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Rizal

Jose Rizal's last visitor, an American diplomat, waited in the shadows of Fort Santiago until Rizal's family and his new wife, Josephine Bracken, finished their visit. When they were gone, he slipped into Rizal's call.

A poet later told how
a fresh crop of barley rose from their graves: "They buried us without shroud or coffin /
And in August the barley grew out of the grave."

He was an unusual American diplomat. For one thing he was Irish, Philip Hennessey. He spoke Spanish because he had been sent years before form Dublin to study theology in Spain. Instead of the priesthood, he had ended up with a beautiful señorita who attended mass every morning in the chapel set aside for outsiders. Because he spoke English and Spanish he found work in the American Embassy in Madrid, and because the few American diplomats of any rank who spoke Spanish were engaged in the Cuba affair, he was sent by Washington to Manila to help out when the Spanish-American conflict threatened to spread to Asia.

The Americans knew they were taking a risk: he drank heavily, and he was Catholic, a Papist, like the Spaniards and Filipinos; he was in fact the only Catholic on the Embassy staff. What they didn't know was his family had been rebels for generations. A relative had died a hundred years earlier fighting the English with the Croppie Boys on Vinegar Hill. The ragamuffin Irish army carried the grain they would cook and eat in their pockets. A poet later told how a fresh crop of barley rose from their graves: "They buried us without shroud or coffin / And in August the barley grew out of the grave."

"Hennessey. Philip Hennessey," he introduced himself. "I've brought you flowers." He gave Rizal a bouquet of white roses.

"Is this an Irish custom, dead flowers?"

"These are from my wife. She's Spanish. You put dead flowers on the altar, don't you?"

Rizal smiled. "I don't believe much of that anymore."

"I don't either myself but being a Catholic is not about believing, I think. Not at all. It's sticking to what your ancestors fought for." He winked at Rizal, reached inside his suit coat and brought out a silver flask that shone dully in the kerosene lamp's orange glow. He found glasses on the table near the window and poured the brandy. "This is the Irish custom. Salud, Doctor."

"Salud, Mr. Hennessey."

"Philip is enough, more than enough."

They drank the brandy, the best Hennessey could find in Manila.

"Thank you, Philip. Now what do you want?"

"Are you expecting someone else?"

"Not till dawn when the priests come back."

"Dawn when the priests come back," Henessey repeated. "A haunting line."

"My wife is Irish, Philip. We were married earlier."

"I saw her go out. She's lovely, God bless her."

He felt he was
in the eye of the storm, a time of quiet.
The worst was over,
the goodbyes. There was just the morning.

Rizal looked around the bare cell, where prisoners were kept the night before execution. It was smaller than the one he had occupied for months. There were no signs anyone else had ever stayed there. He felt he was in the eye of the storm, a time of quiet. The worst was over, the goodbyes. There was just the morning.

"Marrying and knowing you must soon part forever is very Irish, Doctor. A number of our leaders have done so."

"Josephine told me. But you didn't come to discuss that." They pulled chairs close to the small table and sat down.

"Are you set on dying?" Hennessey asked.

"I'm used to it now."

"Would you listen to an American proposal? I'm an American diplomat for the moment."

Rizal said he would. Hennessey offered more brandy.

"No more, thank you."

"Maybe later?"

"Maybe."

"The Americans will be in charge here in a few years. You know that, Doctor. Spain won't be able to stop them. They may even make a deal soon, the way things are going in Cuba. Their offer is a simple one: come away now, wait in America till they take over here, then come back."

"Come back as what?"

"Whatever you want. Come as president, or a teacher, or an eye doctor."

"With the Americans?"

"Yes."

They heard the guards' heavy boots on the cobble stones in the yard outside and the thump of a barge hitting against its berth along the river.

"Do you know the saying, 'Happy the man who chooses his own death'?" Rizal asked.

"Is it Spanish?"

"Basque. The Jesuits who come are Basque."

"...our life was the time it takes a bird to fly into a room and out again. In from the night, a second in the light, then out into the dark."

"There are many Spanish sayings."

"A saying for everything and its opposite. How do the Americans know we won't have our own government by then?"

"It won't make much difference. They'll come anyway."

"We may fight."

"I hope you do, but you'll lose."

"I can't come with conquerors. One way or another the Americans will come as conquerors."

"I'll tell them your answer, but they'll be in charge. They'll bring you back from the grave if they have to and make you one of them."

"I won't agree," Rizal said abruptly, and then they both laughed out loud at the foolishness of that.

They sat silently at the small table. Rizal's hands were clasped on the tabletop and he stared at the ceiling where a house lizard stalked a moth. The moth didn't see the danger, till the lizard lunged and caught it in its mouth. The moth's wings stuck out of the lizard's mouth as it tried to swallow the victim. "The moth lives only a day or two, it gets one chance to mate and then it's gone," he said. "We get a little bit longer."

"The Venerable Bede said our life was the time it takes a bird to fly into a room and out again. In from the night, a second in the light, then out into the dark."

"'Our little life is rounded with a sleep!' I've seen the world, I loved women. I've made my family sad and proud."

"And the years that might be?"

"I have nothing more to tell my people. Even now I don't think they're listening as they used to."

"Do you want children?"

"Josephine is pregnant. That's enough."

"You can't be so blasé about dying. You're a young man."

He remembered sailing on the Pasig
to the Jesuit Villa
in Santa Ana where they swam and discussed what they wanted to be when they grew up.

They heard a soldier near the main gate of the fort call out the hour. Midnight. The soldiers and priests would come at three. Rizal was praying. He asked God to take care of his mother and his brothers and sisters and Josephine. He asked God to help him to walk to Luneta without fear. He prayed for the millions of people in the Islands. He was praying as he had when he was a young child. Later in the Sodality the Jesuits taught him to meditate. At the end he came back to the prayer of childhood. He remembered sailing on the Pasig to the Jesuit Villa in Santa Ana where they swam and discussed what they wanted to be when they grew up. He had always wanted to be a doctor who cared for people's eyes. His mother had serious eye trouble.

