THERE WAS NEVER A TIME THAT PASSED LIVING IN THE CITY when I could sleep in peace. Because every five minutes, I'd hear the monstrous howls of the Jeeps and Tricycles that still roamed the streets even after midnight. For a time, when we had just moved from the province, the Capital was a place I'd want to escape immediately. It was just too dirty. The markets were too crowded. And the people weren't really the best neighbors to have. Living in it for three years, the engine noises became my lullaby; a chaotic symphony in the moonlight. The Capital became a place I'd want to live in, forever.
It wasn't because I got used to it, or because I couldn't afford to get out and start a life back in the province. It was because the Capital was a city that needed fixing. The people in it needed protection. The streets needed to be cleansed of the filth hundreds of crimes brought to it. And it was tonight, this very night that the streets fell silent. Somehow, the city knew what I was about to do. It knew that I was about to change it. For better or worse, is up for others to decide.
A few days before, I had witnessed an armed robbery from a bank a few blocks near my house.
When I say armed robbery, I didn't mean they had guns. Instead, they only had truncheons. Truncheons...the common defense weapon given to a police officer, only that these truncheons had patterned designs of various tribal weaves on them. Or at least, that's what I was able to interpret from them in a brief five-second glance, before I ran to a spot safe enough for me to still see what was happening. For some reason, they were also wearing monkey-masks to hide their faces. Those things could've easily been bought at your nearest Halloween shop. It wasn't even October.
I play the drums. Something about it really hits home for me. Plus, it reminds me of whenever I train for Eskrima. Both practices allowed me to hold two sticks in each of my hands. I tend to break a pair whenever I rocked out too much, or when I want to play to relieve some stress. Anyway, I had just bought a new pair of drum sticks from my favorite music shop, when I heard the noise of broken glass. I went out, and located the sound to be coming from a bank that was near the shop.
I suspected that the shotgun one of the robbers held came from the guard that had dozed off in the middle of the afternoon. Now, he was a bloody corpse lying in the middle of the room, for all of the people inside to see, that if he hadn't slept on his shift, the robbery could've been dealt with right there and then.
I didn't know what to do. I hadn't brought my phone with me at the time because I had just planned on buying new drum sticks and go straight back home to play. I mean, who could've anticipated a robbery in the middle of the day? It wasn't even passed lunchtime.
What could I have done in this situation? Should I have used the drum sticks I just bought and try my best to fend off the guy with the shotgun? The three other robbers only had sticks too. But who was to say they didn't bring any extra knives in their back pockets? I could try it, though. But would a few Eskrima training lessons from my master-slash-uncle be enough for me to beat these guys? I could break these drum sticks right now, and use the sharp points as a sort of puncture-weapon. That way, I could then put my Kali lessons to good use. But then again, I had just bought these drum sticks. Might as well just use my Eskrima training to practice.
As I entered the bank, I immediately ducked for cover. Luckily the shotgun-holder fired up, and none of the shrapnel caught me. I shouted to them that I wasn't going to do anything funny, and stayed down and put my hands over my head. The Shotgun-holder pointed his weapon at me, called me an idiot for even entering the bank, and told me never to move if I valued my life. I followed.
They went back to what they were doing. One robber ushered me to join the other hostages. He was a bit smaller than the others. As he looked down, the monkey-mask he was wearing fell off. And what I saw underneath, was the scared face of what seemed like a she rather than a he. It caught the others' attention. The shotgun-holder (at this point, it was clear that he was the leader of this operation), shoved the girl and took her mask, placed it on her face with much strength, that it made her fall.
I heard her start to cry under the mask. As she was getting back up, she fixed how the monkey mask was placed in her face, and raced to the door. The leader raised his shotgun at her, and commanded her to stop right where she was. The other two robbers readied their truncheons at her as well.
As they were busy chatting (more like shouting) with each other, somebody beside me started pulling up his left slack. As I looked at what he was doing, I noticed a gun holster conveniently strapped around his ankle. This man, might have been around his late fifty's or so, had been shot on his right shoulder, and beat up by these thugs. He couldn't use the gun he had with him. In his condition, he won't even be fast enough to shoot all of them. Only then did I realize what he was doing. He was only pointing at it. He was actually just signaling me to take it!
I hesitated, and carefully took out the drum sticks that were hidden inside both of my ankles. The old man looked at me, confused with what I was doing. Even more confused as to what I did next.
As I took his gun from him, I tucked it under my belt, and started doing some beats on the glass floor with my drum sticks. This caught the attention of the robbers. The leader then pointed his weapon at me again. He asked me what I was doing. I simply continued making beats and asked him the same question. What was it that they planned to do here? Simply walk out of this bank, hoping they wouldn't get caught? We've already seen the girl's face. Though, I wasn't really going to tell him that I didn't remember what she looked like at all. It was too fast, I didn't get a good look at her. But even still, with what they were doing, the police would be searching for them day and night until they were put behind bars, or worse, executed.
This ticked the leader off. Combined with my drum-beating, he was getting more and more frustrated. I expected him to blast his shotgun on me. But he just stood there. Breathing heavily under his monkey mask. What was he waiting for?
