I was unconvinced. No one knew what I knew. His great comeback was scuppered; the masterpiece that would return him to the pantheon was bafflingly misplaced and the dead weight of controversy buried in his casket. The only remaining certainty was the ritual clutter inherited by those left behindfiles to be boxed, boxes to be filled, a life's worth of stuff not intended as rubbish to be thrown out for Monday morning pickup. I just about ransacked his apartment searching for the manuscript of The Bridges Ablaze. I knew it was real. I had witnessed him typing away at it at his desk.
He had spoken of it, puckishly, on many occasions. "The reason for my long exile is so that I could be free to write TBA," Salvador had said, that first time, spitting out the bones of chicken feet we were eating in a subterranean Mott Street restaurant. "Don't you think there are things that need to be finally said? I want to lift the veil that conceals the evil. Expose them on the steps of the temple. Truly, all those responsible. The pork-barrel trad-pols. The air-conditioned Forbes Park aristocracy. The aspirational kleptocrats who forget their origins. The bishopricks and their canting church. Even you and me. Let's all eat that cake." But what remained of the manuscript was only crumbs: the title page and a couple of loose leaves scrawled with bullet points, found sandwiched and forgotten in his disintegrating Roget's Thesaurus. Missing was twenty years of worka glacial accretion of research and writingunknotting and unraveling the generations-long ties of the Filipino elite to cronyism, illegal logging, gambling, kidnapping, corruption, along with their related component sins. "All of humanity's crimes," Salvador said, spitting a bone atop the pyramidal pile in his bowl, "are only degrees of theft."
I, of course, believe the conspicuous lack of clues is stranger than the disarray of the domestic scene from which he was mysteriously absented. Ockham's razor is chipped. Every bone in my body recoils at the notion Salvador killed himself. Walking through his apartment afterward, I saw his viridian Underwood typewriter loaded, cocked, and ready with a fresh blank page; the objects on his desk arranged in anticipation of writing. How could he have brought himself to the river without passing his conscience reflected in that Venetian mirror in the hall? He would have seen there was still so much to do.
To end his own life, Salvador was neither courageous nor cowardly enough. The only explanation is that the Panther of Philippine Letters was murdered in midpounce. But no bloody candelabrum has been found. Only ambiguous hints in what remains of his manuscript. Among the two pages of notes, these names: the industrialist Dingdong Changco, Jr.; the literary critic Marcel Avellaneda; the first Muslim leader of the opposition, Nuredin Bansamoro; the charismatic preacher Reverend Martin; and a certain Dulcinea.
Excerpted from Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco. Copyright 2010 by Miguel Syjuco. Published in May 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
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