"That piece I began, do you remember, Philip?" But before Philip could answer, Rizal recited himself," Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

"I have speeches of Irish heroes memorized, men condemned to death for their part in our revolts."

"I've never believed in revolt."

"That's why the Americans are interested in you."

"What you said can happen after death worries me. I want you to tell people I don't want the Americans here. I don't want any other nations here. I'll write it down." He took a small note pad from his pocket and wrote in pencil. There was no ink. When he finished he gave it to Philip. "Give this to my family. They'll know what to do. Promise me."

"I will do it," Philip said.

"I'll have some brandy, is there some left?"

Hennessey poured some and Rizal toasted, "Destruction to our enemies." When Hennessey smiled, Rizal said, "It's one yours, isn't it? Josephine uses it."

They drank and Rizal said, "Here's a song we used to sing at the Ateneo when I was a boy." He sang the simple Gregorian chant hymn for Mary sung at Easter time. "Regina coeli laetare, alleluia / Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia / Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia."
They looked at each other silently. Both had memories of the Church of their youth.

The guard at the fort's main gate announced the hour: 1:00 a.m. A cool night breeze with the smell of the sea blew through the cell and the lamps flickered. They were only a hundred meters or so from the bay. The thumping of the barge began again.

"The soldiers who will be there tomorrow are sleeping nearby," Hennessey told him. They were isolated for the night from the other soldiers.

"All our people, our farmers, their wives died believing they would see their families in heaven. What horror if they were no more, like this flame when I turn it off."

"I hope they're not Filipino."

"Filipinos might not do the job."

"Some will."

"It's sad if it's your own people."

Rizal thought about that, then he sat up alertly. "Do our voices echo? Do you hear it?" They listened carefully.

"It's the stone all around," Philip suggested.

"Tell people I wasn't angry at the end."

"Can I ask a question?"

"No more diplomacy."

"Of course. No more of that. Can you tell me where you think you will be in eight or ten hours?"

"With my father, I hope."

"You think you will be?"

"I can't imagine being no more. No one can."

"The Irish believe in everything the Church proposes and a lot more."

"All our people, our farmers, their wives died believing they would see their families in heaven. What horror if they were no more, like this flame when I turn it off." Rizal extinguished the lamp near him.

"Will you ask the guard if we can go up on the wall and see the city?"

Hennessey talked to the guard outside the cell, and a soldier hurried off to ask the captain. They waited in the cell and soon the captain came in and took off his hat. "I can't let you on the wall, Doctor, but we can walk outside if you wish. It's chilly, do you have a sweater?" He took out the leather handcuffs. "I must handcuff you to me. I'm sorry." He fastened a cuff around Rizal's wrist and then around his own. "Are you coming Mr. Hennessey?"

They left the holding cell and turned left to the path. Ahead Rizal saw the main gate. He knew there was a wooden carving on the wall there, St. James slaying a dragon. "Is this the route I'll take tomorrow?" The path led out through the gate but beyond the lights in the gate there was only darkness.

The dark night had broken open like a great treasure box. Thousands and thousands of stars shone down. Rizal had never seen them so clearly.

"Yes, I'm sorry."

"It's all right now."

"Come, let's go up on the wall," the Captain said. "What difference does it make?" They climbed the stairs at the north end of the fort and stood on the wall overlooking the river. The dark night had broken open like a great treasure box. Thousands and thousands of stars shone down. Rizal had never seen them so clearly. He remembered words of the old carol, "The silent stars go by." They did seem to wheel overhead. Intramuros and the native quarters across the river were dark except for a few streetlights. They couldn't see anyone moving about.

The roosters began their mindless crowing, and that started the dogs, one or two at first and then a mob of them howling at the roosters and one another.

A small boat with bamboo outrigger came up the river, a fisherman in from a night of fishing on the bay. Rizal waved and the fisherman waved back though he was too far off to know who the figure on the wall was. In the days after, when he learned of Rizal's death, he would wonder if the man who waved had been him.
Rizal said. "I often wished I were a poor man who could go home at night and sleep soundly."

"We have to go down, Doctor." The captain gestured to the stairs. Rizal waved goodbye to the sleeping city. He followed them down, then said, "Imagine, my last night and I spend it with an Irishman and a Spaniard."

"I volunteered for Mexico," the captain said.

"Philip?" Rizal prompted.

"I didn't know where Manila was two months ago. I thought it was near Cuba."

When they got to the cell the captain unfastened the handcuffs and let Rizal and Philip go in.

"You better think of going home," the captain said to Philip.

"Another ten minutes, then you have to go."

Philip gave Rizal the flask. "Keep it for later."

"No, let's finish it together." There was a half inch in each glass. Rizal studied the golden cognac, then sipped it slowly.

Philip tried once more. "Come away with me, Doctor. We'll go to New York or wherever you want."

"Go with him," the captain said. "It's not nice what will happen tomorrow. Have you seen one up close?"

"Never."

"It's not nice what happens. You can still go."

Rizal finished the last of the cognac. "Thank you both." He paused a few beats. "I'll be fine." He took up his glass but it was empty. He held it up to the lamp to examine it more closely. The glass glowed with the last patina of the brandy. Empty and still it glowed in the orange lamp light. "I'll be fine," he repeated.

Philip gave the note Rizal had written to his superiors at the Embassy. He never told anyone else, even his own wife, about his promise to the dying man. "Wasn't I an American diplomat?" he often said to himself.

© Denis Murphy

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