The patient in room 27, who was admitted for gastritis, was singing and a sizable crowd was gathering at her door. They were totally mesmerized by her golden voice. She was Nova Cardona, a budding and talented TV star.
“Hurry up,” Lt. Antonio whispered to Benny.
Benny was in the military uniform of a captain. He looked dashing but deathly pale. It had been a week in the hospital but he still felt nauseous and unsteady on his feet.
There were two guards who stood at his door but their back was turned as they too were enraptured by Nova’s voice; they hardly noticed the two coming out of the room.
“This way,” Lt. Antonio, opted for the stairs instead of the elevators. They ascended the stairs in swift, stealthy movements and reached the ground floor in no time at all.
“I’ll take it from here,” Benny looked straight at his new found friend. He had never been close to Lt. Antonio in the University. But he was admired by many students whom he barely knew and Rudy Antonio was one of them. “Thanks for the help Rudy, I owe you one.” Benny tightly gripped Lt. Antonio’s hand.
“I can’t leave you alone. You’re still not safe here. C’mon, we’re wasting time,” Lt. Antonio protested and sprinted towards the shadows of the next building.
They were on foot as the checkpoints were still in place and they knew they had to be out off the streets before midnight, because of the curfew hours.
The Doctor’s next round in the hospital would be after 6 hours and if they could make it to the army truck at the outskirts of the city, everything would be fine.
It was 9 pm when the twinkling, bright lights had finally turned into pinpoints – indicating they were now at a safe distance from the city. Benny was ready to buckle. He was hyperventilating and his body felt clammy and worn out.
“Go,” Lt. Antonio motioned Benny inside the truck, as he jumped into the driver’s seat. ” Cover yourself with the blanket. If they inspect the truck and see you, act sleepy.”
But No one stopped them. They came nose to nose with army vehicles along the road and the usual honking of horns was all that happened.
There was a main checkpoint however, before they could reach the last town; Lt. Antonio was not bothered. They were relatively safe unless someone wanted to inspect the truck and recognize Benny.
It was after an hour that they came to the checkpoint. Benny had fallen into a dreamless sleep and was awakened by loud voices.
“Hello, sir,” the swarthy private bellowed. “May I know what we have here?”
” I’m in a hurry, private. Will visit a relative in the next town and will have to be back before dawn.”
” Sir, we have strict orders from General Layson himself, to inspect all vehicles passing through this checkpoint – even army vehicles,” the private was a good soldier.
The general’s order was called for because the next town was believed to be NPA infiltrated and objecting to the search would make the private more suspicious.
“Okay, but make it quick.” Lt. Antonio sat rigidly at the wheels, his hand on the butt of his gun. He was hardly breathing. He was hoping Benny would be able to act convincingly.
After some interminable minutes, the loud voice of the private echoed from the back of the truck, ” Have a pleasant trip , sir,” he said and the signal was given to the other guard at the gate to allow the truck to pass through.
Lt. Antonio breathed a sigh of relief. But how come the private didn’t find Benny?
He cruised a little farther away and finally stopped. When he checked on him, his niggling premonition was true- Benny was gone!
Benny was already a hundred yards away from the checkpoint. The nap had rested him and he was moving faster now. He was used to walking long distances as in the nature of their condition, they rarely used vehicles for fear of detection.
He was lucky the bullet didn’t hit any of his vital organs. The blood loss however may have cost him his life if he had not been transfused immediately with blood .
Lt. Antonio had planned his escape. They had to do it while he was still in the hospital as the top brass was demanding that he be transported ASAP to headquarters when he was well enough to walk.
Lt. Antonio could have requested that he be placed in his custody and a lot of officers would trust his judgement but they both did not want to take chances. Some scalawags in the military might want to “salvage” him. (Salvage” was a popular term during that era, in which people were summarily executed in the guise of self defense or because they allegedly attempted to escape.)
Even, Nova Cardona was such a great help. He had gained new friends from his short stay in the hospital. Rudy had always believed he was the good guy even when he learned of his recruitment to the NPA. And Nova, in spite of her growing popularity, had a childlike insouciance that made her a pleasant companion in the few days that they had their morning sun in the hospital’s large garden, where they came to know each other.
He had not seen Julia for over a week and he missed her terribly but to allow her to visit was very risky as she was on the rebel’s list too. He also learned from Rudy that his father -in -law died of myocardial infarction, right after he was captured. He felt extremely sad for not being able to attend his wake.
These were the thoughts that accompanied him as he finally ascended the familiar terrain. This is the NPA’s stronghold and he was relatively safe. The moon was afloat and the illumination that it provided was sufficient for his accustomed feet. But he knew that the military were slowly inching their way onwards and they have to counteract this recent development.
He reached the peak just as dawn was breaking.
Sitting now at the small clearing and watching the interplay of colors, he was thinking what a lucky man he was, still alive and breathing.
The sun finally broke free from the restraining clouds that had earlier hampered its ascendance.
It now shone on him with such brilliance that gave him a certain assurance that eveything would eventually fall into place.
(TO BE CONTINUED)