A Short Story for Children By Jon E. Royeca
(Published in the Junior Inquirer, December 29, 2001)
“UNCLE Jose, why did you come back?” Leoncio asked. “I wish you were already in Spain. Mother said it was better if you were there.”
Jose patted Leoncio, stroking his hair lightly. “I did not come back. I was sent back.”
“By whom Uncle Jose?” Aristeo butted in.
“By the Spaniards,” Jose answered. He stood up to unpack the three bags that his nephews brought with them. “Is this the stove I’ve asked Señora Sisa to send here?”
“Yes, Uncle,” Leoncio said. “Mother said the Spaniards have imprisoned you here in Fort … Fort―”
“It’s Fort Santiago, cousin!” Aristeo finished it for him.
“Why, Uncle? I don’t understand,” Leoncio said, looking around that dungeon-like prison cell. It looked cavernous. Its walls and pillars were thick and heavy.
Jose smiled at the two. He put down the stove on the table, beside his papers. “How old are you two now?”
“I’m thirteen,” Aristeo proudly said. “I’m already in the secondary course at the Ateneo.”
Leoncio counted his fingers before shouting, “I’m eleven years old! I also study at the Ateneo.”
“Good, very good,” Jose said, feeling proud of his nephews. “Like what I always tell you, study well. It is your most potent weapon as you go on with your lives, as you live with your fellow men, and as you aim for what you want to make of yourselves.”
Aristeo smiled. He knew that their Uncle Jose always spoke seriously when it came to their studies. He wanted them to be well educated so that they would be good if not better citizens in thoughts, hearts, and deeds. He always reminded them to behave like gentlemen.
“You studied in Ateneo, didn’t you, Uncle?” Aristeo asked.
“Yes, I did,” Jose said. He fixed the alcohol stove, testing if it still worked. He thought of hiding there the small piece of paper where he would write his last poem. He would hide it that way so that when his sister Trinidad brought that stove out after visiting him, the Spanish guards would not see and confiscate the poem.
“Mother had told us that you received honors and prizes,” Leoncio added. “She said you were a very intelligent student.”
“Maybe,” Jose shrugged.
“So why would they imprison you here?” Aristeo argued. “You’re a doctor, aren’t you? You’re supposed to be in hospitals curing the sick.”
“How long will you be here, Uncle?” Leoncio asked.
Jose shrugged again. Since he arrived in Manila from Spain on November 3, 1896, he had been incarcerated in that prison cell in Fort Santiago, which was located on the northern tip of the walled district of Intramuros. The cold month of December would be over now, but he still remained a prisoner.
Aristeo sat down on a chair, beside Jose. He meekly looked up to him. “I heard father saying we might not be able to see you again. Why, Uncle?”
Leoncio also sat down on the other side of Jose. He was not saying anything but was about to cry. He had also heard everyone in their house in Trozo saying that their Uncle Jose might no longer be with them forever.
Jose calmed the two, smiling at them. “Boys, sometimes we don’t like what is happening to us. There are times when we’re proud of what’s going on around us. … When I die, I would rest, but I know I would die fighting for the sake of our country and our fellow Filipinos.”
Aristeo and Leoncio were close to tears. Their Uncle Jose was a doctor, writer, and a very kind uncle. Why would somebody hurt him? They could not really understand why.
“Why were you jailed, Uncle?” Aristeo again asked.
“It’s quite a long story,” Jose said. “I wanted our countrymen to be free from ignorance, injustices, and abuses committed against them by our Spanish rulers. But they, the Spaniards, did not like it. I only desired that our countrymen embrace the fruits of liberty, education, labor, and dignity. But again the Spaniards did not like what I desired.”
Jose stood up. “Come on, you two. The visiting hour is over. The guard will soon come in. Who would fetch you here?”
“Aling Iday, our servant,” Aristeo said. “She’s in the corridor.”
“Leoncio, kindly tell your mother,” Jose said deeply, “that I am thanking her for all the help that she has given me, for everything.”
Leoncio nodded. His mother, Señora Sisa, was one of Jose’s elder sisters.
“Aristeo, kindly tell Señor Silvestre,” Jose’s voice was firm, “that I am also thanking him for all the help.”
Aristeo nodded. Señor Silvestre was his father and one of Jose’s brothers-in-law.
“Grandma and Aunt Trining will be coming here also to visit you,” Leoncio told him. “Aunt Josephine said she’d come sooner.”
“How’s mother, your Grandma?” Jose asked. “And Josephine?” Josephine was his beloved wife.
“Grandma is always worried,” Leoncio answered. “And Aunt Josephine, too. I saw her crying one night. She misses you. Both Grandma and Aunt Josephine are in our house.”
Jose wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. “All right, go now. Remember what I always tell you. Study, study, and study. Work, work, and work. And don’t forget that you are studying and will be working for your country and fellow Filipinos.”
Aristeo and Leoncio both nodded. They cried while they embraced their beloved Uncle Jose, thinking that it would be the last time that they were seeing him.
“Goodbye, Uncle Jose,” the two boys said as they walked down the silent corridor, waving at him. “We’re leaving now, Uncle Jose, farewell!”
“Goodbye boys,” Jose waved back at them. “Farewell!”
SOME days later, on the morning of Wednesday, December 30, 1896, Jose was executed by the Spaniards through a firing squad in the Bagumbayan Field, a park outside Intramuros. He was immediately buried at the nearby Paco Cemetery.
Aristeo and Leoncio cried silently when they heard the news of their Uncle Jose’s death. Everyone in their family was in mourning.
Aristeo and Leoncio did not forget what their Uncle Jose advised them. They really studied well. They became physicians like their beloved uncle, Dr. Jose Rizal. ●