Autumn of the Autocrat, a simulacrum
(Written for the 46th anniversary of the declaration of martial rule, with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez who wrote “The Autumn of the Patriarch.”)
On that stormy September night the rats began to find their way into the Presidential Fortress by the sea, entering through cracks and holes and by sunrise the city awoke to the odor of a rotting corpse that wafted to nearby homes, hovels and whorehouses.
Only then did we the people summon the courage to rush to the gilded fortress to find out for ourselves what the rot was all about. There was no need to use bulldozers and backhoes because the walls were ready to crumble at the touch of a hand.
It was like being in a time warp, like being in the ancient days when impenetrable castles fell because it was time. As soon as we found the body, we turned it over and were taken aback because it did not look like his likeness on peso bills, coins, book covers, posters and comic books.
His face was being eaten by rats that would not scamper away even when they sensed human presence. We asked one another, is he… the one?
No one dared utter the name of the dead monster lest our lips be befouled and defiled. People had assumed the autocrat was near immortal like those in the tales of old, that his body would be incorrupt like the holy saints we venerated.
In the last few years, he had been rarely seen except when he was to preside in some circus-like events that drew the fawning rich and thousands of poor and infirm who needed food and entertainment.
Those who had seen him there thought he looked ashen and grey in the harsh lights that fell on him and made him cast grotesque shadows on everyone. His eyes were always moist and someone beside him handed him a fresh tissue whenever he expectorated, which was often.
On one day in March, people saw a monkey running around the room where he was holding a command conference that was being aired live on television. Imagine a monkey looking over the shoulders of Cabinet men and women, experts in economics and finance, in politics and governance.
In that carpeted, air-conditioned room, the monkey had a chair of its own. He had always been afraid of going out in the rain when there was thunder and lightning because he had been warned.
But, at last, the rats did come for him, then the insects of horrible shapes and sizes. The squeaking and the buzzing grated on the ears and the odor was something out of an uncovered grave.
No one knew where the creatures came from but they could have been there all along, hiding in the eaves, lurking in ceilings and basements, just waiting for the rot to release its foul odor and announce it was time.
Here was a powerful man so very dead and being consumed by vermin of every kind and being seen that way by many who rushed to inspect him. His clothes were now in tatters and his skin had greenish moss growing out of its pores.
The rats were squeezing themselves into his hairy armpits and digging at his groin and scrotum encrusted with barnacle-like growths, like those that thrive on abandoned seafaring vessels.
Here was a once-fierce and imperious sailor at the end of his journey, like flotsam, like jetsam on a deserted shore, his eye sockets emptied of their balls, looking like caves inhabited by creatures rarely seen except by explorers of the dark and the deep, his mouth no longer where it should be, his tongue the first to be torn out and fought over.
Still it was difficult to believe his death because he had always been foretelling and joking about his own dying in order to coax the masses’ pledge of loyalty and obeisance.
But the realness of the corpse could not be denied, this kind of exit for a cruel ruler who liked tasting the livers of his enemies had long been prophesied by those who could read the signs in the wind and the waters, in the way gunshots rang out in the night and in the way blood in the streets glistened with a fierce red in the light of a full moon.
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