Many people had expressed their experiences or opinions about Martial Law during Ferdinand Marcos’ time. It was said that those who were actually alive during that time said that Ferdinand Marcos was a great president, while those who weren’t said that he wasn’t—probably based on what they learned in our Philippine written history.
But the story of Roldan brought me to a new perspective. A story that happened at the time of Ferdinand Marcos, of Martial Law, in the perspective of a little child.
The little girl lived in a four-storey building, with four units to a floor and walls high and wide. Their house was identical to any other houses in that area—within the gates of the complex. I assume that place was a subdivision or some kind, made from a housing project designed for genteel middle class living by the First Lady, as her pride and joy.
There were people going in and out from their house, which she considered as her “relatives”. Very many relatives. Some would stay in for the night, some would be there to be fed, sometimes to get money, to treat the wounds or change their bandages. They always TALK ABOUT IMPORTANT THINGS, with capital letters. The little girl did not probably have the right or the mind to know or understand, but these important things seemed to be confidential. Classified. Top secret. You name it.
A time during the martial law. The feeling in my gut told me that these guys must be revolutionaries, going against the government. Against President Ferdinand Marcos. Why did they need to be in that house to be treated when they can go to the hospital? Where did they get those wounds in the first place? It was no doubt. One time when the little girl wanted to watch the late afternoon cartoons, there were a lot of her relatives in front of the TV. On the screen was the president and they all suddenly “erupt in a volley of curses”. They hated Ferdinand Marcos, and they’re gathered in that house to revolt against him. The little girl was only five that time—it was 1982—still too young to witness something like that.
These relatives came more often on those times, treating the apartment like their own house. And that was also the time she lost her mother.
When the house was crowded, the little girl’s mother was quietly crying in the kitchen, murmuring about underground, revolution, taxes, and bills. Soon, maybe about a few days or months, the mother left, emphasizing that she will never return. A year after, her father was arrested right outside their house one August afternoon. With all the neighbors watching. Even though her mother was never mentioned right after she disappeared, I have a feeling she has something to do with the little girl’s father’s arrest. Although he wasn’t really arrested because of being part—or being the leader, in my assumption—of the revolution, but because of illegally owning firearms. It was 1984. Her mother left on 1983. I couldn’t imagine what this girl had been through.
The little girl would sleep with her father in the cell during weekends. One time she had a dream about war: she saw a blood orange sky of where the bedroom and the living room should’ve been, which I assumed that her house was destroyed. To make her house look livable again, she painted it with different colors. She also painted a sun, a moon, and a star on their red floor so she would have light. There was no one else in the dream.
I don’t know why it was a dream of war, but maybe because of the broken-down house.
It was years later when she realized that those relatives weren’t actually her relatives. I’ve calculated she was already 20 years old when she did, when she saw a familiar face from fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago was 1982. Fifteen years after is 1997. By then she realized that not even her house was safe enough, that anyone cannot be trusted. That must be the meaning of her dreams.
The Safe House. Ironic. Though it was clever put. It gave the story a mysterious aura.