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The night was cooperating, dark enough to keep Nemecio and his grandson Louis concealed from authorities while still providing enough light for the two to see their way. An 85-year-old and a boy of 10 out for a midnight stroll, some fresh air, a mission to accomplish.
These two unlikely rebels were currently breaking three so-called laws; The first, breaking curfew, as no one was supposed to be out of their homes beyond the evening hour of six. The second, no one allowed out at any time with the exception of buying food and paying bills, and only during an assigned two days a week and a permit to go along with it. And then there was the third offense, the most offensive to this grandfather and his descendant. No young person under 21 and no elder over 60 were to ever go out. Ever.
An egregious infringement on civil liberties if you were to ask Nemecio. He had been Louis’ age during the last year of World War 2. A young childhood of living under oppressive rule. Of not having the freedom to enjoy the most basic of human rights. To simply go outside and walk, breathe, feel the one thing no one was supposed to control but everyone was supposed to share; nature.
Although always a fear lingering in the back of his mind Nemecio thought he would never again have to live through such hardship and never dreamed such authoritative rule would come from the forceful hands of his own people. Yet here he was living the last chapter of his life nearly the same way it had begun.
“For your own good,” he had been told when not allowed out. That’s what the Nazis had said to the Jews to get them to board the trains. What the Spanish and later the Japanese had said to the Filipinos. ‘For your own good.’ Four very dangerous words in history. Four very dangerous words to democracy.
It made Nemecio angry. Angry at his country’s so-called leaders. Angry at most of his fellow citizens for blindly accepting the tyranny, the loss of livelihoods. The freedoms Bonifacio, Rizal and their other national heroes fought for. Died for. Nemecio used this outrage to push forward. Fuel for his deteriorating muscles, joints, tendons, his health having suffered greatly due to the imprisonment known as community quarantine for the past 89 days and counting. This new day now that midnight had arrived ironically falling on June 12th, his country’s Independence Day. A day he chose not to take it anymore. A day he and his grandson would demand their freedom back.
Nearing the end of their two kilometer walk the salty breeze of the sea welcomed them from their long absence.
“Put your long sleeve on now,” Nemecio said as he removed his own shirt, wanting to ensure most of the mosquitos would dine on him and not Louis.
Come and get ‘em. I’ve got carrots seeping out my pours!
And indeed it felt like he did, the local government and their pathetic attempt at supplying relief goods with their overabundance of carrots while a kilo of rice and a couple of canned meats were expected to be rationed by an entire family for a number of weeks.
The two made their way over to the wet sand, Louis removing his backpack and retrieving from it the empty wine bottle grandpa had yet to explain its purpose for along with a few small wooden boards and a couple of carving tools. A family of woodcarvers, the lockdown had virtually stripped them of their ability to earn a living, as it had for so many others. But now they would use such skill to free themselves, or so grandpa had claimed.
And so they got busy with the sand, digging, packing, shaping until at long last a sandcastle of significant size stood before the shoreline, high tide beginning to reach its drawbridge as the sky began to set ablaze with the coming sun.
It was at this time when Nemecio added the final piece; a WWII bullet given to him by his very own father whom had fought alongside Americans and other Filipinos to free themselves from the imperial Japanese Army.
He took this bullet, this relic of freedom and placed it above the two words etched within the sand structure.
“Grandpa,” Louis said as they looked down upon their grand creation, “the water is coming in. Why did we build this if it’s only gonna get washed away?”
“Time will tell, my dear boy.” And with this simple statement Nemecio knelt down and pushed the empty bottle into the sand to where it neck was sticking out, its orifice facing the front of the castle.
Now all they had to do was wait as the ocean’s water demolished, with every new advance the army of soldiers atop their horses, the drawbridge, the castle walls all crumbling back into grains of sand to be swept away into the awaiting bottle.
Louis didn’t understand. Were they then to take the bottle of sand home to stare at alongside the four walls they had grown so accustomed to bore over? And now that the sun was rising, now that they could easily be spotted would they even make it home?
