It is common knowledge that the second to the last line from Jose Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adios, the last poem he ever wrote, was about his lover Josephine Bracken; the sweet foreigner who captured his heart and his comfort in the hardships he suffered while exiled in Dapitan.
But what if it wasn't? What if there was someone else? Someone that no one would ever suspect.
Someone that was not supposed to be there at all.
"Adios, dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria,
Adios, queridos seres morir es descansar."
(Goodbye, sweet foreigner, my friend, my joy,
Farewell, loved ones, to die is to rest.)
- Jose Rizal, Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell)
I suddenly found myself traveling around unfamiliar lands. I was walking around and around, not knowing where to go, when suddenly, it dawned on me that this was familiar land. It was a land I had always wanted to visit. But I also knew that no matter how hard I wished for it, that it would never happen. And yet here I was, standing before these huge walls, thinking… Wow, they look so different back then.
What I was talking about, of course, was the walled city of Intramuros.
I had no idea what I did, but I just found myself there, at the time when Dr. Jose Rizal, the man himself, was incarcerated in Fort Santiago, just a few days before he was executed in Luneta. I had no idea how it happened. But I decided I would take advantage of it. After all, how often do people get the chance to meet their ultimate heroes?
What I did, once I was there, was to disguise myself as one of those serving girls inside Fort Santiago. Lucky for me, I was given the task of delivering the food for the prisoner every day. Through this, I got to talk to him. And I can tell you, we talked about some pretty interesting things.
I remember I told him, the first time we met, that I was from the future. He seemed amused at first, but I was sure that he did not believe me. I know. I understood. Who really would believe something like that, right? It was crazy. Completely crazy. Even in crazy people's standards, It was still crazy. Eventually though, as we got to talking about different things concerning the past and the future, he slowly believed me.
He told me how un-Victorian I was. Although, of course, the term Victorian was not invented then yet (or was it? I wasn't really sure), so that was just an inference. I, in turn, told him that Queen Victoria will die in 1901. He seemed particularly shocked about that but he did not trouble himself much. I guess he doesn't really care much for England.
I told him not to worry about Queen Victoria's death because he wouldn't even be around by then to witness it. I clapped my hands to my mouth at this point, feeling completely stupid. I expected him to whack me but he didn't. Instead, he just laughed.
We mostly spoke in English, sometimes Tagalog. Of course, the Tagalog then was very different from now. So different in fact, that sometimes, I couldn't even understand what he was saying. Hence we frequently revert back to English since I don't really know much Spanish. English also had the added advantage of giving us privacy since the most of the civil guards didn't really understand English.
Other aspects of our conversation also convinced him that I was telling the truth, about me being from the future, that is. He said that, if I really was from a hundred and so years from now, then things must have changed quite a lot then. And if things really had changed quite a lot, then it would not be his place to judge whether travelling back in time was possible or not.
I agreed completely with him and thanked him that, even though he had every right to throw me the hell out of there, he still didn't. He still chose to be civil with me even though I seemed—and there was no other way to put it—a real, complete, crazy person.
I made him aware of the general outline of the things that has happened all over the world over a hundred years and so after he passed away. He seemed particularly sad over the two world wars that happened but most of all, and this is what bothered me most, he seemed kind of disappointed after I told him about the current state of the Philippines.
He was not happy with how we were handling the nation. And yes, I was bothered about that reaction. After all, I was talking to the National Hero. For a person who grew up among people who revere the very person that I was talking to as of the moment, you could imagine that it was kind of intimidating. It was like meeting your… hero. This was the person I was told to aspire to be, emulate, whatever. It was really… intimidating.
Of course it occurred to me to ask him for advice for the future. Well, as in my case, my present. After all, this is the man who wrote Filipinas dentro de cien años. He practically predicted the shit out of this nation, so I asked him if he had anything to say to me about the future. Anything at all. It could have been the answer to everything, to all our problems. Instead, his answer to my plea for guidance was knowing smiles.
He told me that he would not know what to do since certainly things would have changed a lot. I argued that patterns of history repeat themselves and that this is an example of it. At that point, he smiled and said, "If you are repeating your history, then that means you do not learn anything from history. I know now what my advice will be. Read your history books more closely." And then he laughed.
I was very much tempted to laugh too but I had to show him that I was being serious, right? Suddenly, he stood up and paced the room, stopping once in a while to look out of the giant-ass window of his tiny, dark cell. I got pissed—and most of the time I really get pissed with his philosophical answers—and so I left.