He then yelled towards the open safe. It hadn't occur to me that there would be more of them in the bank. Another monkey-masked robber came out from the back of the counter. He had with him a couple of duffel bags filled with money. He told his boss of how much money there was in the bank. The Leader cursed at him. Telling him to cut the chatter and move fast, or else the police might arrive before they even finish the job. Ah, how common it was that the police weren't here yet to handle the situation.
Now that I thought about it, today was Boxing Day! This whole thing might have had something to do with the on-going match of the country's most-beloved boxer, but was critically hated. For his political views were that of complete absurdity. The timing of this bank robbery made more sense to me now. All of the cops would've been too caught up on the fight that if a crime broke lose in some part of the capital, nobody would ever notice in time.
In other words, these monkey-masked buffoons had this thing in the bag, literally and metaphorically. If I hadn't entered the scene, that is.
The money-collector tossed the last bag. This was my chance. I took the old man's gun out and shot the bag mid-throw.
Money was flying everywhere. Everyone, the hostages, the robbers, the girl, were all in shock of what just happened. I immediately stood up, and pounced at the two robbers who only held truncheons. I put my Eskrima training to good use. Holding my newly-bought drum sticks, I swung at them as if it were a training exercise my uncle and I usually had on Fridays. But this was a real fight, and I had to move quicker than I ever did if I wanted to deflect the blast from the shotgun the leader still had with him. Lucky enough, as I was about the block a swing from one of the robbers, the leader shot away, but not at me. He had shot his friend by accident because of how fast the fight was happening.
"Shit!" The leader pointed his weapon at me. As to how he was too close to me, there was no way I could deflect the blast. I closed my eyes, and braced for it.
I heard a soft click, and another. And a few clicks after, I opened my eyes to see that the shotgun was out of ammo. I was still alive! So far so good, at least. This was when I signaled back to the girl, who was standing there the whole time holding her truncheon tightly. She got the queue, and hurriedly swung her weapon to the leader's head. After multiple hits to the head, the leader was out for the count.
Three down, one went inside the safe. Then there was the girl. I was still unsure at this point if she was with me or against me. Or just confused.
I called up to the girl. She took a truncheon from the robber I had knocked out earlier. I was about to take the one that belonged to the guy that got shot, but it was drenched in his blood. I pointed at the girl's truncheons, and asked her if I could have it. She hesitated, so I showed her my drum sticks, and told her that I didn't want to use them if it meant I'd break this pair again and have to buy a new one. She gave me her weapon, and asked who I was, and why I was helping her.
I told her that my name didn't matter, and that I wasn't really helping her. I was more concerned on getting the hostages out of the situation.
I cautioned the hostages not to stand up yet. There was a nurse (or a nursing student) among them. I told her that the old man with him needed medical attention, and that if she knew how, she should take care of his bullet wound immediately.
I yelled towards the counter. Told the money-collector to get out before I decide to go after him. After about five long seconds, nobody answered back. A lady that seemed to work at the bank, who was also one of the hostages, told me that the robber might've already be gone. Apparently, this bank had a back door to it.
I cursed at this. The girl told me that she knew where he might be headed. The hostages who were now free yelled at her. They said she was one of them, and that she should be put to jail. And other profound things. Ignoring them, she continued to tell me that their plan was just to take the money and go. Killing people in the process wasn't part of it. But when the guard, who was now dead, attempted to shoot their leader, he accidentally shot the old man instead. Because of his shock, he wasn't able to move, and the leader took his weapon from him. Then the leader shot him right in the gut for everyone to see. She looked at the old man. His blood still slowly flowing down from his shoulder. The young nurse was trying to tend the wound. But from the large puddle of blood on the floor, the old man might not make it.
I told the girl that it wasn't her fault. But deep inside, I didn't know if I believed it. Whose fault was it, really? Was it the leader of their crew, who attempted to steal the guard's weapon? Was it the guard, who shot the bystander on accident?
I looked at the old man's gun in my hand. Was it my fault to have entered the scene and caused her team to panic and her "friends", who were well enough not innocent, to kill themselves? I was trying to save these people. All of them. No matter their sins. They at least deserved justice. It wasn't their fault they were in need of money. Living here in the Capital, you begin to understand: that some things aren't caused by your bad luck, but by those corrupt entities who ran the streets, who took money from the people, calling themselves righteous.
I was well in the middle of my thoughts when I noticed the girl take off her mask. And I saw her face properly this time. Besides being involved in a bank robbery, she was cute. She didn't look the part, too. For a bank robber, she was a fair-skinned, good looking individual. The likes who didn't rob banks on a weekly basis in this country, especially in the Capital.
Her eyes were red from her tears. She told me why they needed the money; that she needed it to pay for her mother's illness. She had lung cancer. Probably the cause of long years of smoking cheap cigarettes you could easily buy from every sari-sari store in every street in this damned city.
I told her that we could talk about that more once we've caught her 'friend'. Right now, the main goal was to know where he was.
