Mary Jane’s dream

All the news about her impending execution by an Indonesian firing squad carried such a ring of inexorability that one might forgive the Inquirer’s grim headline yesterday morning: “Death came before dawn.” Death indeed came at dawn on Wednesday, April 29, for the eight other drug trafficking convicts, but spared the lone woman in that group. As the happy headline of the Philippine Star saw it, what came at the last minute was a “Reprieve for Mary Jane.”

Foreign affairs spokesperson Charles Jose heaved a sigh of relief: “The Lord has answered our prayers.” Indeed, many Filipinos received the news as nothing short of a miracle. In granting Mary Jane Veloso a reprieve, our Indonesian neighbors, who have always had a soft spot for Filipinos, have bent over backward, after turning a deaf ear on similar pleas from other countries. The Indonesian attorney general stated that the reprieve was given “because there was a last-minute plea from the Philippine President. There was someone who surrendered today. She claimed she was the one who recruited Mary Jane.”

Mary Jane has since been returned to her cell in Yogyakarta, away from the execution island. Her death sentence has not been lifted, nor is she being pardoned. She will likely remain on death row until the Indonesian authorities are convinced it is justifiable to admit her as a witness against the international drug trafficking syndicate that had used her as a drug mule. The nation’s prayers have bought Mary Jane—and us—precious time. What is next?

In an interview with BBC, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. offered the following: “The Department of Justice will begin the investigation on the alleged illegal recruiter and the case buildup will provide information which will be supplied to the Indonesian authorities to aid them in their investigation.” While no timelines were discussed, presumably Indonesia will wait until the investigation of the alleged Filipino recruiter, Ma. Cristina Sergio, is over.

Still, one can’t help wondering how Mary Jane reacted to the announcement of the reprieve, and how she is processing these recent events in her mind. All that we have seen lately is the profile of a brave young woman who, having run out of tears, has stopped crying. But how does someone in her position deal with the certainty of dying at a designated time? Does she sleep well at night and does she dream?

Mary Jane’s horrible appointment with death reminded me of one of the short stories of the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, “The secret miracle.” The story revolves around Jaromir Hladik, a Czech writer whom the Gestapo has accused of harboring pro-Jewish sympathies. Arrested on March 14, 1939, he was quickly tried and sentenced to die before a firing squad on March 29, at nine in the morning. He showed a remarkable indifference toward death itself, but dying before a firing squad deeply terrified him. The thought would not leave him.

Borges wrote: “He infinitely anticipated the process, from the sleepless dawn to the mysterious discharge of the rifles.” Thus, well before the appointed day itself, Hladik had virtually “died hundreds of deaths, in courtyards whose shapes and angles defied geometry, shot down by changeable soldiers whose number varied and who sometimes put an end to him from close up and sometimes from far away. He faced these imaginary executions with true terror (perhaps with true courage).” What did he hope to gain from these morbid rehearsals?

“With perverse logic he inferred that to foresee a circumstantial detail is to prevent its happening. Faithful to this feeble magic, he would invent, so that they might not happen, the most atrocious particulars.” And so the days slowly passed, punctuated by the condemned man’s redemptive imaginings of what was preordained to happen. Strangely, on the eve of his execution, Hladik’s thoughts meandered toward the unfinished play he had been writing. There were two remaining acts he would have wanted to finish.

At dawn, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamt that he spoke to God about a curious request: “In order to bring this drama, which may serve to justify me, to justify You, I need one more year. Grant me that year, You to whom belong the centuries and all time.” Soon he heard a voice: “The time for your work has been granted.”

Just then, Borges continues, two soldiers abruptly entered the doomed man’s cell, rousing him from his dream. They descended from a stairway to an inner courtyard. The walk proved less rewarding than he had imagined. He noticed they were early; he saw members of the firing squad with unbuttoned shirts hovering around a motorcycle. One of them offered him a cigarette. Though not a smoker, he accepted it out of politeness and the soldier lit it, his hands shaking.

Moments passed and the riflemen fell in. Dark clouds filled the sky. One of the men requested him to step forward, away from the wall. A small drop of rain fell on Hlavik’s face, gently rolling down his cheek. Then, he heard the sergeant yell the final command, at which everything stopped. “The sergeant’s arm eternalized an inclusive gesture. Upon a courtyard flagstone a bee cast a stationary shadow. The wind had halted, as in a painted picture.” Hlavik let out a shriek and tried to move, only to realize he was paralyzed. God had suspended time to allow him to finish his work.

We are in such a time. Let us use it not just to bring home Mary Jane but also to reflect on the grave responsibilities that a country necessarily assumes when, as a matter of policy, it encourages millions of its people to leave their families to find work abroad.

* * *