Since I was tasked to bring his meals to him every day, I discovered a lot of his, let's just say, proclivity, for food. Most prominent of which was probably his undeniable love for hot chocolate. He would always request for hot chocolate in lieu of coffee or wine. He hates wine most of all. He told me that the only reason why he drank wine in Europe was because of convention.
Then he asked me why a lot of people love wine, most especially the Europeans, when really, it tastes really bad. I was quite at a loss for an answer so I just said, "Maybe because it makes them look cool?" He laughed. I don't think he really understood what I meant by cool but I guess that's just okay.
I think he got the gist of it anyway because he said that indeed, wine, more often than not, symbolizes sophistication and so he figured that that must be what people like about it because taste definitely does not play a part in it. At all. Then he went on to argue about how hot chocolate tastes far better than anything he has ever had. I agreed because it was true, for me at least. I like hot chocolate too but I told him that it was probably all relative.
Maybe the Europeans like wine because there's a certain something in their tongues that makes them like wine. And perhaps, we Filipinos love hot chocolate because we really are partial to all things sweet.
I mean, for fuck's sake, we have sweet-styled pasta and sweet burgers here in the twenty-first century. We really love all things sweet. He laughed out loud, amused. He said he's always been amused by my observations… and then he continued drinking his chocolate.
On the night when he was sentenced, the night of the twenty-sixth of December, he was particularly gloomy. I brought him his supper, as usual, but he refused to eat, saying he had no appetite.
He was just sitting there, looking out of the window. So I was forced to sit there and listen to him rant about the injustice of it all, how he wasn't even given the chance to defend himself. It was not a proper trial at all. It was a set-up.
I didn't say a thing as he continued on with his rant. Granted, I felt sorry for him because, yeah, I'd be pissed off too when not given the chance to prove myself innocent and yet I found his anger rather amusing.
I have never seen the great Dr. Jose Rizal angry in person. Quick, think of an instance when you've imagined Jose Rizal angry as you were reading about his life story in the twenty-first century. Can't think of anything, right? That's because it's pretty hard to imagine. He has always been depicted as the cool, calm and collected doctor. Anger has no place in his demeanor and yet, here he was in front of me, actually angry.
Afterwards, when he had calmed down enough, he switched from being angry to being amused. And that is using the word very, very loosely. It was somewhat a cross between being amused and being sarcastic. I couldn't really tell properly.
He said that he had expected it all. He said that he knew that he would never have gotten a fair trial, what with all of them being in league with each other. I assumed here that what he meant by all of them were the people who tried him, but I really had no idea.
I sighed deeply and I told him, in a rather irritated way, that if he knew all along then he shouldn't have ranted because I was damn tired. At last, he laughed and ate his food rather heartily, I might add.
Then we talked… about sweet tooth and religious fanaticism, life and death, trust and betrayal, favorite colors and favorite food and generally everything that we could possibly think about.
Even my stand on the ongoing Katipunan revolt was scrutinized. He was clearly against it, saying it was premature and that it would not amount to anything. I, however, argued rather passionately for it. I said that it might be premature, yes, but it will definitely amount to something. I actually kind of won that argument seeing as I'm from the future and everything.
I stayed with him until the wee hours of the night, or at least as long as the civil guards allowed me, long enough to relieve him of his pain. I had no idea how painful it must have been for him, to know that he was young and healthy and yet he was dying.
It was particularly depressing.
If that night was depressing, then it was nothing compared to the eve of his execution.
On the twenty-ninth, in the middle of the night, I sneaked some hot chocolate into his cell. I wanted to do something to at least lessen his pain. I knew it was a rather pathetic attempt but still, it was something.
In the anteroom, I found two priests kneeling in front of a makeshift altar, evidently praying. I was positive that those were the priests rumored to have made the doctor sign the retraction document.
I went to the inner room and found him there, lying on his bed like a sick and dying man and staring at the ceiling. He was showing no emotion whatsoever on his pale face but you could see, as clear as day, the grim reaper standing over him, waiting for his body to give in.
That night was particularly painful for me, but most definitely agonizing for him. The moment I entered, he stared at me as though I was some sort of angel sent from heaven. He begged me to tell him what to do. He said that if I really was from the future, then I could change his fate.
