete walls and galvanized iron roofing, Mister Remulla waved his followers to stop; and when the crowd stopped, Tura took the opportunity of pushing himself further forward. He wanted to know why they had to stop. He was feeling good and strong. Why must they stop? Reaching the front line, Tura saw the reason; some four or five policemen stood in front of the big sliding door of the warehouse. They looked big and menacing in their khaki uniforms and their khaki helmets, their riot guns cocked and ready in their hands. "You'd better go home peacefully – you people," one of the policemen shouted. "You know you cannot do this." Tura wanted to shout something back at these men of the law who had sided with the rich

Chinese: he wanted to shout something about insistent rumblings and vinegar like gnawing inside the stomach. But the words stuck, uncomfortably solid in his throat. He swallowed a big lump to relive himself. "Go home – go on back home – go on back home," the policemen repeated. "We do not mean to do any harm" the leader, Mister Remulla, replied. "We have come for some rice – just enough to feed our hungry children." The policeman made a move as if to approach Mister Remulla, his riot gun menacing cocked, his face hard-set in a scowl, but someone from the rear threw one of his three stones at the policeman. The first stone was followed by another, and still another. The leader, Mister Remulla, waved his arms frantically for the crowd to stop, but the hail of stones from the rear continued, while the men in front were carried forward by the stream of their fellow hungry men. Thus the crowd moved upon the policemen, and they fired. Tura had thrust his hand into his sack for the first stone. Regaining that surging feeling of something hot and good inside him, he pushed and shouted with the pushing and shouting crowd. He heard several thundering reports from the policemen's riot guns, but he did not mind. He was among the first to reach the warehouse door where, somehow, the bolts were removed. And once opened, the crowd poured in like a swarm of locusts. They had overpowered the handful of policemen, and drunk with the taste of easy victory, they now pushed each other out of the way, each madly screaming and scrambling to fill sacks. Somebody brushed Tura aside at the foot of one of the big piles of rice sacks, and in turn Tura pushed another out of his way. The rice sacks were ripped open and the grains flowed white and minutely solid on the hard floor. At the sight of so much rice Tura felt smothered and suffocated. For a brief moment he stood as if dazed before he was able to sweep the open end of his jute sack downward into the loose piling white rice. Then, at a mad rate, he began to fill his sack with fistful after fistful of the glittering white grain. Suddenly, over the din and the mad scramble, Tura heard several shots fired from outside. ―The police! "The police! The warning echoed and reechoed in numerous frantic voices. Tura closed the end of his half-filled sack, slung it over his shoulder, and made for the big door. He was followed by the rest of his companions, but at the door they were confronted by a policeman with his riot gun threateningly leveled at them. The policeman ordered the men to return the rice, but someone behind Tura heaved his sack of rice against the policeman, and the khaki-clad agent of the law, losing his balance, fell. And the crowd, led by Tura, rushed past the fallen guard, trampling him under their unshod feet. Out of the warehouse the men rushed with their precious burdens of white, glittering grains of rice. But outside, they found the agents of the law greatly reinforced. In their khaki uniforms the policemen were frantically blowing their whistles shooting their riot guns into the air, urging the crowds to stop and surrender the rice. Tura was once more confronted by another policeman. He was no longer in a position to dodge his opponent, so he clutched his sack tighter, then swing it against the khaki-clad fellow whose gun was aimed at him. The policeman staggered, but at the same time Tura left a sudden stinging hotness coursing from his sack of rice, stalked on as if on air, half-consciously feeling the warmth of something trickling from his belly, vaguely hearing the noise around him. Then the sack slipped from his weakening fingers. He felt a swimming sensation, and vaguely he saw the precious grain spilling on the dirty ground. Oh, no! No! You cannot take that away from me. You cannot take that away from me. That is for my wife, for my children. Tura dived face downward, face foremost, for the scattered grains of rice on the ground. Here, here. Tura heard himself calling his wife and children, as his fingers clutched at the rice. Here is the rice for you. You need not live on salabat any more. You need not be hungry anymore. But his voice seemed strangely hollow. It seemed to come from a distance, a very far distance beyond …

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