There had been no bigger challenge to the Marcos presidency than what became known as the first “Battle of Mendiola,” but it was only a prelude. The president had hunkered down in his palace and no doubt felt secure there; and he had thousands of soldiers ready for an onslaught of battle tested, battle-ready activists. Those students charged the barricade of barbed wire, and the more worked up they became the wilder they were, making it easy for them to demolish the barricade. So there was some logic to the reactions of the soldiers, but it was deadly when they opened fire.
Momentum was also at work when a student commandeered a fire truck and rammed it into a gate at Malacanang. Tension was everywhere. Demonstrating and rioting could no longer be contained on the campuses. Yet the government wouldn’t change. It was just as corrupt. It touched everyone. Injustice and poverty were worsening. It had gotten so bad that many people prayed for a benevolent dictator. And then it became more and more evident that Marcos wasn’t that benevolent figure, as the optimism of his first term dissipated.
Elaine, more than anyone else, wanted Nick to stay away from the battles in the streets, Elaine who had demonstrated with him and Ben on campus, and had her picture taken for the paper while “leading the rabble”. Elaine had been one of the 50,000 that had gathered in front of the Congress building, and (while still willing to demonstrate) she had become more circumspect and less vocal, when the rock and bottle throwing started, and they burned an effigy of Ferdinand Marcos. This time she only went to be close to her man, an organizer who had helped stage the protest. Nick clearly had a lot to do with her involvement, and she talked herself into taking positions to align herself with him. Had Elaine carefully considered everything? Or had her man, for obvious reasons, and because of her love for him (perhaps she was blinded by it), unduly influenced her? It didn’t matter, though, how it came about. Nick seduced her, while she scored big time. It was the violence that scared her most.
She had last seen Nick in his office (by chance she caught him there), and not because they had planned something; he talked about the higher gas prices and the raised bus fares, and even seemed very excited about it. But then after a very short while Nick said he had to go and that something of great importance had come up. He began to pretend that he was in a great rush; and Elaine had to accept that. Though when he said he had to go off campus, and she knew him well enough to catch the tinniest fib, about things that were important and semi-important, she became a little worried. And worried and at the same time relieved that he wasn’t going to involve her. She knew he rarely had business off campus, she couldn’t think of anything that she couldn’t be apprised of.
She became very worried. When she found out about the burning of the buses and the first “Battle of Mendiola,” and there was no sign of Nick afterwards, she checked the hospitals. She said to Ted the next day, “I knew he was involved. It was just something I knew. You know him. You’ve spent a lot of time with him. You know his passion. Now he’s disappeared, after all that, the…I have no clue. I could’ve been there for him. So I’ve checked the hospitals, the morgues, and other places. Help me with another place. You say you haven’t seen him but he’ll show up.”
Ted said, “But if I knew where he was, should I tell you? Nick is an adult. He has the right to disappear, if he wants. Where am I in this thing? What am I doing here?”
She said, “That’s where we both are. To be part of this you have be totally part of it. You’ve got to give up everything else. You can’t wait and see what happens before you join.” And Ted thought, from the way she was talking, that she was hedging.
She had found Ted in the dungeons. That she had come looking for him there floored him, because of the relevance of the place and how it tied into the battles, win or lose, on the streets. He seemed to know a lot about the history. He said that he had an idea for a drama that he wanted to create in the dungeons…he made it sound as if it would have something to do with the struggle on the outside…which would incorporate the use of his flag in some way. He asked her for her help. And then he reassure her that Nick would be all right…something she might not have paid attention to had she not wanted to believe it. And that she should try to find Ben; yes, Ben would know something. He said nothing else about the drama he intended to create.
So after a few days Nick reappeared…all classes were suspended for a week, and everyone hoped that that would ease the tension. Yet they knew they hadn’t seen the worse of it. Nick’s good fortune was that he hadn’t been killed, and he said he decided to disappear for a while. The only thing he didn’t want was to have the police come for him at the university. They did that to other people. It was something he half expected. He went back home to allow the situation in Manila to cool down, and, as a precaution, he hadn’t told anyone, which infuriated Elaine. He traveled to and from on the bus, but that didn’t make too much sense. He began to think about giving up his position at the university…thinking perhaps that he had already compromised it, and on the bus he had time to think: where could he best be put to use, as a foot soldier, as a leader, or as the brains. He even talked…and talked to his father about it…of rallying the masses in Central Luzon. He thought long and hard about it, and he went to a HUK camp, as he said, “to risk it.” He couldn’t help but notice the women there, and one of them could’ve enticed him to stay; they were pretty enough, though one of the reasons he came back was Elaine. Ted said, “Given such a choice, I don’t know what I would’ve done. A jungle bride, or Elaine…a hard choice. Forgive me, Susan. I’m human.” And Nick wouldn’t get sympathy from those who hadn’t faced what he had.