The answers to Louis’ questions began to unfold as soon as they entered town, grandpa having not even tried to avoid detection as they were approached by authorities and lead to city hall, made to stand before a number of gawking eyes and cellphone cameras capturing what was meant to be an act of humiliation in hopes of deterring others from doing the same.
Once the crowd had grown significant in size and the town’s mayor had stepped out from his building of power, city hall, Nemecio began to address them all.
“I survived World War 2, I survived the Marcos regime, I’ve survived poverty and whatever else life has thrown at me. But these past few months of tyranny have damaged me like nothing before it. The reason; to now see my loving family go through it, including my precious grandson here. A boy whose body, whose mind is meant to be actively growing but instead imprisoned in his own home by this unjust regime. And for what? To be protected from a virus that is not as prevalent, not as deadly as they would lead you to believe? I’m an old man, yes, but I have learned to use the thing you call internet, and through my self-education have learned the truth. That as time passes in this global pandemic experts and science is proving lockdowns simply do not work. At the end of it all the same results are reached whether people live free or in confinement.
“Many of you have been so eager to follow, to praise your beloved mayor for his tough stance, blind to the fact that he has used this illness as an opportunity to control. Can you not put two and two together? All these new ordinances being passed while we are locked away, to someday emerge from our homes to find a town we no longer recognize despite having lived a lifetime within it?
“Not a single one of us voted for this kind of so-called leadership. This mayor was elected to serve US, but it is clear that we now serve HIM!”
That last sentence was the final straw, the mayor looking to his cronies, the police and soldiers, to put a stop to the old man’s rage.
As they started to close in Nemecio turned to Louis. “Pour the sand out of the bottle now,”
“On the ground?” Louis asked. “Just right here on the ground?”
“Yes, do it now.”
And so he did, the boy uncorking the bottle and letting the sand begin to flow out of it. As the countless grains hit the pavement below an astonishing phenomenon began to take shape, leaving everyone, including the boy, including the mayor and his cronies, leaving everyone but grandpa speechless, eyes wide, mouths agape as the sand began to rebuild into the castle it once was. Only this time it kept growing, driving everyone back, sending people scattering out of city hall as the structure became so colossal it crushed the corrupt building entirely.
Once all had been replenished, including the army of soldiers on horseback who now stood to defend Nemecio and Louis from the imposing forces, once all stood in glory they transformed into real-life beings, the castle at their back solid and true.
Only one horse remained granular yet still stable in appearance. A powerful stallion, trotting up to the grandfather and his grandson and lowering itself to where they could climb atop it and take their seat.
Now above the eye level of everyone in attendance Nemecio concluded his proclamation.
“They claim victory either way. If there’s no new cases they say, ‘see, the lockdown is working.’ If there are new cases, ‘see, it’s not worth the risk of going out.’
“This castle which now stands before you, this new house of true democracy, let it forever symbolize tyranny has no place in this free country of ours. The very name, Tiyaga, perseverance, forever a reminder this kind of unjust rule will never be tolerated again.
“Read our Constitution. What has occurred here over the past three months is unlawful. For yourselves, for your children, for future generations, never again!”
As the crowd erupted in cheer Nemecio led he and Louis atop their stallion a meter back for a clear running start before charging ahead towards the totalitarian mayor. Just as the great horse leapt up towards him, just as he cowered down the four-legged beast dissipated back into nothing but a pile of sand, burying within it the oppressor whom had caused so much unnecessary suffering, the freedom fighters simultaneously vanishing into thin air while the army of sand soldiers and their horses buried the cronies.
For what seemed eternal the crowd did nothing but stand there, processing, absorbing, until collectively they began to return to their senses.
Where had Nemecio and Louis gone, no one would ever know, and yet they would never forget the impact the two had on their society, soon after the unforgettable event a monument in the form of a statue of the grandfather and grandson atop their stallion erected right in front of Tiyaga Castle.