And so it was tonight, several nights after the bank robbery that we finally found him. After days of looking, the girl and I found her so-called pal in one of their usual hideouts.
He was sleeping when we arrived. The presence of the usual white-noise of this city was fairly absent from these outskirts. That's what got him into the immense dream-state he was in. I envied him for that. I really did. Although I didn't envy the heavy smack on his head by the huge wrench I found that was just lying on the floor of this somewhat abandoned construction site. It ultimately got him out of the lovely sleep he was having, and into this pocket hell of a reality we were in right now.
He fell to the ground. It wasn't really convincing yet that he was already awake. 'Cause it took long before he opened his eyes. It must've been the blunt trauma his head was feeling.
He cursed at the air, rubbing his bleeding forehead. He opened his eyes, and saw who had done it.
That was when I took the old man's gun out, and put it directly on his forehead after he was finished rubbing it. This got him good.
The man wet his pants. He was shouting and waving his hands up, pleading me not to end his life. I told him to look at the gun I was holding. He couldn't really see it properly, since it was aggressively pointed to his skull. I told him that the gun belonged to the old man that got shot in the bank. He wouldn't have been in the hospital right now if it weren't for these people.
He asked about his friend. I told him he was long gone, but that I wasn't the one who took the life out of him. With the gun still pointed at his head, the guy noticed I wasn't alone. The girl was standing next to me. She looked at him, tears dripping down her face. He yelled at her, called her names. He told me that if it weren't for her, they could've finished the job easily.
I almost lost grip on the gun I was holding. He noticed my subtle tremble, and laughed. He smiled at me and looked at me dead in the eye. He was daring me to shoot him. Told me it was better to end it right there and then, than to be behind bars, knowing that one night, a random cellmate would sodomize him in his sleep. Or maybe even several of them.
I tensed, placed my finger on the trigger.
The place was silent. Nothing but the howls of stray dogs and their chains clashing with each other. It was kind of peaceful, being there, in that moment. Fight or Flight. Do or die. It was the ultimatum of my life that was bound to happen at some point in time. And in a heartbeat, his, not mine, I then pulled the trigger.
When the moment had passed, and the dogs have stopped barking, the guy slowly looked up at me as I was already breaking apart the gun I held. He was still trembling out of pure fear, but was then turned into utter confusion. He asked me why I didn't pull the trigger. To that, I told him that there were never any bullets inside the gun to begin with, and that I had played him all too well. I thanked him for putting up a good show for the night. It was true, he was a good volunteer. Really ate up my magic trick.
There was a soft ring coming from the distance. A few moments later, it became the common siren that I would hear every other night. When a fire broke out and burnt several houses a few blocks from where our house was. Or when the barangay announced something about the inconveniently parked cars on the side of the streets. Or when there was a crime happening nearby. I just never knew that one day, it'd be coming after me. Not because I did the crime, but because I had been the one to prevent it.
The man trembled in fear. He couldn't move, couldn't stand up. I smacked him on the head again with the wrench, enough to make him unconscious.
The girl thanked me for what I had done. I told her that it wasn't really much. And that I only wanted to do what was right. But still, that didn't stop her from putting her arms around me, and hugging me tightly. I really didn't have anything else to do here. If the girl agreed that she would stay there until the police had arrived to handle the situation, my job there was done. But if she plans on taking the money for herself, regardless of a sick parent, that would make things much more difficult. Hopefully that wouldn't happen. Hopefully...
As I was leaving, she asked me if she'll ever see me again. I dropped the wrench on the ground, and told her that it wasn't impossible, but that it was also something I wasn't really hoping to happen again, either.
This was when I truly left the place. She and I never even traded names.
The day after, my uncle woke me up to the sound of the morning news. I passed out on the couch last night. He told me to sit up, so that he could watch the TV with me. He handed me a cup of coffee to get me started.
I rose up and listened to the news. Several days ago, it was revealed that the video footage from the bank was nowhere to be found. It must've been the money-collector. He could've broken into the system long before I arrived that day. That's why there was never any proof of me being there. But that wasn't what I was concerned of right now. I was more concerned at what happened to the money.
Newscaster: There are several reports from last night of a vigilante wearing a monkey mask, who had caught one of the remaining bank robbers who got away several days ago. The police believe that this individual is connected to the one who saved the hostages in the bank. And that he had been there to end it all.
It was the girl's idea that I wear her mask, in case somebody had taken videos from last night.
Newscaster: --Others believed that it might've been a fight between the two who have escaped. Nothing is for sure right now. For all we know, this is still an open case. No money was found at the scene.
Dammit, she took the money. I can't blame her though. I'll sleep better at night pretending that she took it to help her mother.
Newscaster: --Only a bloodied liyabe was found lying on the floor. Forensics say that it was the weapon used by either the vigilante or the--
I took the remote and put the volume on mute.
"Liyabe..." I said. "What does that mean?"
"It's layman's term for 'monkey wrench'." my uncle told me.
I looked at the TV. It was replaying a video footage of me in the monkey mask hitting a man's skull. I watched it over and over again. Thinking.