I told him I couldn't do that because what was done was done.
One of the common misconceptions about travelling back in time is that you can change the whole course of events with just one little thing. Actually, that's not the case. At least not from my standpoint. What is done is done. It is final. You cannot change anything and you cannot prevent anything from happening.
Everyone is afraid of death. I'm sure of that now. He looked particularly crestfallen when I told him that I couldn't do anything. It was as if I was the one who sentenced him to die.
I was not going down without a fight though. I was determined to make him see that he has every right to be afraid but he has to face what he is afraid of. Yes, he will die. But people die because that's what they do. I told him to do what he must, to do what feels right.
He asked me if he really did sign the retraction document. I told him the truth: that I wasn't sure. One hundred and fifteen years from now exactly, the retraction controversy has relatively mellowed out but is still under scrutiny. Some believe that he retracted while others were firm that he did not.
People from the future, that means you and me, were not really sure if he did sign it. So I said that if he wanted to keep that to himself to be his last personal secret before he goes, then he need not tell me anything. He smiled at me, apparently contented. I knew then that I missed my chance to settle one of the most long-standing debates in my century concerning Rizal scholarship but what the hell, right? It was the man's right to keep some secrets to the grave.
After some time of crying his eyes out, he confessed that he really was afraid of death and he was feeling really guilty about it. My answer was rather simple and kind of sarcastic, "you and I both, man." And then I added that it wasn't just him.
Didn't Jesus Christ suffer in Gethsemane too? If He, the Son of God, agonized over death and pain and suffering then him, a mere mortal, should never feel guilty about fearing death.
Everyone is afraid of death and those who say they aren't are kidding themselves. Show me a man who says he doesn't fear death and I will throw him in front of a speeding train. Let's just see if he does not retract after that.
His fear would not matter. Nothing will. All that would matter in the future was that it was him who planted the seed that grew into the Philippines' liberation from three-hundred-and-thirty-three years of Spanish colonization.
He was the center of it all and without him, good or bad, retracting document or without, things would have been very, very different.
When I left, he was asleep.
The next morning, I brought him breakfast. His last meal in the thirty-five years—give or take a few months—of his life.
You would think that they would have given him a much decent meal but no. They only gave him hard-boiled eggs. They probably thought there's really not much use in giving a dying man anything really good since anything he eats will taste especially great today.
Desperation, after all, was one of the best spices.
When I came in his room, he asked me to help him put on his coat, so I did. All traces of doubt and fear from the last night have been erased from his features. At that very moment, he was that man, the man from the history books, smart, dignified and intelligent.
It was extremely hard to imagine that he was the same man from last night, the man doubting everything in sight. He seemed happy and contented. There was no more shadow of the reaper over him. All that was left was, excuse for the following cheesy line, a warm happy glow.
He was wearing a black suit. Very appropriate, I thought.
While fixing his hair in front of the mirror, he told me stories from his childhood. He told me about his fondness for the Mt. Makiling. How he missed it. He also said a lot about his love for the written word. He said that if he would only be given one task, then he would choose to write for the rest of his life.
He gave his breakfast to the rats residing in the dark corners of his cell because he said that they should have a feast too.
I laughed at the bizarreness of it all. Last night, he was the one lost and I was the one who stood still, guiding him out of the dark forest. But right now, I was the blubbering idiot and he's the man.
Then the guards came and told him it was time. That was promptly when I broke down crying. I opened my arms for a last hug, but he refused, saying it was inappropriate. Very Victorian indeed, considering manners even at the point of death. I insisted though and he relented.
I cried so hard, it was embarrassing. Then he told me that it would all be okay and that we would see each other again, one way or another. I agreed because if travelling back in time was possible for me, who really knows what bizarre things may happen?
Then I let go and forced out a smile at which point the guards tied his arms back. In English, he told me how insulted he was by that gesture. Couldn't they trust him not to escape? He has nowhere to go anyway. It was really ridiculous, according to him.
I nodded in agreement and told him, "Just let them do their thing, Señor. They'd be falling in two years anyway." He laughed then and I was glad that that was my last image of him. My last image of the great Filipino martyr was his happy laughing face.
His last words to me were rather gloomy though. I don't know. It maybe depends on which way you look at it. Just before he was dragged out of the door, he said, "You sweet stranger, thank you." Then he was marched off outside the cell along with his entourage. The doors closed.
I was alone.