Don got to know some of the students involved in the first Battle of Mendiola. He talked to a lot of different ones. He was always friendly, cunning, and on guard; he had to be or he wouldn’t have been effective. He hadn’t been back in Manila for very long. He would say, for instance to people around the Peace Corps office, about Zamboanga or the Sulus where he would still be if it weren’t for all the trouble in Manila, “It isn’t the location stupid, it’s the movie that interests me.” But he had to center his focus on volunteers. He had become quite perceptive, and at the same time very sensitive, and he felt that he might’ve made a mistake by becoming so involved with Susan and Ted. He moved in with them (they opened their apartment, and because they lived in Manila volunteers assigned elsewhere often stayed with them). He slept on the couch. He got to eat Linda’s cooking, and he loved it. He liked being with Alfred. There were times he would go places with Susan without Ted. That was when they had their best talks. But Don had to be careful not to takeover, which was his tendency. None of them knew why he was in Manila, and his job down south wasn’t generally known. There was as yet no need to evacuate anyone. With the guerrilla activity on Basilan and around Jolo, it had been almost too close to call; but now with all that was happening, Don couldn’t say what the agency would do. In Manila, there was still a margin of safety. It was for him like being in the Wild Wild West, but the city had always been that way for him. Now he had to move with more urgency and quicken his step.
Ted said to Don one day, “Would you like to see what I do? They rode a jeepney and a bus to Diliman, taking time out at Quiapo to go in the church, and they had lunch at the University with Nick, who behaved himself by not bringing up Mao. Normally the noon-crowd in the cafeteria was a mix of faculty and students, normally very nosy and not so somber, but today there were only one or two students. Now people didn’t seem to be in a talking mood. They were looking around more than they did in the past. Even with people who had known each other for a very long time; and they knew who was who and what was what: you wanted to go up and slap them to wake them up. The Americans weren’t like that. They were quite talkative. Elaine had joined them, and Ted said to himself so far so good, so far nothing but small talk. He said, “Nick, why don’t we ever see you at a performance at the fort? We’re getting better all the time; and when was the last time you went down in the dungeons? You’ll be surprised at the improvements.”
Ted had to stop himself from saying that they had made the dungeons nice and that he had already figured out how he would seat an audience down there. For darn sure he wouldn’t pack them in like prisoners like Nick suggested. No way he’d do that. In the beginning he focused on somehow recreating the worsening crisis, until he realized he didn’t have to do that because the crisis was real enough. He hadn’t known how far he wanted to go or if anyone would want to go with him. As an American after a while, he carried more blame than perhaps he should have; he played the blame game when he didn’t need to. He had shifted his allegiance, which made him less of a target (because of Nick’s initial friendship, he really didn’t know whether he had ever been one (target) or not). Alfred’s ideas had seemed to meld in with his, or had they? Hadn’t he constructed the “K” flag? Or had Alfred somehow seen the flag and knew the story behind it? In fact their ideas were very close, and that bothered Ted. He had thought of involving Nick in his drama in some way; Nick had been that great of an influence; he couldn’t ignore that. However, he found it hard to ask Nick directly. It was impossible with Don and Elaine sitting there anyway. He began compromising. It didn’t feel quite right. He tried to think it through, but it still wouldn’t jell in his mind. He thought, “I’m going to sound everyone out.” And then he thought, “I better not.” Timed with the completion of their meal, they were all told about an impending demonstration. Yes, another one. But the difference now was in the timing; as for timing, it turned out very bad for Ted because Don couldn’t be pulled away.
Nick was dead right; it was the big one, the one he had planned for. Ted wanted to get out before it started; but Don didn’t want to leave. Instead, they went back to Ted’s office, all of them, even Nick. Ted thought Nick was out of character. They watched, now from Ted’s window, now when they should’ve been thinking about getting out of there. Every minute or so another student would appear, with something in hand, a bullhorn, a placard, a stick, and no telling what else. At first there were petty arguments over what to do next, arguments lit by previous successes, buoyed by them. And then with the yelling and the chanting and a song or two, and a few leaders, some students and some not (and with Ben among them), they found themselves with the numbers and the strength to shut down the university. Yes, the University of the Philippines.
Don said, “Pretty slick.”